Thursday, February 26, 2009

Chicken, asparagus and mushroom risotto


550 mL chicken stock, warmed
185 mL white wine or vermouth
200 g aborio rice
2 cooked chicken breasts, sliced (or just use left over roast chicken)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 bunch of asparagus
1 onion, diced
1 stick of celery, diced
1/2 handful mushrooms, sliced
2 knobs of butter
extra virgin olive oil
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Heat a knob of butter and a splash of olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Fry onion, garlic and celery for 10-15 minutes or until soft. Crank the heat. Add the rice and fry for a minute, stirring frequently. Add the wine and reduce. When it's almost gone, drop the heat and add a ladle of stock and asparagus. Season with salt and pepper. Add the stock ladle by ladle--you might not need all of it, so don't add it all at once--letting each ladleful reduce considerably before adding the next. After 15 minutes, stir in the mushrooms and chicken. It'll probably be 5 minutes or so before the rice is cooked--you can tell it's done when it has just a little bit of bite left to it. Risotto is a creamy dish, but that's not to say the rice should be cooked until its goo. When the rice is cooked, add the final knob of butter, stir in, cut the heat and clamp the lid down. Steam for a couple of minutes and then serve, seasoning with sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and a glug of extra virgin olive oil.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Beef and muscat sausages

This represents my third attempt at sausage-making. The results weren't brilliant, but they were definitely acceptable. I wouldn't be pissed off if I'd paid for these, is the point. The muscat was a bright idea I had half way through making the sausages. I was originally aiming for a 'barbecue beef' sausage--thus the choice in spices.

Before hanging sausages, you need to twist them into individual sausages, right? Sounds like a challenge, but it's quite easy once you get the hang of it. Personally, I find it easiest to work in metre lengths. I take great care not to overfill the casings and then, when I have a metre-long sausage, I cut it. I fold the metre long sausages in half and then twist the two halves together, starting from the top, about 15 cm from the initial fold. I then feed one of the ends through the hole and repeat the process. Don't simply twist them together, as they'll come undone the moment you let go. It's very important to feed the one of the ends through the hole you just made.

Finally, a word on hanging. I form the twisted sausages into a bundle and then tie food-safe string to them. I place the whole lot in a plastic bag. I tie the other end of the string to a small object--a piece of cutlery would do the job--and then lift up the second last shelf of the fridge. I feed the string in so the small object sits on top of the shelf and the bag of sausages is hanging underneath. I tried using plastic hooks attached to the bottom of the second shelf, but found they didn't have enough strength in their sticky backing.

1 kg chuck steak, trimmed of excess fat and sinew, cut into small strips
500 g pork fat, cut into small strips
natural casings, re-hydrated
a very generous splash of muscat (substitute port or sherry or about anything else)
2 tsp salt
a generous pinch of paprika
a generous pinch of freshly ground black pepper
a generous pinch of thyme

Use the coarsest setting of the mincer to grind up the chuck and pork fat. Combine with the spices and muscat in a bowl and refrigerate until cold. Run the whole lot through the mincer again, this time on the finest setting. Feed into sausage casings. Hand overnight.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

My first attempts at making sausages

Picked up a new toy yesterday--something the packaging calls a multi-purpose 'food turner'. Essentially, it's a pasta machine and a mincer. I already have a pasta machine--never used it, of course--so I'm not particularly interested in the former, but the latter? Can see myself having a whole lot of fun with that.

When I got it home, I sterilised all the components in boiling water and set to work. I had a kilo of boneless pork belly and I minced it up with some salt, pepper and freshly ground fennel seeds. I worked it into some collagen casings and then fried them up. Was I happy with the result? No. The sausages burst. Collagen casings, it seems, aren't the slightest bit forgiving to the sausage maker who dares overstuff his sausages. They were dry as all hell, too.

I took the sausage maker into Saturday school today with the intent of having the kids make sausages. I was right in assuming it'd be right in their collective happy zone, something they'd all go nuts over--turning the crank, forcing the meat into casings, barbecuing or frying them up. To keep it cheap, I went for mutton. You could do these with lamb, though. I also put in some pork fat, to lube them up some. And salt and pepper and curry powder and garlic and onion. The results? Better. Not brilliant, but significantly better. The kids enjoyed them and, yeah, I've had plenty of sausages that were nowhere near as good as these in my lifetime, but there's still a lot of work to be done. Keep that in mind if attempting my recipe.


1 kg mutton, chopped into small cubes
250 g pork fat, chopped into small cubes
collagen casings
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 small onion, finely diced
1 tbs curry powder
a good splash of cold water
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Mince the mutton and pork fat and transfer to a bowl. Combine with garlic, onion, water, curry powder, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place a handful of the mince at a time into sausage stuffer (which, in my case, is the same device that minced the meat in the first place, just with a different attachment screwed in).

So yeah, the results. Okay. But still not great. I know why, though, after speaking to a local butcher.


Dryness wasn't an issue with the second batch, but the first? Yeah. Big issue. Even though I'd used really fatty meat. The butcher said for maybe a kilogram of meat, he adds about a half cup of very cold (we're talking close to freezing here) water to the mix. Some of it will drain out later.


Collagen casings work, yeah, but they're hard to tie and they're prone to bursting. Go for the natural casings. That is, pig intestines (you can also get beef and lamb intestines). You'll have to order them 2-3 days in advance, probably, and buy a decent quantity, but that's not a problem. The butcher I go to? He's getting me a bag of casings that'll allow me to make 80-100 kg of sausages. Sounds ridiculous, but the casings are salted. They last forever. All you need to do is take the desired length (which is apparently a bit tricky) and soak it for a while.

Fresh garlic and onion

Okay, if you're planning on cooking your sausages shortly after you make them, using fresh veg isn't a problem. But point is, fresh veg significantly reduces the shelf life of your sausages.


Sausages shouldn't be cooked right away. No, they're too fresh, according to the butcher. They're edible, I mean. The results will still be okay if you've done everything else right. But for best results, you should hang them overnight. To do this, keep them in a bundle and hang them in the fridge from a hook. Just remove a shelf or adjust the shelves so you have a large space at the bottom of the fridge. Use one of those hooks with a sticky backing. Hang them either inside a large plastic bag or over a plate, as the excess juices and water will drain out. Unless you have a dedicated fridge, this aspect of the sausage making process will limit the amount of sausages you can output in a single session. There's no point in running 10 kg of meat through your mincer if you only have room in the fridge to hang a couple of kilograms of sausages.

Thai mud crab

Never had mud crab before this. Had blue swimmer, had spanner. Didn't mind the former but wouldn't bother with the latter again. I was convinced that crab was inferior to bugs, yabbies, prawns and lobster, but still, I'd heard good things about mud crab and felt that I had to give it a go.

You might have to extend the cooking times. The crab I bought was about 600 g. A bigger crab would require a few more minutes, probably. You could use this recipe with other crabs. With blue swimmers, even. Just adjust the cooking time.

1 live mud crab, about 600 g
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 stalks lemongrass, torn up and bruised
2 small chillies, sliced
1 big lump of ginger, sliced
1 bunch spring onions, sliced
1/2 bunch fresh coriander, leaves picked
a splash of soy sauce
a pinch of brown sugar
steamed rice, to serve

The best way of dealing with the crab is to sit it in the freezer for a hour. If he's not dead by that point, he'll be pretty groggy.

Heat a large saucepan of water on the stove. Sit an appropriately sized bamboo steamer over said saucepan. Meanwhile, take the crab from the freezer. Flip him onto his back and pull at the flap on the belly, ideally working off the shell in the process (if you balls it up, you can just bust the shell open with a sharp knife). Pick out the lungs--those grey, furry things--and get rid of the mustard-looking stuff. Pretty much, with a crab, the inedible stuff looks inedible. Twist the legs and claws off. Give the claws a good whack with the back of your knife, a meat tenderiser, a sharpening steel or pretty much anything to crack them open.

On a small metal plate (I actually used a small pie tin), make a bed for the crab pieces with the lemon grass. Scatter the garlic, ginger and chilli over the crab pieces. Sprinkle over the sugar and add the soy. Don't go nuts with that stuff, as it's pretty potent. Steam for 15 minutes or until the crab is cooked through--the shell will be bright red. Lift the lid of the steamer and scatter the coriander leaves and spring onion slices over the crab. Steam for a further minute. Serve with rice.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Rabbit pie


600 g rabbit mince
500 mL rabbit or chicken stock
5 frozen short crust pastry sheets
1 large onion, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 chillies, diced
1 piece ginger, sliced
1 egg, beaten
1/2 stick lemon grass, sliced
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 tbs coriander seeds, roasted and then ground
1 tbs shrimp paste
2 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp fish sauce
1 tsp turmeric powder
pinch of flour
splash of rice wine (i.e. sake)
generous pinch of sesame seeds
freshly ground black pepper
sea salt
peanut oil
chilli sauce (optional)

Over a low flame, heat some peanut oil in a large saucepan. Add ginger, garlic, onion and lemon grass. When soft, add coriander and turmeric. Stir and fry for a minute, then add the rabbit mince, fish sauce and shrimp paste. Give the mince some colour and then deglaze the saucepan with a splash of rice wine. Add the sugar, flour and stock. Cover and simmer for a hour. Season with freshly ground black pepper, sea salt and, if desired, chilli sauce. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Thaw pastry. Work into three oven proof ramekins. Trim away excess pastry. If there are any tears, use the off-cuts to patch them up. Ladle the cooled filling into pastry-lined ramekins. Brush some beaten egg around the rim of each pie. Lay another sheet of pastry on top. Trim away excess again. Poke a few holes in the lid of each pie, then brush some egg on top. Sprinkle with sea salt, freshly ground black pepper and sesame seeds. Bake at 180*C for 45-50 minutes.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Amarula chocolate mousse

I rarely bother with desserts, but for Valentine's Day I figured I'd put in the extra effort. Amarula is a South African cream liqueur made from 'the unique fruit of the marula tree'. My girlfriend, being Zimbabwean, has a fondness for this stuff. You can make this mousse with other liqueurs too. Just keep in mind that you may want to reduce the quantities. A single tablespoon of Bailey's, for instance, would most certainly be enough.

170 g good quality dark chocolate, 70% cocoa solids, broken into small pieces
125 mL heavy cream, whipped into soft peaks
4 eggs, separated
60 mL Amarula
50 g butter, cut into chunks
2 tbs white sugar
1/2 tsp cream of tartare
pulp from passion fruit

Heat a little water in a large saucepan until it begins to simmer. Reduce heat. Place a bowl over saucepan and add chocolate. Stir chocolate as it melts to prevent scorching. When melted, add the Amarula and take off heat.. Stir in gently and then add in the butter, chunk by chunk. When fully incorporated, add the egg yolks one at a time.

In another bowl, combine egg whites with cream of tartare. Whisk and whisk and whisk, gradually adding the sugar. When the egg whites hold soft peaks, gently fold egg whites into chocolate mix. Then fold in the whipped cream. Cover and refrigerate for a couple of hours. To serve, spoon carefully into glasses and top with a little passion fruit pulp.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Moroccan lamb

I bought very good lamb for this, but one of the cheapest cuts. I'd advise you do the same. Lamb breast is something you'll have to ask for, probably. And probably the butcher will have to get it in. Put it aside, specially. It's a magnificent cut. Fatty--I'd advise hacking away the excess with a knife if you're braising--and full of flavour. It'd go well in a curry or pie. You could separate the ribs and barbecue it. You could roast it. Could do about anything. Cooking it slowly is best though. Don't worry about not having a cleaver. So long as you have a decent chef's knife--a western one, mind--you should have no problem getting through the bones. They're quite small.


800 g lamb breast, chopped into chunks
500 mL lamb stock (substitute chicken stock, I guess)
400 g can diced tomatoes
handful dried apricots, roughly chopped
handful pitted dates, chopped
a splash of muscat, port or other sweet, fruit-based alcohol
4 pieces preserved lemon, rinsed and drained
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, sliced
1 small piece ginger, grated
1 tbs tomato paste
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp cumin, ground
1 tsp turmeric, ground
1 tsp coriander, ground
1/2 tsp cinnamon, ground
1/2 tsp chilli powder
2 cardamom pods
sea salt
couscous or rice, to serve

In a saucepan, fry the onion and garlic in a little oil over a medium flame until soft. Add the ginger and spices. Stir for a minute, then add the lamb pieces. Brown all over, deglaze with port/muscat, then stir in the tomato paste. Add the canned tomatoes, stock, preserved lemon and dried fruit. Season with sea salt to taste. Simmer, partially covered, on a very low heat for 90-120 minutes. Be sure to stir well every 10-15 minutes to prevent stuff from sticking to the bottom of the pan.