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Argentina – Choripán

Football:

Argentina is a montage of many memories for me; the most however are from the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.

One of the quarter-finals that year was between England and Argentina and the tension between the countries and the supporters was electric, in part due to previous intense rivalry, but mainly because of the Falklands conflict that had occurred 4 years previously between the two countries. I remember watching on the television at home as a young teenager and just sensing the feeling in the stadium. The game itself was nothing short of sensational and mostly due to the maestro that was Maradonna. He was one of the most gifted footballers ever to live, but most English supporters will remember him for ‘the hand of God’ – the infamous goal where supposedly a 5’5″ player (Maradonna) out-jumped a goalkeeper (Peter Shilton) of 6’1″ to ‘head’ the ball in to the net – one of most glaring mistakes by a referee at a World Cup. On the other hand, not long after this incident, was the sublime goal he scored, beating 5 or 6 England players to score what I think is the best World Cup goal ever scored in my lifetime. This made it 2-0 and England was dead and buried. But the World Cup wouldn’t be the World Cup without any drama and England started to press Argentina and got a goal back late on through Gary Lineker (who won the Golden Boot for top scorer). I remember shaking on the edge of the sofa willing England to equalise, and they nearly did right at the end when a cross came over and, I think it was, John Barnes headed just wide of the goal. Argentina went on to win the game 2-1 and Maradonna continued to dazzle as he almost single-handedly helped Argentina win the World Cup.

In this World Cup, Argentina has their modern day Maradonna in Lionel Messi. Having not previously managed to perform as well for the national side as he does for Barcelona, he is now coming good for them. They beat Switzerland last night in a very tight game and will find it tough against Belgium in the quarter-finals. It should be a belter of a game.

Just as an addendum I saw the current coach of Argentina Alejandro Javier Sabella (known as Alex Sabella) play for my team Leeds United in the early eighties. So there is a little bit of sentiment there for me.

 

Dish:

I have always considered Argentinian cuisine to be about meat; in particular beef. This started the time I once overheard a conversation at an English football match, of all places, where the rather salubrious lady – ok it was in corporate box – said

Oh, I only ever eat steak in Buenos Aires; wouldn’t touch it anywhere else.

I thought it’s ok for some. But in retrospect I have read much about Argentinian cuisine over the years and I have to say beef seems pretty popular. Cows were introduced to Argentina by the Spanish Conquistadors in the 16th century and the favourable conditions meant they bred well and multiplied quickly. Over time the beef market has become part of Argentine culture, often with careful cross breeding of cows to create higher quality beef. Given Argentina is in the Southern hemisphere the export market grew because during the months of the year it was plentiful in Argentina, beef was less on hand in countries in the Northern hemisphere.

I have yet to try steak in Buenos Aires but it is on my bucket list of things to do, for sure. In fact, I have always wanted to go and see some club football in South America, in particular Boca Juniors in Buenos Aires. I have therefore saved the beef until I am there and decided to go the Chorizo route for my dish for Argentina. Choripán is as iconic as you will get; grilled chorizo in a fresh French baguette topped with the exciting flavours of chimichurri. This sandwich is a classic at Argentinian football matches, where fans wolf down the choripán at half-time. I decided to go ahead and make my own baguettes just to capture as much freshness and flavour as possible. The chorizo is from my local Latin American deli and is nothing short of amazing – remember to use fresh chorizo and not the cured version.

 

Serves: 4 |   Preparation: 30 minutes   |   Cooking Time: 25 minutes + 2 hours resting

 

Ingredients:

For the baguette:
1½ tsp. Dry active yeast |
½ tsp. White sugar |
50ml Warm water |
500g Plain flour |
2 pinches Sea salt |
300ml Cold water |

For the chimichurri:
2 large Garlic cloves | Roughly chopped.
5 Spring onions | Sliced – white and green parts.
2 handfuls Flat leaf parsley | Roughly torn.
1 handful Coriander | Roughly torn.
½ lime Lime juice |
1 tbsp. Cider vinegar | Or red wine vinegar.
1 pinch Sea salt |
1 pinch Ground black pepper |
130g Grapeseed oil | Or other non-flavoured oil.
1 medium Ripe tomato | Finely diced.

4 Fresh chorizo sausages | By fresh I mean uncooked (not cured).
1 medium Red onion | Peeled and sliced.
1 tbsp. Grapeseed oil |

 

How to:

For the baguette: To a small bowl add the warm water, yeast and sugar and whisk. Leave to rest for 5 minutes to allow the mix to froth. To a large bowl add the flour and salt and make a well in the middle. Pour in the cold water and yeast mix and using a bowl scraper (or cold hands) incorporate the flour in to the liquid and bring it together as a dough.

Put the sticky dough on to a very lightly floured kitchen surface and using a dough scraper and your hands work the dough until it is smooth and elastic – this takes about 10 minutes. Form the dough in to a ball. Lightly oil a large bowl, put the dough in and a place a damp tea towel over the bowl. Leave to rise in a warm place for an hour.

After the hour, remove the dough from the bowl and cut in to two portions. Take the first one and gently form a rectangle. Fold one edge of the rectangle into the middle, and then the other edge in to the middle. Then fold the dough in half along the crease. Now stretch and roll the dough in to a baguette shape, tapering the ends. With a blade or sharp knife slit the top of the baguette diagonally 4 or 5 times and place on some floured baking parchment on a baking sheet. Repeat for the other dough ball. Place the second baguette next to the first on the baking sheet. Cover with a floured tea towel tucking the towel between the baguettes to stop them touching when rising. Leave for an hour in a warm place.

Pre-heat an oven to 230°C (450°F).

For the chimichurri: Add the garlic, spring onions, parsley and coriander to a food processor. Process until finely chopped. Add the lime juice, vinegar, salt, pepper and oil and process until smooth, but the herbs are not completely puréed.

Put the chimichurri in to a non-reactive bowl and gently mix in the diced tomato. Set aside.

Remove the tea towel from the baguettes. Put the baguettes in the oven and bake for 12-16 minutes, or until browned. To add crispiness to the outer of the baguettes put a bowl (oven-safe) of hot water on the bottom shelf of the oven.

Put a griddle pan on medium to high heat, add the oil and then put in the chorizo and sliced onion. Keep turning the chorizo to ensure even cooking. Keep agitating the onion so it doesn’t burn. Remove from the pan when cooked.

To serve, take a hot baguette, cut it in to two pieces and then cut each lengthways to open them up. Place 1 chorizo sausage in each baguette piece and spoon over some cooked onion and chimichurri. Repeat for the other baguette and chorizos.

Breathtaking Banana Cake

Introduction:

It starts of so raw, so wet behind the ears, a little green even. It’s even a bit of an outcast; unpleasant, avoided and neglected. But it will right itself, that’s for sure and it will even affect the ‘rightness’ of those around it. In a couple of days it starts to grow up; it comes of age as it were. Now it is popular. One of the go-tos for the energy seeking, it begins to show its true potential, its character. Within no time at all it is king of the pile, but it doesn’t last long because as it starts to age blemishes begin to appear on its once perfect skin. It’s now starting to deteriorate at a startling rate, once strong and steadfast it begins to haunch a little, to soften and emanate a fragrance as a warning that it’s not going to be around for much longer. And to its final days, it’s a mere shadow of its former self; its colouration undetectable from its previously brilliant yellow past. Again, it becomes an outcast and mustn’t be allowed to mingle with the others. It is criticised for its appearance, its stench, and its age and is on the verge of being assigned to a place of no retrieval.

But then, a stranger comes along and rescues it. The stranger sees much hope for this aged wonder; it has wisdom, character, and an ability and potential that its younger form could only dream of. And it is now time to unleash it. The baker is going to get funky with this banana.

It’s in the title – breathtaking. I can’t recall the number of banana cakes and breads that I have made, but they have ranged from ok to good. This one is the best, and I have to thank Momofuku Milk Bar for the basis of the recipe which I have slightly modified to bring out the best in the banana. And when I say a ripe banana I am talking about the ones that are dark, dark brown, intensely pungent and almost bordering on a paste.

 

Serves: A few   |   Preparation: 20 minutes   |   Cooking: 30-40 minutes

 

Ingredients:

85g Caster sugar |
200g Butter | Cubed and at room temperature.
1 Large Egg |
120g Buttermilk |
20g Grapeseed oil | Important to use a neutral tasting oil. Groundnut oil is another good one.
3 Ripe bananas | If you think they are overripe, they are perfect.
240g Plain Flour |
3g Baking powder | A smidgen under ¾ of a teaspoon.
3g Bicarbonate of soda | A smidgen under ½ of a teaspoon.
2g Sea salt | If flaked, crush before adding.

 

How To:

Heat the oven to 170 deg. C (340 deg. F).

Take a 28cm*18cm baking tin (about 4cm deep) and lightly grease the bottom and sides with butter. Cut a piece of baking parchment to the size of the tin base and then line the base with it – the butter will ensure it stays in place.

To a kitchen mixer bowl add the sugar and butter and then on medium speed beat it using the paddle attachment until light and fluffy – the colour should be a very pale yellow. Stop the beating, scrape the sides of the bowl, put on a low to medium speed and add the egg. After about 30 seconds add the buttermilk in a thin stream so as not to redecorate your kitchen. Mix for a further minute and then in a thin stream add the oil. Now put the mixer on medium to high speed and beat until the mixture is homogenous (posh was for saying mixed properly). Try for 5 minutes and if not looking right keep mixing until it is. We are forcing the oil in to a mixture that already contains fat (butter) and thus the need for some heavy handed work.

Next, turn the mixer speed to low and add the whole ripe bananas (if they are paste-like then just scrape them in). Mix for about 30 seconds, or until all of the banana has broken down.

Now, mix the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and sea salt in a separate bowl and then gradually add to the mixing bowl. As soon as all the ingredients have come together the batter is ready.

Put the batter into your lined baking tin, spread evenly and give the tin a couple of taps on the bench top just to make sure. Put in the oven and bake for 30 minutes to start with, after which test it; the outsides should be springy and the inside just cooked (so it doesn’t wobble). If not, then bake further until it is ready.

When ready remove from the oven and leave to cool for about 5 minutes at which point turn out onto a wire cooling rack, carefully peel the baking parchment away and leave until completely cool…or if you are a sucker for warm cake cut out a piece and devour.

Sourdough to Tears

I have always had a fascination with bread; its integral part in culinary culture, the science of how it is made and the innumerable varieties available: flat breads, white bread, wholemeal breads, German dark loaves, non-yeast breads, oil-rich breads, non-wheat breads, sweet breads and enriched breads. The aroma of a steaming fresh white loaf in the morning is one I will always cherish; sliced in to doorsteps and lacquered with French butter and a fine sweet and tart red berry jam. I also have the same feeling for the blue-corn bread served hot as an appetiser at a local Mexican restaurant. The reality is that bread is part of most of our lives, and in many countries is presented on the table as part of the meal, from soup to nuts – I do love that phrase by the way ‘soup to nuts’ and would dearly like to say that it was completely designed in some creative corner of my mind, but alas it wasn’t.

Unfortunately, in some countries the importance of bread is rapidly evaporating, and is being replaced by a plastic variety that lacks substance, flavour, texture and pleasure. A great series in the UK last year, The Great British Food Revival, lamented this point with Michel Roux jnr in one episode taking us on a journey from how the art and love of bread making and bread is being lost to what we can do to revive such an honourable and established human culinary tradition. This certainly whetted my appetite to go straight to the kitchen and start learning about bread.

Until recently, my only experience of bread making was simple yeast based white bread – and even a simple white bread made well and served as referenced above, is heavenly. However, one bread that I had always wanted to make just because I love the flavour, was sourdough. I had always wondered what ‘flavoured’ the bread to achieve those incredible acidic and sour notes. To be honest, I did think that it must be the addition of sour cream or something similar – once our local baker had picked himself off the floor after entering a fit of hysterics, he said that if you want to be a chef my friend then you must learn the real art of bread making, and forthwith pointed me in the direction of something called a sourdough starter.

Completely fascinated by the idea that you needn’t add yeast to create a perfectly risen loaf of bread I embarked on a metaphoric journey to make sourdough bread as good as that from our local bakers (sour cream not included – lactobacillus definitely included). What I wasn’t prepared for was the emotional attachment the journey would induce. The sourdough starter, I learned, was something that takes 7 days to produce, at which point it would probably be ready to make the first loaf of bread. It was during these 7 days that the emotional attachment occurred:

 

The Sourdough Starter Journal

Day 1: To a 2-litre plastic container I added 25g of rye flour and 25g warm water and mixed to a paste. Ok, so today is just a paste.

Day 2: Added a further 25g of rye flour and 25g of warm water and mixed to a paste again. It has softened overnight, but still just a paste

Day 3: Upping the ante by adding 50g of rye flour and 50g warm water and mixed to a paste again. It’s starting to feel like I’m feeding a pet, bit of attachment forming.

Day 4: Added 100g rye flour and 100ml of warm water, and mixed together to form a thick batter. Starting to talk to it now

Day 5: No feeding today, but wow! Took a big smell and was reduced to tears from an acrid aroma, best described as sour banana. Bubbles had formed – my starter was really alive.

Day 6: Added 100g of rye flour and 100g warm water and mixed together. We’re on really good speaking terms now

Day 7: No feeding today – I now class my starter as ripe – it is bubbling, smells sour and has a thick, yet soft consistency.

So after 7 days of feeding (at about the same time each day), observing and nurturing I have a ripe starter, a friend and something that will be by my side for years to come – I have heard of starters being passed down through generations.

On the eighth day I made my first loaf of sourdough bread. According to some bakers’ experience it is advisable for the first few loaves to make semi-leavened bread; that is using a combination of your starter and added yeast (approximately half of what would be required in leavened bread).

 

A Rough Dough

A Rough Dough

 

After the 7 day process I had ended up with a 600g batch of sourdough starter. It is normal to use half of this to make your bread, which means replacing (feeding) the starter with fresh flour (I use rye flour) and water, to make the weight back up to 600g. As I am going to make bread on a weekly basis I will store the starter at room temperature and be feeding it once per week. Making sourdough bread is a complex and skilled profession, and I have only touched the surface, but in doing so have understood the important basics of bread making, and of course made a new friend.

Click here for the recipe for the Continental Loaves I made with my sourdough starter.