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Offally Good Sweetbread Nuggets with Chipotle Mayo

Introduction:

In Yorkshire, as a kid, offal was all the rage. Not because we were fancy-pant eaters with the adventurous tastes of the culinary Bohemian – no, offal was cheap; pig’s liver, lamb’s tongue, tripe (cow’s stomach lining), kidney  and  brains (not for the cholesterol sensitive) were all used. And then there were the lower-end cuts such as shin beef, chuck steak, belly pork, mutton (old sheep) and even a rabbit could be picked up very cheaply.

Roll on to 2015 in Melbourne, and I’m sure Melbourne is not alone here, and those face-screwing inducing cuts of animals are now costing a pretty penny, often in excess of the finer cuts of meat. And I’ll tell you why – because  it has become trendy to use it through the proliferation of both the inspirational and me-too chefs out there.

But for me, off-cuts and offal should be up there with the best because cooked right, and that is vital, they are some of the most incredibly decadent and tasty parts of the animal. That is assuming of course that the animal has been treated with respect and looked after in a great environment whilst alive. Just think, offal accounts for about half of the edible part of an animal and is texturally diverse, nutritious and distinctly favour-some.

When I was younger butchers  would virtually throw belly pork at you to make room for their more elusive and upper-market cuts. Now, people turn a blind eye to it’s sumptuous calorie busting fat content because it is an amazing cut and there isn’t one restaurant that doesn’t have their ‘succulent’ belly pork on the menu…and rightly so. By the way if you’ve never had beef cheeks, another of those ‘in’ cuts, before then check out this smashing little Bourguignon – if you have had beef cheeks then definitely check it out.

 

Today, however, if you’re not already acquainted, and if you are this may be a reunion with a long lost friend, I am going to introduce you to another truly incredible bit of the now trendy but-never-used to-be cut of offal – the sweetbread. My kids were so exited when I said we were having sweetbreads for dinner; the connotation in their minds was that of a great home baked dessert. Alas, when I explained that it was the pancreatic gland or thymus of a lamb or calf their noses screwed up and they walked away disappointed – maybe as you are doing now. Alas, I didn’t sell the dish that well to them but I was about to redeem things.

Bought fresh sweetbreads are plump, firm to the touch and should be pink bordering on white. They deteriorate quickly so they need to be used the same day of purchase to get the best out of them. They have an amazingly nutty creaminess with a soft meaty centre that even when overcooked can remain succulent.  They do take a little bit of preparation, but trust me, please do, when I say that it is worth it. The recipe coming up is for essentially sweetbread nuggets with a chipotle mayonnaise – a brilliant snack, or if tarted up a bit with some cheffy presentation and a little touch of greenery can be used as a starter. Let’s begin.

 

Serves: 4 for a snack  |  Preparation: 1 hour soaking + 1 hour prep  |  Cooking: 40 minutes

 

Ingredients:

1kg  Fresh plump sweetbreads |  Lamb’s or calf’s.
Large bowl  1% Salt solution | Enough to cover the sweetbreads – 10g of salt per litre of cold water – whisk to dissolve the salt.

For the Mayonnaise:
1  portion (About 275g) of mayonnaise | See here for the recipe.
Chipotle chillies | Use the tinned variety with adobo sauce.
2  tsp. adobo sauce | From the tinned chipotles.
1 lime  lime juice | Squeezed.
Pinch  Smoked paprika |

For the Sweetbread Nuggets:
Large eggs | Beaten.
1tsp.  Five spice powder | Recipe here.
150-200g  Plain flour | Enough to coat the sweetbreads
100g or so  Panko breadcrumbs | Enough to coat the sweetbreads.
To taste  Seasoning | Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper.

Grapseed oil | Enough for frying – any high smoking point non-fragrant frying oil will do.

 

Method:

Preparing the sweetbreads: every sweetbread comes with it’s own natural packaging that needs to be removed . This can prove a little tricky but patience is rewarded.

Firstly, to remove any blood from the sweetbreads soak them in the 1% salt solution for an hour in the fridge.

Make the mayonnaise whilst you wait. To a miniature food processor add two tablespoons of mayonnaise, two chipotle chillies and two teaspoons of *adobo sauce. Blitz until smooth. Add the blended chillies to the rest of the mayonnaise and stir well. Now add half of the lime juice and a little seasoning, stir well and taste. Add more seasoning and lime juice if required. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Sprinkle over the smoked paprika just before serving

Back to the sweetbreads: after an hour drain them and then leave to soak in unsalted cold water for 5 minutes. Now drain again and rinse them thoroughly.

Bring a large pan of water to the boil, add the sweetbreads and poach for about 4-5 minutes – until they have only just firmed up. Carefully, with a slotted spoon, lift the sweetbreads out of the poaching water and put in to a large bowl of cold water in a sink. If the water temperature in the bowl rises too much run more cold water through until it is cool. Now the finicky bit. Carefully peel the membranes from each sweetbread – there’s no need to remove every single bit, but certainly remove as much as you can without damaging or breaking them. Let the sweetbreads dry out on your kitchen bench and discard all the removed membranes.

In a large frying pan heat an inch (2.5cm) of grapeseed oil to 170 deg C. (340 deg F.)**.

To a bowl add the plain flour, five-spice powder and some seasoning, and mix. To another bowl add the beaten egg. And finally to a third bowl add the panko breadcrumbs.

Now coat a sweetbread in the flour and shake to discard any excess. Dip it in the egg and let any excess drip off. Finally, coat with the panko breadcrumbs and put to one side. Repeat for all the sweetbreads.

Cook the sweetbreads in the hot oil in batches, adjusting the heat to maintain the 170 deg C. (340 deg F.) temperature. Cook for a couple of minutes and then turn over. When golden brown remove the sweetbreads, drain on kitchen towel and serve immediately with that devilish chipotle and lime mayonnaise and be prepared to be an offal convert – or enjoy your re-acquaintance.

 

Depending on the availability of chipotle chillies and your ability to make a great adobo sauce I recommend buying tinned chipotles already in adobo sauce.

** Use a digital thermometer – it’s a great piece of kitchen equipment and can be picked up relatively cheaply.

Japan – Okonomiyaki with Baby Octopus

Football:

I first remember Gary Lineker, a top English striker of the 80s and 90s, being signed by a team called Grampus 8. Inquisitive as to where and what Grampus 8 was I discovered that it was a team in the J-league (Japan) and that the Japanese played football and were pretty handy at it. Since then I have watched, with interest, the game grow in Japan and it was a wonderful achievement when in 1998 they made their World Cup debut, in France. Since then they have qualified for every World Cup, making it through to the knockout stages twice.

Japan was unfortunate 4 years ago, going out on penalties in the last 16 to Paraguay. This time around they are ranked lowest in their group but expectations are high as they have some exceptionally talented playmakers in the side. Look out for Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa and the prolific scorer Shinji Okazaki. With Colombia, Greece and Cote d’Ivoire I am expecting a lot of goals in this group.

A great nickname by the way; the Samurai Blue.

 

The Dish: 

I have flirted with a number of dishes for Japan; it is a wonderful nation for clean, healthy and vibrantly flavoursome food. They are kings of that taste sensation umami, which can be found at its ultimate best in dashi. My first choice for this dish was takoyaki, a round fried dumpling containing cooked octopus and pickled ginger. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to get hold of a takoyaki pan in time.

However, one of my favourites amongst the incredible selection of Japanese restaurants and street food eateries here in Melbourne is okonomiyaki – a Japanese style pancake. And it is okonomiyaki that makes it on to the World Cup 2014 food project. This version is done Osaka style with shredded cabbage and pickled ginger; I have added cooked baby octopus, and a dashi broth in the pancake batter to pep things up further. The sauces that top this pancake are essential; both have been home made. The mayonnaise is straight forward, but to replicate the okonami sauce took quite a lot of experimentation – my wife is an okonomiyaki officianado and gave it the big thumbs up!

The okonomi sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, dashi and tenkasu (tempura scraps) can be bought, but I have made my own and included recipes for all.

 

Serves: 4 pancakes   |   Preparation: 40 minutes   |   Cooking Time: 60 minutes

 

Ingredients:

For the okonomi sauce:
4 tbsp. Tomato ketchup | The famous one.
3 tsp. Light soy sauce |
2 tbsp. Worcester sauce | Lea and Perrins or good equivalent.
2 tbsp. Clear runny honey | Warmed slightly.

 

For the Japanese mayonnaise:
1 Large Egg yolk |
250ml Grapeseed oil | Or other non-flavoured oil.
1 tsp. Rice wine vinegar |

 

For the tenkasu:
100ml Ice cold water |
½ Large Egg yolk |
50g Plain flour |
500ml Grapseed oil | Or any other non-flavoured oil.

 

For the dashi broth:
400ml Water |
4g Kombu | A type of seaweed. Do not wipe off that white powder – it is pure natural umami.
12g Bonito flakes | Also known as katsuo-bushi.

 

For the pancake batter:
300g Plain flour |
65g Tapioca flour | Potato flour or corn flour can be used.
½ tsp. Sea salt |
2 large Eggs |
100ml Cold dashi broth | Recipe above.
275ml Cold water |

 

For the filling:
½ Wombok cabbage | Also known as Chinese cabbage – shredded.
500g Baby octopus | Cooked: stir fried quickly in very hot oil, with salt and pepper, cooled and roughly chopped.
1 packet Pink pickled ginger | It can be made at home, but I have to say the packeted version is excellent and my preferred choice.

Grapeseed oil for frying.

Garnish:
A scattering Bonito flakes |
A few Spring onions | Finely sliced.

 

How To:

For the okonomi sauce: add the ketchup, soy sauce, Worcester sauce and honey to a small bowl and mix.

For the mayonnaise: beat the egg yolk and then slowly drizzle in the grapeseed oil whilst briskly whisking; a thick emulsion should form. Finally, add the vinegar and season. Store in a nozzled squeezy bottle in the fridge until ready to use.

For the tenkasu: heat the oil in a wok or medium sauce pan until it reaches 180°C (360°F). To a medium sized bowl add the cold water and egg yolk and gently mix – using cooking chopsticks is a good way. Now add the flour and gently mix, without overworking the batter. Don’t worry if there are still any lumps. Either drip the batter or if you have one, slowly syringe the batter in to the hot oil. Swirl the batter around to loosen it and when the batter has taken on a light golden colour remove it from the oil with a slotted spoon, drain on kitchen towel and reserve. Do this in batches. The cooled tenkasu can be stored in an airtight container.

For the dashi broth: add the water and kombu to a small pan. Put on a low to medium heat to bring the liquid to a slow near boil. Just before it boils remove the pan from the heat and take out the kombu, discarding it. Now add the bonito flakes to the water and leave them for 15 minutes or so. Filter the flakes out using a fine sieve and the resulting liquid is your dashi broth.

For the Pancake batter: add all the ingredients to a large bowl and whisk until smooth. Let the batter stand in the fridge for 30 minutes before using.

For the pancake: to a bowl add a handful of cabbage, a quarter of the cooked baby octopus, a few slices of broken up pickled ginger, a couple of tablespoons of tenkasu and a quarter of the pancake batter. Mix well. Heat a tablespoon of grapeseed oil in a large heavy based frying pan or on a hot plate. Pour the pancake mix in to the pan and spread out to a 15-20cm circle. Cook for about 5 minutes or so and then carefully flip the pancake over. Cook for another couple of minutes.

Put the pancake on a serving plate. Spread a quarter of the okonomi sauce over the pancake, squeeze on some mayonnaise and sprinkle over some bonito flakes and sliced spring onion.

Is it Possible to Cook from Scratch?

I have always prided myself on the ability, desire and, more to the point, the patience to cook from scratch; to take raw ingredients and turn them in to something delightfully edible. I also have a real inclination to avoid processed foods where I can, or so I thought. If you think about it a little deeper than perception sometimes allows, as I did one sunny day (maybe that was the light of eureka being turned on), then you start to ask the questions what is cooking from scratch and what are processed foods? (Maybe amongst the million or so other things to think about these questions may not be top of your list, but hey after reading this blog you may have a momentary lapse of reasoning and these questions will surface to the top of the pile).

 

Creme Fraiche, Dill and Lime

Creme Fraiche, Dill and Lime

 

I have a great book called ‘the kitchen as a laboratory’, a real geek cook’s/ chef’s paradise containing a number of essays that reflect on the science of food and cooking. One of the essays approaches, and sets to discuss, the fallacy of cooking from scratch; and it was this essay that got me thinking about the whole idea of what cooking from scratch means and what processed food is – yes, on that sunny day.

Regarding cooking from scratch, I am going to take as an example a recipe that I have already posted on this blog – the SMashing Lemon Drizzle Cake. The ingredients in this cake are unsalted butter, caster sugar, eggs, almond meal, baking powder, mashed potato, lemon zest, lemon juice. It becomes apparent that when looking at these ingredients the eggs, mashed potato, lemon zest and lemon juice could be considered as ‘scratch’ ingredients – ones that have been transformed from their rawest state in my kitchen. However, the butter, sugar, almond meal and baking powder have been through complex transformations from their rawest state before arriving in my kitchen. It is fair to say that I could have bought raw almonds, blanched them and then made the almond meal myself, but I certainly don’t have the time or facility to attempt to refine my own sugar, culture my own French butter or synthesise the chemicals that comprise baking powder. It’s fair to say then that my lemon drizzle cake, the one I would have previously claimed as being cooked from scratch, does indeed contain processed foods. In fact nearly everything we prepare will contain an element of processed food; for olive oil olives have been pressed, the resulting oil filtered,  deodorised to eliminate any bad odours and packaged; sea salt has been processed through the evaporation of water; milk, unless you have Daisy on hand in your back garden, is pasteurised to remove bacteria, homogenised to prevent it splitting and is available as full-fat, semi-skimmed, high taste low fat, low taste high fat, double milk, triple milk, milk with this, milk with that – I think you get my point; and also water, probably the most common ingredient of all has certainly been processed to make it safe for human consumption.

 

Pectin Powder - A Setting Agent

Pectin Powder – A Setting Agent

 

So what’s the point of this post? Well it’s just to think about processed food and the role that it plays in cooking. From the top of my head I can think of a number of instances, or categories for arguments sake, of processed foods that we encounter on a regular basis (this is not an exhaustive list, just one that magically appeared in the abundant space that whirlwinds around in my head):

  • The essential ingredients that we use as the basis for our ‘from scratch’ cooking e.g. flour, butter, sugar, oil, cheese (we’re talking the real stuff here, not the processed ‘processed’ cheese by the way).
  • Fresh produce that has been preserved e.g. frozen vegetables, freeze dried fruit, dried figs, mango and apricots, salted nuts.
  • The delicatessen based processed foods e.g. prosciutto, dolmades, cured salmon, bacon, Kalamata olives.
  • The foods that have added ingredients to help those that have an essential nutritional deficiency e.g. milk with added calcium helps those people with calcium deficiency, white flour enriched with minerals and vitamins has helped stave off many disease in certain countries.
  • The foods that we have accepted as ‘OK’ and are part of the establishment as it were e.g. Ketchup, baked beans, hot pepper sauce.
  • The foods that are just plainly bad for you e.g. many ready-made frozen meals, mass produced pasta sauces, cheap ‘plastic’ bread, supermarket jars of preserves and spreads, carbonated sugar water and fast food, to name a few.

Processed foods can traverse the plane from essential and wonderful to downright ugly and harmful, and for many of us it can be a minefield as companies promote, for example, ‘healthy’ foods which at face value are nothing more than mere marketing tricks. A good example is the promotion of a high sugar content drink containing essential vitamins. The perception of the ‘health’ positives of such a drink can be marketed to effectuate a purchase. But the overall detrimental effect to health due to the high calorific value of the drink would far outweigh any positives.

Cooking can be, and certainly is for me, a pleasurable, rewarding and nutritionally sound way of ensuring that the food I eat is wholesome (ish…nothing like a sticky golden syrup steamed pudding and cream), is packed with flavour, and the non-essential chemicals and nutrients in my diet are limited. It is bordering on impossible, however, to cook something from scratch, and unless cooking from scratch is redefined it is a fallacy. A life without processed foods today is not possible, and our use of processed foods and the types we use are determined by our propensity to cook.

My personal take on it is that I love to prepare as close to scratch as possible. For example I will make mayonnaise rather than buy a jar of mayonnaise from a supermarket. Now, my mayonnaise contains Dijon mustard (processed), rice wine vinegar (processed) and grapeseed oil (processed), but without these ingredients it would not be possible to get the flavour and texture even close to what it should be. The difference is that my mayonnaise does not contain the extra ingredients such as modified corn starch, high fructose corn syrup, sugar, xanthan gum, added colours, lactic acid, sodium benzoate, calcium disodium edta, phosphoric acid, or added flavours (this list is apparently some of the additional ingredients in a certain well-known brand of mayonnaise). However, as a cook (and chef in the making – one hopes ) I appreciate the role that processed food and food science has to play in our everyday lives both for pleasure and for health. It’s just a matter of being selective, I guess.

 

Basic Mayonnaise

Introduction:

After learning how to make mayonnaise I have seriously never bought mayonnaise since. Firstly, I have yet to taste any bought mayonnaise that can compare with the flavour and freshness of the homemade version. Secondly, I really enjoy making it.

The first time I made it, meticulously following the recipe I had, it seemed like an adventure in to the big big world of cooking; now it’s something that I can whip up – or whisk up – in no more than 3 or 4 minutes. The secret behind a good stable mayonnaise is getting the right proportion of egg yolk to liquid, and of course the whisking action. Egg yolk is the most magnificent of natural foods – it has an incredible emulsifying power; that is the way it can cause liquids that do not normally mix to come together as one.

Just as an aside it is believed by some that the word for mayonnaise came from the old French for yolk, moyeu, meaning the centre hub. It certainly has logic to it.

Back on track, can I honestly say that I have not yet had a mayonnaise split on me; a girlfriend or two maybe, but not a mayonnaise. The reason I believe is the quality of the whisk I use and the size of the mixing bowl. I use a large whisk and large metal mixing bowl.

The requirement is to smash the oil in to droplets so that they can then be emulsified by the egg yolk. The large mixing bowl and structure of the large whisk enables vigorous beating, and hence a beautifully constructed creamy mayonnaise. If you have never made mayonnaise before I reckon you should approach this with a sense of adventure and excitement, and not in fear or hesitancy – somehow I reckon what’s in the mind has a significant bearing on what ends up on the plate – or sandwich.

 

Serves: A few sandwiches over a week   |   Preparation:  5-10 minutes  |   Cooking: No cooking required

 

Ingredients:

From 1 large egg  Egg yolk | Free range, organic and fresh eggs for the absolute best results.
1 tsp.  Dijon mustard | Dijon is a must staple in my kitchen – it can be used in so many dishes.
~250ml  Grapeseed oil | A non-invasive oil is required. Grapeseed has a subtle flavour and is perfect. Also, groundnut oil is great. The measure is not exact as I add the oil until I have a great consistency, but 250ml is a good start.
1 tsp.  Rice wine vinegar | Any white vinegar will do; rice wine vinegar is just my preference.
A pinch  Black pepper | Freshly cracked and cracked finely.
To taste  Sea salt | 

 

 

How To:

To the mixing bowl add the egg yolk and Dijon mustard and whisk until blended.

Now start adding the oil. Here is where the large bowl and whisk come in to play. When I first made mayonnaise I studiously added the oil drop by drop and then in a very steady stream. If it’s your first time then I would recommend this. However, I can pour in 50ml at a time and then vigorously whisk and I get a perfect emulsion. So add all the oil, in your chosen way, and you will get a thick and creamy emulsion.

Now whisk in the vinegar and pepper. If you think the mayonnaise is a little too ‘wet’ then whisk in more oil to slightly thicken. Taste and add salt as required.

Notes:

  • I very rarely add the salt as I find there is enough salt in the Dijon mustard to give the desired flavour.
  • The mayonnaise can be, and I have, made in a food processor. In this case add the oil in a steady stream. I must say that the manual method produces better and more consistent results, for me anyhow.