Saturday, 21 June 2014

I'm teaming up with wine guru Michael Olivier for excellent recipe + wine pairings

I'm excited to tell you that my friend Michael Olivier will be collaborating with me on this blog from now on. Michael has agreed to provide expert wine recommendations for all my future recipes, and I'm ridiculously pleased to team up with him.

Revered Cape food & wine fundi Michael Olivier. Follow him on Twitter: @manmetdiepan
Anyone who knows Michael will agree that his huge kind heart is just one among his many endearing qualities. I first met him some four years ago, when he congratulated me on a speech I gave about seminal food writers at the 2012 South African Food Blogger's Conference. I was an unknown food blogger, and he was one of the Cape's best-loved elders in the food and wine community. I appreciated this because at the time - and not much has changed since then, I'm afraid - food bloggers were regarded by many in the mainstream food media as talentless upstarts.

We formed an instant connection and were soon firm friends. Over the ensuing years, Michael became a treasured mentor. He encouraged and supported me with boundless enthusiasm, as he's done for so many newcomers to the Cape food world - budding chefs, young wine-makers, beginner food bloggers, and so on.  Michael's rare generosity in sharing his expertise, with no expectation of anything in return, reminds me of that quote 'A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle'.   He's also very funny, very clever, practical, implacable and stuffed with knowledge, which sums up what I want in a friend.

Last year Michael won the Lannice Snyman Lifetime Achievement Award from Eat Out, affirming his position as le grand fromage (The Big Cheese) of South African food & wine.

I know very little about wine - apart from being an expert in drinking it - and have not much interest in this area, so I hope Michael's inspired recommendations will teach me (and you) about a whole new world of flavour.

I must mention (with an exasperated sigh) that no money, favours or freebies are exchanging hands in this collaboration - it's only about a love of wine, food, and each other.

The first two recipes updated with Michael's wine pairings:

My Low-Carb Double-Cauliflower Cheese

Beef Shin, Tomato & Olive Stew

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Sunday, 15 June 2014

Low-Carb Double Cauliflower Cheese

I love cheesy cauliflower cloaked in bubbling white sauce, but not a morsel has passed my lips since I started my low-carb regime last year. Then it occurred to me  - why not make a 'white sauce' from puréed cauliflower? I did, and that's why I've called this new recipe Double Cauliflower Cheese.  It's also doubly cheesy, with a topping of both Cheddar and Parmesan.  I've added some sympathetic flavours - mustard, lemon, nutmeg and white pepper - to the sauce to tone down the caulifloweriness, and I'm pleased with the result. This is gluten-free, diabetic-friendly, and well suited to anyone on a Low-Carb High Fat (#LCHF) regime.

Low-Carb Double-Cauliflower Cheese.

Wine recommendation from Michael Oliver: Boland Cellar Five Climates
Chenin Blanc 2014. Go to the end of the page for more detail about this pairing.

This isn't difficult to make, but to achieve a silken purée you will need a fairly powerful food processor fitted with a metal blade. If you don't have one, you can use a liquidiser or stick blender and a lot of patience. Don't add the cream to the sauce too early if you're going to be whizzing it for a long time, as it may thicken or even turn to buttery granules. If you find your sauce is a little grainy despite your patient blitzing, push it through a sieve before you pour it over the cauliflower florets.

This is good with a squirt of tomato sauce, my family reckons, but I like it flecked with Tabasco. If you want to add real luxury to the dish, throw in some crisped bacon bits when you assemble the dish, or use cubed, fried gammon, as I've done in this recipe: Luxurious Broccoli 'n Cheese with Gammon, and a Parmesan Crust.

And if you're not on a low-carb regime, try my Luxurious Cauliflower Cheese with Bacon and Leeks, which has an indulgent topping of buttered breadcrumbs.

This recipe will make slightly more sauce than you need, but you can cover the remainder and save it for dolloping over steamed veggies later in the week.  For extra flavour, and if you have time, infuse the hot milk ahead of time with a bay leaf, a slice of onion and a clove.

Low-Carb Double-Cauliflower Cheese

2 large heads cauliflower, or 4 small ones
5 Tbsp (75 ml) water
½ cup (125 ml) hot milk, plus extra for thinning
4 Tbsp (60 ml) cream
2 Tbsp (30 ml) butter
2½ cups (about 150 g) grated Cheddar
2 tsp (10 ml) Dijon mustard
a pinch or more of freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
a pinch of white pepper, to taste
a squeeze of lemon juice

For the topping: 
1 cup (250 ml, fairly loosely packed) grated Cheddar
5 Tbsp (75 ml) grated Parmesan or Grana Padano
sweet paprika or cayenne pepper, for dusting

Heat the oven to 180 ºC, fan on.

First make the sauce. Remove the green leaves from one of the cauliflowers (or two, if you're using small caulis).  Trim off the stalk and cut the cauliflower lengthways into quarters. Now use a sharp knife to cut away the core, and break up the florets.

Heat a large pot over a medium-high flame, add the water, the cauli florets and a pinch of salt. Cover and let them  steam for about 15 minutes, or until the stalks are very tender.  Check the pan now and again, adding more water if the pan starts to dry out.  If you'd like a nutty taste, let the water dry up so the florets take on a little golden colour, but watch them carefully so they don't scorch.

Whizz the cauliflower with the butter, cream
and milk to a fine purée. 
Drain the cauliflower in a colander for 2 minutes then tip it, piping hot, into a food processor (or return it to the pan if you're using a stick blender).  Add the milk, cream and butter and whizz to a fine, soft purée.

Now, while the mixture is still hot, add the grated Cheddar and process until the cheese has melted into the sauce.

Add the mustard, nutmeg and white pepper and mix well. Now thin the sauce with more hot milk so it's about the consistency of a thickish white sauce.

Season to taste with salt. Add a spritz or two of lemon juice - just enough to give the sauce a little sparkle.  Set aside.

Cut up and steam the remaining cauliflower, as described above, but cook it until it is just tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife. (I do this in the microwave, in a big bowl tightly covered with clingfilm - it takes about 7 minutes, on high.)  Drain well in a colander for three minutes, then tip the florets into a large buttered oven-proof dish.

Top the cauliflower cheese with grated Cheddar, Parmesan
and a dusting of sweet paprika or cayenne pepper.
Pour over the reserved sauce - just enough generously to coat the florets - and sprinkle with the Cheddar, Parmesan and a dusting of sweet paprika (or cayenne pepper if you fancy that).

Bake in a hot oven for 20-25 minutes, until the cheese is bubbling and golden.  Serve immediately with a crisp green salad.

Serves 4 hungry people, or 6 as a side dish.

Wine pairing by Michael Olivier: 

It looks like: Pale gold straw in the glass. Gem bright.

It smells like: Classic Chenin. Tropical fruits like guava. Honey. White flowers.

It tastes like: Excellent mouthful of wine with great breadth and depth of flavour. The guava is in full presence, as are slice ripe pear and red apple. While dry, there is a whisper of honey. Long aftertaste, clean, crisp and fresh.

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Saturday, 14 June 2014

Low-Carb Beef Shin, Tomato & Olive Stew with a Naartjie Gremolata

It's the gremolata that makes this stew special: a heavenly scent of citrus, parsley and garlic billows up as your face meets the plate. The starring ingredient here is freshly zested naartjie [clementine] peel - a glorious South African flavour that brings such warmth and colour to winter kitchens.

Beef Shin, Tomato & Olive Stew with Naartjie, Lemon, Garlic & Parsley Gremolata.
 Bowl by my uncle David Walters, Master Potter of Franschhoek.

Wine recommendation from Michael Oliver: Simonsig Pinotage 2012.  Go to the
end of the  page for more detail about this pairing.

I'm besotted with naartjies and use them with abandon in many dishes, even more so now that I've discovered that they have no impact on my blood sugar. They're one of the only fruits I, as a diabetic, can eat with no fear.  At the end of this post, you'll find links to some of my favourite naartjie recipes.

This nourishing beef & olive stew is easy to make. 

This heartwarming, deep-flavoured stew is easy to make, but it involves several steps, and takes time, as all good stews do.  It will take you about 45 minutes to get the stew on the go - so put on some music and relax into the cooking! After that you can leave the pot on the stove over a very low heat and forget about it for two or three hours.

Please use well-trimmed, dark-red beef shin in this recipe, preferably with the bone in.  Shin is much leaner than other similar stewing cuts, and it dissolves beautifully into melt-in-the-mouth pieces.  You can use boneless shin if you don't fancy finding those fat ivory bangles in your stew, but the bone marrow does add lovely unctuousness to this dish, and the leftovers make good treats for jealous dogs.

A tip: avoid sliced shin that looks as if it has bone dust sprinkled over the meat.  If your butcher can't slice up a shin without splintering the bone, his saw isn't sharp enough, and you must find a better supplier.  The shins I used here come from Woolies - they're on special now.

If anyone in your family doesn't like olives, set aside a portion before you add the olives.

This recipe contains four tablespoons of flour, so it isn't perfect if you're on a punishing low-carb diet. However, this is a piffling amount of carbohydrates split between six to eight people, so I think I can confidently recommend this for anyone on a low-carb or diabetic regime.

Some of the ingredients for this dish: carrots, leeks, beef shin, bacon, garlic,
red wine, chopped tinned tomatoes, olives and naartjie peel. 

Here's an Instagram quick video of my making this dish:

Beef Shin, Tomato & Olive Stew with Naartjie Gremolata

8 (2 kg) bone-in beef shin slices
4 Tbps (60 ml) white flour
salt and milled black pepper
4 rashers streaky bacon, chopped
3 Tbps (45 ml) olive oil, for frying
2 large onions
500 g medium carrots
500 g small leeks
2 bay leaves
a large sprig of fresh thyme
4 cloves garlic, peeled
5 Tbsp (75 ml) tomato paste
1 cup (250 ml) dry red wine
2 x 410 g tins tomato-and-onion mix, or chopped tomatoes
1 thumb-sized strip naartjie [clementine] or orange peel
24 Calamata olives, pitted

For the gremolata:
the finely zested rind of 2 small naartjies
the finely zested rind of a lemon or lime
5 Tbsp (75  ml) finely chopped fresh curly parsley
2 small cloves garlic, peeled and finely grated

Trim any small pads of fat off the shin slices. Snip the membrane surrounding the slices here and there so the meat can collapse easily in the pan.  Put the flour on a plate, season generously with salt and pepper and mix well.

Heat a large heavy-based lidded pot over a high flame and fry the bacon bits dry until golden and just crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Press the shin slices - three at a time - into the seasoned flour, and shake to remove the excess. Add the olive oil to the pan and when it is very hot and shimmering - but not yet smoking - add the first three shin slices. Fry for 3 minutes, until nicely golden and caramelised, then turn them over to brown the undersides.  Don't allow the pan to get too fiercely hot, or your stew will have black spots.  Remove the slices from the pan and set aside on a plate. Repeat with the remaining slices.

In the meantime, get the vegetables ready.  Peel the onions and cut them into thick slices, crossways. Do the same with the carrots, cutting them into 2-cm thick slices. Trim the bases of the leeks, remove the green upper parts and slice the white and pale green sections crossways into 4-cm lengths.

When you've finished browning the shin, add the onions, carrots, leeks, bay leaves and thyme sprig to the pan, turn down the heat and sauté for 4-5 minutes, or until the onions are beginning to turn golden.

Gently sauté the veggies in the bacon fat & olive oil.
Finely grate or chop the garlic, and add it into the vegetables along with the tomato paste.  Cook, stirring often, for a minute, without allowing the garlic to burn. Pour in the red wine and deglaze the pan, stirring and scraping to dislodge any golden stickiness.

Turn up the heat and add the tinned tomatoes and the reserved bacon and beef shin. Press the shin pieces deep into the liquid and bring to a fast boil. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.

Now turn down the heat to its lowest setting. Cover and bubble very gently for 2½ to 3 hours, or until the meat is so soft you can pull it apart with a fork.  Thirty minutes before the end of the cooking time, add the olives.

Check the stew now and then to make sure it isn't sticking on the bottom.  You shouldn't need to add extra liquid, but if the sauce seems too thick, thin it down with a little water.

Just before you serve the stew,  mix together, in a small bowl, the grated naartjie and lemon zest, the chopped parsley and the freshly grated garlic.  Turn off the heat under the stew, and sprinkle with the gremolata.  Alternatively, you can pass the gremolata around the table and let your guests help themselves. [Postscript 15 June 2014: My daughter says not to put too much gremolata on each portion as it can overpower the taste of the stew.]

Serve with hunks of warm crusty bread, or rice, or boiled baby potatoes, or - best of all - creamy mash.

Serves 8 as a main course. 

Wine pairing by Michael Olivier: 

It looks like: ‘Deep Persian carpet red’, say the estate notes. At the edge of the glass the wine shows ruby purple, an indication of its youth.

It smells like: Sweet red berries and cinnamon spice.

It tastes like: Again the red berries. Soft tannins. Sappy with fruit cake spices on the long aftertaste.

More naartjie recipes: 

Slow-Cooked Moroccan-Spiced Beef and Apricot Stew with Naartjie Couscous

Dried Naartjie Peel, and a South African Milk Tart to go under it

Naartjie Mousse in Dark-Chocolate Cups, with Rosemary Flowers

Caramel-Dipped Naartjies on Kebab Sticks

Couscous, Feta & Pea Salad with a Naartjie Dressing

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Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Low-Carb Griddled Chicken Breasts with Romesco-Style Sauce

There are many variations of this flavour-packed Catalan sauce, and here is mine.  Being a low-carb recipe, it contains none of the fried breadcrumbs sometimes added to romesco sauces.  If you're on a low-carb, #LCHF or diabetic diet, I don't think you'll miss the crumbs at all, because the toasted hazelnuts and almonds add lovely crunch, while the fiercely roasted red peppers and tomatoes produce natural sweetness and gorgeous depth of flavour. This is delicious dolloped over flash-fried chicken breasts, and very good with melting aubergine slices, pan-fried fish fillets, braised leeks and plain old hard-boiled eggs.

Low-Carb Griddled Chicken Breasts with Romesco-Style Sauce. The Africa shape
of this chicken breast is entirely unintentional, but somehow appropriate. Plate by my uncle
David Walters, Master Potter of Franschhoek. 
Wine recommendation from Michael Oliver: Nativo White 2013
You can whizz this sauce to fine purée, or pulse it in a food processor to a coarse pesto so it has some texture.  Because I prefer this sauce slightly chunky, I don't bother to peel the peppers.  But if you don't like pepper skin, you can roast the peppers whole in the oven (or blacken them over a flame), then scrape off all the charred skin before you process the sauce.

This sauce is traditionally made with mild dried nyora peppers, but as you're not likely to find these in South Africa, I have a specified a pinch or two of dried chilli flakes. Add more if you want a sauce with a memorable kick.

It's important to achieve a good balance of sweetness and acidity in this recipe. I've used a delicious Spanish sherry vinegar here but, again, this is not easy to find in South Africa, so I suggest you use red wine or balsamic vinegar, adding it a few drops at a time until you're satisfied with the taste.

I use blanched, skinned hazelnuts from Woolies, but if you're not able to find these, you will need to toast the skin-on hazelnuts in a dry pan first, then rub them energetically in a tea towel to remove the skins.

Low-Carb Griddled Chicken Breasts with Romesco-Style Sauce

For the sauce:
3 red peppers [capsicums or bell peppers]
1 large white onion, peeled
250 g cherry tomatoes
30 g blanched, skinned hazelnuts (see my note, above)
30 g slivered almonds
5 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped or grated
a pinch or two of dried chilli flakes, or more, to taste (see recipe)
2 Tbsp (30 ml) extra-virgin olive oil, plus a little extra
2 tsp (10 ml) sherry vinegar (or red-wine or balsamic vinegar)
1 tsp (5 ml) sweet paprika
salt and milled black pepper
a squeeze of lemon juice

For the chicken:
6 skinless, deboned chicken breasts
1 Tbsp (15 ml) olive oil
1 Tbsp (15 ml) butter
salt & milled black pepper
a squeeze of lemon juice

To serve:
lemon wedges
baby salad leaves

Heat the oven to 200 °C, fan on, or 210 °C if your oven has no fan.

Lightly oil a large baking tray.  Remove the stalks and seeds from the red peppers and cut into big wedges.  Cut the onion lengthways into thick slices, and slice the cherry tomatoes in half.  Arrange the vegetables in a single layer in the baking tray, and rub a little olive oil over the onion slices.  Season lightly with salt and roast in a hot oven for 45-60 minutes, or until the veggies are very soft and have blackened edges here and there.  Watch them closely so they don't scorch or stick.

While the vegetables are roasting, put the hazelnuts and almonds into a dry frying pan, set over a medium-low heat and cook, tossing frequently, until they are golden brown and lightly toasted. Don't take your eye off them for a moment - they burn in an instant.  Add a teaspoon of olive oil to the pan, along with three-quarters of the peeled, crushed garlic.  Cook gently, over a low heat, for another 60 seconds, without letting the garlic brown. The idea here is to take the sting out of the garlic. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Scrape all the roasted vegetables into a food processor fitted with a metal blade.  Add the chilli flakes, the nut/garlic mixture, 2 Tbsp olive oil, the reserved garlic, the vinegar and the paprika.  Whizz to a fairly coarse purée - or to a fine paste if that's what you prefer - stopping now and then to scrape down the sides.  If the blades are reluctant to turn, add a little more olive oil.

Season to taste with salt and milled black pepper.  Add a spritz of lemon juice - just enough to 'lift' the sauce. Use a spatula to scrape the sauce into a bowl.  Serve immediately, or cover tightly and refrigerate for up to 3 days.

To prepare the chicken:  Place a chicken breast between two sheets of clingfilm or sturdy greaseproof paper and use a rolling pin (or a wine bottle) gently to bash it out and flatten it so it's of a fairly even thinness all over.  The trick here is to start in the middle and work outwards, using gentle thumps that won't shred the chicken or make holes in it. Repeat with the remaining breasts.

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and cook the breasts, over a medium-high heat, for about two minutes on each side, or until just cooked through.  (If you're not certain they're cooked, cut a slit on the underside of the thickest part of the biggest breast. If it's still pink inside, cook the breasts for another minute or so.)

Turn down the heat, add the butter and a squeeze of lemon juice, season to taste with salt and pepper and cook for another minute,  basting the breasts with the butter & lemon juice.  Remove from the pan, rest for a minute, then serve hot with the romesco sauce, lemon wedges and baby salad leaves.

Serves 6.

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Sunday, 8 June 2014

Low-Carb Griddled Baby Butternut with Chorizo, Feta & a Lemon Dressing

This beautiful black plate is the work of my uncle, master potter
David Walters of Franschhoek. The shiny black slick of glaze
 across the plate is designed to stop your fork from grating.
I seldom see these beautiful baby vegetables in the shops, and when I do spy them, I grab a few punnets and race home to cook them. They're similar to courgettes [zucchini] but have a nuttier, sweeter flavour, a denser texture and a beautiful pale-orange colour.

In this easy tapas-style dish, I've griddled them until just tender, and combined them with fried chorizo, crumbled feta and a garlicky lemon vinaigrette, with toasted pumpkin seeds for crunch.  If you can't find baby butternuts, use courgettes, sliced into thick leaves.

I haven't been able to figure out the carbohydrate content of these veggies, but I had a great big bowl of them for lunch, and they didn't cause any spike in my blood sugar, so I can assume their carbohydrate content and glycaemic load is negligible.  This recipe is suitable for anyone on a low-carb, #LCHF or diabetic regime.

The chorizo sausage I used in for this dish wasn't the best in its class, but was all that was available at my local supermarket. The gorgeous smoky note it adds to this dish makes all the difference, and I'm looking forward to trying this with an excellent Italian cured sausage, or with crisp-fried bacon bits.

Wine recommendation from Michael Oliver: La Bri Merlot 2012. 

Low-Carb Griddled Baby Butternut with Chorizo, Feta and a Lemon Dressing

600 g baby butternut (or courgettes, if you can't find mini butternuts)
2 Tbsp (30 ml) olive oil, for frying
1 spicy chorizo sausage, sliced
a squeeze of fresh lemon juice
1 'wheel' (about 70 g) feta cheese
1/3 cup (80 ml) pumpkin seeds [optional]
salt and milled black pepper to taste
baby salad leaves, to serve

For the dressing:
1 clove garlic, peeled (or more, to taste)
a pinch of flaky sea salt
½ tsp (2.5 ml) prepared Dijon mustard, or a big pinch of Hot English Dry Mustard powder
the juice of a small lemon
4 Tbsp (60 ml) extra-virgin olive oil

Rinse the baby butternuts (or courgettes) under cold running water to remove any grit.  Cut lengthways into slices about 7 mm thick.

Add the chorizo slices towards the
end of the cooking time so their smoky
flavour permeates the veggies. 
Heat a griddle pan, or a large flat pan, over a very high heat. Add the olive oil and - when it is shimmering -  arrange the baby butternut slices in a single layer on the pan.  Cook over a medium-high heat for about 5 minutes on each side (three if you're using courgettes) or until toasty and golden on the outside, and just tender on the inside.  Watch them closely, adjusting the heat if necessary because they scorch quickly.

Two minutes before the veggies are ready, add the sliced chorizo, and fry until hot and crisp. Now add a generous spritz of lemon juice. As soon as the juice has evaporated, remove the pan from the heat, set aside and keep warm. Season to taste with salt and milled black pepper.

While the butternut slices are cooking, make the dressing. Put the garlic and salt into a mortar and pound to a paste.  Add the mustard and lemon juice and stir until the salt has dissolved.

Now whisk in the olive oil to form a smooth emulsion.  If the dressing seems a bit sharp, add a pinch of white sugar. Set aside.

Place the pumpkin seeds in a dry frying pan and toast over a medium heat for 1-2 minutes, or until they are hot and crunchy.

To serve, lightly blot the baby-butternut and chorizo slices with kitchen paper to remove any grease.  Arrange them on a platter, sprinkle over the dressing - just enough to coat the slices -  and scatter with the toasted pumpkin seeds, baby salad leaves and crumbled feta.

Serve hot or warm.

Serves 4 as a starter. 

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Thursday, 5 June 2014

Spicy Low-Carb Roast Chicken Soup

Although the picture below shows a few dabs of fresh red chilli, this is delicately spiced and mild enough to offer to kids. I've used restraint because I don't want the spices to overpower the deep delicious chickeny flavours of this soup. The chilli is there to give the soup a finishing kick, but entirely optional.  I often use ready-roasted rotisseried chickens in soups these days because their flesh and skin have a gorgeous melting texture and a salty succulence that's difficult to reproduce in a domestic oven, and they're a world apart from the insipid flesh you'll pull off a chicken that's been simmered in a home-made stock.

Spicy Low-Carb Roast Chicken Soup

It may seem a hassle to make stock using the bones and skin of your supermarket chicken, but this process takes just 30 minutes, and adds glorious depth of flavour. The veggies are seethed at the same time, in a separate pot; after that you'll need just 10 minutes to put the soup together. And dinner's on the table!

If you don't have all the ingredients for the stock, throw in what you do have in your fridge - half an onion, a stick of celery, and so on.

I've used vegetables to thicken this soup (leeks, cauliflower plus a few carrots for colour) and it contains not a grain of starch, making it suitable for anyone on a low-carb or diabetic regime.

I bought the chicken for this soup from Checkers - hot out of a huge industrial rotisserie - and it was plump, juicy and packed with flavour.  My favourite rotisseried chickens, however, come from Woolies.

Spicy Low-Carb Roast Chicken Soup

1 ready-roasted/rotisseried chicken (it helps if it's still warm, as this makes it easier to strip away the flesh)
6 medium leeks (500 g, after trimming)
4 large carrots, peeled
2½ litres boiling water
2 cloves
2 bay leaves
a few parsley stalks
freshly milled black pepper
2 Tbsp (30 ml) olive oil or butter
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 small head of cauliflower (500 g), trimmed and broken into florets
4 Tbsp (60 ml) cream
½ tsp (2.5 ml) turmeric
½ tsp (2.5 ml) cumin
½ tsp (2.5 ml) mild curry powder
½ tsp (2.5 ml) chilli powder
a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

To garnish:
finely chopped or sliced fresh red chillies [optional]
fresh parsley or coriander

Pull the rotisseried chicken into big flakes, leaving
some golden skin behind if you fancy it.
Tear all the flesh away from the chicken, pull it into large shreds, place in a bowl and cover.  (If you like chicken skin, cut away the breasts whole and slice diagonally into strips so each piece has a covering of golden skin). Put all the skin and bones into a large pot. Scrape out any golden-brown jelly or juices that have collected in the chicken's packet and add to the pot.  Turn on the heat and gently fry the bones and skin for a minute or two.

Prepare the leeks by trimming off the dark-green upper parts and making a long horizontal slit three-quarters of the way through their lengths.  Fan out the ‘pages’ of the leeks under a cold running tap and rinse away any grit hiding in the outer leaves. Set aside.

Add one leek and one carrot, each cut into thirds, to the pot, and pour in 2½ litres boiling water.  Now add the cloves, bay leaves and parsley stalks and season generously with milled black pepper.

Bring the stock to a fast boil, skimming off any foam as it rises, cover with a tilted lid and cook over a medium heat for 30 minutes, or until the carrot pieces are very soft.  Turn off the heat and let it sit for five minutes.  Using a large spoon, lift away and discard any fat.

While your stock is boiling, gentle sauté the leeks and carrots
in a separate pan.
While the stock is boiling, slice the remaining leeks and carrots.  Heat the oil or butter in a separate large pot (I use my wok) and gently sauté the veggies for about 4 minutes, or until the leeks are just beginning to soften. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Now place the cauliflower florets on top of the leeks and carrots, and add 4 ladles of boiling stock from the other pot.  (It's okay if the cauliflower is poking up above the water line - the steam inside the pot will cook it.)  Cover with a lid and simmer at a brisk bubble for 15 minutes, or until the carrots are very soft.

Remove the lid from the pot containing the veggies and place a colander on top.  Pour the hot stock through the colander and press down on the bones with the back of a spoon.  Retrieve the carrot and leek pieces from the colander and add them to the soup.

If your second pot isn't very big, you can pour everything back into the rinsed-out pot in which you made the stock.

Blitz to a fine purée using a stick blender or liquidiser.  If the soup is too thick, thin it to the desired consistency with hot water.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Stir in the cream, turmeric, cumin, curry powder, chilli powder and nutmeg,  and simmer for 5 minutes. Now add the chicken strips - reserving some for the garnish - and cook over a gentle heat for another few minutes, or until the chicken has heated through.

Serve with finely chopped red chilli, plenty of milled black pepper and a scattering of parsley or coriander.

Serves 6. 

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Sunday, 1 June 2014

Low-Carb Slow-Roasted Pork Neck with Caramelised Onions

The gravy I made for this dish was not a thundering success. I figured that whizzing up the golden onions, apple slices & carrots with Dijon mustard and a splash of cream was an inspired idea for a low-carb gravy, but I was mistaken. The flavours were great, but it had a curious grainy texture, with none of the silken mouth-feel I expect from a good gravy. My family weren't at all keen, and did not hesitate to tell me so. The pork and onions were scrumptious, however, so please try this recipe, and disregard the bowl of gravy at the top left of the picture below.  (I have given instructions for preparing the so-so gravy at the end of the recipe, in case you low-carbers feel like giving it a go.) This recipe is suitable for diabetics, and for anyone on a low-carb #LCHF regime.

Low-Carb Slow-Roasted Pork Neck with Caramelised Onions  
Wine recommendation from Michael Oliver: Zonnebloem Limited Edition Pinotage 2010.
 Go to the end of the page for more detail about this pairing.
My 2009 recipe for Roast Pork Neck with Leeks, Carrots and Apples has been the second-most popular recipe on this blog for many years (the first being South African Ginger Beer). Pork neck is an inexpensive cut ideal for slow roasting. It has superlative flavour and a melting, juicy texture that cannot be rivalled by any other cut of pork. It's a little difficult to find, but I'm pleased to see that Food Lovers Market now stocks vacuum-packed pork necks. If you don't have a branch near you, look for it in a good German butchery, or ask your own butcher to order it for you.

The ingredients for this dish include a pan-browned pork neck,
onions, bay leaves, thyme sprigs, fennel seeds and an apple.
The fennel seeds add a very faint aniseed flavour, but you can leave them out if you wish. If you're on a very low-carb regime, you might elect to omit the single apple in this recipe, but I urge you to leave it in, because it adds a lovely sweet note.

It's a pain in the neck to slice onions, so I do this in a jiffy using my food processor and its thickest slicing blade.

Serve this with bright steamed vegetables, or with tender-stem broccoli, griddled courgettes, or shredded stir-fried cabbage.

Low-Carb Slow-Roasted Pork Neck with Caramelised Onions 

1 x 1.8 kg pork neck 
3 Tbsp (45 ml) olive oil, for frying
5 large white onions, peeled and sliced
1 carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
2 slim sticks celery, leaves removed and thinly sliced
1 large apple, cored and thinly sliced (no need to peel it)
2 bay leaves
3 sprigs fresh thyme
½ tsp (2.5 ml) fennel seeds (optional)
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely grated or chopped
4 Tbsp (60 ml) red wine
1 Tbsp (15 ml) balsamic vinegar
4 Tbsp (60 ml) water
1 Tbsp (15 ml) prepared Dijon mustard
salt and milled black pepper

Heat to oven to 160 °C. Pat the pork neck dry on kitchen paper. Heat the oil in a large shallow ovenproof pan with a thick base. (You can do this in a heavy rectangular roasting pan, but you will need to watch the onions closely so they don't catch or burn.)

When the oil is beginning to shimmer, add the pork neck.  Sear it over a high heat on all sides, until it is golden-brown all over.  You may find that the meat sticks to the bottom of the pan for the first few minutes, but it will loosen with a gentle nudge once its surface has browned. This process should not take more than about 6-7 minutes, if your pan is hot enough.

Remove the meat from the pan and set aside on a plate. Add the onions, carrots, celery, apple, bay leaves and thyme sprigs.  Cook over a low heat, uncovered, stirring now and then, for 15-20 minutes, or until the onions are soft and a glorious golden colour. Don't allow the onions to burn, or you risk a bitter flavour.

Now add the garlic and cook for another minute, without letting it brown.

Turn up the heat and add the wine and vinegar. Deglaze the pan by stirring and scraping briskly to dislodge any sticky bits.

Place the browned pork neck on top of the golden onions, cover
and roast at a low temperature for two hours.
Pour in the water and place the pork neck on top of the veggies, along with any juices that have collected beneath it.  Cover the pan (use a double layer of tin foil if you don't have a lid that fits snugly) and bake for one hour at 160 °C.  Remove the lid or foil, and add a few more tablespoons of water if the onions seem dry.

Turn the heat down to 150 °C and roast for another hour, uncovered.

Remove the pork neck from the pan, place it on a warmed platter and let it rest, loosely covered with a sheet of tin foil, for 15-20 minutes.

When you're ready to serve, gently reheat the vegetables on your stove top and stir in the mustard. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.

Snip through and gently tear away the netting on the pork neck, then carve it into thick slices. Arrange these on a warmed platter, pour over any juices that have accumulated under it, and serve hot with the caramelised veggies.

If you'd like to try my-not-very successful low-carb 'gravy', remove two-thirds of the onion mixture, set aside and keep warm.  Heat the pan containing the remaining veggies, add two-thirds of a cup of water and bring to a gentle boil. Use a stick blender to blitz the mixture as finely as you can, adding more water if necessary.  Stir in 3 Tbsp (45 ml) cream and a little more Dijon mustard, if you think it needs it. Season generously with black pepper and serve hot.

Serves 6.

Wine pairing by Michael Olivier: 

It looks like: Deep ruby at the core, which pales to ruby garnet around the edges of the glass.

It smells like: Red and black berry fruits, whispers of charcuterie and smoke from the barrels.

It tastes like: Classical red Pinotage berry fruits, ripe bloodplums, a smidge of savouriness and smoke. Elegant with ripe tannins, fruit, acidity and the oak all perfectly balanced.

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