Sunday, 29 April 2012

Boudin Noir

Every so often, on my trudge to work in the half light, I remember to look up. The looming panorama of Pyrenees never fails to give a little surge of pleasure which sits giddily with my early morning grumpiness. Sometimes I remember that I mustn’t miss the view of the Pic du Midi just around the corner only to forget by the time I get there – perhaps put off by a cunningly-placed poodle poo. Bof! Never mind. It’s Boudin Noir day today!

Making black pudding is brilliant. A gruesome, stinky celebration of the art, perfected over generations, of turning something unpleasant into pure gold. There are myriad variations of the blood sausage, and the version from the Béarn is a different beast to neat horseshoes of Bury breakfast pudding. Ours is bulging with meat and ugly as a badger’s bottom.

I’ve eaten lungs several times, a mistake, generally - with the obvious exception of the heroic haggis - but they go in our black pudding, along with hearts and some blubbery necks. No doubt, the splendid application which has been devoted over the years to finding good use for every last scrap of pig is scant consolation to the individual involved for a pneumatic bullet in the brain. However, I am heartened by such miserly wastelessness. The meat is perfumed and padded out with hearty proportions of stock veg and generous seasoning, and the lot is hubbled and bubbled for hours before being chopped and mixed with a gallon or three of blood.

“Delightful,” you might be thinking. And you’d be right. It’s beautiful. Even raw. I haven’t mentioned the stinky bit yet. A pig’s colon is about as unpromising as it gets. It smells really bad. It has a double skin, the interior of which has had a lifetime of odour-eating and so is beyond the pale, even for the French. This fatty, fetid stocking must be painstakingly separated from the useful and tasty outer layer, before the sausage making can begin. Frankly, even the cleaned boyaus have some odour issues, and they are often full of annoying holes, but for me they are indispensible to the glorious end product that is Boudin Noir Béarnais.

Even cleaning up is fun. Think of the waves of blood in The Shining and you’re not far off the mark. Not everyone’s cup of tea, perhaps – but I love it.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Steamed sponge pudding with my mum’s marmalade. And Custard!

I’ve finally got round to doing that sponge pudding with the marmalade I made in January. It turned out belter! Light, sticky, tangy and sweeeet.

I served it for a wine and food evening last week. The French guests apparently expressed concern that English patisserie wouldn’t be up to much. I won them over. It may not be common knowledge over here, but the British are very good at this kind of thing!

Steamed Marmalade sponge

8oz/225g butter, softened
6oz/175g sugar
2 lemon zest
1 orange zest
Seeds from a vanilla pod – if you have it. Don’t worry if not.
Fresh ginger, grated. The size of a fat man’s thumb. This is optional too (you can put in some all or none of the flavourings...)

4 eggs
8oz/225g Self-raising flour – or, if you live in france, 225g normal flour + ½ a packet of levure chimique (5g/1tsp baking powder)
A pincho salt
2 lemon juice

A big fat dollop of golden syrup
A big fat dollop of (ideally My Mum’s)Marmalade.

You will need a 2 pint pudding basin (or something which will approximate to one), and a pan or steamer with a lid, in which it will comfortably sit. And some foil (or baking parchment + muslin + string).

Before you forget, smear a bit of butter all over the inside of your pudding bowl, then tip in some flour and roll it around so as to entirely coat in a thin layer of white. Discard any excess. Spoon in a generous dollop of golden syrup and then the same of marmalade. Does it look like there will be plenty of syrupy lava splooging down the sides of the cake when it is cooked and unleashed? If not, add a bit more of both. Good work!

Now cream the butter, sugar and your chosen flavourings until white and fluffy. It’s important to get plenty of air in. And that your butter isn’t hard, or you’ll be there all day...

Mix in the eggs, one at a time.

Add sifted flour and salt. Mix gently until uniform.

Spoon on top of the syrup in your bowl. Try to ensure all the syrup is covered by the cake mix.

Butter the underside of a peice of foil and loosely cover the bowl. You can use a piece of greaseproof paper, buttered and with a pleat in, just hanging over the edge of the bowl. Next, a muslin covers that, also with a fold in it, which must be secured with string. This is the old fashioned way of doing things, but I’ve tried both, and the second method is just a lot more faff for no benefit at all...

Place in your steaming device for 1 ¼ - 1 ½ hours. Don’t let it boil dry! It’s cooked when it is springy to the touch, and a skewer inserted will come out clean.

Turn out while still hot and eat the glorious, steaming sponge, and it’s frankly dangerous molten lava topping, with a very generous puddle of custard. If you have the good fortune to be dining with abstemious types, eat theirs too!  

Proper Custard

This is a rich crème anglaise. If you’re feeling a bit more frugal, you could substitute the cream for more milk and perhaps change 4 of the egg yolks into a whole egg...

200ml/ pint Double cream (or milk, if frugal)
300ml/ ½ pint Milk (not skimmed! What’s the point in that?...)
A vanilla pod (use the one you scraped the seeds out of for the sponge – or a splash of vanilla extract)

5 egg yolks (or 1 if frugal)
1 whole egg (or 2 if frugal)
30g/1oz Sugar

Heat the milk and cream with the vanilla in a saucepan.

Rest a sieve on top of a bowl big enough to contain all the ingredients. Put it somewhere close to the stove. You will need it later.

When the milk is hot, reduce the heat and combine the sugar and eggs. Beat till light and a bit fluffy.

Pour half the hot liquid into the egg. Mix thoroughly. Don’t mess about – the eggs will cook in the milk so you need to be quick to avoid scrambling.

Pour your eggy mix into the remaining milk in the pan. Over a lowish heat whisk the custard diligently  till it starts to thicken. Make sure you scrape the whisk over every part of the pan bottom, especially the corners. You will start to see traces from the whisk in the thickening custard. Still whisking, remove from the heat and immediately pour through the sieve into your waiting cool bowl.

If, in spite of your best efforts, the custard has still split, fret not. Give it a good old blitz with a hand blender (the saviour of many a batch of crème brulée ) and it will come back, albeit a little less thick.

Serve hot and fresh-made or cold. Don’t try to reheat it, it will almost certainly split.

Sponge pudding and custard. If you don’t like this I pity you...

Monday, 9 April 2012

Lucky Peach

I’ve recently stumbled across toilet reading. I wasn’t morally opposed. It just seemed unnecessary: what could be more relaxing than having a good old poo? Why supersize the experience? (I have dabbled in privy guitar playing – because Jimmy Hendrix supposedly did. The acoustics are interesting, but it’s just a bit weird.) However, for my birthday, Dot bought me a copy of a new food quarterly from America, Lucky Peach.

I’ve never had much time for magazines: short attention-span reading, lots of not-very-interesting stuff (much like The Internet) that I can’t be bothered wading through in order to happen on something good. Food magazines are inevitably geeky, and largely boring. I like Nigel Slater in the Observer magazine but can’t be arsed with OFM – too much of an ok thing. But I’m really enjoying Lucky Peach. It’s a vehicle of Dave Chang, New York noodle bar chef/tycoon – I’d never heard of him or his Momofuku restaurants, but then I’m staggeringly ignorant about lots of things.  Initially I found it overbearing, in both its Anthony Bourdain-style, American gung-ho-ness and its veneration of famous chefs. Yes, it is geeky, but it’s rather snazzily well-written. There aren’t too many recipes, and there’s a story to them (which I like) and it’s funny, interesting… and annoyingly out of my league. I wouldn’t recommend reading it cover to cover, but it’s perfect to dip into in bite-sized portions… Don’t forget to wash your hands!

I particularly enjoyed the idea of a booze-addled crab-boil feast – newspaper tablecloth, gas station beer, and sweet crab sap dribbling down your chin! It’s on my to-do list; I’ll keep you posted...