Is Peter Watson on an ego trip… yes but the duck recipe is good!

Question… Is Peter Watson on an ego trip?

Here’s my list of what I think we have lost and what we cannot seem to do any more… it seems likely that I am about to insult and hurt the collective feelings of many. You all know how gentle I am, mild, sweet, easy to get along with, hardly ever complain? Never, not ever do I send food back in restaurants. I might not eat it, I might even say to the waiter/ress that the food was crap, but I never ask it to be returned to the kitchen… I have sensitivities too, I have abiding memories of times when I have had people complain that their steak was underdone, too rare (when I went to no end of trouble to explain that this was the ONLY way we served it! I tried) and I was not nasty when I threw the steak and plate under the salamander and waited till the plate was red hot and handed it back to the punter, small incinerated black mess in the middle. I wonder even to this day, did the punter pay? Most likely they did, I was after all, only doing what was asked of me. I don’t recall ever seeing that punter again, perhaps they decided to stay home and cook their own. Its for the best anyway.

I have fathered five children, I have also done my best to be sure that they all have a deep interest in food, I didn’t succeed with them all, one or two are great eaters, but hardly ever venture into the kitchen, apart from necessity. The rest love a good cook and will be adventurous and try. I instilled in them all, as much as possible good knowledge of food, that I gleaned from my mother and her sisters as they cooked and preserved their way through the year. Oh yes, make no mistake, I have well and truly served my apprenticeship. Mind you, since confession is good for the soul, it is also fair to admit that I am not patient and nimble fingered enough to tackle some of the finer artistic endeavours of good food and eating, small and fiddly jobs in the kitchen tend to leave me gasping in a lather of perspiration and raising my mostly well modulated voice to a level said, by some to be unbecoming. I apologise.

I have paid the price for my excessive zeal, have eaten my way, as a learning curve you all understand, to the point where the body became wracked with Diabetic issues, I suffered for my craft. But dear reader it has all been worthwhile when I sit back and with a self satisfied small grin on my now, much depleted cheeks, I see that I have done all I can/could to make the world of food and eating a better place as I still do today, even as advanced decrepitude takes its miserable toll. (who ever said that aging gracefully is the way to go had bats in their brain, its a complete pain and anything that makes life’s food and wine choices, dependant on health and body capabilities, sucks.) But stoic to the end, I continue the good fight to be sure that I pass on to you dear, dear reader all the pent up knowledge that I have, whilst of course ensuring that my own deeply held convictions and food philosophies, gain prime place in your hearts and minds, thus ensuring that upstarts like so many of the celebrity chefs in todays world, are shown to be, as they are, money grubbing purveyors of their art and craft.

I, on the other hand, being as I have said above, mild, unassuming and sweet, have only the best interests of you all at heart and in no way mean to diminish your views or abilities by suggesting that the following list and a few words of explanation, are intended to offend or hurt feeling. But I do urge you all to give earnest consideration to my well chosen words and see if indeed you can, in no small measure, make this whole matter turn around to once again place food and cooking front and centre in your life.

This is not an exhaustive list, but a few of the things that I have noted….

Sponge Cakes/Cakes/Biscuits… I long for the taste of the blow away sponge cake, the sort that any country woman and many city women too could whip up in the twinkling of an eye, fill it with luscious home made jam and cream. But even simple cakes like a good plain cake, a great sultana cake, a chocolate cake seem to be beyond the ken of most these days. Greek families are reliant upon ancient grandmothers who rarely leave the kitchen to supply those delicious titbits found in all Greek kitchens. My mother was not a great baker, she was more than adequate, keeping the cake tins and biscuit tins well filled, even into her advanced years she was able to run up a cake or a sponge or a crunchy biscuit. Yet this seems now to be a thing of the past. Is it time, are we just not able to make enough time for these things that should all be part of our lives.

White Sauce… One of the very first things that I was ever taught was how make a great white sauce, call it béchamel if you wish, but it has so many many things are entirely dependant on it that to make and master this simple sauce is critical in the kitchen.

Stock… we just don’t, no one makes it these days, or is considered by many to be a restaurant or cheffy thing, but it doesn’t have to be and you by no means need to have a wide range of stocks, my suggestion is that you set aside a few hours to run up just a chicken stock and a beef stock and then freeze them until you need them. Making stock is not hard and requires very little attention.

Great Soup… is very often dependant on great stock. Soup in the past was a kitchen staple that was quickly made by most cooks. Today it seems that the vast majority of us either do not make soup or just don’t eat it. I suspect the latter, with the possible exception of the much maligned (over the years) tomato soup, that few people buy tinned soup. It is possible now in many market places to buy frozen soups that have been made to resemble home made soups. Its so easy, so incredibly easy and I will forgive you if you resort to ready made stock or even a stock cube or powder, just this once. For those who have not tasted the delights, I urge you to cook and enjoy the deeply delicious French Onion soup.

Bread… well we just never do, or very few of us do. Yet in the past it was mandatory. Today we have spawned a whole industry of artisan bakers plying their whares. Bread is very very easy, it simply requires time.

Pastry/tarts of all kinds… why of why are we so afraid of pastry and why do people think it such a crime to eat. It is without doubt one of the great eating pleasures that the world has to offer, it is a simple combination of great flour, fat (butter or lard), egg, water and in the case of a sweet pastry, some sugar. It is not high in fats, not high in carbs and could even be said to be good for you. It can be made with wholemeal flour, but not with the same degree of refinement. My mother was adept at flaky pastry and I was and am completely addicted. The only pastry Mum drew the line at making was a puff pastry, every baker in town had  giant slab of beautifully made puff pastry on the counter and you just asked for what ever you needed. Everything else was made at home. Try making some flaky pastry at home and then running up your own home made sausage rolls (buy the sausage meat from your butcher and add some onion, herbs, salt and pepper, mums secret was some grated carrot, potato and even a little apple.) Your family and friends will be so impressed.

Hollandaise/Béarnaise/Butter Sauce… well these seem to be a thing of the past, completely. So yesterday and its such a pity as these sauce styles are so dammed delicious, a great steak, sitting atop a buttery fried crouton to absorb the juices and then napped with a tarragon infused Béarnaise sauce… you have not lived. These sauces are seen as the province of the professional chef, but they are not that difficult to make. The down side is that they do not store or keep well, using them at the time is important. But I urge you to give them a try, they are not difficult and for those of you who are daunted, they can be done in a blender, but be careful it does do to over beat the sauce, it turns the sauce hot and can cause it to separate.

Scones… well when was the last time that you cooked scones? They are amongst the most easy and simple of all baked goods to make and yet these days so few people do them. Why? I have written about scones and done some recipes just recently and I urge you all to get back into the kitchen late on a Sunday afternoon and make a few batches to be eaten with some of that home made jam you ran up last summer, or in the case of one of two of my children, (ladies of the CWA, turn your heads and do not read this) with vegemite. I recently discovered the delights of Cream Scones, but I still eschew Lemonade Scones as some sort of affectation of the 1970’s. Scones can have an after life toasted, baked in the oven as a mini pizza and quickly warm up. Life without the prospect of scones holds no meaning.

Whole Fish unless you are from a Mediterranean country. I was shocked to learn that many many people do not feel confident or capable top handle cooking whole fish, yet in so many ways they are more forgiving than fillets or steaks. I am prepared to admit that most people have a problem in undercooking fish and feel as if they are not able to tell when the fish is cooked.  A slim knife inserted close to the bones will soon tell you what the state of play is. Fish cooks quickly, is healthy for you and remains in moderate abundance. I suspect that the whole fillet/steak thing is again some sort of time and bone issue and that cooks will think that it is easier. In fact it is more expensive and the time is usually similar, so in every way whole fish has the advantage over fillets, steaks and the very very awful frozen fish.

Grow herbs. So easy and they are so forgiving. Leave them to dry out in their pots and they will not (often) turn up their toes and die. Basil is the main exception, it does need to be watered. Many herbs do not have an issue when planted with other species, so plan a couple of biggish pots, fill with good mulch, good quality soil with plenty of rotted matter, make sure the pots are well drained and head to your nursery to buy some seedlings. Enjoy the delights of fresh herbs all summer and freeze them or dry them for use during the winter.

Eat Offal. Where do I start. I told you I was not into finger waggling and lecturing, in this case I am prepared to make an exception and waggle at you. I want you all to think of the warrior, think of the way that a warrior committed to the land would essentially farm his food, he/she (I am not sexist) would take only what he/she’s family could eat and be sure to consume the lot. There would be no wastage. The same cannot be said for todays throw away, wasteful, dependant, non greenies who espouse and accept that the meat they eat comes from (well, one hesitates to remind people that the flesh once was a living creature… most meat peak bodies go to no end of trouble to ensure that we do not see that) a plastic bag that was used on very few cuts of meat with the balance of the carcass going into such things as hamburgers, pet foods and chicken feed. I could go on and on and in the end, hopefully embarrass you all into relooking at the whole issue of meat.  My wish is that you would try the delights of such things as Brains in Black Butter sauce, Lamb liver, thinly sliced and cooked with a little bacon and some tomato added to the pan to make a sauce. Have you ever tried a good steak and kidney pie, probably not. Although not offal, how many of you have cooked with the cheaper cuts of meat, now only available from butchers who butcher their own carcass. I must fess up here, there is one item of offal I have some issues with and it may be the way that the Blessed Iris and the Mother of my children prefer it, its tripe in white sauce. I cannot get it down, makes me gag. Yet tripe cooked in a fried roulade, no problems. Please dear reader, think the whole meat thing again and make some decisions that will make sure that our future as carnivores is secure and that those purveyors of bad meat, of all types, will be forced to look again at their own businesses, or loose money.

Mayonnaise. This can be tricky, I will admit that, I have succeeded over the years in breaking a lot of emulsions and causing the oil and eggs to separate, but that was often due to me being hasty and not taking the time to do it by hand with care. A blender is frequently too fast and does not allow the egg/oil to correctly merge to a thick unctuous glory. There is so much that you can do with a great mayonnaise that to learn it is essential, Think a garlic aioli, and then think your own creative invention, just master the basics, don’t be afraid if you have not got cold pressed EVO from some exotic location, just a good old fashioned Olive Oil or for that matter, a nut oil will be great. Go on, give it a go.

Custard egg or baked. My mother taught me to whip up a custard in a flash, she was not embarrassed, and neither am I to use a packet or tin of custard powder, but  true egg custard is something else and should not be confused with custard powder. Baked custard is something that can be eaten hot or cold, can become a bread and butter pudding and can turn a plain no nonsense bowl of stewed fruit or even a trifle if you could ever find the time to assemble one,  a dream. I don’t want to hear you carping about fattening and life threatening, too many carbs, not enough of this or that, my Grandfather lived till he was 94 and every meal, maybe with the exception of breakfast, ended with a good desert, slathered in cream and custard.

Yoghurt. If you need to be convinced that yoghurt is popular and that the yoghurt that you buy at the grocers is filled with chemicals, then take a good hard look in the yoghurt section of the fridge. Yoghurt is a staple in so many countries, made for hundreds of years to preserve milk that was excess to needs or was about to turn. Its use as a flavour enhancer due to its acidic nature is well known. Its health properties for the body are well documented. Why in the name of all that’s holy would you eat yoghurt that has a bunch of chemicals on the basis that it is good for you, and then make your body expel the chemicals? Why? Making yoghurt is a cinch, its as easy as getting a small jar of good acidophilus yoghurt from a reputable supplier, hopefully some full cream ‘real’ milk and off you go from there. Once you have made your own yoghurt and decided that it takes very very little time to do it, and the taste is superb, you will become addicted. I promise!

Soufflé/Roulade. Now you could be excused here for saying that I have gone over board, and perhaps you may be right. But I regret the apparent demise of the soufflé and the roulade. Both of these are based on the same method and require that you have the ability to make a spiffy béchamel. Having mastered that, it is not a difficult thing to complete a soufflé and serve it up for dinner with a good salad. Flavouring is up to you, don’t of course recommend meats though. Well pureed fish can be good. A roulade is a flat soufflé cooked in a swiss roll tin and rolled in the same way as a swiss roll (use a damp tea towel.. very easy) and fill it with your choice. Mushroom is my favourite, spinach with garlic, and I like to serve it with a tomato sauce. Its great food and perhaps may take a minute or two more of your time, but its well worth it.

Crepes or Pancakes. My lot demand that we have pancakes as often as I am prepared to cook them. Its so easy, so simple and again just a question of time. The batter is just some egg, milk, a bit of melted butter, plain flour. Simple as all get out but lots of you buy pre mixed … that’s a sin against nature and if the person who makes it becomes wealthy, then I will hang my head in shame and embarrassment. I guess that also included in this are the CWA stand by of pikelets, also called griddle scones (or girdle) and these are made with a self raising flour and so not difficult. You know what, you can get up in the morning, make up a batter, have your shower and then run up a batch of pancakes or pikelets of even the American style fluffy pancake with baking powder to make it rise and a bit of sugar. Its just not hard and, consider that you will gain so many brownie points from just doing it.

Octopus, squid or cuttlefish(whole). It can be daunting being confronted by a slimy mess of tentacles that seem to have a life of their own and look threatening. Courage Camille, its easy. With a large Octopus, put on a pot of water into which you have tossed some chopped celery, an onion, some carrot and if you want to be generous, a good big splash of red wine, some oregano leaves as well. Bring to a rolling boil and simply toss in (long deceased) cephalopod and cook for several hours on a slow blub blub and when cooked (two hours nothing less) remove from water allow to cool, peel what skin is still left on the body, take the tentacles from the body and either slice them up and dress them with oil add lemon juice, black pepper and salt. Serve with some bread. For the squid or cuttlefish, you have to clean it, remove the skin, its soooo easy and the clear membrane from inside, rinse the tube, keep the legs (tentacles) and then decide how you plan to cook it. Fast or slow, but nothing in between.  Dam it, its so easy and so much more delicious.

Pate/Terrines. It would be cavalier of me to lay this at the feet of todays generation, its not new, its been an issue for some years now. I cannot tell you recipes in this short space and god knows I have made enough of both over the years to feed a small army, but I can say that having mastered the technique, its a very simple thing. This is another example of preserving meats that were excess to needs, and providing  a delectable way to enjoy it. Think of the way that the European and Mediterranean farmers would kill a pigs and every last bit of the animal was used. I guess that to tickle out this question, then I should include blood sausage (called by my father the butcher, black or white puddings) and they are truly delectable things. A little difficult for the at home cook, but by no means impossible.

Omelette. Easy simple and  a no brainer, just need to have a pan that in my case, is dedicated to omelettes and pancakes and has never, so far as I know, seen soapy water. The simplicity of a filled omelette, a Spanish omelette or any one of dozens of omelette styles and tastes is an absolute treat and makes for a great lunch with just a few green leaves. For heavens sake, go out there and master it. Do not use eggs that are getting to be past their prime, in an omelette, its all about the egg.

Bone a chicken. Perhaps I am getting desperate, but I have had to bone a lot of chicken in my days and it is one of those things that is not difficult, just time consuming. But it can also be a lot of fun to cook. You can stuff it with just a simple sage and onion stuffing and truss it with a string, you can use all manner of exotica, but as a party piece, its a winner.

Bread and Butter pudding. Oh dam it all, this is included because I just love this desert and my mother made, I would suspect at least one a week, the only variations were dried fruit/chocolate/marmalade and that was it. I love it and its worth doing and so simple.

Preserve Food. Need I continue to rail about this, hardly a single person does this anymore, no one makes jam, no one makes their own chutneys and pickles, no one makes their own sauces. I suppose I should be grateful, if you did, then you would not buy mine. I just don’t want this ancient art lost and I want to be sure that long after I have gone to that great kitchen in the sky, someone will still be doing preserves.

Duck or Goose.  I suspect that for most at home cooks, the only time you ever consider cooking this type of poultry is in the festive season and then, only after you have consulted a million recipes assure yourself that it can be done. Asians will tell you that eating and cooking duck is not difficult and in the tradition of my bits, pieces and burbling, I am offering you a duck recipe that owes it origins to Vietnam and is deliciously beautiful. You will need a lidded pan/pot.

Vietnamese duck braised in spiced orange juice

2.5kg Duck (jointed into 6 pieces)

50g garlic (crushed)

50g ginger (peeled and thinly sliced)

1 litre freshly squeezed orange juice

4 tbsp fish sauce

1 tbsp granulated sugar

5 star anise

4 red chillies (bird’s eyes are best)

2 lemongrass stalks (finely chopped)

ground black pepper

8 spring onions (cut in half and finely chopped sideways)

½ tsp cornflour

Heat a large heavy-based pan over a medium to high heat. Cook the duck skin side down for 5 to 6 minutes until crisp then on the other side for 2 minutes. Once cooked, set aside. Put all but 2 tbsp of the duck oil in a container and save for later, preferably for your next round of roast potatoes. On a low heat, add the garlic and ginger. Once cooked through, add the orange juice, fish sauce, star anise, chillies, lemongrass and season with black pepper. Return the duck, partially cover and simmer for 1 hour and 30 mins. Once the duck is tender, remove pieces onto a warmed serving dish and put to one side. Skim off the excess fat, bring sauce to a boil and simmer vigorously until reduced and concentrated in flavour. Mix cornflour with 1 tsp of water, mix into sauce and simmer for a further minute. Remove from heat, generously pour over the duck, scatter over shredded spring onion and serve with steamed rice and maybe some vegetables.

~ by peterwatson on May 12, 2011.

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