Saturday, September 12, 2009

Another Iftar

Breaking the fast at sunset has never been so much fun! Actually, as I'm joining in with my neighbours this year, the feeling of finally having something to eat after the best part of 18 hours with neither food nor drink has honestly become quite exciting... For someone so used to handling food all day long, feeling, touching, smelling and above all tasting - not being able to have a flavour sensation for such a long time really does heighten the senses to an amazing degree. my taste is sharper, the identity of subtle seasonings clearer and the understanding of carefully blended combinations so much more appreciative.

Since many of the people I'm working with, and the vast majority of our guests, have not eaten at all during the day, they are more often really cranky and quite hungry by the time Iftar comes around, and most of them hasten to end the fast as quickly as possible after sunset.

I've discovered that this is the perfect opportunity to break down a few dishes and look at how we can make them better by really tasting them and understanding what is in them.

This recipe is an example of what I mean, we've taken a traditional Moroccan pastilla and tarted it up a bit for a finer dining occasion...

Duck pastilla with foie gras

Serves 4

1 duck leg confit
4 sheets of pastille/brique (paper thin pancakes, similar to filo pastry)
Oil for deep frying
4 x 100g slices of fresh duck foie gras
Salt and pepper
Ground cinnamon
Icing sugar

Cinnamon sauce
200ml full bodied red wine
1 cinnamon stick
2 tblsp sugar
1 tblsp unsalted butter
Sherry vinegar

Shred the duck confit and divide between the four pancakes. Fold the pancakes into parcels, sealing the edges with a little water, and then trim the excess pancake to make 5cm x 3cm rectangles. Deep-fry until crisp, then drain on kitchen towels; keep the parcels warm.

Heat a thick-based frying pan over high heat, add the foie gras and cook until brown on both sides, about 2 minutes; season with salt and pepper.

For the cinnamon sauce, put the wine in a saucepan with the cinnamon stick and sugar, bring to the boil and reduce until syrupy. Season with salt and pepper, remove the cinnamon stick and whisk in the butter and a drop of sherry vinegar.

To assemble, cut each pastilla in half and dust generously with ground cinnamon and icing sugar. Place at the top of the warmed plates and place the foie gras beneath. Drizzle the sauce around the plate and serve immediately.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A bit more Ramadan

So, last night we get slammed with the healthy sum of 416 hungry guests breaking their fast, when I say hungry I totally mean it - these guys could certainly pack away some volume of food...

The display was quite something, and due to the ferociousness of the onslaught I could only grab a handful of images before mayhem descended upon the team. The food was fantastic, fresh vibrant and full of life, a feast for every sensation.

The soups, cold mezzahs, tajines, kebbeh and fatayer, koshary, sayadia and the ouzi through to the katayef, um ali and the baklavas - all were gorgeously presented one minute, devastated and devoured the very next.

Our charcoal grill was crackling with fire and flavour, the soup pot never seemed to be able to re fill itself no matter how hard we tried, and as we picked the tender meat of the ouzi it was being grabbed off our finger tips before we could blink.

The kebbeh, sambousek and fatayer took the place of finger food for all to get their appetites kick started as they shuffled along the queue to fill their plates to dizzying heights - biryani and white chocolate from the chocolate fountain on the same plate?

Oh yes, it was all kicking off last night...

Monday, September 7, 2009

Chicken, leek and morel pie

Serves 6

The kids are back at school, the Summer glow is gently fading and the lid of the Pimms bottle looks like it's starting to crust up for the colder months already. Can only mean one thing, and Autumn is just around the corner - pie season in my book. I'm so looking forward to the sheer comfort in longer cooked meats, braised dishes while still making the most of the gardens and hedgerows as they still offer an abundance of flavour. This pie uses morels, a little early in the season yet, and a bit of a luxury even at their peak of availability, so don't worry about substituting them for something simpler in price.

225g strong white flour
170g cold diced butter
Pinch of salt
Cold water to mix

6 chicken breasts, diced
20g dried morels, soaked and halved (reserve the soaking water)
10 young leeks, washed and sliced
100g tarragon, chopped
300ml double cream
15g flour
15g butter
Salt and black pepper

For the pastry, mix the butter into the flour with the salt till crumbly, add enough water till a clean smooth dough is formed without over mixing, chill in fridge for at least an hour before rolling.

Poach the chicken, leeks and morels gently in the morel water for about 20 to 30 minutes, lightly seasoned with salt and pepper.

Strain the liquid and add the butter to this mix and return to the heat. Once the butter is foaming, and coated all ingredients, dust with the flour and continue to cook for 5 minutes further.

At this stage add 100ml of poaching liquid, the cream, tarragon and a touch more seasoning, bring back to the boil and remove from heat.

Fill a suitable pie dish with the filling, and top with the pastry, rolled out to ¼ inch thickness. Brush the top with egg wash, and bake in an oven at 180c for about 30 to 40 minutes.