Sherry Baby

I love cooking with sherry – the rich, raisiny stuff, not your gran’s Bristol Cream – and keep a bottle of Pedro Ximinez by the stove, adding a slosh to braises, sautés, or anywhere a drop of wine would be welcome. It goes really well in a beef stew, giving it a sweet, light note that blends well with orange peel and cinnamon, a nice change from the heavy peals of red wine, rosemary and juniper that dominate winter food.

It sits very happily with cheese, and I imagine a splash would be welcome in a fondue, or a plain old cheese sauce, taking the place of beer in a rarebit; it has a smooth roundness that gives body and depth to other ingredients, without the need to cook out the tannins or acid you get with wine, which makes it particularly useful in quick sautés and sauces. This body and quick cooking makes it an especially good partner for offal; sherry can oppose and sweeten the metallic tones of liver and kidneys, which red wine would have bullyingly sided with.

SPICED CHICKEN LIVERS
This method, of quick searing and a brief simmer, is a very good way to cook offal generally – it keeps it moist and pink, and allows you to introduce a variety of other flavours. Just change up the herbs and spices, and maybe add a dash of cream at the end, for different dishes.

For 2, with salad, or more with rice or whatever

400g of chicken livers, washed and trimmed
1 small onion, sliced
a good pinch each of red pepper flakes, urfa flakes, sumac, dried mint, and dried thyme
a slosh of PX
3 tbspn of pomegranate ketchup, or two of a good tomato ketchup and one of pomegranate molasses
a handful of chopped flatleaf parsley
oil
salt & pepper

Cook the onion to a slow sweetness in a little oil, then add the herbs and spices and cook for a minute. Set aside.

Whack the heat right up, add some more oil, and when it’s smoking hot, sear the livers, in batches if necessary, for a few minutes each side, until nicely browned. Season them with salt as you go.

Return all the livers to the pan, if you cooked them in batches, then add the sherry, letting it bubble away as you scrape all the crusty bits from the pan into it. Add the ketchup/molasses and a splash of water and simmer for two minutes or until the livers feel nicely giving. They should be blushing pink inside. Chuck in the parsley and some pepper and stir. Not a particularly pretty dish, but a deeply satisfying one.

I, Me, Mine

I got really annoyed at something I saw on Instagram earlier. (Not the most auspicious start to a blog post, I know). Someone I follow – who shall remain nameless – was preparing dishes from her cookbook, and posting a picture of each with the caption “my” salad or stew or whatever. I’ve always found this particular construction (often used on food programs) annoying, but I’ve never really thought about it before. Here, though, as the cook in question is mainly known for iterations of traditional Persian and Turkish food, it was particularly grating. When she posted a picture of “her” Turkish Gavurdagi salad, I wanted to shout at my screen. “It’s not YOURS! It belongs to a centuries-old tradition which you aren’t even part of, and you haven’t altered it in any way!”

Instead of shouting at my iPhone, or posting abusive comments, I thought I’d write about it here. The whole idea of ownership of recipes is a vexed question. You can’t copyright anything except the exact form of words used in a cookbook or whatever, and even innovative processes, which I guess could be patented, never seem to be. The result of this is that any any gastropub that fancies it can do Heston’s triple-cooked chips – surely a good thing – while this same hypothetical eatery can also make a hash of Adria’s foams. Swings and roundabouts. Recipes move around, are handed down to acolytes who then open their own place, they are altered and watered down and commercialised – good techniques and flavour combinations stick around because they work, and may have been ‘invented’ more or less simultaneously by a few different people. Accusing someone of stealing your idea for salmon and licquorice is like saying “this combination is so disgusting you would never have thought of it yourself”. It’s not polite to rip off a whole dish, but apart from that it’s pretty much a free-for-all. Everyone’ll know if menu items aren’t original anyhow.

The odd thing, in the light of all of this, is that people are so obsessed with the idea of personal creativity, the Romantic conception of the inspired artist, and of the chef as a creator in that tradition. It’s not that long ago that being a great cook would have simply involved a careful mastery of Escoffier, with maybe a couple of daring creations that became your signature dishes. Now every ‘food personality’ (with a few venerable exceptions like Locatelli and Roden, who deal in tradition) is expected to churn out book after book of new, exciting recipes; every bloody pub has to have its own take on the burger, or on sausage and mash… Of course, this is maybe preferable to total stagnation, but it’s ridiculous that everyone who wants to cook must become an artiste; there’s nothing wrong with following a tradition with the great skill of a craftsman. That’s why French bistros are so good. You can just get a steak tartare or some onion soup that hasn’t been dicked around with by someone who thinks he’s better than hundreds of years of tradition.

That’s the point really. No-one, except maybe people like Blumenthal, Adria, Redzepi, is creating genuinely original food. There are only so many preparations, so many ways of combining ingredients with heat and making them edible. Pretty much any dish you can make is just a version of something else. Someone like Ottolenghi, who personifies daring originality to the boho middle classes, pretty much just takes a traditional recipe, whacks on a cheese you’ve never heard of and a couple of garish spices, and makes it new. And there’s NOTHING WRONG with that. His food is delicious, respectful but fresh, interesting. So, second-rung supper-club chefs, stop banging on about “my” this and that. Be proud of the generations of cooks who have made your dish before.

“MY” GREEK SALAD
I’m not going to give quantities. I don’t know how much salad you want to eat.

cucumber, quartered lengthways and then chopped
tomatoes, cut in the same size chunks as your cucumber
red onion, sliced in thin half-moons
dried oregano, none of that fresh stuff
feta and olives are optional as far as I’m concerned. The latter kalamata, halved and pitted, if you want, the former cut in a slab and stuck on top rather than crumbled into the salad.
Maldon salt
pepper
red wine vinegar
good olive oil.

Put the tomato and onion into a bowl, and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Mix gently with your hands, and leave for ten minutes or so. This will soften and mellow the onion, and draw out some of the juices of the tomato, which will form part of the dressing, and is my sole original contribution to this recipe.

Add the cucumber (and the olives, if using), a pinch of oregano and pepper, a splash of vinegar and a slosh of oil (a slosh is larger than a splash). Stick the optional feta on top. Sprinkle with more oregano.

Kimchi?

I’m hesitant about posting this recipe, as it is really something I should disapprove of. I’ve written before about my dislike of ill-considered fusion food, the lack of respect for ingredient or tradition that it implies, but that is exactly what this is – a gleeful mishmash of the technique of one culture (Korean) with the ingredients of another (Turkish), the end result unrecognisable as being from either. I’d like to think this is partly justified by the Turkish love of pickles, if not exactly in this form, or at least by the deliciousness of the end result. Maybe I’m just a hypocrite, though.

This is a little more involved than the basic pickle recipe I posted before, though not by much, and although the hands-on process is spread over two days, both stages are quick and simple. It also lasts a while once it’s been made, and continues to improve up to a point – although traditionally kept for months or years, you should probably eat it within 2 or 3 weeks to be on the safe side. As with anything like this, sterilise your equipment, which is easier than it sounds – wash utensils and bowls really well, and either boil your jars on the hob, wash well and then dry in a low oven, or just stick them through the dishwasher.

TURKISH CELERY PICKLE
Apologies for the specialist ingredients. If you don’t have a Turkish grocer’s nearby, some large Tescos sell them.

makes 1 litre jar

DAY 1
600g of celery (1 large head), sliced
2 bulbs of fennel, sliced
3 tbsp sea salt
2 tbsp caster sugar
4 small dried chillies

Put the vegetables in a plastic or glass bowl with the chillies, sprinkle over the sugar and salt, then massage it in to the veg, making sure it all gets a coating. Weigh it down with something like a plate and a can, and leave at room temperature overnight.

DAY 2
PASTE –
6 cloves of garlic
10 brown anchovies
2 tbsp Turkish pepper flakes
3 tbsp Turkish pepper paste
1 tbsp caster sugar

1/2 a white onion, sliced in fine half moons
1 carrot, grated

Fish the chillies out of your veg and blitz them with the rest of the paste ingredients until smooth. You might need a little (up to 50ml, say) water to get it all going.

Drain the celery and fennel, rinse thoroughly and drain again. Mix with the onion, carrot, and paste, and pack into a sterilised jar. How long you leave it is up to you – mine is lovely now at 6 days, though it was pretty good after a couple. When you’re happy, stick it in the fridge, where it will continue to mature, but much more slowly.

Try with buns and wraps, or stirred through rice or grains; eat, shamefully, out of the jar, using cheese as a spoon; David Chang recommends (proper) kimchi on oysters, but I can’t confirm this.