Well indeed, Marsupial Fans!

I have, in my bandicoot wisdom, decided that we at the Marsupial Test Kitchens will be concentrating on SOUP!

We in the Marsupial Test Kitchen will be cranking out some different soup recipes, soup-related anecdotes, soup stories, and other things soup!

Today’s soup is Potage Parmentier – French potato and leek soup. It’s great! And it’s easy to make, which is even better.

Now, a few words of warning.

Potage Parmentier is the original dish on which the American abomination vichyssoise – which should not be mentioned, except in DEEP AND GUTTERAL TONES – was based. It’s a very similar recipe to Vichyssoise, but… for the love of all humanity, don’t serve this cold! Vichyssoise tastes like wallpaper paste with cream in it.

I can’t really express the deep and visceral horror I feel when contemplating cold potato soup. I mean, gazpacho? Sure. Cold cucumber soup? Fine. But cold potato soup? I mean, what the hell? Potato soup is very starchy, so cold potato soup is like glue. Thick, pasty, gluggy glue. With cream in it.

Potage Parmentier on the other hand, is very good.

So Marsupial Fans! here’s my recipe for …

Potage Parmentier

Ingredients

* 500g peeled, sliced potatoes, 500g washed, thinly sliced leeks, 1 ½ litres chicken stock, 1 tbsp salt, cream or butter, minced parsley or chives.

Simmer the potato, leek, stock, the salt, and a litre and a half of water together, partially covered, for fifty minutes or so, until the potato and leek are tender. Blend the soup until it’s smooth, and reduce it down to two litres. Taste the soup and adjust the seasonings, then set the soup aside uncovered until just before serving, then reheat it to a simmer.

Take the soup off the heat, just before you dish it up, and stir in the cream or butter, a spoonful at a time. Pour the soup into a tureen or soup bowls and decorate it with the herbs.

Serves eight as an entrée, four as a main course.

If you want to make Potage au Cresson (that’s watercress soup), follow the recipe, but before puréeing the soup, stir in a packed cup of watercress leaves, then simmer the soup for another five minutes. Instead of chives or parsley, garnish the soup with a small handful of watercress leaves boiled for thirty seconds in water, rinsed in cold water, and drained.

Now, if you want to do something that’s a bit fancier than putting parsley or chives on top of the soup, you can use chive oil instead.

Chive Oil (The Old Lounge Bandicoot)

Ingredients

* 1 bunch chives, 50ml extra-virgin olive oil, 200ml canola oil.

Chop the chives and stuff them into a screwtop jar. Por the oil into the jar and leave it to stand for twenty-four hours. Blend the oil and chives together, put it back into the jar, replace the lid, then leave the jar in the fridge for five days or so.

Warm the oil and strain it through a fine nylon sieve or cloth.

Makes one cup.

This stuff is great. It can be used as substitute for chopped chives, or for salad dressing.

Oh, and by the by. The above pic shows my potage parmentier, garnished with chive oil, fried chives, and a single fried gnochi. Fancy!

The courageous Possum-Bride and the intrepid Bandicoot recently came back from Tasmania. We spent our days communing with quolls, debating with devils, and doing the marsupial thing, generally.

But while we were in Launceston, we went to a restaurant called ‘Stillwater’.

We were staying at a comically awful hotel in Launceston. We drove across town and nabbed a parking spot, from where we could walk across West Tamar Road.

Now Stillwater is built in a beautiful old flour mill, in the Cataract Gorge, which is on the Tamar River. The building is very nice; built in the 1830’s, it’s very inviting, with a nice, warm atmosphere. It’s set up so that the kitchen is partly open and lies along one side of the dining room. And the dining room is very nice; comfortable chairs and benches, leather and wood, the lot.

The menu is AWESOME. (And they don’t make a fuss if you want to drink rum with dinner either!)

The P-B and I agreed that we would go hard and try to have three courses each. And we agreed to share the good bits, so could both taste everything.

So! What did we eat?

Entrée 1. (Me) Slow-cooked Mount Gnomon pork belly, pear anise purée, broccolini stem purée, puffed pork skin, and boudin noir. It was beautiful! The pork was ridiculous; you could have cut it with an old ping-pong paddle. And the little bits that accompanied it were (mostly) divinely inspired. The pear purée was wonderful, not overly sweet, with a little bit of anise in it. The mashed broccolini stem was lovely (I wept at the thought of all the broccolini stems I’ve thrown out!) And the black pudding was great; it was bloody and raw-tasting and it really offset the sweet pork and sweeter pear purée. Only the puffed pork skin seemed a little out of place; it was nice texturally, but it was presented in one big piece (like the fried pork skin you get at pubs) and after you ate it in one big mouthful (it was impossible to cut), the rest of the dish still seemed pretty good. Overall, I give it 3.5 Bandicoot Snouts out of a possible 5.

Entrée 2. (P-B). Rannoch Farm duck, jus, basil veloute, a little pastry thing, sautéed mushrooms. The P-B’s duck was perfectly cooked; sautéed then finished off in the oven. It had a little jus under it to moisten it, and green basil veloute on top. It also had a sort of vol-au-vent thing, with mixed sautéed mushrooms in it, probably wild. The duck, with the jus and the basil veloute was wonderful. (For obvious reasons, I didn’t taste the vile fungus). Overall, the P-B gave it 3.5 Possum Tails out of a possible 5.

Main Course 1. (Me). Slow-cooked Flinders Island salt grass lamb rump, pickled globe artichoke, herb and fennel pollen emulsion, and beetroot. A very accomplished dish. The lamb was pretty well perfect, cooked to the upper end of medium (NOT medium-rare, which is well underdone for lamb. In general, people who order lamb rare are wankers, trying to impress). The globe artichokes were very pleasant, the herb emulsion sauce was very good, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that the beetroot was cooked in three different ways. The only thing that jarred was the pollen – I couldn’t taste a damn thing apart from thyme and sage. I think the pollen may have been a step too far; not unpleasant, merely superfluous to requirements. Overall, despite the fact that I enjoyed the pork more, I give it 3.75 Bandicoot Snouts out of a possible 5

Main Course 2. (P-B). Dry aged Springfield Venison loin, mushroom sponge, white onion and Pyengana Cheddar soubise, green raisins, and jus gras. OK. The P-B’s venison was wonderful. Dry-aged (it must’ve been faintly green when it was taken down!) it was cooked medium-rare and served on top of very buttery chicken jus and some marinated green grape raisins. The fact that it was chicken jus, not venison jus, lightened the dish very well; venison jus would’ve been overpowering. And the sweet-sour raisins gave the venison the acid touch that it often needs. Oh, and there was some sort of fungus thing too. But damn! the star was the sauce on top. Generally, sauce soubise is made from sauce Béchamel, cooked not too thick, with strained, boiled onion added to it. But THIS soubise was made from onions, gently sautéed in butter, and strained, mixed into Béchamel, with a stack of aged Cheddar added too. It was GLORIOUS! Overall, the P-B gave it a full 4 Possum Tails out of a possible 5!

Alas, by this time, I was stuffed. So the indomitable P-B had to assay dessert alone.

Dessert 1. (P-B). Granny Smith apple terrine, cinnamon mousse, and apple sherbet sorbet. This was diabolical, The cinnamon mousse was pleasant, but not too assertive. The terrine was merely very thin-sliced Granny Smith apple, stacked in a small rectangular mould, drizzled with a little very light syrup, pressed, and chilled. And the apple sherbet sorbet was AMAZING! Green, green apples, pulped and pressed, with sugar and acetic acid. It was mouth-puckeringly sour, yet sweet (like an apple Warhead) and it was just beautiful. More than beautiful. It was a symphony, an image of an apply paradise. And the P-B gave it a full 4.25 Possum Tails out of a possible 5!

So. Stillwater is great. I seriously suggest a visit. And if they up their game just a bit, they MIGHT attain the coveted double award of 5 Bandicoot Snouts and 5 Possum Tails!

Stillwater is at; Ritchie’s Mill on West Tamar Rd, Launceston, Tasmania, Australia 7250

I made kangaroo chilli for Beltain last month. It was pretty damn good … and it suited the holiday very well. (I should add that a) Beltain is the Pagan feast of fertility,  love and sexuality, and b) in Australia, the holidays are flipped around from the traditional Northern hemisphere dates. Thus Jéola or Yule, which is the Pagan version of Christmas, takes place in June in Australia).

But anyhoo. Chilli.

Texans get a bit precious over chilli. According to them, the only ‘real’ chilli is Texas chilli, which is made with beef and chillies. That’s it. However, Californians make chilli too. And it’s just as ‘real’, just as ‘authentic’ as the Texas version. And it is, to my mind, as good or even better, it has onion and garlic and red beans and sometimes corn or carrots or whatever you like. And when you order ‘chilli’ in an American diner or cafe or the like, you get California chilli. Unless you’re in Texas, in which case, you’ll get a huge bowl of Texas chilli, a huge bowl of cornchips, a massive bowl of salsa, and a half-hour lecture on the authenticity of Texas chilli, the vileness and wickedness of California chilli, and the superiority of Texas in general. Oh, and they make a species of chilli in Cincinnati too. But it’s a little odd; a thin, mince-based chilli, flavoured with cloves, cinnamon, allspice and/or chocolate. Cincinnati chilli is served on spaghetti, with grated cheese and chopped onions on top.

Another chilli variant, similar to Cincinnati chilli, is served throughout the Northern half of the US, as a topping for hotdogs.

But anyhoo. Here’s my recipe for California chilli. If you substitute kangaroo for beef, you’ll get Australian chilli!

California Chilli

Ingredients.

* 2 onions, 12 cloves of garlic, 1 bunch fresh coriander, 500g lean diced beef, olive oil, 4 dried chillies, pimentón, crushed chilli, chilli powder, ground cumin, ground oregano.

*MSG, season-all, ½ cup tomato paste, 2 cups chicken stock, 100g pickled jalapeño chillies, 400g tin red kidney beans.

Peel and chop the onions and garlic. Put them aside. Wash and chop the coriander and put it aside, separate to the onion and garlic.

Brown the steak with the chillies in a little oil. Add the onions and garlic. Fry the lot gently until the onion is transparent. Add a huge pinch ofpimentón, some crushed chilli, a pinch of chilli powder, two huge pinches of ground cumin and a big pinch of oregano. Cook it all together for ten minutes. Transfer the mix to a casserole dish. Add a teaspoon of MSG, some season-all, tomato paste, stock, jalapeños and beans. Cover the casserole dish and bake it at 190ºc (350ºf) for two hours. (Alternatively, transfer the mixture a slow-cooker and cook it there for four hours.) Add the coriander and cook the lot for a further half hour. Adjust the seasonings.

Serves four to six.

This is the common ‘chilli’ that you get in cafes and restaurants all over the US. Serve it with sour cream and sliced raw onion, raw grated carrot, grated cheese, flour tortillas, chopped green coriander, salsa fresca, and cornchips, warmed in the oven. Some Tabasco is good too.

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In Jamaica, they make a sauce that’s pure evil.

And just to cap it off, they give this weapons-grade sauce the innocuous name of “gravy”. Essentially, it’s a device used for burning the taste buds out, or playing practical jokes on unsuspecting tourists.

The sauce was originally just used on oysters, but now it’s put on jerk, on grilled fish and meat, on curry, on steamed kallaloo or spinach, on rice dishes … the Jamaicans splash it on pretty much everything.

But here’s something that’s interesting.

We tend to forget that the Caribbean and the South of the USA are historically linked, via the Atlantic triangular trade route; slaves-to-cotton-to-sugar. And in the Southern USA, there exists a condiment known as ’sport pepper’. Sport pepper is a similar sauce to Jamaican gravy, in that it consists of chillies in vinegar. But Jamaicans use Scotch Bonnet chillies, which are INSANELY hot, and they add pimento, thyme and garlic, as they do to many other dishes. Southern US sport pepper uses medium chillies in plain vinegar. And they don’t use rum bottles.

It should be noted that the term ’sport pepper’ is also used in Chicago, to describe mild pickled chillies, which are put on hotdogs and sandwiches. But Chicagoans use the chillies themselves and discard the vinegar; in the South, they use the vinegar and just leave the chillies in the bottle.

So, here’s the recipe for …

Jamaican ‘Gravy’.

Ingredients.

* 2 shallots (spring onions), 6 garlic cloves, 2 cups Scotch bonnet chillies, 20 thyme sprigs, 1 tbsp whole pimento, white vinegar sugar, soy sauce.

Before you make the sauce, you’ll need an old rum bottle, with a little bit of rum left in it. (You know that almost empty bottle of rum that your grandmother has in the back of her drinks cabinet? Yeah, steal that).

To make the sauce, trim the shallots, chop them into very small pieces and put them aside in a bowl. Peel the garlic and cut each clove into about five pieces. Cut the chillies into quarters, top to bottom. Snip the thyme sprigs into 1cm lengths.

Next, stuff the chillies, shallot, garlic, thyme sprigs, and pimento into the rum bottle. Try to stuff them in evenly, so all of the ingredients are distributed nicely.

Next top up the bottle with boiling vinegar and a couple of dashes of soy sauce. Add a few spoons of sugar into the bottle and screw on the lid. Turn the bottle upside down and back a few times, then top up the bottle with a bit more boiling vinegar, so that the vinegar reaches the very top. Put the bottle in a dark place and leave it for a month or so.

This stuff is insane. It’s like Jamaican Tabasco … except hotter. As you use it, just add more boiling vinegar, soy sauce and sugar to the top; it’ll last for years.

OK, I’m talking about Indian food again.

In my opinion, Indian cooking ranks as one of the great cuisines of the world, equal to French or Chinese cuisine.

And it’s amazingly complex; if you look at curry, (which is not India’s only culinary contribution, but is still a pretty important plank thereof), people often say “I can make this, but it’s not quite like the one I had at X”. And there’s a reason. Curry falls into two distinct categories; one’s savoury and one’s perfumed. And nobody ever says this! It’s not written in any book. And it’s taken me 25+ years to work it out.

Savoury curry uses cumin, some dhaniya jeera (that’s a mix of cumin and ground coriander), pepper, chilli, turmeric, mustard seed, a little asafoetida, with ghee, onion, garlic and ginger. The overall effect is loaded with umami, with a rich buttery finish and a lot of back-taste. Perfumed curry uses a little cumin, a little dhaniya jeera, pepper, a little chilli, turmeric, garam masala, cinnamon, cloves, and fenugreek, with a smaller amount of ghee, a little onion, garlic and ginger. The overall effect is very perfumed and fragrant, sweet, with a light, almost ethereal finish, very rarely hot, and with a lot of front-taste.

And you could read Indian cookbooks for years and never get this stuff.

Now, of course, being Australian, I’ve always had access to pretty good Indian food. Australia being a part of the Commonwealth and all.

But others are not so fortunate.

For example, I have a friend named Shana, who lives in Kansas. And she finds it very hard to get Indian food where she lives.

Calamity!

So, for her and her wonderful son (who shall remain nameless), I present this recipe for a very good savoury curry.

Burnt Green Curry.

Ingredients.

* 5 cloves of garlic, 2 tsp grated ginger, 3 green chillis, 1 small potato, 1 bunch spinach, 1 small onion, 1 tsp fenugreek, ½ tsp cumin seeds, ½ tsp ground cumin, ghee, 2 tsp dhani-jeera powder, ½ tsp turmeric, salt.

* 500g chicken breast, peanut oil, 400ml. coconut milk, 250 ml chicken stock, 2 minced red chillis, salt, 6 stalks coriander (cilantro), chopped roughly, 12 cherry tomatoes.

First, you have to make the burnt green curry paste. Peel the garlic and ginger, crush the garlic and grate the ginger. Trim the chillis, scrape out the seeds, and roughly chop them. Peel the onion and dice it pretty finely. Put all four together in a small bowl. Peel the potato, cut it into little cubes and put it aside in another small bowl. Wash the spinach very thoroughly, chop it roughly and put it aide in its own bowl. Fry the fenugreek, the cumin seeds and the cumin with a lump of ghee. Add the ginger, garlic and chilli mixture and fry them all together, very gently for fifteen minutes or so. Add  the potato and the spinach and gently sauté the mixture until all the liquid is evaporated, mashing it up as it cooks Add a quarter cup of water and fry the mixture some more until the paste is very dried out. Let the mixture cool and blend or pound the mixture until it is fairly smooth.Sprinkle the jeera-dhani powder and a little turmeric over the paste. Add some salt, taste it and add more salt, if it needs it.

Next, you can make the curry. Cut the chicken into curry-sized pieces and fry them in a heavy pan, with a little bit of oil. Add the coconut milk, about three-quarters of a cup of the paste and the stock. Stir it around until the coconut milk is well mixed with the curry sauce. Turn the heat down to medium. Leave the sauce on a low simmer for twenty minutes. Then add some salt, sugar, and the red chilli. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasonings.

Cook the curry for a further few minutes. Fish out the chicken pieces with a slotted spoon and heat the sauce to a boil. Keep it boiling until the sauce has reduced by half, then put the chicken back into the sauce.

Chop the coriander, cut the cherry tomatoes in quarters and cut out the cores. Add the coriander and cherry tomatoes to the curry. Turn the heat back on and cook the curry for about twenty minutes more. Adjust the seasonings.

Serves four.

This curry is great. It’s called ‘burnt’ because you cook the curry paste until it dries out. But it’s very good and not very well known. Amaze your guests!

But it has NOTHING to do with Thai green curry.

I’m very fond of a book called Sorcerer’s Apprentice, written by a travel writer named Tahir Shah. You see, Shah is an Anglo-Afghan, who’s family are still considered royalty in one region of Northern India. When he was a little kid, he met an Afghan warrior, who was also an amateur magician. This amateur magician taught young Tahir a bunch of tricks, which captivated him. He went on to study stage  magic, from books and such, but he could never duplicate the illusions the old Afghan dude performed. So, of course, he went to India and apprenticed himself to an insane master magician. As you do.

The book is all about his journey into the secrets of Indian “godmen”. He learnt amazing (and freakishly dangerous) tricks and illusions, tramping along and meeting con-men, gurus, sadhus, god-avatars and magicians. It’s a great book! And it contains a great deal of out-of-the-way information about India and Indian folkways.

However, lets get back to food.

In the book, Tahir Shah goes first to Northern India, to visit the old Afghan warrior who taught him magic. And the Afghan warrior/magician makes a big fuss of him and the warrior/magician’s unfortunate wife camps out in the kitchen and cooks Tahir a series of huge Afghan feasts, the central dish of which is often biryani, made with pigeons, lamb, or fish.

So. We get to the point of this post. Biryani!

Biryani, is a rice-based casserole made with spices, butter, basmati rice, vegetables, and, usually, some kind of meat. The name is derived from the Farsi word beryān which means “roasted”. It’s essentially a spiced, fried-rice/paella type of thing, layered in a dish with a curry-type ragout. It’s pretty damn good!

But it’s not Indian, at least not originally.

You see, Indian chefs describe biryani as the “pinnacle” of Indian cuisine. But the dish is obviously not Indian. It belongs to the Farsi-speaking culture, which exists around the Pamir Mountains, in the area known as “The Roof of the World” around Gorno-Badakhshan province, Badakhshan province, Uzbekistan and Tajikstan.  This is the area of Tashkent and Samarkand, magical cities on the Silk Road. And biryani is the kind of dish that calls to mind the romance of this area of the world.

So. Biryani.

The Biryani I make is called Lucknowi Biryani. It’s characteristic of Uttar Pradesh, in Northern India. And it’s delightful! It also demonstrates the Indian spiritual practice of buttering everything, to increase its holiness.

Lucknowi Biryani

Ingredients.

* 2 cups basmati rice, butter, chicken stock, 1 tsp cardamom pods, 1 tsp saffron threads, ½ tsp ground cinnamon.

* 1 cup drained, tinned tomatoes, 2 onions, 12 cloves of garlic, 3cm piece ginger.

* Butter, peanut oil, ground cumin, salt, ½ tsp chilli powder, pepper, ground coriander, garam masala, 1 tsp curry powder, 500g sliced chicken fillet, 1 cup yogurt, 1 small eggplant, coarse salt.

* 1 carrot, 1 large tomato, ½ cup frozen peas, 1 tbsp sultanas, 1 tbsp chopped cashews, ½ cup chopped green coriander.

First, melt a big lump of butter (or ghee) in a frying pan. Stir the rice into the butter and cook it for a few minutes, stirring it around, so the rice is all coated with butter, and lightly toasted. Put the buttery rice into a microwave rice cooker with three cups of stock, another lump of butter, the cardamom pods, the saffron powder and the cinnamon, and microwave it on High for four minutes. Take the rice out of the microwave, stir it around really well, put the lid back on and microwave it for another four minutes. Let it stand for ten minutes.Transfer the rice to a large mixing bowl and fluff the rice up with a fork, making sure you break up any lumps. Put the rice aside, in the fridge if possible.

Blend the tinned tomatoes to a liquid. Peel and chop the onions finely, peel and chop the garlic and peel and grate the ginger. Melt the remaining butter and oil in a pan. Very gently fry the onions, the garlic and the ginger for twenty minutes in a heavy pan. Add three teaspoons of ground cumin, the salt, the chilli powder, the pepper, three teaspoons of coriander, three teaspoons of garam masala and the curry powder. Fry it all gently for five minutes. Add the chicken and fry it for twenty minutes, stirring it as it cooks. Add the yogurt and the blended tomatoes. Simmer the mixture uncovered for around forty minutes, stirring it every few minutes, until it’s very thick. Adjust the seasonings and put it aside.

Trim the eggplant and salt it heavily. Leave it to sit for about ten minutes. Wash off the salt and cut the slices up into small pieces. Peel the carrot and cut it into small pieces. Core the tomato and slice it up into small pieces. Set the eggplant and carrot to fry in some butter and sprinkle it with some garam masala, ground coriander and ground cumin. Fry the eggplant and carrot until it feels soft. Add the tomato and fry it for a few more minutes. Mix the fried vegetables and the peas through the rice.

Spoon one third of the rice into a casserole. Smooth it down well. Add half the chicken mixture and press it down until it’s smooth. Repeat the layers, finishing with the last of the rice. Sprinkle the top with the remaining stock, the sultanas and the cashews. Put the lid on and bake the dish at 120ºc (260ºf) for thirty minutes or so.

Sprinkle the top of the biryani with the chopped coriander.

Serves six.

So. As you can see, this “pinnacle of Indian cuisine” isn’t that hard to make. It can also be made with lamb or king prawns or  different vegetables or whatever. You can make a vegetarian version, by substituting the chicken curry with a potato curry or dal. You can put boiled eggs in the centre if you like (that’s VERY traditional) or you can forget about the layering and just mix it all up in the casserole dish.

Belly of pork is one of those cuts of meat that causes people to either scream or drool. People seem to genuinely love it, with a deep and abiding passion or they hate it, with a concentrated venom that can take one quite aback.

By way of example, my sis-in-law, the Mambo of Voodoo Kitchen will kill (and I am in no way speaking metaphorically) for a dish of Siew Yuk (that’s Chinese Crisp-Roasted  Belly of Pork).

However, another friend of mine who suffers from hyperacidity, turns pale and wan, when confronted with a tiny canapé of crisp-fried pork belly.

You see, belly of pork has no bones, but HEAPS of fat. A 100g serving of pork belly has around 518 calories. Which is quite a lot really.

But belly of pork, in my humble, marsupial opinion, is the Queen of Meat!

However, there’s a couple of things about belly of pork. First off, it’s not just an ingredient in Asian food. Every second fool with a food blog seems to think that you MUST flavour belly pork with star anise and dried tangerine peel. It gets a little tiresome. And secondly, I guess it’s technically possible to cook belly of pork without pre-cooking it, but let me tell you; it is SO much better if you simmer it first!

So, here’s a little recipe for …

Roasted Belly of Pork.

Ingredients.

* 1.5kg belly of pork, salt, chicken stock cubes, whole peppercorns, bay leaves.

* 4 red onions, 4 green apples, olive oil, rock salt, black pepper, 1 cup chicken stock.

Fill a large saucepan or a slow cooker with salted water and add a few stock cubes, a big pinch of peppercorns and a few bay leaves. Gently simmer the pork in this mixture for a few hours, with a lid put on the saucepan ajar, leaving a space for the steam to escape. Take the pot off the heat and let it cool. Take the pork out of the brine, drain it and pat it dry. Score the skin of the pork with a sharp knife; it will be very soft and easy to cut. Place the pork, skin side down on an oiled baking slide, put another oiled baking slide on top of the pork, weight the top slide with a few tins or a brick and put it in the fridge to sit overnight.

The next day, peel the onions and apples and cut them into thick slices. Rub the pork skin with salt, pepper and oil.  Oil a deep baking dish and lay the apple and onion in the bottom. Place the squares of pork on the apple and onion mixture, skin-side up, splash some olive oil over the top, pour the stock into the bottom of the dish and roast the lot at 180ºc (350ºf) for an hour or so. Turn the griller (broiler to my American friends) on, slip the baking dish under it and grill the top of the pork for about five minutes.

Serves six.

This is great stuff; soft, juicy meat, with beautiful crackling. And it makes its own apple sauce! (That would be “applesauce” to my American readers).

Of course, if you’re the kind of libertine who wants to gild the lily and tint the rose, you can serve your savoury, crisp-roasted belly of pork and delightful, sticky, meat-flavoured apple and onion sauce with caramel syrup. “What!” you say. “Caramel syrup on roasted porkInsanity!”

Of course, it’s not ordinary caramel syrup. It’s savoury caramel syrup. A disgusting indulgence. And really good!

Savoury Caramel Syrup.

Ingredients.

* 115g brown sugar, 80 ml red wine vinegar, 1 cinnamon stick, 250ml chicken stock, 1 orange, sea salt, freshly ground black pepper.

Cut four wide strips of peel from the orange and juice the orange as well. Put the juice and the zest aside.

Put the sugar, vinegar and cinnamon into a small saucepan and cook it, stirring it as it cooks, until the sugar has dissolved. Bring it to the boil and simmer the syrup for five minutes, or until it’s thick and … well, syrupy.
 Stir in the chicken stock and simmer it for another five minutes. Add the orange juice and orange peel, reduce the heat to low and simmer the sauce gently, until it’s very thick. Strain the orange peel strips out and adjust the seasonings.

Serves six.

So. Drizzle your caramel syrup over the roasted belly of pork and watch your guests weep with joy.

Today at the Marsupial Test Kitchen, we’re looking at pie.

The great thing about pie is that you can put pretty much anything in it.  And the way you cook the filling can radically change the taste and texture   of your pie.

Case in point. Steak pie with slow-cooked filling.

Australians, love meat pies. In this way, I’m a pretty typical Australian. (Well, I am a marsupial …)

Unfortunately, we often seem to think that we invented meat pies. We didn’t. In the UK, they make great pies too. And even the Americans make meat pies. (Crazy, I know!). But we’re still pretty damn good at the whole pie-making thing.

May I say though, a lot of websites, cookery blogs, etc, say that you can make ordinary beef ragout and make it into pie. This is not true.

You see, ordinary stewed beef, beef casserole, etc has a lot of sauce. That’s kind of the idea with ragout, it’s partially liquid. But for pie, you need a much less liquid filling.

The good thing about this filling is that it has virtually no sauce. The meat is very soft and juicy, but there’s hardly any loose liquid. This means that, when you cut the pie, the filling doesn’t spill out in a great boiling geyser. This is helpful. On the whole. I find that 3rd degree burns can spoil a nice supper with friends.

Steak Pie with Slow-Cooked Filling and Dripping Paste.

Ingredients.

* Olive oil, 1kg chuck steak

* 1 onion, 12 garlic cloves, olive oil, salt, pepper, cumin, pimentón.

* 1 litre chicken stock, 500ml white wine, 20 sprigs thyme,

* 1 egg, 1 cup flour, salt, melted dripping.

* Frozen puff pastry.

First, oil a large baking dish, put the steak in it, brush the steak with more oil and  roast it at 220ºc (450ºf) for twenty minutes.

Take the steak out of the oven and put it in a slow-cooker, along with the stock, wine, and thyme. Cook the steak on High for two hours, turn the slow-cooker down to Low and cook it for another four hours. Let the steak cool in the cooking liquid.

Take the steak out, pick out any bits of gristle of big lumps of fat and shred the meat with your fingers. Put the shredded meat aside.

Strain the cooking liquid into a non-stick saucepan and discard the bits of thyme. Reduce the liquid down, until it is thick and syrupy.

Next, make the pastry. Beat the egg in a small bowl and set it aside. In another bowl, sift the flour with a pinch of salt. Add two tablespoons of the dripping and mix it well, with an electric mixer. Add a tablespoon of water and the beaten egg and mix it together very well. The mixture will end up crumbly, but still moist. Form the paste into a ball with your hands, but don’t knead it. Put the paste into a ziplock bag and put it in the fridge for thirty minutes or so, while you finish the pie filling.

Peel the onion and garlic and chop both pretty finely. Fry the onion and garlic together in some more oil, with some salt and pepper, a pinch of cumin and a big pinch of pimentón, until the onion and garlic are soft and collapsing. Add the shredded meat and the reduced cooking liquid and gently cook the mixture until all the liquid disappears. Put the mixture aside.

Flour a board and roll it out with a rolling pin. Grease a large round pie tin with dripping, line it with baking paper and brush the paper with more dripping. Line the tin with the rolled-out pastry and lay another piece of baking paper over the pastry. Fill the pastry case with rice or dried beans, place the pie tin on a baking tray and cook it in an oven, preheated to 220ºc (450ºf) for ten minutes.

Remove the pastry case from the oven and remove the baking paper and rice or dried beans. Cook it for a further ten minutes or so, until it is a light golden colour.

Spread the meat mixture into the blind-baked pastry case. Top the meat with a thawed sheet of puff pastry and turn the edges up or trim them off. Bake the pie at 220ºc (450ºf) for twenty minutes. Check the pie and bake it for a bit longer, if it seems to need it.

Serves four to six.

This is a VERY impressive pie. Try it and you’ll see.

Cantonese roast duck! Who doesn’t love it?

Of course, if you make your own, you can claim the title of ‘Doctor’ (D.D – Doctorate of Duck). It’s not very hard; it’s just the stuffing and sewing of the duck’s bum than can be a little difficult. But if you take your time and follow the recipe, things will work out fine. The Research Division of the Marsupial Kitchen (that would be me) have worked this duck recipe out to the smallest detail and you may rest assured, that it works. OK?

By the by, here might be the place to deliver my rant on the Cantonese Duck/Peking Duck debate. The world, you see, is full of idiots and many of them will loudly exclaim that Cantonese roast duck and Peking duck are the same thing. (Insert Gong Show-type noise here). This is wrong.

Cantonese roast duck and Peking duck are very different. Unfortunately, some unscrupulous Chinese restaurants in Sydney will serve you Cantonese roast duck, while telling you it’s Peking duck. The quickest way to tell the difference is to look at the duck. Cantonese roast duck is deep red-brown in colour and looks varnished. (Hence the common term lacquered duck to refer to this kind of duck). Peking duck is yellow/honey coloured and looks more like an ordinary roast duck. Also, Cantonese roast duck is cooked with a filling of liquid, which is served with the duck. Peking duck is cooked dry, with some aromatics like garlic, star anise, shallot or dried tangerine peel, placed in the cavity.

So! Lets look at a recipe for …

Cantonese Roast Duck.

Ingredients.

* No 30 duck (3kg), salt, 5 shallots, 2cm piece ginger, peanut oil, 2 tbsp caster sugar.

*3 tbsp dry sherry, 1½ tbsp bean sauce, 1½ tbsp hoisin sauce, 2 tsp 5-spice powder

* 6 tbsp honey or maple syrup, 2 tbsp rice vinegar, pinch Chinese red food colouring.

Remove the neck, fat sacks and any giblets from the duck. Cut the wingtips off and thoroughly dry the cavity.

Half fill a big stewpan with water and bring  it to the boil. Dip the duck into the boiling water a few times, leaving the duck in the water for about ten seconds each time you dip it in. Thoroughly dry the duck, rub the skin of the duck with salt and tie the neck closed tightly with fine string.

Trim the shallots and mince them finely. Grate the ginger and put it aside with the minced shallots.

Heat some oil in a heavy saucepan. Add the shallot and ginger mix, the caster sugar, the sherry, the bean sauce, the hoisin sauce and the five-spice powder. Bring the mixture to a boil, let it cool and liquidise the mixture with a mixing wand. Stick a funnel into the duck cavity, carefully pour the mixture into the funnel and tightly sew the cavity closed. (The duck must be watertight, so don’t skimp with the stitching). Tie a string around the duck, leaving a long loop in the string, so the duck can be hung up, head-down.

Warm a cup of cold water in a small saucepan. Dissolve the honey or syrup in the water with the vinegar and the red colouring. When the mixture is completely dissolved, brush the duck all over with the mixture, ensuring that the duck is thickly covered with the glaze. When the duck is glazed, hang the duck, head-down, in front of a fan for a few hours. If you don’t have a fan, hang the duck up in an airy place; in an open window is good. (Watch out for the neighbours’ cats).

Pre-heat the oven to 200º c (400ºf). Half fill a shallow roasting pan with water and place an oiled cake cooler in it. Cover the cake cooler with a piece of baking paper, with a bunch of holes punched in it. Place the duck, breast-side uppermost, on the paper and roast the duck for twenty-five minutes. Take the duck out of the oven and brush it with some more glaze. Reduce the heat to 170º c (340ºf), carefully turn the duck over, so the breast is underneath and roast the duck for another thirty minutes. Take the duck out of the oven, turn it over again, so that the breast-side is uppermost, brush it again and roast the duck for a final thirty minutes. Take the duck out of the oven, cover it with a cloth and let it rest for a few minutes.

Let the duck cool a little and unpick the stitching from the cavity, catching all the liquid from inside. Use scissors to cut the duck into around twenty pieces, arrange the pieces on a platter and serve the the liquid as sauce for the duck.

Serves six or so.

Remember, the duck is filled with very hot liquid; you have to be very careful when you turn it over.

Alright. So, you’ve made your delicious Cantonese roast duck, and you’ve served it to wild applause. But you made a couple of other dishes too and your guests left about half the duck on the platter. So what do you do?

Well, if you’re clever, you freeze the rest of the duck and invite some different friends over the next week, for a movie night or something like that. And you serve them some beautiful little duck tarts, which I like to call …

Lotus Blossoms.

Ingredients.

* ½ Cantonese roast duck, ½ cup duck cooking liquid, hoisin sauce, 4 shallots, 3cm ginger root, 4 stalks green coriander, 100g water chestnuts, salt, pepper.

* 24 wonton wrappers, cooking oil spray.

First, strip the duck meat off the bone and shred it finely. Transfer the duck meat to a mixing bowl. Add the duck liquid and a couple of teaspoons of hoisin sauce, mix it all together and put the duck aside to sit for a few minutes.

Trim the shallots and shred them finely. Peel the ginger and chop it very finely. Add both shallots and ginger to the duck mixture. Wash the coriander, trim off the roots and chop it finely. Add the coriander to the duck mixture. Dice the water chestnuts into tiny, two millimetre pieces. Put the chopped water chestnuts into the duck mixture and mix it together very well. Taste the mixture and adjust the seasonings if it’s needed.

Spray both sides of the wonton skins with oil spray and press them into two non-stick mini muffin tins. Spoon an equal amount of duck mixture into the wonton skins, until all the wonton skins are filled. Bake the lotus blossoms at 200°c (400°f) for about fifteen minutes.

Serves around ten.

These are lovely, fresh dimsum. They’re easy to make and they look very nice as well. And the name is in no way pretentious! Well … maybe just a bit. But the little tarts are shaped like water-lily flowers, so the name fits.

If you put “Mexican mince recipes” into Google, you get 1,240,000 results.

That’s scary.

What makes it even worse is that Americans don’t call it ‘mince’. If you put “Mexican ground beef recipes” into Google, you get 8,820,000 results.

Sheesh!

Of course, the reason it’s scary is that Mexican cuisine, doesn’t use mince. Well they make albóndigas (meatballs) with minced pork, but they never use beef mince. In fact, the surest sign of a hack Mexican restaurant is that they use mince.

Personally, I blame American housewives in the early 1950’s.

You see, before 1950, mainstream American culture hadn’t really embraced Mexican cuisine. The people of Southern California, Southern Arizona, New Mexico and Texas had always eaten Mexican food, often in their own regional forms; Mexicali, Sonoran, Tex-Mex and the like. But the rest of America hadn’t really caught on to the wonder that was Mexican cuisine.

But in 1950, larger numbers of Mexican immigrants started being welcomed into the US. And, of course, they brought their food with them. And just behind the immigrants came scores of Happy Housewife recipe cards, recipe mixes, tinned goops, bottled mucks, etcetera, etcetera. Glen William Bell, Jr invented the crunchy taco shell! Taco Bell began to proliferate! And thus, a battle began; a holy war between genuine Mexican cuisine and horrible, fast-food, Americanised ‘Mexican’ food was born.

You see, the real Mexican food brought by the immigrants used some unfamiliar ingredients and cookery techniques. Thus, 1950’s recipes used grated American cheese (blerk!) and oregano, instead of queso blanco (farmers’ cheese) and green coriander (that’s cilantro to my American readers).

And slow-cooking beef or pork for hours, then shredding it by hand seemed way too much bother. So they turned to mince. (again, that’s ground meat to my American friends). So it’s all good, right?

Unfortunately, no.

You see, when you cook mince, it forms into little lumps that sort of loll around in their own grease. And these lumps-in-grease have a particular creamy taste (that’s the grease!) and an odd, slightly gritty texture (that’s the proteins in the mince tightening up). It’s not inedible, you understand. It can even be fairly pleasant. But the texture’s off by several orders of magnitude and it tastes … well, it tastes like mince. And even if you add herbs or a spice mixture, it ends up kind of missing the point.

So! To help you, my loyal readers, I’ve published my own version of Mexican shredded beef, a dish known as carne desebrada in Spanish.

Carne Desebrada.

Ingredients.

* 2 small onions, 8 cloves garlic, 2 tsp chilli powder, 4 tbsp pimentón, 2 tbsp cumin,

1 tsp black pepper, 2 tsp salt, olive oil, 1.5kg roasting beef, chicken stock, 2 shots tequila.

Peel the onions and garlic, slice the onions and crush the garlic. Mix the crushed garlic with the chili powder, pimentón, cumin, and pepper and set it aside. Put the sliced onion aside by itself.

Preheat the oven to 200ºc (400ºf). Oil the beef all over, place it on a baking dish and roast the beef for twenty minutes. Take the meat out, turn it over, replace it in the baking dish and roast it for another twenty minutes.

When the beef is browned all over, take it out and let it cool.

Lay the sliced onions on the bottom of the slow-cooker.  Spread the garlic mixture on top of the beef, place the beef on the onions, garlic side up and add enough stock to come halfway up the sides of the beef. Replace the lid on the slow-cooker.

Cook the beef for an hour on High, turn the slow-cooker down to Low and cook it for another four hours.

Every hour, check the level of stock and add more if it looks like getting too low. When the beef is cooked, remove it from the slow-cooker, let it cool completely and shred it thinly with your fingers.

Remove the liquid from the slow-cooker, add the tequila and transfer it to a saucepan. Reduce the liquid until it tastes very rich and sauce-like.

Mix the liquid with the shredded beef.

Serves six to eight.

This beef is a variety of carnitas, which is the Spanish word for twice-cooked, shredded meat. It’s great for tacos, tostadas, burritos or the like. And it’s good on it’s own too, with some Arroz Español and Ensalada Mexicana. And if you want to be really authentic, use lard instead of olive oil. Or Copha. (That’s like Crisco, for my American readers).

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