Monday, 15 September 2014

Charred skirt steak with allotment beets, mustard mayonnaise and tarragon and bone marrow dressing

One of my main challenges when cooking this summer has been to turn ingredients associated with warming, stodgy winter dishes into something a little lighter. When planning my recipes for these posts I simply tend to avoid such produce, but a few times recently I’ve been handed ingredients before I’ve had the chance to imagine their outcome. So far red wine, perfect for that bourguignon, was turned into a punchy dressing for griddled octopus. Potatoes mashed and enveloped with dainty, translucent pasta. In this case, another allotment delivery from the parents comprised of dinky, golf ball-sized beetroot and sprawling runner beans. While the beans got roasted and provided the perfect foil for homemade taramasalata, a week later I was still thinking about what to do with that damn beetroot, that was frankly taking up precious space in my tiny kitchen. 

Don’t get me wrong, beetroot is never a burden; I have grown to love this trusty root. It somehow has a bad image, and is often thought of merely just that thing piled up in plastic casing in the salad aisle. People rush past terrified in the knowledge that that pink will never leave their hands, chopping board and that freshly-pressed white shirt. While this is true, it is so worth endearing with. A friend once cooked an intense borscht, vibrant red with wonderful melty clumps of feta floating about. One of those ‘why haven’t I thought of that’ moments. Grated raw and mixed with horseradish and crème fraiche provides the perfect bed for a freshly smoked mackerel. And don’t get me started on that gratin. But what to do with it here was another thing. 

Then, as most ideas often arrive, the answer came in a most random flash. My boss arrived at the shop one day, and as always the previous evenings meal was quickly brought up. Skirt steak, the best piece of meat he had eaten in an age. That was all I needed. I knew all about this virtuous cut, but it is one that had avoided my thoughts for many a while. A quick trip across the road to those trusty fellows in the Ginger Pig saw me sorted, and for the rest of that day I had visions of a plate laden with streaks of red steak, surrounded by orange and purple beetroot, mayonnaise and tarragon. Funny how quickly it all comes together. 

It didn’t turn out quite as artistic as first imagined but boy was it good. The bone marrow, tarragon and cucumber dressing providing more beefiness, but also coolness to counter the mustard heat and pickled beets. It was also another light plate, perfect for a lunch on the balcony. As the evenings slowly start to draw in, these moments need to be savoured before stews and dumplings come a-knocking once more. 

Serves 2 


For the steak: 

1 large skirt steak 
Salt and pepper 

For the mustard mayonnaise: 

1 clove of garlic, grated 
1 tbsp white wine vinegar 
2 egg yolks 
250ml rapeseed oil 
2-3 tbsp (or to taste) English mustard 

For the roasted beetroot: 

3 small beetroot, washed 
1 garlic clove 
5 thyme sprigs 
1 tsp butter 

For the pickled beetroot: 

3 small beetroot, washed 150ml white wine vinegar 
1 shallot, finely sliced 
The stalks from the tarragon 
1 tbsp caster sugar 
5 peppercorns 
1 bay leaf 

For the tarragon and bone marrow dressing: 

1 bunch tarragon, leaves picked and stalks reserved for the pickle 
1 baby cucumber, seeds removed and cut into fine dice 
1 lemon, juice only 
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil 
1 large split of bone marrow 

For the crispy parsley: 

10 nice parsley leaves 
Vegetable oil 

To make the tarragon and bone marrow dressing, bring a small saucepan of salted water to the boil and pour cold water in a large bowl on the side. When hot, blanch the tarragon leaves for 20 seconds before draining and transfer straight into the cold water to cool. Squeeze out the excess moisture and put into a small food processor. Add the extra virgin olive oil and blitz until the leaves are very finely chopped. Pour into a bowl, cover and refrigerate for a good few hours, preferably overnight. When infused strain through muslin, discarding the sediment and keeping the vibrant oil. 

Pre-heat the oven to 180⁰C. 

Rub the cut side of the bone marrow with a little oil and season well. Roast for 8-10 minutes until the marrow comes away from the bone but hasn’t melted away. Allow to cool slightly then scoop out in long pieces and cut into small dice. Transfer to a bowl with the cucumber and lemon juice, then pour in the tarragon oil. Mix to combine, then taste and adjust the seasoning. Set aside. 

While the tarragon oil is infusing, roast the beetroot. 

Pre-heat the oven to 200⁰C. 

Arrange the beetroot for both pickling and roasting on a baking tray with the garlic and thyme. Drizzle with a little olive oil, season well then cover with foil and bake for about an hour, or until tender. Allow to cool slightly, then peel and quarter. Set the beetroot for roasting aside for later, and tip the pickling beetroot into a jar. 

Pour the pickling vinegar into a small saucepan and add the black peppercorns, shallot, bay leaf, sugar and tarragon stalks. Bring to the boil, then pour onto the beetroot in the jar. Screw the lid on tightly and gently shake to combine. Set aside to cool. 

Next make the mustard mayonnaise. Put the garlic, egg yolks, vinegar, seasoning and 1 tbsp of the mustard into a food processor and blitz for 30 seconds to combine. With the motor still running, drizzle the rapeseed oil in really slowly, starting with just a few drips and gradually increasing the speed as the oil is emulsified. When all of the oil is incorporated the mayonnaise should be thick, so let down with a bit of water if necessary. Mix in more mustard to taste, you want it to be quite punchy. 

Heat 4 tbsp of vegetable oil in a small saucepan to a high temperature. Fry the parsley leaves quickly until crisp, then remove to drain on some kitchen paper. 

Take the skirt steak out of the fridge at least 30 minutes before cooking to allow it to come to room temperature. 

Heat a heavy pan or skillet to a high temperature. Rub the steak with oil and season really well. When the pan is smoking hot, fry for 1 ½ -2 minutes on each side for rare, then transfer to a board to rest for 10 minutes. 

While the steak is resting, gently heat the butter for the beets in a small frying pan. Add the beetroot quarters and warm through. 

To serve, arrange slices of the rare steak around the middle of each plate. Dot the mayonnaise around the meat and spoon over some of the dressing. Place on some slices of roasted and pickled beetroot and finish with some of the crispy parsley leaves.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Seared scallops with celeriac, apple, smoked bacon, tarragon and brown butter

Sometimes when out food shopping I see something that is just impossible not to put into the basket. I have a blinkered mentality when buying ingredients for preconceived recipes, and will always be armed with a regimented list. This causes its fair share of problems. Mostly looking like a gormless idiot in the middle of a shop when told that the specific thing that I visited for is out of stock. Little cogs will be whirring away in my head trying to merge the detailed planning with the array of substitutes available. Hence the tendency for spontaneous, and not entirely useful or necessary ingredients. At this point I am in serious danger on picking up any old thing that looks interesting or particularly good. Sure that purple cauliflower, baby artichoke or gooseberries looked lovely in my larder (bowl on the side), but they sure as hell had nothing to do with any cooking I had in mind when leaving the house. 

On this occasion it was the scallops. I was out struggling to find guinea fowl for a pasta lunch that I wanted to cook for some friends, and in my confused state I took a momentary breather at the fishmongers. Somehow I must have thought that looking at a varied and colourful display of ultimately totally irrelevant fish would clarify my judgement. It didn’t. But while I made my mind up I carried the extra weight of a handful of plump and voluptuous molluscs. Ever since my dad introduced them to me as an occasional childhood treat, I’ve always been a sucker for a scallop. And these were pearlers; firm to the touch, super-sized and carrying that subtle sweet smell of very fresh shellfish.  

But what to do with them, that was the question. They certainly weren’t going to somehow cameo in my long thought-out and just about sourced poultry main. In my last post I rambled on about the importance of planning ahead when cooking for numbers, and with that in mind all I wanted to do was create something quick and simple. Paired with black pudding and peas they are a delicious classic, but not massively interesting. Tarragon, apple and lemon add tanginess, and contrast creamy, salty bacon butter to achieve a delicate balance. And all ready to go in a matter of minutes.  
These scallops were very large, and on this occasion were perfect as a small couple of forkfuls before a main course. Double the quantities and halve the diners for something more luxurious and substantial.  

Serves 4  


For the scallops:  

4 very large scallops, corals detached 
1 large knob of butter  

For the celeriac:  

4 heaped tbsp of fine celeriac julienne 
1 heaped tbsp. of fine braeburn apple julinne 
1 lemon, juice only  

For the bacon butter:  

3 tbsp butter 
2 rashers of smoked streaky bacon, finely diced 
½ a lemon, juice only  

To finish:  

Tarragon leaves 
½ lemon, juice only 
4 scallop shells for presentation (optional)  

Mix the celeriac and apple julienne with the lemon juice and a little seasoning in a small bowl. Cover and allow to soften and lightly pickle for about 30 minutes.  
Heat a small saucepan to a medium-high temperature. Add a little oil and fry the bacon for 4-5 minutes, or until brown and crispy. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon. Spoon the butter into the same pan and turn the heat up slightly. When the butter turns a light brown colour, remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and a little pepper. Tip the bacon back into the butter and keep warm. 

Pour a generous amount of oil into a non-stick frying pan and set on a high heat. Pat the scallops and corals dry and season well all over. Sear both parts for 1 ½ minutes on each side, adding the butter with about a minute to go and basting everything well. 

Spoon a quarter of the celeriac and apple mixture into the bottom of each scallop shell. Place a scallop and coral on top and pour over a little of the bacon butter. Scatter over some tarragon leaves and a squeeze of lemon.