potato and aubergine moussaka

eggplantsoakedAs a child of six years and little courage, I had limited tolerance for bitter, sour or slimy vegetables. Most vegetables, in fact, other than super sweet baby carrots, green peas and cheesy mashed potatoes. In particular, I held animosity towards aubergines, the large purple eggs known sensibly as ‘eggplant’ in American English. My childish eyes viewed them as the blight of the vegetable world, with their thick, bitter skins, sponge-like interiors and lines of acerbic crunchy seeds.

Unfortunately for me, my mother held an entirely different view on this member of the nightshade family. She loved them, both for culinary and nutritional reasons, and cooked them regularly in our family dinner rotation. Her default dish was ratatouille made with fragrant basil, olive oil, crushed garlic and Italian tomatoes, simmered for an hour in a cast iron pan. Sometimes I’d excitedly mistake the bubbling mixture for my favourite dish, Bolognese. I was sorely disappointed when chunks of aubergine appeared, traumatically infiltrating my spaghetti or steamed rice.

eggplant herbs

During each aubergine dinner, I’d approach the table with pleading eyes, tired words and a bubbling stomach. My mother would smile patiently across the table, watching my gaze flicker between the fresh pasta, rich sauce and steaming chunks of aubergine mush. “Just two bites”, she would say, gradually demolishing her own plate of ratatouille. I would grimace silently in protest, aggressively poking my aubergine with a fork until it disintegrated.

After what seemed like hours, my juvenile deprecation waned. I would relent, scooping two bites into my mouth before joyously leaving the dinner table to play. But with time, those two bites became an entire meal, then ‘seconds’, then ‘…just a bit more’. My mother’s assiduous determination transformed my hatred of aubergines into an unyielding love that endures in my own family kitchen. For this reason amongst others, I will forever be in her debt.

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Over the past two years, I’ve become particularly fond of Middle Eastern ways to eat aubergines, such as smooth, smoky baba ghanouj, spicy mutabbal and grilled stuffed eggplants with lamb, yoghurt and fragrant za’atar. However, within this post you will find my first ever ‘favourite’ aubergine dish, Greek moussaka or layered aubergine bake. With layers of soft potatoes, seasoned mince, crumbed aubergine and creamy béchamel, this dish is rich, warm and filling, perfect for cold nights and ravenous appetites.

I’d suggest eating this dish in small, thick wedges with a pile of fresh greens, lemony grilled artichokes and some hot, buttered Greek bread (such as the delicious hard-crusted psomi). It’s a fine use of aubergines that’s sure to win over the harshest of critics.

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Potato and Aubergine Moussaka

Serves 8-10

Allow 2 hours preparation + 45-60 minutes cooking

  • 4 large aubergines (eggplant), approx 1.2kg
  • 500g waxy/low starch potatoes (eg. Nadine, Bintje, Nicola or Kipfler)
  • 1 kg ground lamb mince
  • 2 large onions, finely diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced finely
  • 1/2 cup good quality red wine
  • 1/4 cup Italian parsley, chopped
  • 1 tbsp thyme, leaves picked
  • 1 tbsp finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • 400g can crushed Roma tomatoes
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1-2 tsp brown sugar, to taste
  • 1/4 cup sea salt flakes, for salting the eggplant (+ extra, to taste)
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups panko breadcrumbs
  • 8 egg whites, lightly beaten (reserve yolks for béchamel, below)
  • 1 1/2 cups finely grated kefalograviera cheese (substitute Parmesan or Romano)
  • béchamel sauce, recipe to follow

With a small paring knife, remove 1-inch-wide strips of aubergine peel from the green stem to the tail end. Slice the aubergines into 1cm thick rounds. Place your prepared slices into a colander or bowl, then salt them liberally. Cover them with an inverted plate to weigh down the slices, then set aside for 1 hour (this process, known as ‘degorging’, draws the excess moisture and bitterness out of the aubergines).

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Meanwhile, peel the potatoes and boil them whole in a pot of salted water. Cook until just tender (a knife should slide through with only slight resistance). Drain, cool, then slice each potato into 0.5cm thick slices. Set aside.

potatoes

potatosoak

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C (390 degrees f). Line two baking trays with aluminium foil, then grease them with a light spray of olive oil. Place the egg whites and a splash of ice water in a small bowl. Beat lightly with a fork, then set aside for coating your aubergine slices.

eggwash

Rinse your pressed slices of aubergine to remove some of the salt, then pat them dry with a clean paper towel. Tip the panko breadcrumbs onto a flat plate, then place them alongside your pile of aubergine slices and the beaten egg whites.

Working quickly, dip each slice of aubergine into the egg wash, then the panko breadcrumbs. Press down to coat each side adequately. Place the slice of crumbed eggplant onto a prepared tray, then repeat the process with the rest of the aubergine, egg wash and breadcrumbs.

crumbing2 crumbing

Bake the aubergine slices at 200 degrees C (390 degrees f) for 30-40 minutes, turning them once during cooking. When the aubergine is firm but tender and the breadcrumbs are golden, remove the trays from the oven and allow them to cool slightly.

cooking

Whilst your aubergine is roasting, prepare your seasoned mince. Place a large, heavy-based pan over medium heat. Brown the lamb mince in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, then add in the onion, garlic and spices. Cook for about 1 minute, or the onion is translucent and the mixture is fragrant.

Add in the wine, tomato paste, parsley, thyme, crushed tomatoes and a sprinkle of sugar. Season to taste.

cookingmince

Allow the mixture to simmer, uncovered, for approximately 20 minutes. When reduced sufficiently (the mixture needs to be reasonably thick and dry so that the finished moussaka won’t be waterlogged), stir through the lemon zest, then set aside to cool slightly before assembling the layers.

It should look like this:

mincecooked

To assemble: lightly grease a large, 6-8 cup capacity lasagne pan or baking dish (mine appears smaller as I made two separate trays of moussaka).

construction

Leaving a 1cm space around the edges of the pan, place a single, flat layer of potatoes on the base. Top with a layer of aubergine slices, then 1/2 the seasoned mince. Sprinkle with one third of the cheese. Add another layer of aubergine slices, then top with half of the béchamel sauce (see recipe to follow; ensure that the béchamel fills the sides and corners of the pan). Repeat the above layers (potato, aubergine, mince, cheese, aubergine), then top with a final layer of béchamel and grated cheese.

Bake in a 180 degrees C (350 degrees f) oven for 45-60 minutes or until the béchamel is golden and the cheese is bubbling. Allow to cool for 15 – 20 minutes before slicing to serve.

bechamelfin

Béchamel Sauce

  • 225g salted butter
  • 1 cup (150g) flour
  • 4 cups milk, warmed
  • 8 egg yolks, lightly beaten
  • Pinch of ground nutmeg

In a small pan, melt the butter over low heat. Gradually add the flour to the melted butter, whisking continuously to make a smooth paste. Allow the flour to cook for a minute (do not allow it to brown). It should look like this:

bechamelroux

Add the warmed milk in a steady stream. Whisk continuously to combine, then simmer the mixture, stirring consistently, until it thickens slightly. Remove from the heat, then add in the egg yolks and nutmeg. Return over low heat, whisking continuously until the mixture thickens.

Use as specified above to assemble the moussaka.

*This dish was eaten very late in the evening with a throw-together salad and a glass of Stella Bella’s Suckfizzle 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. Hungry stomachs led to fleeting photographs taken with poor overhead lighting. As there were negligible leftovers (and the dish took three+ hours to make) I’ll leave the proper photoshoot to your imagination. Until next time.

finbaked aarons plate

Notes:

  • Kefalograviera is a hard, salty Greek cheese made from sheep or goats milk. It is available from some supermarkets and specialty delicatessens, however Parmesan and Romano are fine substitutes.
  • This dish can be assembled, covered and refrigerated for 1-2 days before cooking. Return to room temperature prior to baking (alternately, cover with foil for 30 minutes if baking directly from the refrigerator. Add an extra 15 minutes onto the cooking time).
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kangaroo rendang with roti canai

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Despite being raised in Australia, I was 26 years old before I tasted my first bite of kangaroo. I remember it vividly, in part because Aaron and I were on our first ‘real’ holiday as a couple in Broome, 2,200 kilometres north of our hometown in Perth, Western Australia.

We arrived in Broome towards the end of March. Despite transitioning into the Australian autumn, it was oppressively hot, humid and bright. Despite those minor details, I was ridiculously excited at the thought of spending a few days in paradise with my love. As a bonus, we were also visiting the hometown of our beautiful friends Kelly, Gareth and Amanda, all of whom we see only once every few months. We couldn’t wait.

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A couple of days after our arrival in Broome, we jumped into Kelly’s car (a little rust bucket that she and Gareth generously lent to us) and embarked on a 19km trip to the aptly named 12 Mile Cafe (yes, I can convert from metric), a tiny organic establishment set within the beautiful grounds of Serendipity Farm.

Upon exiting the car, I immediately smelt the heady, rich fragrance of Malay spices, mangoes and galangal. It was intoxicating, particularly when factoring in my ridiculous dehydration. We sat at a tiny wooden table on the cafe deck, sipping fresh mango smoothies whilst awaiting our food orders. For me, marinated tempeh with fresh water spinach, young galangal and spicy peanut sauce was an easy choice. Aaron, on the other hand, chose kangaroo rendang with steamed basmati rice. I looked at him quizzically as sweat dripped from my brow, pooling onto a green serviette. He smiled reassuringly. I patted him on the shoulder before leaving to visit the drop-hole ladies.

My meal was amazing, in every sense of the word. Fresh, fragrant, colourful and deliciously nourishing. Aaron’s meal smelt like… well, wild game disguised in heady spices. He started chewing, thoughtfully registering every blissful mouthful. Eventually, he stopped for air and encouraged me to have a taste. In lovestruck compliance, I reluctantly agreed.

currypaste

The first forkful of that rendang has lived on in my memory like a perfect photograph. It was rich, fragrant, warm and delicious, intensely meaty but beautifully balanced by lemongrass, star anise, shallots and coconut. We devoured the whole plateful before sucking the last of our mango smoothies. Aaron has subsequently pleaded on several occasions for me to recreate our Broome rendang experience, but to be honest, I was a little intimidated. The idea of creating a perfect holiday dish in a domestic kitchen sounded wonderful, but largely unachievable. However, last week I harnessed my anxiety and went kangaroo hunting at my local butcher (sans spear, of course).

Upon arriving at Swansea Street Meats, I was disappointed to discover in conversation with the butcher that kangaroo meat is no longer farmed in Western Australia (it’s all transported from Queensland, folks). I therefore carried 1.1kg of frozen kangaroo rump home in a cloud of disappointment, alongside a kilo of beef chuck and various rendang spices. That night, I made a rendang with tender chunks of slow-braised beef, roti canai and a water spinach salad. It was delicious, but I was still determined to triumph over the national emblem.

The following week, I defrosted the lump of kangaroo and set to work on recreating our Broome memory: the perfect kangaroo rendang.

kanga kangaraw2

That brings us to the present moment. Last night, I got home from work and raided the fridge for shallots, lemongrass, birdseye chillies, garlic, ginger and lime leaves. I blended a spice paste, lovingly fried it in hot oil, then set it aside whilst I prepared the kangaroo meat. Upon opening the plastic seal, I was immediately greeted with the pungent smell of bloodied game. It was… terrible. A clean version of roadkill. But still, I was undeterred. I diced it into 2cm chunks, coated it in seasoned flour and chucked it into a hot stewing pot. It sizzled, like game in the sunshine.

Fast forward three hours. The sun had long set below the horizon and street lights were sending dappled patterns across the coffee table. I stood, kneading dough for the roti canai whilst sipping from a cold bottle of Matso’s Mango and Desert Lime cider (necessary, when recreating a Broome dish. On the stove, the rendang sat, quietly bubbling as clouds of fragrant steam rose towards the ceiling. It smelt divine; rich, meaty, sweet and dense with spice. I was pleased; even more so when my roti perfectly bubbled on the cast iron pan.

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currypastelike2

Half an hour later, Aaron and our friend Manuel arrived on the doorstep, sweating from a gym session. Post showers, food was assembled on the table and we loaded our plates generously. Then, we ate. In silence. Despite my initial reservations, I was stuffing my face without a scrap of restraint. Tender chunks of kangaroo combined with fresh coriander, cucumber and rice were piled upon pieces of soft roti and before I knew it, my plate was empty. I can honestly attest that it was that good.

If you have any reservations about cooking or eating kangaroo, I’d encourage you to put them aside for the benefit of this dish. When bought from a sustainable, responsibly-run farm, kangaroo is a very safe, nutritious and ethical meat to consume (see ‘resources’ below if you’d like to read more). It’s high in protein, low in fat (about 2%) and a good source of conjugated linoleic acid, which has been attributed with a wide range of health benefits including anti-carcinogenic and anti-diabetes properties. Though kangaroo is generally stronger in flavour than beef, lamb or other commercially-raised food animals, it’s wonderfully balanced in the strong flavours of this otherwise-authentic Malaysian dish.

Try it. From one kangaroo skeptic to another, you’ll be glad that you did.

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Kangaroo Rendang

Serves 4-6 (or one very, very hungry person)

  • 1.1 kg responsibly farmed kangaroo rump
  • seasoned flour, for dusting
  • 5-6 tbsp vegetable or light olive oil
  • 1 cinnamon quill (cinnamon stick), broken in half
  • 4 cloves
  • 3 star anise
  • 3 large black cardamom pods, cracked (pound gently in a mortar and pestle)
  • 1 cup (240ml) thick, full-fat coconut milk
  • 1 cup (240ml) chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2 tsp tamarind pulp
  • 6 kaffir lime leaves, chopped finely
  • handful of curry leaves
  • 2 long mild red chillies, halved lengthways (optional)
  • 1-2 tbsp palm sugar, to taste
  • pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 tbsp kerisik (toasted coconut, finely ground)
  • fresh coriander and cucumber pickle (I just mixed cucumber with oil, lemon juice, toasted coconut and cumin seeds, fresh coriander, crisp-fried shallots and salt) to serve

Spice paste:

  • 5 Asian shallots, peeled and chopped
  • 1.5 inch galangal root, coarsely chopped
  • 1.5 inch ginger root, coarsely chopped
  • 3 stems of lemongrass, thick white base only, coarsely chopped
  • 5 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 4 small birdseye (Thai) chillies, whole (stems removed)

Prepare the spice paste: add all of the chopped spice paste ingredients to the bowl of a food processor (no need to peel the ginger or galangal, it’ll blend up fine). Blend until well combined.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add in the spice paste and gently fry it until aromatic, softened and reduced. Add in the cinnamon, cloves, star anise, kaffir lime and cardamom pods. Fry for 2 minutes or until fragrant. Remove from pan and set aside.

currypaste2

Cut the kangaroo meat into 2 x 2cm cubes. Dust with a little seasoned flour, then fry batches of meat in the same saucepan (you may need to add a little more oil as kangaroo meat is very lean) until browned. Add the spice mixture back into the pan and mix well.

Add in the coconut milk, tamarind paste, stock, curry leaves, palm sugar and a little water. Bring to the boil, then replace the pan lid and reduce the heat to a low simmer.

cooking

Cook, covered, for about two hours or until the meat softens and starts to fall apart. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. Remove the lid and add in the kerasik. Cook for another 60-90 minutes, or until the liquid reduces to a ‘dry curry‘ consistency.

Skim any oil off the surface of the curry if required. Serve with coriander, steamed rice, the roti canai (below), cucumber pickle and some toasted shallots, if desired.

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Roti Canai (Malaysian flatbread)

This is a somewhat ‘Westernised’ recipe, adapted for the general home cook. To me, it tastes exactly as it’s supposed to; slightly chewy, layered, crisp on the outside and perfectly bendable for mopping up curry sauce. If you’d like to make a more traditional version, omit the yoghurt and yeast (and consequently, the resting/rising time). Fry as specified. More info on Roti Canai here.

Makes 6 x 15cm diameter flatbreads

  • 2 (240g) cups plain flour (+ 1 cup for kneading)
  • 3/4 cup  (180ml) of tepid/lukewarm water
  • 2 1/2 tbsp natural yoghurt
  • good pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • 1 tsp high activity yeast
  • pinch of baking powder
  • Butter and oil for frying

In a small bowl, mix the yeast with the tepid water and the sugar. Set aside until frothy.

Combine the flour, yoghurt, salt and baking powder in a medium bowl. Add in the yeast mixture, then mix until you have a sticky dough. Turn out onto a well-floured surface and knead for 5-10 minutes (sprinkle more flour onto the dough as required; I added at least another 3/4 cup) or until the dough becomes elastic and smooth.

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Form into a ball, then place into an oiled bowl. Cover with a clean damp tea towel and set aside to rise for 1-2 hours in a warm, draft-free place (I ended up storing my dough in the slightly warm oven after I had turned it off).

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When the dough has doubled in size, remove it from the bowl and place it onto a well-floured bench. Punch out the air and knead it for five minutes (sprinkle more flour on top if the dough becomes tacky) before dividing the dough into 8 pieces.

Preheat a large, heavy-based frying pan over medium heat. Add 1/2 tsp butter and a good splash of oil; heat until smoking. Roll out one piece of the dough into a thin (~3mm thick / 15cm diameter) flat circle, then quickly drop it onto the piping hot fry pan. It should immediately start to sizzle and puff (sorry for the lack of pictures during this stage, I was working quickly). When the top surface is covered with large bubbles, flip the bread over and press the air out with an egg flip. Remove from the heat when browned on both sides; leave to cool on a paper towel. Repeat the process with your remaining dough.

Serve plain, as I did, sprinkled with salt or spread with garlic butter. If you’d prefer to oven-bake these breads, lightly brush them with oil and bake them on a preheated, lined baking tray or pizza stone at 230 degrees C (445 degrees f) for about 10-15 minutes, or until golden spots appear.

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Resources:

Just a couple of obligatory ‘eating photos’, since I don’t have Instagram:

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On a Personal Note:

  • The pictures for this post were taken with my new Canon EOS 70D, a completely overwhelming gift from my beautiful, wise and generous mother, Kim. I love you immeasurably. I am so, so grateful for everything you do. Aaron and I will be snap-happy for weeks!
  • Another thank you to the coolest sister-in-law on the planet, who got me these measuring cups (below) as an early birthday gift. Now I’ll be measuring things just for fun! Juls, you are beautiful and thoughtful in every way. Can’t wait to use them in a proper baking shoot!
  • Thirdly, a big thanks to Jason (our generally awesome friend and computer programmer extraordinaire) for messing around with some CSS modifications on my blog. Couldn’t have done any of the changes without you! Thanks also to Anna for being generally beautiful, warm, generous and lovely (and for staying up late so that Jason could mess with my blog!)

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slow-roasted lamb with white wine, lemon and herbs

closeupreadyIt’s hard to believe that today marks the third day since our departure from the Australian Winter. Despite my moaning, I predominantly enjoy the cold nights and rainy days of the winter months. The icy chill perpetuates a desire for warm blankets, hot drinks and the best kind of comfort food: creamy mashed potato, spiced apple crumbles and hot buttered bread, dipped into thick pumpkin soup with shards of crisp pancetta.

lemonhebsSo, as we Australians will soon be progressing to salad days, ice-cream and cold beer, I thought I’d do a final homage to the beautiful winter-that-was: a recipe for my oft-mentioned slow-roasted lamb with garlic, rosemary, anchovies and lemon.

I’ve trialled many versions of this dish, ranging from foil sealed to uncovered, wet, dry, seasoned and marinated. This version achieves a melt-in-your-mouth-tender result every time, allowing the beauty of the meat to shine through whilst being gently complimented by sweet herbs and lemon.

anchovies anchovies2For those of you heading towards Autumn and Winter, I’d definitely recommend that you bookmark this recipe for cosy nights in front of the fire. It virtually takes care of itself; all you need to do is to place the lamb in the oven after lunch, and by dinnertime you’ll be beckoned by sweet fragrances of wine, herbs and slow-cooked lemon.

Our usual ritual is to accompany this dish with a bottle of great red wine, some crisp-roasted Royal blue or kipfler potatoes with lots of garlic and an array of vegetable dishes. At present, I’m continuing to indulge my long-standing obsession with Middle Eastern food, particularly Persian, Israeli and Turkish cuisine, so there’s been lots of cous cous, pickled and roasted beets, smoky babaghanouj, preserved lemon and braised celery.

closeupcornerThis is being further encouraged by my recent investment into Yotam Ottolenghi’s beautiful book series, ‘Plenty’ and ‘Jerusalem’. I’m excited, as I plan to share some recipes inspired by his vegetable collection over the Spring and Summer season. Watch this space.

ingredientsSlow-roasted Lamb with White Wine, Lemon and Herbs

Loosely adapted from ‘Dinner at Matt’s‘ by Matt Moran

  • 1 x 2 – 2.2kg bone-in lamb shoulder
  • 2 fresh, unwaxed lemons
  • 4-6 cloves of garlic, peeled and cut into thick slivers
  • 6 cloves of garlic, unpeeled (extra)
  • 4 anchovies in oil, drained, each torn into 3 pieces
  • large handful of fresh herbs, I used rosemary (essential), thyme, oregano and sage
  • 150ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 300ml good-quality white wine
  • sea salt
  • freshly cracked black pepper

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C (390 degrees f). Using a small, sharp knife, score a diamond pattern into the fat on the surface of the lamb shoulder, then make 10 -12 1cm-deep incisions. Take a sliver of garlic, a piece of anchovy and a few rosemary leaves; press them together to form a small bundle, then stuff the bundle into one of the 1cm-deep incisions. Repeat this process with the remaining garlic, rosemary and anchovy fillets.

meatmontScatter half of the remaining herbs and the unpeeled garlic cloves over the base of a large roasting tin. Place the meat on top, then pour over the olive oil and white wine. Rub some salt and pepper into the skin, then finely grate over the zest of one lemon (use your fingers to stuff some of the lemon zest into the incisions and the scored pattern in the skin).

Cut the two lemons into thick wedges and scatter these into the wine and olive oil around the meat. Place the extra herbs on top of the meat (don’t worry if some fall off into the braising liquid), then cover the tray completely with tinfoil.

meatreadyPlace the covered tray into the preheated oven. Immediately reduce the temperature to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f) and cook for one hour. Reduce temperature further to 150 degrees C (300 degrees f) and cook for another 3-4 hours, or until the meat falls off the bone.

Once cooked, remove the tray from the oven and leave the meat to rest (covered) for half an hour prior to serving.

lambpresentedsumacsalad As aforementioned, I usually serve this dish with potatoes or hot, fresh bread and a selection of vegetables or salads. Pictured are:

  1. Roasted beets in a lemony dressing of soured cream and yoghurt with pistachios, lemon rind, sumac and chopped fresh mint
  2. Bulgur salad with smoky eggplant, red and yellow peppers, roasted shallots, soft herbs, preserved lemon, currants and pistachios
  3. Persian feta, ripe cherry tomatoes, Lebanese cucumbers and herbs with sumac, lemon oil and za’atar

And yes, we ate the lemon wedges with the lamb. They become soft, sweet and delicious whilst slowly braising in the olive oil and wine… so, so good.thefat wineWe drank First Drop ‘Fat of the Land’ 2009 Ebenezer Shiraz from the Barossa Valley, South Australia. Delicious notes of blackened fruit and spice with soft tannins and a lingering mouthfeel. Perfect with rich, meaty lamb and soothing vegetable dishes.

Read a review here from Pinot Shop and another here from Vino Review (I like Josh, he’s cool).

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six-hour pulled pork with homemade bourbon barbecue sauce

interior2My husband awoke on Friday morning to a pyjama-clad wife cradling a baking dish full of spiced, marinated raw pork shoulder. “That looks like chocolate”, he stated, rubbing sleep from his eyes. “Uh, it’s marinated pork, baby. I’m going to slow-cook it whilst we’re at work today”. He nodded blearily and trundled off to the bathroom to wash his face. So cute.

But, ah… no Aaron. Not all brown foodstuffs are chocolate (though on second thought, that meat does look rather chocolatey).

marinademontToday’s post is based on a recipe for pulled pork by a fellow Antipodean blogger and recipe developer, Peter Georgakopolous. Peter’s blog, Souvlaki for the Soul, was one of the first I discovered as a fledgling foodie. It’s now four years on and I’m still addicted to his impeccable food styling, innovative recipes and top-notch photography.

This particular dish is a perfect example of Peter’s generous hospitality, bold flavours and delicate-but-achievable presentation. It’s been featured on the freakishly cool subscription blog The Boy’s Club (which I also love, despite not being a boy) and I’ve wanted to make it since I first set eyes on his gorgeous food styling, recipe and words.

drinklikeSo on Thursday night, I set to work with Peter as my guide. I liberally covered a shoulder of pork in a fragrant dry rub of brown sugar, oregano, mustard and spices before wrapping and refrigerating the meat overnight.

The next morning, I stared out the window for a while, eating Cheerios whilst the meat returned to room temperature. I then blearily flung it into a hot roasting pan to brown before shoving it, foil-covered, into the oven. As I ran out the door, I hoped that the meat would take care of itself (luckily, it did).

gorgeousherbsIf you haven’t figured it out already, this recipe takes time. Lots of it. Unless you’re lucky enough to lead a flexible routine, I’d recommend that you plan ahead to:

a) marinate the meat and make the barbecue sauce the night before

b) start the cooking process in an oven or pressure cooker before work (it doesn’t matter if you’re away for 8-10 hours, just keep the temperature low; the longer the cook time, the better)

c) ensure that you have all of the other ingredients available for serving when guests arrive (I’m speaking to myself, as frantic “…just make yourself at home, I’ll be back in fifteen!” dashes to the supermarket just aren’t fun).

mmmmSix-hour Pulled Pork

Adapted from this recipe by Peter Georgakopolous.

Makes about 20 pulled pork rolls.

  • 1 pork shoulder, weighing between 1.5-1.7kg
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp rock salt, crushed
  • 1 tbsp white pepper
  • 2 tbsp smoked Spanish paprika
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp dried chilli flakes
  • 1 tsp mustard powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp ground allspice
  • Bourbon barbecue sauce, to serve (recipe below)

Place the pork shoulder into a large, flat dish. Combine all of the dry rub ingredients in a bowl, then massage the mix into the pork shoulder until it is entirely covered (if there’s any residual dry rub, just pour it on top of the meat). Cover the dish in plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator overnight (or for at least 8 hours).

dryrubmontRemove the pork from the oven at least one hour before cooking, so that it can return to room temperature. Preheat your oven to 120 degrees C (250 degrees f).

Heat a good splash of oil in a large oven-safe baking dish or pan over high heat. Gently pat any moisture and extra marinade off the pork meat, then seal it on all sides until well browned.

porkseal3Remove from heat, pour over any residual marinade then cover the baking dish with foil. Place in the oven and cook for at least six hours, or until falling off the bone.

After removing the pork from the oven, allow the meat to rest (with the foil removed) for 10-15 minutes before shredding (or ‘pulling’) it into long strands with two forks, like this:

flakemeatPlace the pulled pork into a bowl and toss with 1 cup of barbecue sauce (recipe below), ensuring it is mixed well.

pulledmeatsaucedServe in soft white rolls with a spoonful of coleslaw (see my post for Red Cabbage, Radish and Apple Coleslaw) and more mayonnaise, barbecue sauce or hot sauce, if desired. See extra serving suggestions below.

sauceHomemade Bourbon Barbecue Sauce

  • 1 cup (240ml) tomato ketchup
  • 2 cups (480ml) crushed tomatoes (substitute tomato passata)
  • 3/4 cup (165g) light brown sugar
  • 2 tsp mustard powder
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 3/4 cup Bourbon whisky
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup apple cider or white wine vinegar
  • 20ml fish sauce
  • 3 tbsp hot sauce (I used Tabasco), or to taste

Place all of the ingredients into a medium sized pot and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and allow to simmer for 30 minutes, or until thickened. Store in a sterilised bottle for later use, or serve immediately with the pulled pork.

interiorServing Suggestions:

You can use storebought coleslaw in these rolls at a pinch. I’d suggest adding some coriander and mint upon serving for freshness, colour and flavour.

I’ve specified ‘white rolls’ for this recipe, though I normally eat brown, seeded or whole wheat bread at home. The soft neutrality of the white bread just seems to really work well with the spiced meat and coleslaw; use brown bread if you must (it’ll still be delicious).

The first time I served these rolls, they were assembled by the light of a halogen work lamp on a tarp-covered trestle table at a friend’s partially renovated home. It was simple: rolls, meat, coleslaw, paper towels. We ate them fireside, with dust on our boots, beer in our bellies and sauce dripping down our chins. It was a beautiful illustration of hand-held food at its best; liberated from the restraints of cutlery, etiquette and dinner party decorum. I’d suggest warming the rolls on a barbecue first, if you have access to one, before serving with potato crisps and lots of fresh, citrusy beer (we had James Boags Premium Lager from Tasmania. Pretty good).

My second attempt took place at home, with the benefits of an oven, sink and refrigerator. I warmed the rolls in the oven until the outsides were slightly crisped and the insides were warm and soft. Meat was added, with coleslaw, a little extra hot sauce and lashes of mayonnaise. These were so, so good. The crisp roll, hot spiced pork and still-cold coleslaw was a fantastic combination. Even better with ice-cold Hoegaarden and some of the best friends on the planet.

gone

chilli bacon jam

Bacon is a funny thing. To the untrained eye, it’s a pretty ugly piece of meat. Streaked with ribbons of fat, it’s commonly cut from the sides, back or belly of a pig before being cured with copious amounts of sodium chloride (salt) or ‘brine’ (a mixture of salt, sodium ascorbate and potassium nitrate amongst other things). The meat is then air dried, boiled or smoked to in pieces before being sliced and sold in rashers or strips. The end product, as you’d well know, looks like this:


So why is bacon, of all things, loved to the point of absolute fanaticism? The term ‘bacon mania‘ has even been coined to describe the ever-increasing fervency of bacon enthusiasts around the world, particularly in the United States, Canada and other western countries. There are bacon products ranging from painted bacon coffins to an award-winning smoky Bakon Vodka alongside another product appropriately named baconlube (which pushes the boundaries of it’s maker J&D’s tagline, ‘Everything should taste like bacon’). But, ahem… moving on.

According to scientists, the explanation mostly centres around a Japanese term devised in 1908 by Kikunae Ikeda, a Tokyo chemist and university professor. Ikeda’s work isolated a separate taste substance from the four commonly accepted ‘tastes’ of sweet, salty, bitter and sour. He called this new taste ‘umami’, a combination of the Japanese words for ‘delicious’ (umai うまい) and ‘taste’ (mi).

So what’s this got to do with bacon? Well, to throw more science at you, the taste profile of umami comes from the tongue’s detection of an amino acid named L-glutamate. You can read more about the process here, but for the purposes of this blog post all you need to know is that umami basically makes everything taste good. That’s why Ikeda later went on to create and patent a chemical version of umami called monosodium glutamate (MSG), a common additive in Chinese takeaway. But, well… let’s just say the world is slowly rediscovering that natural is better.

Foods rich in umami include most meats, anchovies, Parmesan cheese, ripe tomatoes, soy sauce, shellfish, seaweed and vegetable extracts (Vegemite and Marmite). The good news is bacon has six different types of umami in it. No wonder it tastes so darn good.

Okay. Now that you’ve learnt why you want to eat bacon, I’m going to tell you how you can eat bacon, with a spoon, straight out of a jar. Sound weird? Yep, I thought so too, but after reading this recipe by Martha Stewart I was keen to experiment.

So, fast forward to time spent at a friend’s house drinking mint tea whilst avoiding the nose of a curious Weimaraner. Over the course of an afternoon, we caught up on four weeks worth of conversation whilst chopping bacon, eventually producing a pot full of caramelised boozy relish that, despite initial doubts, was… well, umami in a jar.

Comparing my revised recipe to the original from Martha Stewart, you’ll see that I’ve added a range of aromatics whilst slightly reducing the sugar content. The finished product has lingering chilli heat and the bitterness of coffee whilst also being mellowed by sweet caramelised shallots, earthy maple syrup and brown sugar. It’s perfect straight from the jar, but if you feel like branching out it also partners beautifully with scrambled eggs, soft goat’s cheese, burgers, fresh rocket and crusty sourdough.

To conclude: bacon in a jar? It works. Try it, I’m pretty confident that you’ll be glad you did.

Chilli Bacon Jam
Makes 2 cups

  • 600g good quality smoked rasher bacon
  • 4 eschallots (brown shallots), thinly sliced
  • 3 tbsp packed light brown sugar
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp dried chilli flakes
  • 1/2 tsp ground mustard powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3/4 cup (180ml/6 fl oz) whisky (substitute with brandy, or just water if preferred)
  • 2/3 cup (160ml/7 fl oz) strong brewed coffee
  • 4 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tbsp maple syrup
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

Cut your bacon rashers into one inch pieces, then fry them in a large pot with a splash of oil until the meat is crisped and the fat has rendered out. Remove with a slotted spoon, then drain on paper towels. Set aside.

Drain all but 2 tbsp of bacon fat from the pot. Add in your shallots and garlic over medium heat, and cook until the shallots are translucent. Add in the spices, brown sugar, chosen alcohol (if using) and a pinch of salt, cook for 3-4 minutes before adding in your other liquid ingredients: vinegar, coffee and maple syrup. Bring to the boil, then allow the liquid to reduce slightly for about five minutes.

Add in your reserved bacon, then immediately reduce the heat to low. Simmer, covered, for 30 minutes before stirring and allowing the mixture to evaporate. Cook for a further 30 minutes, or until the mixture is darkened, syrupy and fragrant.

Once at the desired consistency, allow the mixture to cool. Skim any oil off the surface with a spoon, and discard it alongside the bay leaves.

Transfer your cooled mixture to the bowl of a food processor. Process until it reaches the consistency of a chunky jam; you should still be able to see crunchy, crisp little bits of bacon amongst the syrupy, boozy spiced shallots. Taste, and add extra salt or pepper as required.

This mixture is delicious warm, eaten in it’s purest form on a slice of freshly toasted baguette. If you’d rather resist it’s syrupy deliciousness, it will keep well in the fridge (stored in sterilised jars or an airtight container) for up to four weeks. Read on for more tips and serving suggestions.

Notes:

  • This jam is not suitable for canning or longer-term preservation, unless you’re following the strict method of ‘pressure canning‘ to minimise risks of spoilage. Meat is a low acid food (with a pH <4.6) so it’s an optimum breeding ground for bacteria if stored over a long period of time. Read more about the risks here.
  • A preferable method for storing the jam for up to three months would be to freeze it in an airtight container. Though if I were you, I’d just get on with eating it as quickly as possible. Then I’d make another batch.
  • If you’re caffeine intolerant or just not into coffee, there’s no harm in removing it from the recipe. Just substitute with the same quantity of water. When added, the coffee contributes a richness, depth of flavour and slight bitterness to counteract the sweet stickiness of the maple syrup and brown sugar. An actual ‘coffee’ flavour is not really detectable. However, if you’re omitting it, just make sure that you taste your mixture for balance. Add extra salt or another splash of raw vinegar if necessary.
  • As per the coffee, there is no need to add alcohol if you don’t like it. Just add in an appropriate amount of water, or even orange juice if desired. If you are into alcohol and want to diverge from the whisky pathway, as mentioned above I’d substitute some good-quality brandy (Cognac, Armagnac).
  • If you really like chilli, you can substitute the dried chilli flakes (or add to them!) with 2 fresh jalapenos (finely chopped), a dollop of Sriracha or chipotles in adobe sauce (2 chillies, finely chopped). I’d also imagine that an injection of fresh orange rind during the cooking process would add another beautiful layer of complimentary flavour. Don’t be afraid to experiment!

This jam tastes good on pretty much everything. My serving suggestions include:

  • slathering it onto a burger bun then topping it with a juicy beef patty, sliced tomatoes and arugula (rocket)
  • eating it thickly spread on crisp crostini with a cloud of soft goat’s cheese (or blue cheese, if you’re brave) and watercress
  • spooning it onto a pile of soft, creamy scrambled eggs then devouring the lot with some thick-sliced, charred sourdough bread or potato rosti
  • spreading it onto one half of a soft white roll, then topping it with piles of fragrant, tender pulled pork (try this amazing recipe for pulled pork by Stephanie Le). Double pork + sticky, boozy chilli sauce = heaven.
  • stuffing it into a chicken breast with soft, mild goat’s cheese or brie, frying the skin til crisp then sticking the lot on a lined baking tray into a preheated oven (180 degrees C / 350 f) for about 20 minutes (or until cooked through). It’d be amazing with a rocket and vine-ripened tomato salad, dressed with aged balsamic, lemon and olive oil.
  • I imagine it’d even taste good in a great big spoonful atop creamy porridge oats, with a crumble of walnuts, though I haven’t ventured that far yet. Most of it’s gone straight into my mouth, from the jar, with a spoon…

Oh, just in case you’re curious, here’s a picture of that beautiful Weimaraner puppy I mentioned earlier in the post. His name’s Royce, and yep, being a puppy he pees everywhere. But he’s still ridiculously cute:

Naw! If I didn’t live in a shoebox I’d take him home…

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