spiced redcurrant and onion relish

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As of today, it’s exactly one week until Christmas. I have no idea how that happened; in the corner of my brain it seems like yesterday was the start of November.

The last few weeks have passed in a flurry of work commitments, family events, end-of-year parties and early Christmas gatherings; all beautifully rich and memorable (except work, of course) but tiring just the same. Last weekend, my friend Miriam and I spent over seven hours cooking an Asian-inspired tapas feast as an early Christmas party for our friends; we rose with the birds, measuring clouds of wheaten flour and kneading potsticker pastry to the soundtrack of summer cicadas.

Thick beef ribs were smothered in a mixture of sticky black vinegar, palm sugar and star anise before being wrapped to slow cook for three hours under foil. We julienned carrots, spring onions, green mango and cucumber, some to be flash fried whilst others were marinated in lime juice, sugar and sesame oil.

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It was an absolutely beautiful day; fat with friendship, food, laughter and celebration. As seems to be my trend these days, I brought the camera but deliberately failed to use it.

Don’t get me wrong, there were endless opportunities for worthy photo capture. However, I’ve come to think that some moments are too beautiful, too immediate and real to be marred by the obstruction of a camera lens.

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The purchase of ingredients for last Saturday’s Asian feast necessitated at least three trips to markets around Perth city for meat, vegetables, oriental groceries and bamboo steamers. During one such trip, I spied a punnet of translucent red jewels, fat and delicate against their woody green stalks. I immediately recognized them as redcurrants and being the food nerd that I am, my heart skipped a happy beat.

Needless to say, I squirreled the punnet home in a calico bag with some fresh limes, various leaves, organic peaches and two green mangoes. It took me a few days to work out what to do with them (as I’ve never used fresh or frozen redcurrants before) but after some internet trawling I discovered this relish recipe from BBC Good Food.

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As an English ex-pat, I grew up eating various types of condiments with my Christmas meat; cranberry sauce, redcurrant jelly, chunky apple sauce and booze-spiked gravy. As I’ve grown older, our Christmas fare has transitioned slightly from traditional turkey to cold seafood and summer pudding; however, I still love a thick slice of roast ham or turkey with a dollop of piquant fruit relish.

This particular relish is all kinds of beautiful – glossy, dark and sticky, sweetly acidic and crimson-stained. I dolloped it over beef burgers last night with fine cheddar, creamy avocado and spinach leaves (it’s the Australian summer, after all) however it would be equally good as an accompaniment to your turkey or ham on Christmas day.

Wishing you all a wonderful festive season; may the final week before Christmas be beautiful, calm, organized and memorable in the best of ways.

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Spiced Redcurrant and Onion Relish

Adapted from this recipe from BBC Good Food

Makes approximately 1 cup (250ml)

  • 100g redcurrants (fresh or frozen), stripped from stalks
  • 1 red Spanish onion, peeled and finely sliced
  • 1 medium red chilli, chopped (remove seeds if you’re not fond of chilli heat)
  • 1/2 red pepper (capsicum), de-seeded and diced
  • 1 large garlic clove, crushed
  • 1 small knob (about 1.5cm) fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 100ml red wine vinegar
  • 70g dark muscovado sugar
  • 1/2 tsp Chinese five spice powder

Heat the oil in a heavy based saucepan over medium heat. Add in the onions and peppers, fry until charred and softened. Remove from pan and set aside.

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In the same pan, add half your vinegar, the chilli and garlic. Boil for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the aromatics have softened, return the onion and pepper mixture to the pot, adding in the rest of the vinegar, spice, sugar and 1/2 tsp salt.

Simmer until the mixture thickens to a syrupy consistency. Add in the redcurrants and simmer on low-medium for five minutes or until some of the berries burst and the liquid becomes syrupy.

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When sticky and aromatic, pour the mixture into a sterilised jar (process the jar in a boiling water bath if you intend to keep the relish long term). Seal and store for up to 1 month unprocessed (in the refrigerator) or 12-18 months if processed (in a cool, dark place).

Enjoy generously dolloped onto burgers, with cold meats, spiced sausages or slathered over fresh crusty bread with butter and English cheddar. This would also make a delicious condiment on a cheese platter with wholemeal crackers and oozing ripe brie.

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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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