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confit potatoes

Slow Cooker Confit Potatoes

confit potatoesUntil I got my new cooker earlier this year with its top oven, I’ve always had that dilemma when doing a roast dinner about how you balance different timings and temperatures for potatoes and meat. And since I got the new cooker, I just haven’t made a roast dinner…

But at Christmas you often don’t have enough roasting tins, eyes on the clock and hands to co-ordinate it all and I wondered if there was a way to give you great potatoes with minimum fuss.

After reading Felicity Cloake doing ‘perfect’ fondant potatoes in the Guardian recently, I decided that they were definitely not what I was looking for since most of them looked stressful in the extreme, but I wondered if I could do a version in the slow cooker?

Life is too short to melt enough butter for that though and duck fat is always on offer around the festive season, so I thought I’d basically confit some baby potatoes instead and see what happened.

And spoiler alert: good things happened. I mean, I know it would be tricky to make something bad with duck fat and spuds, but these were really good. Softer and richer than a roastie and so easy. 5 hours in the slow cooker and 5 minutes in a frying pan. Sea salt scattered over them to serve. Potato filled silence at the table as people ate them. Could be just what you need at Christmas…

Slow Cooker Confit Potatoes (serves 4)

  • 250ml duck fat (or olive oil if veggie)
  • 500g baby potatoes
  • 5 sprigs fresh thyme (optional)
  • sea salt

There’s barely a recipe for this but I like writing so I’m sure I’ll spin it out. Put the whole baby potatoes in the slow cooker crock. I used 500g in a 3.5 litre slow cooker which was one layer but you could double the amounts and do two layers.

Melt the duck fat in the microwave for about 50 seconds (minus the lid) so it’s liquid and pour it over the potatoes so they are covered. Don’t worry if the very tips aren’t. Add the fresh thyme if using.

Put the lid on the slow cooker and cook the potatoes on high for 5 hours. They will wrinkle and darken as they cook but hold their shape. Don’t be tempted to give them longer to be sure they are cooked. Potatoes cook surprisingly quickly in a slow cooker.

Use a slotted spoon to scoop them out onto a plate lined with kitchen roll. You can leave them to cool up to overnight if needed or pop them into a hot frying pan immediately. Keep the potatoes moving as if sauteeing them and give them a few minutes until crisped on the outside. Serve as soon as possible, making sure you pour the duck fat back into its container while it’s still liquid.

The potatoes actually don’t absorb very much of the fat but cooking them this way makes them the richest tastiest steamed potato you can imagine which, whisper it, makes a lovely change from roast potatoes in this season of repeat roast dinners.

 

bag octopus

Octopus Salad with Dill Salsa Verde

bag octopus

You know you are what most people would term a ‘foodie’ when you tend to keep some octopus in the house for an emergency. (That’s a dinner based emergency by the way. Anything else would just be weird.)

This is mainly because my local branch of the 99p Stores tends to sell tinned octopus cheaply and I stash it in the cupboard to go with pasta when I don’t much want to cook. However, this time my emergency octopus was the fancy Iberian stuff from Brindisa. Bought with a voucher, this packet of massive tentacles steamed in its own juices has been sitting in my fridge for ages. It’s been waiting for one of those moments where I want to pretend I’m Nigel Slater and make a meal more interesting that most people’s dinner parties but with stuff I happen to have to hand.

That moment came when I invited a friend round for dinner and was more interested in sitting on my patio gossiping about men and drinking dry Riesling than cooking per se. I had the octopus, I had some new potatoes and I had a thumping great bunch of dill. I also watched a lot of Ready Steady Cook in its day…

Octopus Salad with Dill Salsa Verde (serves 4)

  • 500g octopus
  • 500g new potatoes
  • 1/2 large bunch of fresh dill
  • 1/2 large bunch of flat leaf parsley
  • 75g green olives
  • 30g capers
  • 3 anchovy fillets
  • 1 hard boiled egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • salt and pepper to taste

If you don’t have a bag of octopus around the house, you could use tinned or frozen baby ones from the Chinese supermarket you’ve simmered with lemon and bay leaves for about an hour and then cooled. I do this quite often in the slow cooker (see page 80 of Slow Cooked) and then freeze them for later use. Unlike squid, there isn’t much shrinkage or waste on an octopus so they are surprisingly good value.

If you do have a bag of octopus in the house, it’s literally boil in the bag as it’s packed in its own juices. Either simmer in a pot of water for 15 minutes or pop it in the microwave for 3 minutes and then allow to cool again for 3 minutes.

I also almost always steam my potatoes in the microwave these days. I cut them in quarters, put in a microwave proof bowl with a lid on and give them about 5 minutes per 250g. So give this amount 10 minutes and then allow to sit for a minute to absorb steam. Or boil them as normal and drain well.

Make the salsa verde by combing the dill and parsley in a hand blender with the oil, vinegar and egg yolk (this is optional. I had a spare hard boiled egg and know it helps emulsify the sauce. Double the mustard if you don’t have one.) Add the anchovies, olives, capers and mustard. Pulse to a thick but pourable consistency. Season and add any more mustard or anchovies or capers to taste. You could even chuck in a bit of garlic or fresh mint if you had some.

Slice your octopus into chunks and toss with the warm potatoes and stir the salsa verde through it all. Add some chopped fresh dill and parsley to look pretty, pour another glass of wine (Lidl’s dry Riesling is my current obsession) and tuck in. A simple barely cook dinner with almost no washing up which tastes of summer and luxury. What’s not to like?

octopus salad

 

wrinkled potatoes

Slow Cooked and Wrinkled Potatoes

wrinkled potatoesThis year, the big date in my diary hasn’t been my birthday or Christmas or even Bonfire Night but the 6th of November instead. That’s because it’s publication day for Slow Cooked! My book baby is all ready to go out into the world. Those of you who have pre-ordered should have their paws on it by now and everyone else can start buying it from today.

I’ve had so much support and encouragement while I was writing it, especially from my Twitter followers and I’d just like to thank everyone who showed enthusiasm and interest throughout the process. Your patience is about to be rewarded! Go forth and make yourself something lovely in the slow cooker!

You can buy Slow Cooked on Amazon or in branches of Waterstones and WH Smith and good independent bookstores in person or through the fantastic Hive. It’s also available as an e-book if you’re new-fangled that way. Whatever format you decide to buy it in, I’m honoured that you’ve chosen to do so and hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. A massive thank you to Anti Limited for design, Olia Hercules for food styling and Jen Collins for illustrations.

You’ll also have to bear with me while I spend the new few weeks retweeting praise and generally getting a big head. I’ll make it up to you all by answering any slow cooker questions you’ve got on a webchat on Friday 14th November though. Simply tweet @northsouthfood and @eburypublishing and @thehappyfoodie using the #slowcooked hashtag and I’ll be happy to chat about slow cookers til the cows come home!

To celebrate today I’ve decided to go for a slow cooker recipe with one of my all time favourite ingredients; the potato. I’ve gone Spanish with wrinkled potatoes from the Canary Islands. Small potatoes are cooked in salted water until they wrinkle and are imbued with savoury flavour. The long slow cooking mellows the salinity and makes them massively moreish.

Traditionally they’d be served with a mojo sauce of red peppers and smoked paprika, but obviously as a fully fledged pepper hater, I didn’t want to do that. Instead I took my inspiration from another famed Canarian dip, almagrote which is made from mature goats cheese and tomatoes. I must admit that it’s the loosest interpretation of the dish possible and one that will probably get me hounded out of Tenerife if I ever visit. But it is lovely…

Canarian Wrinkled Potatoes with Sweet Potato Almagrote Style Dip

  • 750g small potatoes (I used International Kidney from Sainsbury’s Basics)
  • 50g sea salt
  • 1 litre boiling water
  • 1 large sweet potato, roasted or steamed
  • drizzle of oil if roasting
  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 50g cream cheese
  • 25g grated parmesan
  • 1 teaspoon tomato puree
  • 1/8 teaspoon white pepper
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • juice of one lemon

This makes a great pre dinner dish like a homemade tapa. Perfect for soaking up the cava I will be celebrating with tonight in fact. You could also serve it as a side dish.

Start with your potatoes. Scrub them clean if needed and put into the slow cooker crock whole. Add the sea salt and pour the boiling water over them. Put the lid on and cook them on high for 5 hours. You can also boil them on the stove in the salted water but they get a better flavour and texture in the slow cooker.

Heat the oven to 200℃. Peel and chop the sweet potato into 1 inch chunks. Drizzle with the oil and roast for about 15 minutes. Take it out of the oven and add the smoked paprika and crushed garlic so the heat of it mellows them both. Mash the sweet potato with the cream cheese, parmesan and tomato puree. Beat well until it is smooth and add the cayenne and white pepper. Add the lemon juice and set aside.

Drain the potatoes well. The water will look dark as some of the colour has leached out of the potato skins, but don’t worry. This is totaally normal. Don’t rinse the potatoes, you want to keep the saltiness. Roast them for 10 minutes in the oven to dry the skins out and wrinkle the potatoes further. Serve with the sweet potato dip and enjoy the salty savoury umami hit each spud contains. The warm glow of publication day is optional…

PS: don’t forget, the fantastic Brixton Blog and Bugle that I also write for is crowdfunding for a news editor to keep bringing local news to Brixton. In the years it’s been going the Blog and Bugle have been funded by love and volunteers. We need some cash to move forward so please give anything you can!

 

 

 

Cooked tongue and cheek pudding

Tongue ‘n’ cheek: a hot, steamy, sticky pudding

Tongue and cheek steamed pudding

Regular readers have no doubt picked up on our growing love affair with offal. Over the last three years we’ve embraced cooking and eating the more esoteric, wobbly and less-eaten parts of various animals… mostly successfully. In part this has been driven by our curiosity; in part interest in rediscovering traditional dishes (thanks to championing chefs like Fergus Henderson and Robert Owen Brown), and in part because it’s a cheap and healthy foodstuff. Oh, and we’ve laid a few demons to rest in the process too…

When we were young, our mum used to serve us tongue sandwiches, and I loved them. Despite being a reasonably smart kid, I never made the connection between the name ‘tongue’ and the actual muscle inside an animal’s head; I just assumed it was another odd quirk of the English language. My illusions were shattered when I walked into the kitchen one day to find mum making pressed tongue: setting a boiled ox tongue in jelly, then pressing a plate down with an old-fashioned iron. Suddenly I put two and two together and realised why the slices were round, and curled. Although I was fascinated by the size, texture and feel of the ox tongue, I was also pretty creeped out. Both familiar and alien, one glimpse of the tongue was enough to change my attitude to it as a foodstuff. No longer was it a welcome morsel to find in my packed lunch, now it was a giant freaky cow tongue. I didn’t eat tongue again for over twenty years.

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Warm Octopus Salad

 Warm Galician octopus polpo salad

 The more I cook, the more I realise I want to cook. Each meal becomes a fabulous opportunity to do something I want to and something to be savoured. We all have our trusty standbys and favoured dishes, but when the chance to do something completely new comes along it thrills me. So when Liz* from Brixtonia suggested getting together and cooking fresh octopus, I was all over the idea. I’ve never met seafood I don’t love and it seemed like a perfect challenge.

I have to admit that I didn’t have a clue what to do with our eight legged friend so luckily Liz has access to a stack of cookbooks with some good ideas and emailed me several, mainly from Rick Stein. We pondered over two and couldn’t quite decide on which so thought we’d combine them both. But first up was getting our items. We needed a trip to the market.

Saturday morning saw us up relatively bright and early and in the queue at Dagon’s for our octopus. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again many times, Dagon’s is the jewel in Brixton Market’s crown. They have a vast choice, good quality, are excellent value and have friendly and helpful staff. I try to go at least once a week and I must admit I get a real kick out of being recognised by the staff there now. It’s like visiting the 50s high street but with more women’s lib and better banter.

They talked us through buying the octopus and we went for one whole cleaned octopus. I forgot to weigh it when I got home but it cost us a very reasonable £4 for the whole thing. We also picked up some samphire, a kipper fillet for me and a mackerel for Liz and the whole lot came to an even eight quid. Can’t say fairer than that. We got everything we needed and a box of Alphonso mangoes we just wanted and then got down to the cooking.

Galician Octopus Salad (From Rick Stein’s Spain)

  • 1 clean octopus
  • 400g waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
  •  2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp paprika (of your choice)
  • 1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper if not using hot paprika.
  • 1 tbsp salt

This is so simple it’s untrue. Take your cleaned octopus and put in a pan just covered with water and the tablespoon of salt and bring to the boil. Then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes to an hour. That’s it. That’s how you cook an octopus. We didn’t tenderise it in anyway, either by freezing and thawing or bashing it against the rocks or anything else. We shoved it in a pot of water, left it well alone and went and had a glass of wine and a good gossip.

Octopus

After an hour, we came back and lifted the octopus out of the cooking water and left it to cool on a plate. It had turned the beautiful mauve we both associated with Spanish octopus dishes and the tentacles had curled in beautifully. We added the potatoes into the remaining cooking water and brought them to the boil until tender but still al dente. Then heat the olive oil, add the paprika and cayenne and fry the potatoes until golden and crispy.

Cooked octopus ready to slice

While they are sauteeing nicely, cut the octopus into inch or so chunks, using both the tentacles and the head and body. Take the potatoes off the heat and add the octopus in for a few seconds just to warm it through and coat it with the paprika. Dish up with some chopped parsley (our concession to the other recipe we had planned as well) along with some vegetables if you so fancy (we did steamed samphire and roasted aubergine and tomatoes) and enjoy!

The octopus was firm but very tender without a hint of rubberiness. It was slightly sweet and very flavoursome, especially alongside the potatoes. Slightly salty, intensely umami and crispy round the edges, these were the best fried potatoes I’ve ever had. Simple and packed with flavour, the whole meal was fantastic. We feasted well, but with a few more spuds, the one octopus would easily serve 3 -4 making it good value as well as impressive and delicious. Until now, all my cephalopod ardour was reserved for squid, but there’s another many legged love in my life now I’ve discovered octopus…

 

*Thanks to Liz for her cooking skills, being an excellent guest and taking that fantastic sea creature shot!