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Slow cooker Carapulcra

Slow Cooker Carapulcra

Slow cooker Carapulcra

You might have seen the #livepeasant hashtag on Twitter recently celebrating the traditional cooking of the world using British beef or lamb and wondered if it was only British dishes involved.

I really hope it isn’t after the nice people at Simply Beef and Lamb asked me to take part and I immediately started plotting this Peruvian inspired beef and potato stew in the slow cooker instead.

Usually made using traditional South American freeze dried potatoes to thicken the gravy and a mixture of pork and beef, I decided to try a new idea I’ve had for thickening slow cooker gravies using regular potatoes recently instead.

These chuña blanco are one of the first examples of using cold temperatures to preserve foods and harnessed the sub zero climate of the high Andes to create dried potatoes that last for years. I can buy them in Brixton and the flavour is not unlike potato jerky.

It goes well with the other main flavours of this stew which is peanuts and chilli. Peruvians use a mix called aji which is as varied as hot sauces are but always contains garlic, chilli peppers and coriander. The most popular kind in carapulcra is aji amarillo but I was fresh out of that I’m afraid so I’ve insulted a load of Peruvians and adapted the recipe to what I had instead.

I created a thick rich gravy by grating one of the potatoes into the stew and allowing it to break down along with the peanut butter in the sauce and create a rich velvety gravy full of flavour and spice.

Inauthentic my version might be but it was simple, warming and so tasty everyone wanted seconds. What more could you want from peasant food?

Slow Cooker Carapulcra (serves 4)

  • 500g braising steak (mine was blade steak)
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, diced
  • 1 heaped teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 300ml red wine (or dark beer)
  • 2 heaped tablespoons peanut butter
  • 1 generous teaspoon Bovril
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 cloves
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 2 star anise pods
  • 1 tablespoon hot sauce
  • 750g potatoes, peeled
  • salt and pepper
  • fresh coriander to serve
  • roasted peanuts to serve

If you can the night before, put the braising steak in a bowl along with the onions and garlic and the powdered spices and mix well. Leave to marinate overnight in the fridge.

If you aren’t used to using a slow cooker, let me give you some good news. You don’t need to seal meat or pre cook onions before using them. That dates back to the oldest versions and I find that generally browning the meat beforehand over cooks it and leads to that strange woolly texture you get in slow cooker stews.

This method means you can prep stuff the night before and put it all in the slow cooker crock next day without faffing. Even chilled meat isn’t a problem temperature wise, but don’t chill it in the crock as that can damage the crock and slow cooking down.

This recipe prepares nicely the night before. Simply warm the red wine in a pan and melt the peanut butter and Bovril into it to make a thick paste and set aside or use immediately.

Peel all the potatoes and cut all about 150g of them into 3-4cm chunks. Grate the remaining amount. Put them into the slow cooker crock along with the marinaded meat and the red wine mix.

Add the non ground spices, season well with salt and pepper and add the hot sauce. If you like a bit of extra kick you could add a chilli pepper too. I’m a fan of the frozen chilli paste for the slow cooker actually.

Check the liquid levels. It should be about two thirds the depth of the meat and potatoes. Add another 100ml of water if not. Slow cookers need less liquid that oven cooked stews as they don’t allow water to evaporate so don’t add too much or things will be flavourless.

Put the lid on the slow cooker and cook the whole thing on low for 8-9 hours. The grated potato will collapse into the liquid and make a thick gravy and the spices will fill it with flavour.

I served mine just as it was (I forgot the coriander for serving) with some roasted peanuts on top. African shops and sections of supermarkets often sell peanuts roasted without being salted and they are perfect here for a little crunch.

I loved this stew and would make it again. It’ll easily adapt to the oven if you prefer, using extra beef stock and I think it’ll be really popular with kids if you adapt the chilli to their palates or even (whisper) leave it out…

 

The March of the Irish

After the local food delights of February’s Guestrant at Electrik with local chef Deanna Thomas, my appetite has been whetted at the prospect of more pop-up restaurant action. So when Deanna casually mentioned on Twitter she was cooking a St Patrick’s night dinner at the lovely North Star Deli in Chorlton it seemed like a no brainer to make a beeline for the event. My companions and I arrived at North Star Deli on the night to find ourselves warmly welcomed and shown our seats. Adam, the deli owner and Deanna’s brother, set the scene as we met a selection of the other attendees, an interesting and diverse selection of fellow food lovers. I’d never been to the deli before even during normal hours, having moved out of Manchester around the time it opened, and was taken by its individual charms and how well suited it seemed to intimate after-hours dining.

As this was the inaugural session of the pop-up restaurant evening not all the tables were filled, but the conversation was lively and the anticipation grew heady before the chef came out to introduce the starter. The venue itself has an open kitchen behind the counter, perfect for peeking over to see what’s going on. Not that I did so much, I’d tried hard to avoid finding out what was on the menu as I wanted to be surprised by what was on offer at this ‘Irish inspired feast’.

Irish food has historically reflected the fruits of the land, rivers and sea; whether simple working food, or a more grandiose country house style. However to many people Irish food is perceived as plain and indistinguished. Thankfully over the past few decades a generation of producers, writers, chefs and general food lovers have challenged the standard, simple stereotypes of ‘everything with potatoes and cabbage’, instead introducing or rediscovering more artisanal flavours, combinations and techniques. As a result Irish food in the twenty-first century is as dynamic, exciting and experimental as anything in the UK, hopefully continuing to develop despite the recent economic crisis.

A cursory glance on the ‘net around St. Paddy’s Day throws up a pretty frightening selection of green-dyed beer and leprechaun-themed gubbins (predominantly from our American cousins who seem to have a somewhat confused take on their culinary heritage from the Emerald Isle). Don’t forget the impressive marketing muscle of Guinness either,: they’ve managed to turn St Patrick’s Night into an event synonymous with their most famous dark drink. I was hoping tonight’s fare would be more exciting than a dodgy Irish Stew, a pint of the black stuff, and a Lucky Charms-themed dessert though.

The starter bode well. We started with wheaten bread and beautifully formed little star-shaped butter pats being brought to our tables. The wheaten bread was the foil to a deceptively simple crisp green salad studded with wonderful bacon, surrounded by roasted beetroot, and finished with a Cashel Blue dressing and a chive garnish. Cashel Blue is one of my favourite blue cheeses, and internationally acclaimed too so I’m not being overly biased with my recommendation of how good this Irish farmhouse blue is. It makes for a sophisticated blue cheese dressing with a selection of complimentary ingredients which left one wanting more. Earthy beet, tangy cheese, fresh leaves, sweet salted bacon proved to be amicable and perfectly partnered bedfellows.

When the chef came out to introduce the first course, explaining that the recipe was based on Richard Corrigan’s version of this favourite bread, she was unsure of the reaction from the diners. She had nothing to fear: this was wonderfully good wheaten bread, and I speak as a lifetime fan! Generally wheaten bread is a wholemeal soda bread, and owes much of its character and flavour to the use of baking soda as a raising agent (rather than yeast, so good for those who are yeast intolerant) and use of tangy buttermilk. It’s straightforward to make and doesn’t require too much hard work: in fact it’s one of the few breads I can confidently make. I once flew to the Netherlands with a freshly baked loaf, just so I could present it to friends as an accompaniment for a shared meal. We’re serious about bread in our part of the world. Side note: a slice or two of decent wild smoked salmon, served on some buttered wheaten bread with a squeeze of lemon juice is one of Ireland’s great food pleasures and most satisfying starters… at least in our family.

The main course, a beef & Guinness stew with potato pastry crust, was a wee bit more of a nod to ‘traditional’ Irish cooking whilst maintaining a modern character. First came bowls with healthy portions of fine chunky beef, glistening with rich dark gravy. These were topped with a triangle of light pastry. This in its own right was very good, two different cuts of meat in a beer gravy working well in that time-honoured combination of ox and stout, but more so when paired with the diminutive carrots and mash. Especially the mash – a hybrid colcannon/champ mix which prompted both an audience participation game on what best to call it (champannon, colchamp) and also a full-scale rush to clean the bowls it came in. You have to go far to beat the pleasures of good mashed potato with a rich stew… and I was pleased to hear a previous post of ours had influenced the introduction of scallions to the mix. By the time the course was over it was a potato-free zone on our table and elsewhere.

Dessert, as we’d expected after last month’s stunning chocolate torte from a chef with a serious track record in pastry, was a cracker*. A beautiful slice of apple and almond tart, served with Irish cream and a Guinness caramel sauce. The tart was perfectly light, the sweet and sharpness of the apples playing off against the pastry and almonds. The Irish cream, whipped up with Baileys, sat decadently with an rather tongue-in-cheek bright green shamrock candy astride it. Meanwhile elbows were sharpened and fingers utilised so everyone could enjoy the caramel sauce to the maximum. Seriously good, and provoking debate and discussion around the tables as to what gave it such a deep range of flavours. If memory serves me correctly the mystery ingredient turn out to be cassis: I hope I don’t get in trouble for spilling the beans!

The evening was hugely enjoyable: superb food, lovely setting and a great selection of diners. It was great to meet so many interesting folk with a shared interest in food. Thanks to Adam and the staff at North Star Deli for their enthusiasm and service, and of course to Deanna Thomas for a great Celtic-inspired menu. Let’s hope there’ll be more of these events in the future.

* With thanks to Frank Carson… it’s the way I tell ’em!

I’m a sucker for spicy octopus tentacles…

Spicy Portuguese-style octopus stew

I bought a big bag of frozen octopus for a few quid on a whim before Christmas from an Asian supermarket: every now and then I’ve idly wondered how I’d be best tackling them in the kitchen. I’ve often thought some kind of Iberian treatment would be good – garlic, olive oil, onions and tomatoes would be natural bedfellows – and after my recent visit with Miss South to Estrela, where the polvo was divine, I was tempted by tentacles.

A cursory scout on the web for Portuguese octopus recipes didn’t provide anything definitive, but then I often spend a bit of time online just to get inspiration from flavours and pairings of ingredients. I had a range of directions to follow, a range of references, and a healthily stocked kitchen, so I decided to freestyle it a bit. The aim was to end up with a warming and spicy octopus stew. I think I nailed it…

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