Make the perfect pickles

Over the last few years pickling has seen a real rise in popularity and we have come a long way from the harsh, generic, nose watering spirit or malt vinegar based pickled vegetables we find on supermarket shelves that would come out at Christmas with the cold turkey on Boxing Day!

Pickling is a relatively simple process and a great way of preserving a multitude of fruit and vegetables particularly if you grow your own and get a glut and can’t use it all at once.  Once you have the basic principle you can create many different recipes by including various herbs and spices such as dill, thyme, star anise, coriander, peppercorns, mustard seeds etc. as well as different vinegars to complement whatever you choose to pickle, from delicate Asian vegetables with rice wine vinegar to robust pickled onions with beer.  As a general rule I tend not to use malt vinegar as I (personally) find it too harsh for most vegetables and tends to overpower everything you put it with. But that’s only my opinion.

A couple of ‘Golden Rules’ are only use glass to pickle and preserve (it’s worth investing in some good quality Kilner jars in various sizes) or at least jam jars with tight fitting lids and always make sure the jars are sterilised before using. The easiest way to do this is make sure the jars are thoroughly cleaned, drain and place in an oven at 120oC for 10-15 minutes. N.B. if using Kilner jars make sure you remove the rubber seal before you do this. Put it back on once the jar has cooled slightly before you seal it. Always use good quality, fresh fruit and vegetables as even with pickling bruised or old fruit and veg won’t last as long and won’t eat as well. Also make sure whatever you are pickling is submerged in the pickling liquor to stop air and bacteria getting to it.

 

Basic pickling liquor

  • Equal quantities (e.g. cups) of
  • Caster sugar
  • Vinegar (white wine, red wine, cyder, rice wine, balsamic all work well depending on the result you want and the produce you are pickling)
  • Dry white wine (or water, red wine or beer, again depending on the outcome you want)
  • Plus a good pinch Salt

Simply pack the prepared fruit or vegetables into the sterilised jars along with any herbs you may want to include e.g. dill with cucumber. Boil the pickling ingredients together along with any hard spices you may be using e.g. coriander seeds, anise, cinnamon bark etc. to dissolve the sugar and infuse the spices. Allow to cool slightly. Then pour the liquor over the fruit or vegetables to make sure they are submerged N.B. if you are pickling soft fruits such as raspberries or strawberries then you should let the liquor cool completely to avoid cooking the fruit. Cover tightly with the lid and allow to cool. Once cool store in the fridge. Ideally don’t use for 48 hours to allow the pickle to infuse. Most pickles will last at least 4 weeks in the fridge or longer.

Make the perfect carrots

Ingredients

  • Carrots
  • Salt
  • Mineral water
  • Sugar or light honey
  • Butter 

Methods

This is a take on a very old, classical French way of cooking carrots called Vichy style where you effectively make a glaze around the carrots from the cooking liquor. These are deliciously sweet and are a great accompaniment to a Sunday roast.

You can use whole baby carrots, Dutch finger carrots or large carrots as long as they are all cut evenly (e.g. baton, diced or sliced).

First peel and prepare the carrots and just barely cover with the mineral water in a thick bottomed pan. You will be part steaming, part boiling them. Add a good pinch of sugar (or splash of light honey), a pinch of salt and a good piece of butter.

Next place the pan on the heat, cover with a lid and bring to the boil, once boiling remove the lid and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. The water will evaporate causing the carrots to steam and glaze from the butter and sugar.

When tender serve. If you used bunch carrots you could retain the fronds, wash and dry them and then chop and sprinkle over the carrots to garnish. The flavour sits somewhere between parsley and dill. Not surprisingly as they are all related to the same botanical family.

Make the perfect chips

Ingredients

  • Large floury potatoes
  • Salted water or stock (beef or vegetable)
  • Fat for deep frying (beef dripping or vegetable oil for preference)

Methods

  1. Perhaps the hardest thing to get right and the cause of a lot of chef’s frustration where sometimes potatoes perform perfectly and sometimes not. Again the choice of potatoes is the key factor and again floury varieties (in my opinion) are the best so go for Markies, Maris, King Edward, Rooster, Mayan Gold, Agria or similar.
  2. Peel the potatoes and cut into thick chips 8-10mm and wash in cold water till the water runs clear. Drain and place in a pan of well salted water (or if serving with steak you can use beef stock for a deeper meatier flavour) bring to the boil and cook till the outside of the potato is starting to break up slightly. As with roast potatoes you don’t want to cook them so far as they break up and turn to mash. Carefully drain the potatoes and lay flat on a cooling rack and place in the fridge uncovered for 30 minutes. This will help the potato to firm up and also dry them out giving a crispier chip
  3. Next fry the chips in the fat at 160oC until just starting to colour. Remove from the oil and drain well and repeat the process of placing in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  4. When ready to cook plunge the chips into hot fat 190oC until golden brown and crispy. Drain well, season with salt and serve.

Make the perfect roasties

Ingredients

  • Floury potatoes
  • Animal based solid fat e.g. goose or duck fat, lard, dripping
  • Sea salt

Method

  1. Again potato selection is all important and almost everyone agrees that there really is no substitute for a floury potato when making roasties. The choice of fat may be contentious but in my experience I’ve never managed to get as good a result when using plant based fats such as olive or vegetable oils, as they just don’t seem to give as crispy a finish. But this is just a personal opinion and if you are following a plant based diet then do please go with the vegetarian alternative. I have yet to try coconut oil and some chefs I have spoken to have had good results with it and many still swear by olive or rapeseed oil.
  2. Preheat the oven to 200oC.
  3. Peel and cut the potatoes into even sized pieces. It doesn’t matter if you like large ‘fluffy in the middle, crunchy on the outside’ or ‘almost all crunch’, as long as they are all even. 
  4. Boil in salted water till ¾ cooked. Drain well and put back in the pan and cover with a lid. Shake gently so the outer potatoes start to ‘fluff up’, this is where the fat will gather and make the potatoes crispy. Be careful not to over shake the potatoes and end up with mash (particularly with Mayan Gold which are delicious but fragile)
  5.  Heat the fat in a roasting pan till smoking. Pour the potatoes into the hot fat and turn with a spatula till well coated. Season well with sea salt and put back in the oven. Cook for at least 25 mins undisturbed. Remove from the oven and turn gently with a spatula to make sure they colour evenly. Place back in the oven for approx. 30 minutes until golden brown. Depending on the size you cut the potatoes you may need slightly less or slightly longer.

Make the perfect mash

Ingredients

  • Large floury potatoes
  • Salted butter (whey butter for preference)
  • Double cream or whole milk – depending on how rich you like your mash (and your cholesterol!!)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Other flavourings if desired – e.g. grain mustard, fresh soft herbs such as parsley, dill or chive, cheese, scallion etc

 Method

  1. This is a lengthy process but the cooking and scooping out of the potato can be done a day ahead if desired.
  2. The trick is to bake the potatoes in their jackets instead of the usual peeling and boiling method. This process gives you a dry potato base with an intense potato flavour. Being drier means you can add more butter and milk or cream for a rich, indulgent mash.
  3. Potato selection is all important. Personally I like to use a floury potato such as Maris, Marquis, King Edward, Vivaldi, Mayan Gold (my favourite a Peruvian Phureja type), Russet or for a splash of colour Red Emmalie. Although some chefs prefer (and swear by) a waxy variety. Ah well, each to their own.
  4. Once you have chosen your variety select larger tubers to get the best yield.
  5. Bake the potatoes in their jackets for approximately 35 -50 minutes depending on tuber size. Once cooked cut the potatoes in half and scoop out the flesh with a spoon. N.B. you will need to work quickly as you really want to do this part while the potatoes are still hot (rubber gloves might be an idea)
  6. Discard the skins or use for loaded jacket skins or (if you’re feeling particularly cheffy) dehydrate and blitz in a food processor to make potato ‘dust’ as a seasoning for soups, salads and other potato dishes
  7. Once you have scooped out the flesh push through a fine sieve (a large drum sieve is the best if you have one) with the back of a spoon or pastry scraper, or use a potato ricer. At this point you can cover the potato and refrigerate to use later
  8. Meanwhile melt the milk or cream and butter together in a pan or bowl in a microwave. You want this mix to be hot so that the potato absorbs it easier.
  9. Place the potato in a thick bottom pan whilst still hot (if you are using from the fridge heat up gently ready to take the butter and cream) then slowly add the hot milk/cream and butter mixture to desired texture. I have deliberately not given measurements as some like a very loose (pomme puree style) whilst others like a firmer, ‘soak up the gravy’ version.
  10. Add any additions if using, Check the seasoning and serve piping hot.