Seafood Tarts

There are more than a few signs that Spring is definitely here. Last weekend we had an impromptu picnic in the nearby park and the weather was truly glorious * And when Spring is the air we chefs start to think about some delicious, lighter lunches and dinner instead of all the hearty soups and stews. I think I have the perfect recipe then, for you today, Seafood Feuilleté, a buttery, puff-pastry case full of sensational seafood in a creamy vermouth sauce.

Seafood Tart

Now before we start I don’t want you to panic at the thought of puff pastry, I’m going to put up my hands up right now and admit straight away few of us are lucky to have the time and patience to perfect the technique of making puff pastry at home. Even after hours of practice, I struggle to get an even rise and perfect bake every time, so my solution, used correctly the bought-in product is practical, versatile and very labour saving. Rich and flaky, ready-made puff pastry can top a rich fish pie, enclose marzipan and fruit for a luxurious dessert or make simple crisp cheese straws to nibble.

Puff pastry can also be used to make savoury hors d’oeuvre or bite sized appetisers. The most famous of these being little-stuffed Vol-au-vent cases topped with a little lid or delicate Crolines, small lattice topped parcels. My recipe today is how to make the third, great little tartlet case that can be used in a savoury starter, light lunch or filled with whipped cream and fruit as a simple, elegant dessert.

*The fog returned Monday morning with a vengeance and it was more than a tad chilly.

Feuilleté Pastry Tarts

Why not try roasted Provençal vegetables topped with whipped Goat’s cheese and a little rocket dressed with sea salt and Balsamic, creamy garlic mushrooms or a seafood medley as well as fruit purées and Confectioner’s custard, glazed poached peach halves and raspberries.

Puff pastry ( ready made or homemade )

Egg wash

For the method please follow this link.

 

For the Filling

6 -8 Gamba’s or large Shell on Prawns

500 gr Fresh Mussels Fresh Clams

500 gr Fresh Clams

12 Scallops

6 large Banana Shallots, peeled and finely diced

3 cloves of Garlic, peeled and crushed

A small handful of fresh Dill

200 ml thick double cream

50 ml of Vermouth ( White Wine is a great substitute )

25 ml Olive Oil

25 gr Butter

Juice of one fresh Lemon

Sea Salt and freshly ground Black Pepper

In a large, heavy-bottomed pan ( with a tight fitting lid ), melt the half of the butter and add half of the oil. Over a medium heat soften the shallots for ten minutes without colouring. Add the garlic and cook out for two or three minutes stirring continuously. Tip in the mussels and clams and add the Vermouth place on the lid add steam the shellfish for five to six minutes. Carefully holding the pan with a heat proof cloth remove from the heat. Place a colander in a large glass bowl and tip in the mussels and allow to cool. Reserve the cooking liquid to be used to make the final sauce.

When cool pick the majority of the mussels and clams from their shells leaving a handful for garnishing. Carefully pour the cooking liquid through a fine strainer into a small pan and place on a medium heat. Bring to a simmer and reduce the volume by half. Add the cream and simmer for a couple more minutes before seasoning with a generous grind of pepper. Melt the remaining butter and oil in a large heavy-bottomed frying pan and saute the gambas, over a gentle heat, for three minutes before turning up the heat and adding the scallops, turn over the prawns and the scallops as soon as they are brown. After two more minutes remove from heat, squeeze over the juice of one lemon and keep warm.

Heat the mussels and clams gently in the sauce. Take care not to boil or the shellfish will toughen, add the remaining lemon juice and finely chopped dill, taste and add more pepper if required. Place a warm pastry case onto a deep lipped plate and carefully spoon in the picked mussels and clams. Add a couple of scallops then fill with sauce and top with the prepared lids or a large prawn. Spoon around a little extra liquid and the retained shellfish in shells and sprinkle with a little extra dill to garnish.

 

Quiche Lorraine

The Quiche Lorraine is a crisp pastry case filled with a thick layer of creamy, wobbly egg custard flavoured only with some fried cubes of really good bacon. Quiche Lorraine was originally an open pie, rustic in style, made with bread dough for the crust, in a cast iron pan. Today a rich shortcrust or flaky rough puff pastry is used to line a pie dish. Regional variations include adding Gruyère cheese which makes a Quiche Vosgienne and onions a Quiche Alsacienne. Adding tomato to the recipe creates a Quiche Provençal and spinach a quiche Florentine. This is my recipe for what is essentially a Quiche Alsacienne with Parmesan pastry for an extra tasty crisp crust.

Slice of Quiche.JPG

Quiche                                                                              serves 8 – 10

for the pastry

250 gr Strong White Flour

50 gr Cold Beef Dripping, cut into small pieces

50 gr Cold Butter, diced

50 gr finely grated Parmesan

2-3 tablespoons Ice Cold Water

A generous pinch of Salt

Quiche 2

for the filling

150 gr Bacon Lardons preferably cut from a thick piece of bacon

1 medium sized White Onion, peeled and finely chopped

4 free range Eggs

250 ml  Double Cream

25 gr Butter

1 tablespoon quality  Olive Oil

1 tablespoon finely chopped Parsley

2 Cloves of Garlic, peeled and pureed

¼ teaspoon freshly grated Nutmeg

A generous pinch of Cayenne Pepper

Sea Salt and freshly ground black pepper

8-inch flan ring ( at least 1 inch deep )

Sieve the flour and salt into a large bowl. Add both fats and rub together with the fingertips lifting and separating the fat with the flour until you achieve the texture of bread crumbs. Add the Parmesan and pour in one tablespoon of water and gentle form together as a dough. Use more water as required. Do not knead the dough and treat gently for the best results.

PastryAlternatively, blitz ingredients to the crumb stage in a food processor, then add water until you get the same result. Wrap in cling film and chill in the refrigerator to relax for at least half an hour.

 

Rolling Pastry

Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C/gas mark 6. Roll out the chilled pastry on a clean, floured, work surface to a thickness of approximately a quarter of an inch. The pastry will need to be wide enough to line the bottom of the tin, the sides and provide a little overhang that will reduce as the pastry shrinks during cooking.

Lining Tin with Pastry.JPG

 

Butter a flan dish or pie ring and carefully roll the pastry onto your rolling pin. Roll back over the flan dish and push to the edges trying not to split the pastry. If you do tear the pastry take a little surplus from the edge and gently push over the gap to patch the hole. Trim the edges leaving a half inch overhang over the lip of the pie dish.

Pastry Overhang.JPG

Chill again for half an hour then cover the pastry with a sheet of baking parchment and fill the dish with rice or baking beans.

Blind Baking.JPG

Place on a baking tray and put in the oven. After ten minutes turn the oven down to 375°F/fan 190°C/gas mark 5 and bake for fifteen more minutes. Carefully take out from the oven and remove the baking parchment and rice or beans. Beat up one of the eggs with a fork and brush the inside of the pastry case with a soft pastry brush . Bake in the oven for a further ten minutes until light gold in colour, this is to seal the tart. Take out and set aside to cool. Reduce oven temperature to 350°C/fan 160°C/gas mark 4. When cool trim off any excess pastry.

In a medium sized heavy bottomed frying pan, melt the butter in the olive oil over a low heat. Cook the onion for ten minutes without colouring then remove. Replace the onion with the bacon lardons and fry until crispy and light brown, add garlic and cook for one more minute then mix together with the onions. In a large bowl beat the remaining eggs with nutmeg, cayenne pepper and season sparingly as the bacon will naturally add salt. Whisk in the double cream and then strain into a jug to remove any strands of thick egg white. Take the pastry case and evenly spread with the cooked onion and bacon. Place baking tray with the pastry case onto the oven shelf, then pour in the custard mix, filling the case right to the top. Bake in the oven for 25–30 minutes, or until the filling has just set and is slightly wobbly to the touch and the top of the quiche is lovely and golden brown.

 

Weekend Top Tip

I’m pretty sure Frankie wasn’t talking about sirloins and saddles of lamb but the important word here is RELAX. Every chef I know worth their salt* and every TV chef you watch will all tell you to let cooked meat relax. It is just not important it is imperative ! An impeccably sourced, correctly seasoned piece of meat will be dry and tough if not allowed to rest. Simply after cooking keep a steak warm and covered with foil for 5 minutes before serving. For an average chicken or joint of meat cover with a foil tent and keep in a warm oven for 20 to 25 minutes. The core temperature will actually rise and the meat will reabsorb its natural juices making it tender and tasty. From a duck breast to a glazed ham to a whole side of beef , when allowed to relax the difference is truly amazing.

 * In ancient Rome soldiers were paid part of their wages in salt – from which the term salary derives

Weekend Top Tip

Rosemary Skewers

Bank holiday barbecuing for a truly  tantalizing taste bud treat use 12 – 15 cm pieces of woody rosemary stem to skewer meat or fish and vegetables for grilling and barbecuing. The skewers look great and add a fantastic flavour to your dish. Cut off the rosemary stems and pull off most of the lower leaves leaving around 2 cm at the top. Then soak the prepared stems in cold water for a couple hours, this will help prevent any skewer not covered with food from burning on the grill. Thread on your ingredients and cook.

Use marinated shoulder of lamb and peppers,  Monk fish and cherry tomatoes or king prawns and scallops wrapped in bacon.

Weekend Top Tip

Burger

As we are about to hit peak season for barbecues in the UK and everyone loves a char-grilled burger this is just a simple tip to help your delicious homemade burger keep its shape when cooking. All meat contracts slightly as it cooks and as the proteins in your burger heat up it will pull together. To keep a nice round shape simply press your thumb gently into the center of the burger as you put it on the grill leaving a slight imprint. As the meat contracts, the burger will not end up the shape of an orange but retain its perfect burger patty pattern.

 

Classic Moules Marinières

Now the summer is over it is time to eat mussels again but where do you start or who do you look to as an authority for the perfect Moules marinières recipe? My shelves are groaning with cookery books by experts on classical French Cuisine and seafood cookery. Well every author is different in their interpretation and so here I guess is the rub, it is time to experiment and find out if you prefer onion to shallots? What type of white wine do you prefer? And most controversially do you add cream, mayonnaise or crème Fraiche? Well, I don’t add cream to my classic Moules marinières the butter is enough to make the cooking liquids really luxurious.

Mussels

Classic Moules Marinières                                      serves 4

Allow 500 gr to 750 gr of mussels per person for a generous portion. To prepare your mussels first rinse them in plenty of cold running water and throw away any mussels with cracked or broken shells. Give any open mussels a quick squeeze, if they do not close immediately, throw away as well as they are dead and not to be eaten. Then using a small knife scrape the shell to remove any barnacles or dirt and pull out any beards by tugging towards the hinge of the mussel shell. If you intend to cook later that day, store in a plastic container in the bottom of your refrigerator covered with a damp tea towel.

1.5 kg of prepared Mussels

3 large ( Banana ) Shallots, peeled and very finely chopped

100 gr Alderney Butter

4 cloves of Garlic, peeled and very finely chopped

A very generous sprig of fresh Thyme

A bay leaf

A large glass ( 325 ml ) of good quality dry White Wine

A small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, washed and finely chopped

Freshly ground black pepper

Plenty of warm crusty bread

Heat half the butter in a large heavy-bottomed pan and add the shallots, garlic, bay leaf and picked thyme leaves. Soften for five minutes without colouring then pour in the wine and bring up to the boil. Simmer for a further five minutes before turning up the heat to high. Tip the mussels into the pan and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Steam for three minutes until the mussels have all started to open and remove from the heat. Add the remaining butter and the parsley, replace the lid and put back on the heat for thirty seconds shaking the pan well to distribute the parsley. Season with freshly ground black pepper and serve immediately, removing any mussels which have remained closed.

National Burger Day – How to Cook the Perfect Burger

A quick look at the weather forecast confirms pretty much what I learnt as I got drenched walking into work this morning, and I live two minutes away from the office. As the Bank holiday approaches the end of this British summer is certainly a washout, and not perhaps then the best time to think about barbecuing, but as tomorrow is National Burger Day I thought I would post how to cook the perfect burger. So if you miss the chance tomorrow there might be a sunny spell over the weekend and chance to give it a go.

At the heart of every burger is the meat to fat ratio, when selecting your cuts of meat to mince, you ideally want to achieve around 85% lean meat. The fat is very important to your finished burger, much of the flavour comes from the fat during cooking and is responsible for the correct mouthfeel of the finished product. The fat moistens the burger as it cooks, but much of fat will drain off onto the barbecue. If you cook too close to the coals, this is when you get flaring as the fat ignites. Less than 15% fat and your burger will be dry, much more and your burger will shrink drastically during cooking. The finished burger will only be, a not unhealthy 5% fat. You can ask your butcher for advice on which cuts to use, but a fifty/ fifty split of ground chuck and ground sirloin will achieve outstanding results.

If you do ask you butcher for advice he can help you with the next stage and mince your beef for you. You want to get a coarse grind. Too fine and the mixture is sloppy and the end result can be like rubber. You want to avoid working the meat as much as possible, your butcher will grind the beef in an industrial mincer which will process the beef quicker than a small handheld mincer. Many commercial burgers included numerous other ingredients, but I like to keep it simple with just sea salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. If you do want to add other ingredients, an onion is just about acceptable, dice them very, very finely. Anything over the finest dice and the added ingredients will not cook and the minced beef will not hold together leaving you with burger pieces on the grill.

If your butcher prepares your mince for you chill it for a couple of hours before you prepare the actual burgers. Keeping your seasoned burger mince cold by placing it in a bowl in another bowl packed with ice will result in a much better burger and help ensure a safe hygienic production. You could purchase a burger press if you are going to barbecue every weekend, but it is just as easy to shape a medium sized handful into a ball then lightly pat it flat. Run some cold water over your hands to keep them cool before you shape your burgers and try to work them as gently and as little as possible. Over handling bruises the meat and will result in a tough, dry burger. Cover a tray with cling film and place the completed burgers onto the film. Cover with more cling film and store in the refrigerator until cooking time

Fire up your clean barbecue and get the coals nice and hot so the grill heats up. Give the grill a good going over with a wire brush then very carefully give a quick wipe of oil. The safest method is to sprinkle some vegetable oil on a thick fold of kitchen paper. Using barbecue tongues wipe the oiled paper over the grill to wipe off any remaining burnt fragments and charcoal dust. Once the barbecue is ready we can cook.

Brush the chilled burgers with a little olive oil to help prevent sticking and place on the grill. Quickly press down with your thumb in the centre of each burger to leave a slight indentation, as the meat cooks and the proteins contract and pull together this will stop the burger looking like a rugby ball. Aim to leave a third of your grill empty. You might think this is an underemployment of your glowing coals but if you do get flare ups you will have space to move your burgers and prevent them from burning. After three minutes give the burgers a ninety-degree turn ( that’s one quarter-turn ). If you think your burger is cooking too fast and it will burn just raise the grill one notch from the coals. Turning the burger will give the criss-cross appearance of char marks on your burger that will demonstrate your professional cooking skills. Do not be tempted to squash the burger with your spatula as this squeezes out the tasty melted fat leaving a dry burger.

Cooking Burgers

After another two minutes, your burger is should be ready to flip, the edges will be browning and you might see pinkish pearls of moisture on the burger surface. As you develop your barbecue grilling skills you will learn the cooking times of different meats and cuts. You really only ever have to turn the burger over once let it cook for three more minutes and you can then check if it is ready. The cooking time is directly proportional to the thickness of your burger when it is ready any escaping juices will be clear and the internal temperature, if you check it with a thermometer should be over 180 F / 80C.

Place the cooked burgers on a warm plate, cover with foil and place to the side of the barbecue to keep warm and let them rest for a few minutes. Brush the cut sides of your burger rolls with a little melted butter and toast them over the coals. The rest is up to you, personally, I favour sliced pickles, crisp lettuce, and really ripe tomatoes and maybe a slice of Monterey Jack Cheese. Enjoy.