Friday, April 17, 2009

Food for thought!

Hello Friends;
Food is my passion, and there are times when I really enjoy testing my skills by creating a meal from what I have available or the simplest of ingredients. Unfortunately for many people this method of cooking is a necessity and a daily occurrence. Most cultures have favourite recipes that are derived from a era when the general masses of people were extremely poor, relative to today's standards and expectations.
I have to say that some of the best meals I have had has been of an ethnic, home made nature. Everyone is aware enjoyment of food is the result of harvesting a crop or killing an animal, but I believe that this process should be done with care, consideration and in the case of animals, as humanely as possible. To cull humanely and utilise every part, for example as the Italians do with their pork, is surely the least we can do as guardians of the planet and top of the food chain. I am by no means a greenie, but I do recognise that the foods we source must be sustainable, lets face it, no one wants to be responsible for the extinction of a species. Which brings me to the point of this article.
Shark fining is a process whereby sharks are caught and their dorsal, pectoral, and tail fins are cut off. In most cases the shark is returned to the sea while still alive and endures a slow death of up to 6 days. 173 million sharks per year are processed this way, mainly for the Asian markets insatiable appetite for shark fin soup. Hong Kong is the worlds largest shark fin trading centre and accounts for 50-75% of all fins traded and it is a growing trade.To compound the problem sharks grow slowly, mature late and give birth to their pups after a long gestation period. This barbaric practice is, made worse by the fact that the fins represent 5% of the sharks body weight, talk about wastage! With 110 species listed as threatened and another 95 as near threatened we must stop and consider whether we need shark fin soup from the local Chinese restaurant. I guess the US$700 per kg that sets of fins can fetch, is an incentive for fishermen to target sharks. Demand however dictates the price, so vote with your feet I say.

Whaling is another example of financial reward and tradition blinding nations to the serious consequences of their actions. Japan, Iceland, Norway, and Denmark are still involved in whaling, often under the guise of research. I have a video clip which I want you to see, entitled "Speed Cooking" which is again relevant to this post.

Just as an aside, the oceans apex predators i.e fish which are typically larger and at top of the food chain tend to contain a high level of mercury. Shark, Swordfish, Broadbill and Marlin fit into this category, and as such are not recommended to eat more than 2 portions per week. Whale and Dolphin are considerably higher still! And I was surprised to learn that Dolphin is still being hunted in parts of Japan, at the rate of approximately 23,000 per year, and sold in supermarkets. A 100gram pack which contains a balance of meat, skin and fat, at the time of writing costs approximately 170 yen or US1.72 I will leave it up to you to make up your own mind, after all it's just food for thought.

I promise the next Chef Jules post will be more light hearted and have one of my favourite recipes, so Ciao for now.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Thinking like a Chef

Hello Friends;
It's amazing, as a chef you're always looking at food sources and products wherever you go and often in the most unlikely places. Whilst at my physiotherapist, enduring the painful and agonising manipulation of my shoulder injury and with nothing else to do but gaze out the window, my attention was drawn to two magnificent fig trees, needless to say I now have an abundant supply of figs, when in season.

The same can be said of herbs, rosemary and fennel to name a couple, you begin to rekindle and fine tune your hunter gather skills. It's just as well there are no wild boar, deer, ostrich or goat roaming around suburbia!

Well the figs were put to good use.
Firstly I made a late night meal using pork loin cutlets, which I shallow fried in olive oil, and sage.
Halfway through the cooking process I added the quartered figs, pinch of brown sugar, a knob of butter, chopped garlic, teaspoon of of balsamic vinegar and white wine. Arrange the pork on a serving platter, top with the figs and drizzle with the sauce. I garnished with watercress dressed with extra virgin olive oil. Very quick and easy!
Yesterday I made a fresh fig tart using an old family recipe which I will share with you now.
Fig Tart Recipe
Prepare the pastry as follows;
200g flour
50g sugar
125g unsalted butter
pinch of salt
1 egg
Sieve the flour and salt. Add the cubed and room temperature butter.
Incorporate the flour and butter by rubbing with your fingertips, should be a sandy texture. Whisk the egg and sugar, make a well in the flour and add. Mix gently to form a paste. Keep cool and allow to rest. Grease a 26-28cm tart tin, preferably a loose bottom one, roll out the dough and line the tin. Prick the bottom with a fork and rest in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
Preheat your oven to 180 Celsius and bake "blind" the pastry case for 15 minutes.

Fig Tart Filling
18 fresh figs, wash well, cut off stem and cut a cross on the bottom, flatten them out gently.
260g ground almonds
60g plain flour
250g unsalted butter
250g caster sugar
3 eggs
1 vanilla pod, cut length ways and seeds removed
1 tablespoon brandy, strega or galliano. Choose just 1, not all 3.
3 sprigs of lemon thyme
grated zest of 1 orange
Preheat the oven to 170 c (fan bake)
Whisk the softened butter and sugar till white, add the eggs, one at a time, whisking continuously. Add the rest of the ingredients and fold in gently. Spread mixture into tart case, push figs into case, cross side up and bake in the oven for 1 hour or until centre is set.

Chef Jules Tips
Wash the figs very well as the birds enjoy them too!

If you make a sugar syrup with the juice and rind of 2 oranges, more lemon thyme, boil for 15minutes and drizzle over figs just before placing in the oven it enhances the flavour.

Serve the tart warm with a dollop of cream fraiche.

Hope you enjoy this my friends and let me know if there is any particular recipe or food you would like to know about or cook. And remember to be conscious of whats available around you, and utilise fresh produce when in season.

Ciao for now.