Wednesday 14 November 2007

Recipe: Tiger Prawns with Mango....

This came from Raymond Blanc, during his post-heart-attack period when he was concentrating on recipes that got the thumbs up from pretty much anybody whose attitude to food was significantly health-focused. Lots of fish, and natural oils, and low fat. His splendid recipe for smoked salmon with a warm dressing of cucumber and scallions and chili pepper, served over creamed shallots comes from the same collection, and is equally unusual and good. As I recall, in none of those recipes did he put a foot wrong, and was surprisingly successful at meeting both the healthy-eating and gourmet challenges at the same time.
The other plus for this particular recipe is that it's another one that can be done pretty much from start to finish within fifteen minutes, which definitely gets my vote.

For two.

Ingredients: a dozen peeled but uncooked Tiger Prawns; 4 Shallots, finely diced; 1 oz of Butter; 1 medium sized ripe Mango, stoned, peeled and cut into half-centimetre dice; 1 tablespoon of Sugar; 3 tablespoons of Red Wine Vinegar; 1 bunch of Rocket (about the same volume as a Cabbage); 1 tablespoon of Olive Oil; Salt, to taste.


1. Melt the Butter in a sauté pan, and sweat the diced Shallot in it for about five minutes, until the Shallot has completely collapsed - but don't let it colour!

2. Add the diced Mango, Sugar, and Vinegar and keep cooking over medium heat for several minutes.

3. Meanwhile, heat the Oil in a separate pan, and fry the Prawns in it over high heat, turning them as they colour. Once done, remove the Prawns to a heated plate, and tip the Rocket into the hot pan. Cook stirring continuously, for a minute or two, to wilt the Rocket thoroughly.

4. Using a serving ring, divide the cooked ingredients between heated serving plates, with a layer of Mango & Shallot at the bottom, then a layer of wilted Rocket, and finally place the cooked Prawns on top. (If you don't have a serving ring then just follow the same process anyway - it won't affect the flavour of the dish, but will just give you a slightly less slick presentation).

Monday 12 November 2007

It came as a shock.... the great and the good in the culinary firmament when, earlier this year, Truffle Oil was exposed as a fake! Some boffins in a laboratory, somewhere, had worked out how to replicate Bis-(Methylthio)methane, which is apparently responsible for a significant part of making truffles what they are, and it is this artificial compound which accounts for the truffle quality in almost all commercially available truffle oil. If you think about it, bottles of truffle oil almost never - possibly never, in fact - include 'truffle' in their list of contents, but instead refer airily to 'truffle flavour' or 'truffle aroma'. Which is about on a par with the reference to 'Lemon Aroma' that you find on the back of the bleach bottle, the content of which you can be absolutely certain has never come within a million miles of a piece of citrus fruit!

The news about Bis-(Methylthio)methane apparently caused great consternation in restaurant kitchens across the western world, and for a while there was nothing to be seen but white tocques wilting in despair. Or else bristling with outrage, as their owners vowed never to use this mendacious substance ever again. Which is just silly. They'd been perfectly happy to use it the day before, and the substance on their pantry shelves hadn't mysteriously been de-natured by the discovery that it contained only artificially produced Bis-(Methylthio)methane, as opposed to the naturally occurring version. It was also a bit dim, if you think about it, since anybody who has been buying truffle oil over the past twenty years would be only too aware that over that period the bottle sizes have got progressively larger, and the price of the stuff has gone through the floor. It used to be the case that truffle oil came in miniature glass bottles, as though it was Chanel No. 5 - and with a price to match! These days, I have to look twice to make sure I haven't taken from the rack walnut oil in mistake for truffle oil, since they now come in equally large containers. And since the price of truffles has remained as stratospheric as ever, then it doesn't take Einstein to suspect that something must be up!

But, frankly, how much does it actually matter? The addition of truffle oil to scrambled eggs, or porcini risotto, or a Beef Strudel, or a few drops in a salad dressing is a great thing, and unless we strike oil (the black kind) in the back garden, then I'm unlikely ever to be in a position to replace truffle oil with shavings of the real thing. So, as a way of introducing truffle flavour, I'm quite happy to rely on the artificial version..........and although you could never mistake it for the real thing, it's certainly a better option than having nothing at all. It's very similar to the relationship between Vanilla Essence and Vanilla Bean - even the best essence (90% of all production of which, by the way, has no natural Vanilla in it whatsoever, according to the people from Slow Food) is only ever a poor cousin to the real thing, but it still quite clearly has its uses.

And when it comes to Truffles, the real thing is just incomparable. Musty, and intoxicating , and feromonal and quite wonderful. In Cammillo, where they currently charge four euros per gramme, a splendid piece of theatre is played out, where a small set of scales is brought to the table, and the truffle is solemnly weighed before the customer's eyes before being carefully shaved over whatever dish it is they're having, and it is then solemnly re-weighed afterwards to show exactly how much has been served.
Although, I challenge anybody to be able to concentrate on the read-out of a set of scales when they have a dish before them, the aroma of which is enough to fog the senses of even the most mentally acute!

Tonight's Dinner

Beef & Porcini Strudel (including Truffle Oil!), with Porcini Cream sauce

Pork Loin, roast with Mustard & Herbs; Turnip Gratin

Orange Crêpes, stuffed with Caramelised Pear.