Saturday 16 February 2013

Port Sauce

One of those sauces which is guaranteed to produce an appreciative comment...or an even more eloquent the first mouthful. French in origin, of course - I don't think any other (western, anyway) cuisine produces sauces with this kind of subtle complexity....certainly not Italy, or any of the scandinavian or anglo-saxon kitchen traditions.

This version is a re-working of something from the late-great-Julia. She specified it for use with a roast chicken, and tied it into an unnecessarily complicated process which has the hapless cook engaging in last minute needless flambéeing of carved chicken pieces, and thereafter a breathless dash to the finish-line, destined to bring to the table perfectly served chicken and a cook in need of a quiet sit down and a reviving glass. Sometimes, I think the L-G-J didn't always....think, I mean.

In fact, the sauce can be made in its entirety in advance, and gently re-heated as required to be served with chicken either roast or sautéed (suprêmes, a couple of minutes either side in butter and oil, and then eight minutes in a hot oven), or else pretty much with any version of roast or grilled white meat.

For four (or so) servings.

Ingredients: 500g mushrooms; 10g Butter; juice of half a Lemon; 280 ml Cream; 10g Cornflour; 2 tbs, or so, of Chicken Fat ( or Duck, or Goose Fat, if you have it - or, failing that, more Butter); half tbs chopped Shallots or Spring Onions; 150 ml Port; Salt and Pepper.


1. Thinly slice the Mushrooms. Put in a saucepan along with 150 ml water, the Butter, Lemon Juice, and a quarter teaspoon of Salt. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a brisk simmer and leave, covered, for eight minutes. At the end of this time, drain the pan through a sieve, to reserve the liquid in a bowl, and return the Mushrooms to the pan.

2. Use 1 tbl of the Cream to make a paste with the Cornflour, then add this, along with the rest of the Cream to the Mushrooms. Heat until it bubbles, and simmer for two minutes, then remove from the heat and add seasoning to taste.

3. In another pan, sweat the chopped Shallot in the Chicken Fat for a couple of minutes until softened, then to this add the Port and the reserved juice from cooking the Mushrooms; boil, to reduce the amount of liquid to about 150 ml*. To this, add the Mushrooms in their cream, and simmer for two to three minutes, to thicken to a coating consistency. Test and adjust seasoning as required.
Either serve immediately, or else set aside to be gently re-heated for serving later in the day.

* This is the kind of instruction which used to drive me nuts - having no facility for judging by eye the quantity which remains when one is in the process of reducing a liquid over heat. The way to do it, in practice, is to ensure you always use the same pan for this process, and to create for yourself a measuring stick, which has inscribed on it the levels within the pan which correspond to e.g 100 ml, 150 ml, 200 ml, etc; by putting the measuring stick into the boling liquid, you can immediately see how much liquid you have left in the pan, and how much further you still have to go.   


Tuesday 12 February 2013

It's raining...

The four-footed gazes blankly, with philosophical resignation, curled up on his bed in the tinello, as the rain beats drearily down outside. Not a day for running around and endlessly presenting tennis balls or pine cones to be thrown for him to chase. He's very good about it...even if the door is opened for him, just in case he has a pressing urge to go and ease springs, he lowers his head and peers thoughtfully at the weather, before looking up to indicate that actually, all things considered, it's probably a better idea to stay inside in the warm. He's right.

  Olga bangs around with a floor polisher, while Radio Tbilisi (which we try and remember to put on when she's here, to make her feel more loved and therefore less likely to find other and more congenial work elsewhere) drones in the background. The Technical Department has gone to explain to the Cairoli amminstratore where he's gone wrong in calculating condominial charges for the past three years (for example, that the condomini have been charged forty euros a week, apparently since the beginning of time, for a condominial cleaner who doesn't exist!). Lentil soup simmers aromatically on the stove, and I contemplate both the chapters of Orgoglio e Pregiudizio I need to prepare in advance of this evening's
italian conversazione, and the thought that I could provide crepes, along with Ms Austen's finest, in honour of today being Shrove Tuesday - and in return for the Pauli's offering last week of not one but two different kinds of zeppole (a kind of deep-fried small doughnut, light as love, filled with flavoured cream and drenched in sugar; Paola claims they're carnevale fare, although further investigation says they're related to the feast of San Giuseppe, which isn't until March 19th. I suspect the carnevale angle is merely an excuse to start eating the things much earlier in the year ....if any excuse is acually needed).

Tonight's Dinner:

Fettucine, with fried zucchine and parmesan

Vallespluga chicken (small, tender, and full of flavour) roast, and served with soubise sauce; roast salsify.

Strawberry Bread & Butter Pudding, made with panettone left over from Christmas.