Melba Toast

Melba toast is completely dry, crisp, thinly sliced, toasted bread and most often served with soup or pâté. History has it that the name was given to the toast by the world’s most famous hotel manager César Ritz. Melba toast was created by his equally famous chef Auguste Escoffier for the Australian opera singer Dame Nellie Melba, around 1897. During a stay in London, the singer was taken ill and when she requested something light to eat Escoffier delivered Melba toast.

Melba Toast

Melba toast is available commercially but is not difficult to make and a great way to use up excess sliced bread and you will find the results much better. It can be made up to a couple of days before you need it and stored it in an airtight container, then crisp it up for a short time in the oven.

Melba Toast

Sliced white or brown bread as required

Preheat the grill to high and toast the bread lightly on both sides. Cut off the crusts, then holding the toast flat, slide the knife between the toasted edges to split the bread.

Slicing Toast

Place the toast cut side down onto a food preparation board and gently rub it over the board surface. This removes any loose crumbs and snags of dough which will burn when you toast the underside and produces a professional finish.

Melba Toast Tray

Place on a baking tray untoasted sides uppermost, then toast under a moderate grill until golden and the edges curl.

When required crisp for a short time in the oven at 170 °C / 325 °F / Gas 3 before serving.

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Mirepoix

Mirepoix, a trio of aromatic vegetables, became popular in 19thcentury French cooking and is named, in the fashion of so many French culinary terms, after a Duke who was a regarded as a pretty incompetent Field Marshall and Ambassador, and who owed much to Louis XV affections towards his wife. Mirepoix is a small, fine dice normally of onions, carrots, and celery roughly in the proportions 2:1:1. It is the base flavour of many classic sauces and stocks and slow-cooked casseroles and stews. Mirepoix can vary from recipe to recipe and region to region and include garlic, leeks, mushroom stalks and tomatoes.

Mirepoix

Mirepoix au gras has the addition of finely diced ham or streaky bacon. Similar base vegetable mixes are to be found in German cooking called suppengrün or soup greens. There is also the holy trinity of Creole cooking; onions, green bell peppers and celery and soffritto an Italian soup and sauce base of vegetables, garlic and parsley stewed in olive oil.

Matignon is traditionally a finer dice of aromatic vegetables including onions, carrots, celery, leeks and garlic which is sautéed in butter and flavoured with a pinch of thyme and perhaps some crushed garlic. It is usually finished with salt, sugar if required and a splash of Madeira wine. The result can be used as a stuffing or a base to present poultry and meat on.

Brining

Putting meat into a salt-water solution or brine is an age-old method of preserving and flavouring food. Feta and halloumi cheeses are both aged in brine for flavour and pork is cured in brine to make bacon and ham were the salts inhibit bacterial spoiling and flavours the meat. Brining is increasingly popular with professional chefs to help chicken, other poultry and pork stay juicy and moist during cooking and is used a lot in American home cooking especially preparing meat for barbecuing and grilling. There are slight risks in home curing but using the brine to add flavour and moisture and not preserve the meat is perfectly safe.

Using a brine is simple, economical and tasty. Just follow the steps below and remember the following, you don’t have to salt brined meat before cooking. Once brined, pork and chicken cooks faster so be careful and use a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat, check the temperature and do not overcook. Brining any meat will add a significant amount of liquid to it before cooking, you can actually increase the total weight of a cut of pork by 15% or more.Therefore the amount of water that remains in a piece of meat during cooking can increase greatly and the resulting cuts and joints will be juicier and tenderer.

The Science Bit

The process by which additional moisture, salt ( and flavourings ) are added to the meat is called osmosis.Osmosis happens under laboratory conditions when water flows from a lower concentration of a solution to a higher concentration through a semipermeable membrane. In your piece of meat, this is the membrane that surrounds the individual pork or chicken cells. When the meat is placed in a brine solution, the fluids in each meat cell are less concentrated than the salt water in the brining solution. Water flows out of the cells in the meat and salt is absorbed. The salt then dissolves some of the fiber proteins, and the meat cell fluids become more concentrated. Water is now absorbed back into the cell. Brining adds salt and water to the cells so that when the meat is cooked and water is squeezed out, there is still water left in the cells because more water was added before the cooking process.

Preparing the Brine

You can use sea salt and some people believe the mineral content is beneficial to the end flavour, it is however expensive. Americans use Kosher salt which is also used in manufacturing and commercial meat processing and has a large flat crystal shape. For our basic brine recipe table salt, preferable without iodine, is absolutely fine. We want to achieve a five percent solution, sea water, by comparison, is around 3.5% and to do this we need to add 50g of salt per litre of water. The solution should be salty to the taste but not thick with salt. If you follow this ratio you have an ideal brine for pork and chicken, as you experiment you can find further information on different strengths of brine to use but be careful, too much salt or leaving the meat in the brine for too long will leave you with salty meat.

Dissolve the salt thoroughly in potable freshly boiling hot water and leave to totally cool. For the amount of brine, you will need, consider the size of the container you are going to use and the size of the meat you want to brine. A brine solution should be enough to completely submerge the meat you want to brine. For larger quantities of brine dissolve the salt in a third of the water then when cool add it to the remaining amount of cold water.

You can add a variety of flavors such as herbs and spices, sugars, beers, wines, fruit, and vegetables. Experiment with flavour combinations they are almost infinite. The most basic are sugars, some sweetness tends to offset a saltiness the brine might otherwise impart to the meat and is a popular flavouring, think of Black Forest hams and sticky barbecue ribs.

Add approximately 20g per litre of brine to give a sweet base flavour and to encourage browning during cooking. You can use cane sugar, brown sugar, honey, molasses and maple syrup as sweeteners.

Additional flavours should not overpower the meat but add subtle notes to the cooked result. Vegetables such as onions, celery, carrots, and garlic should be chopped to increase the amount of surface area of the vegetables in use in the brine solution. You can replace some of the water with apple juice, cider, orange juice, beer, wine, rice wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, and tea. Both pork and chicken are ideal partners with Oriental flavorings such as Mirin or Japanese rice wine and soy sauce, use a little less salt if you substitute a large amount of soy sauce as it is quite a salty condiment. Finally consider ginger, fresh herbs, juniper berries, cloves, cinnamon stick, vanilla bean, mustard seed, coriander seed, star anise, hot pepper flakes or Sichuan peppercorns.

How to Brine

When your prepared brine is cold you can brine your pork or chicken. This needs to be done in an inert glass, stainless steel or plastic container. You can also purchase heavy duty bags specifically for the purpose, including turkey size from American online food equipment suppliers. Make sure the container is thoroughly cleaned in very hot soapy water before use. Fill with your brine solution, immerse your meat and weigh it down with a clean heavy plate to make sure no chicken or pork is exposed to the air and cover the container. Place in the bottom of your refrigerator. Refrigeration is absolutely required during brining. The meat and brine solution must be kept below 40 degrees F. at all times. Warning a container large enough to hold a whole turkey might be too big for your fridge and you may have to ask a friendly butcher to brine it for you.

When it comes to the amount of time you want to brine something it is more important not to brine too long than not long enough. While some cuts of meat can use days in a brine, even a relatively small amount of time can be helpful. The size, cut and grain will also affect the time required for immersion.

Pork Chops (1 inch to 1½ inch thick) 12 to 24 hours

Whole Pork Loin 2 to 4 days

Whole Pork Tenderloin 6 to 12 hours

Whole Chicken ( 4 pounds ) 4 to 12 hours

Chicken Pieces ( thighs and drumsticks ) 1 to 2 hours

Whole Turkey ( 12 pounds ) 1 to 2 days

Cooking the Meat

Remove the chicken or pork from the brine and dispose of the used brine. Rinse twice after removing it from the solution and pat dry on kitchen paper. If you are not ready to cook at the end of the brining time, remove from brine, rinse the meat and refrigerate until ready to use. Do not salt brined meat before cooking. Cook according to your favorite recipe adjusting the cooking time as the meat may cook a little quicker and brown faster if you use a sweetened brine.

Curing

Curing is a traditional method of preserving and flavouring food, usually meats or fish ( think ham and smoked salmon ), using different chemical salts and sugars with adds spices and aromatics. The meat is then quite often cold smoked, which adds more flavour and dried, which are both also methods of preserving. The use of nitrite salts * ( saltpetre or nitre ) pioneered in the eighteen hundreds helps prevent bacteria from multiplying in the meat cells and keeps the cured meat its distinctive pink colour. Brining uses only normal salt ( sodium chloride ), sugars and flavourings and is used to enhance the flavours of and add moisture to meat. While each technique was primarily concerned with stretching out the length of time slaughtered meat could be kept without refrigeration people began to cure, smoke and dry meat because of the agreeable changes in texture and flavour.

There are two methods of curing; dry curing and sweet pickle curing. Each uses salts; sodium chloride, nitrite and nitrate and sugars ( from honey, cane molasses or maple syrup ) and in a sweet pickle the mixture is made like a brine solution. Some producers use spice mixtures to add extra flavour to the cure. Sodium Nitrate helps inhibit bacterial growth while the curing process takes place. During curing a chemical reaction takes place at a cellular level in the meat drawing out water and introducing salt. This process further inhibits bacterial growth which causes food spoilage and can be poisonous. Bacteria does not grow in salty conditions and requires high levels of moisture. This is particularly important if the meat is to be smoked as this raises the temperature of the meat which encourages bacteria to grow. The salt also prevents the meats from spoiling through oxidisation and going rancid.

 

There are strict legal guidelines on the levels of nitrates in curing please follow any recipe precisely.

Vanilla Sugar

Vanilla sugar.JPGWhen you are cooking with real vanilla pods using the seeds to flavour whipped cream or crème Anglais reserve the empty pods. If they have been used to infuse their flavour into milk, remove them and pat dry. The reserved pods can be placed in a plastic container or jar filled with caster sugar. Any remaining essential oils will infuse the caster sugar with a delicious vanilla flavour which can then be used in cakes or as a topping for freshly baked biscuits.

Creaming

This a technique in baking where sugar and fat are blended together and mixed to a creamy consistency. During the process, small air cells are formed and then incorporated into the mix. The mix then becomes larger in volume and softer in texture. Creaming is affected by the fats involved, the temperature of the fat and the force involved. During the second stage, beaten eggs are carefully incorporated.

Creaming

Top Tips for Creaming

If the butter or margarine is too cold it will be difficult to beat in enough air as the fat is not elastic enough. Using a mechanical food mixer, the friction can cause the temperature to rise to high and the fat will be too soft. The ideal temperature is around 21°C.

Sugar and butter should be creamed at a medium speed until soft and light. High-speed mixing tends to destroy or reduce the number of air cells that are formed and incorporated during the early stages of mixing.

During the second stage, beaten eggs should be added in several small batches. Adding the eggs too quickly will result in the mixture splitting or curdling. Adding a small portion of the flour at the start of the mix and when you add more egg will help to eliminate curdling in mixes with high liquid content.

Feuilleté Pastry Tarts

Puff pastry can be used to make many different 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 also be made slightly larger and used as a savoury starter, light lunch or filled with whipped cream and fruit as a simple, elegant dessert.

Seafood Tart

Feuilleté Pastry Tarts

Why not try your finished Feuillettes filled with roasted Provençal vegetables topped with whipped Goat’s cheese and a little rocket dressed with sea salt and Balsamic, creamy garlic mushrooms with brandy, thyme and nutmeg or a fabulous seafood medley as well as fruit purées and Confectioner’s custard or glazed poached peach halves and raspberries if you have a sweeter palate.

Puff pastry ( ready made or homemade )
Egg wash

Preheat your oven to 400F / 200C / Gas Mark 6. Roll out your pastry on a lightly floured work surface.

Puff Pastry 2

Cut into squares 4 by 4 inches for a large case 1 1/2 inch squared for smaller bite-size tarts.

Puff Pastry 3

Carefully cut two L – shaped into the pastry like the picture above. Make sure to you leave to small pieces of uncut pastry to hold the edges together.

Puff Pastry 4

Egg wash the pastry square the fold over the cut pastry strips.

Puff Pastry 5

Egg wash the tart case again including the sides of the pastry. Dock or prick the center of the case with the tines of a fork, this will prevent the center rising. Transfer to a non -stick baking sheet and chill in the fridge for 15 minutes to relax the pastry. This will help prevent the pastry from shrinking.

Puff Pastry 6

Place in your heated oven and bake for between 10 to 20 minutes depending on the size of your feuilette, until crisp and golden brown. Remove to a wire rack and cool. You can make your cases ahead of you needing them and store in an airtight container.