Chicken Biryani

028aBiryani, the storied Indian dish of fragrant layered rice, spices, and (usually) meat, if made well, is one of my favorite things. A good biryani is richly aromatic; indeed, a magnificently flowery aroma is an essential part of the dish. Biryanis are made throughout India, and preparation differs depending on the region. Some biryanis are made with coconut, some with ghee, yogurt, or buttermilk; spices may include cardamom, coriander, cinnamon, fennel, or mace, among many others. The intoxicating aroma usually comes from saffron, sometimes with a touch of rosewater or kewra (pandan syrup). The word biryani is said to be of Persian origin, a corruption of the word beriyan, which in Farsi means to fry before cooking, or birinj, which means rice. Biryanis are thought to have been brought to India by the Mughals in the 16th century, although some culinary historians believe the dish pre-dated the empire. Regardless of origin, the dish has proliferated—in Hyderabad alone, there are said to be over forty distinct versions.

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Pan-Seared Octopus with Delicata Squash, Chickpeas, and Saffron

DSC_0278aMany people shy away from cooking octopus, believing that it is too difficult to cook. The truth is slightly different. Octopus is relatively easy to cook; it’s tenderizing the octopus that poses the challenges. Perfectly-cooked octopus definitely must not be rubbery, but one also must not commit the cardinal sin of mushy octopus. Everyone seems to have a different method for tenderizing octopus. Some people literally beat octopus with a rock, or, failing that, with a meat tenderizer. My friend Patrick sets up a pot of boiling water and a pot of ice water, and plunges the octopus in each water bath for about ten seconds, switching back and forth, about 30 times. I have heard that tenderizing the octopus sous vide works extremely well. I used to simmer octopus for about an hour in a pot of water to which some milk (the lactic acid works the trick) has been added. But I swear by my new method, which is time-consuming, but infallibly produces excellent results. Continue reading

Beef Tagine with Apples, Sesame, and Raisins

DSC_0540.aJPGI love summer food; love the shift from stovetop to grill and outdoor eating, the fresh vegetables, and the salads, berries, and summer fruit. But with the advent of warm weather, I have to set aside BRAISING, which is my favorite way to prepare meat. Braising, in which (usually) meat is (usually) first browned and then cooked slow and low in liquid, is the best way to cook cheap cuts of meat (unless you plan to barbecue them – more about barbecue and a fabulous weekend competing with friends at the British Barbecue Society’s Grassroots Shake and Sauce – and winning the prize for Best Newcomers! – in another post). But in hot weather, the thought of turning your kitchen into a sauna courtesy of a six-hour braise is only slightly less appealing than the thought of eating the stew that results. Moroccans, however, have mastered the hot-weather braise. I’m speaking, of course, of the tagine. Continue reading

Lamb, Mint, and Almond Meatballs with Saffron-Almond Sauce

Life in the new flat is not all wine and roses. Since my move in early October, I’ve been contending with the Never-Ending Kitchen Remodel. You know, that delightful pastiche featuring those charming rascals, the Slapdash Contractors, with supporting roles played by the Goddamn Shitty Appliances. The first time I attempted to use the oven I turned on the timer rather than the heat, and couldn’t figure out how to turn it off. It ticked loudly tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick until I worked out how to get the heat on and blew all the fuses in the kitchen. Sarf-East cockney contractor Del-boy came round an hour or two later and put the oven on its own fuse. Once the oven was reconnected the timer started ticking again tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick. Del-boy scratched his head, muttered something about not being boffered, and skulked off. Saturday I brought home beef bones to roast for stock, at which point I learned the oven doesn’t actually work, as in doesn’t get hot. I stomped around crankily and may have whined a bit about wanting to roast things. Lovely Flatmate called the truculent nameless Polish contractor, who looked in the oven and said, “I can’t fix. You need specialist.”

So, still no oven. The timer works though. There it is now, tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick. Continue reading

Duck Tagine with Quince and Apricots

A very dear friend once said to me, after I’d served her a pigeon salad with orange and figs, “Susan, you pair meat with fruit more than anyone I know.” This is one of my favourite observations anyone has ever made about my cooking, and it is true that I love to pair meat with fruit.  That same friend is imminently expecting her first child, and I have been happily making and freezing meals for her and her partner in anticipation of their first couple of weeks at home with the baby. (I was born for this kind of task.) A few weeks ago, at Borough Market, which ordinarily is one of the most expensive food markets in London, I picked up three quinces for a pound. Earlier this week, I pounced on some Gressingham duck legs, which had been discounted at Waitrose. Gressingham duck is a cross between a wild mallard and a pekin duck, which means that it is a little bit less fatty than most duck you find in supermarkets, and its meat has a more gamey flavour. I use it whenever I can find it. Yesterday I emailed my friend, “I’m cooking you meat with fruit!”

This recipe is adapted from a lamb tagine I found in my favourite Moroccan cookbook, the marvellous Food of Morocco by Tess Mallos. Duck legs are browned in butter and then slowly stewed with saffron, coriander, ginger, onion, and cinnamon, and finished with meaty, tangy quince and sweet dried apricots. Crushed red pepper adds just a hint of heat. I’d never cooked with quince before, although membrillo, the thick plum-coloured quince paste sold in Spain by the slab and served with salty cheeses, is one of my guilty pleasures. (You can find a recipe for membrillo here.) The fruit is very hard and has a dry tang to it (i.e., is not to be eaten raw), but when cooked becomes soft and tender, almost like cooked pear, and takes on a dusky pinky-orange hue. It’s perfect with meat. Continue reading

Orange Blossom-Saffron-Vanilla Macarons

I consider myself to be a fairly proficient baker, but I’ve always been intimidated by macarons. They are so dainty and beautiful, so difficult to get right, and so easy to get horribly wrong. I’ve had dreadful macarons at very posh restaurants.  I don’t care what anybody says, but it IS surprisingly hard to find a good macaron in the United States. On one memorable occasion I even had inferior macarons from Ladurée. And as for achieving perfection at home and hitting every note – the flawless shiny smooth patina on the shell, the well-risen feet, the ever-so-slightly crisp shell and perfectly yielding, tender interior . . . there is just so much to bollocks up. (I’d use a ruder word, but this is a family friendly site.) Literally for months I stalked macaron recipes online. There are hundreds, if not thousands. And SO much advice, much of it conflicting. To Italian meringue, or not to Italian meringue? Should I age my egg whites? What about the almond flour? Should I grind my own and/or air-dry it? Continue reading

Red Lentil and Chorizo Stew with Saffron and Roasted Garlic Chimichurri

When I moved to London, I had to familiarize myself with a whole new vocabulary. There are the obvious words, like “lorry” and “lift” and “loo.” There are the naughty words and swear words, which I won’t list here since this is a family-friendly blog. Then there are the words and phrases which totally mystified me, because there is no clear analogue in American English. One of my favourite of these Continue reading