Thursday, 28 March 2013

Lemony Lamb Shoulder with Potatoes en Papillote

With Easter coming up, I thought I'd share one of my all-time favourite recipes for feeding a crowd, and a dish that appears in my cookbook. For over fifteen years this heavenly dish of slow-cooked, fragrant, fall-apart lamb has been my preferred choice for a feast. I used to serve it with rustling golden roast potatoes but, as it's very rich, these days I pack tiny spuds in baking paper well ahead of time, sling them in the oven and bring the packets to the table all puffed and golden and painted with cheering messages.

Lemony Lamb Shoulder with Potatoes en Papillote
Photograph by Michael Le Grange. Image © Random House Struik 2012.

A large bone-in lamb shoulder will feed six hungry people, but not eight, so I suggest you order two smaller shoulders, which will leave you with plenty of leftovers. If you have a second oven, you can bake the potatoes at 180 °C; they will take 30-40 minutes.

Paint a message on each parcel using a fine paintbrush or calligraphy nib dipped in soy sauce. If you're not confident about your penmanship, print out the words in a font of your choice, then lay the baking paper on top and trace them with a soy-sauced nib.

What I love about this recipe - apart from its sticky-skinned succulence and unbeatable aroma - is that you can prepare it well in advance and leave it to do its sweet thing in the oven while you skip through the meadow gathering Easter eggs.

Lemony Lamb Shoulder with Potatoes en Papillote

2 large shoulders of lamb, bone in, or 2 legs of lamb
12 fat cloves garlic, peeled
½ tsp (2.5 ml) flaky sea salt
finely grated zest of 2 lemons
3 Tbsp (45 ml) good-quality dried oregano
2 Tbsp (30 ml) olive oil
2 large onions, peeled and sliced milled black pepper
1½ cups (375 ml) dry white wine, plus more for topping up
juice of 2 large lemons, plus more for topping up
2 bunches flat-leaf parsley, or rocket or watercress

For the potatoes:
2 kg tiny new potatoes
salt and milled black pepper
4 Tbsp (60 ml/60 g) butter
sprigs of fresh thyme
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
a little melted butter, for brushing

Heat the oven to 150 °C. Cut any large blobs of fat off the lamb. Finely grate six of the garlic cloves, place in a bowl and stir in the salt, lemon zest, 1 Tbsp (15 ml) of the oregano and the olive oil. Using a sharp knife, pierce the thick parts of the lamb (top and bottom) in 8-10 places, at a diagonal, to a depth of 3 cm. Push a little garlic paste deep into each cut and rub any remaining paste over the top of the joints.

Put the onion slices and remaining garlic cloves into a large roasting pan and place the lamb on top. Sprinkle with the remaining oregano and plenty of black pepper, pour in the wine and lemon juice and cover tightly with two layers of heavy foil. Place in the oven. After 3 hours, remove the foil, turn the heat down to 140 °C and switch off the oven fan. Season the lamb with salt, to taste.

Roast, basting now and then with the pan juices, for a further 1 hour, or until the lamb is brown and sticky and falling off the bone. Top up with more wine and lemon juice if necessary: the liquid in the pan should be about 1 cm deep.

For the potatoes, cut out eight circles of baking paper, each the size of a dinner plate. Prick the potatoes and divide them between the paper circles. Season with salt and pepper and add a knob of butter, a sprig of thyme, a sprinkling of lemon zest, and any other flavourings you fancy.

Fold each circle in half to make a semicircle and tightly seal the edges by making small, overlapping pleats all the way round. Brush the tops of the parcels with melted butter and place on a baking sheet. An hour before you’re ready to serve the lamb, place the parcels in the oven and bake for the remaining time or until quite tender.  Lay a bed of flat-leaf parsley on a large platter and place the lamb on top.

Cover with foil and allow to rest for 15 minutes. Pour the juices from the pan into a small jug and skim off the fat. Serve hot, with the potato parcels, and pass the pan juices round in a jug.

Serves 6 if you’re using one shoulder; 12 if you use two.

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Monday, 25 March 2013

Cape Pickled Fish with Lime, Thyme & White Pepper, and a Pickled-Fish Paté, from the left-overs

I suppose one shouldn't tinker with a traditional South African recipe that has such a long and noble pedigree, but I thought I'd introduce some zing and freshness to my pickled fish this Easter.  I've given my 2010 recipe for Extra-Lemony Cape-Malay-Style Pickled Fish a kick in the pants with fresh lime juice, lemon thyme and plenty of white pepper, and I'm pleased with the result.

Thickly sliced onions add punch and crunch to my lighter version of pickled fish.

Pickled fish is lovely with buttered brown bread.

The next time I make this (this week, hopefully, in time for the Easter weekend) I'm going to try using only Thai flavours for the marinade, because I think a sweet-sour-salty-hot pickle with plenty of fresh coriander, lemon grass and green chilli may be an irresistible combination. Further down in this post, you'll also find a recipe for a deliciously buttery, mildly spiced dip using pickled-fish left-overs: I made a few pots of this paté this week, using the leftovers no-one in my family wanted, and it was eagerly devoured by my guests on Saturday night.

South African Cape Malay Pickled Fish
Some of the ingredients for my pickled fish. Limes, fresh lemon leaves and lemon thyme add a
lovely citrussy flavour, and I've added mustard seeds for extra bite.

I still can't figure out, three years after I wrote about South African pickled fish on this blog, how this old recipe has come to be associated with Easter in Cape Town. One of my Facebook friends, Helen Brain, advanced her theory:  'I suspect that it has to do with Good Friday church services, which take three hours. You don't have time to cook after that, so pickling the fish means that when you come home from church at 12, lunch is ready.'  That seems plausible, but it still doesn't explain how this dish, indisputably a classic of Cape-Malay cuisine, is so eagerly looked forward to by Islamic families in the Cape during the Christian holidays of Eastertide.  If you have any insights or inklings about this, please post them in a comment below!

 Don't slice the onions too finely, or fry them too long - they should retain a good crunch.
In this recipe, the ginger and garlic are very briefly cooked, as are the other spices, so that the pickling liquid is fresh and zesty. If you can't find lemon thyme, use some roughly chopped lemon grass instead.

Cape Pickled Fish with Lime, Thyme & White Pepper

For the fish:
1 kg firm-fleshed white fish, such as yellowtail or snoek, skin on
½ cup (125 ml) cornflour, for dusting
salt and white pepper
3 Tbsp (45 ml) sunflower or canola oil

For the pickle:
3 Tbsp (45 ml) sunflower or canola oil
3 onions, peeled and sliced into rings (not too finely)
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
a thumb-size piece of ginger, peeled and finely grated
4 tsp (20 ml) black mustard seeds
12 black peppercorns
3 whole white cardamom pods
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped [optional]
3 bay leaves
2 Tbsp (30 ml) sugar
4 Tbsp (60 ml) rice vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
2 tsp (10 ml)  turmeric
1½ tsp (7.5 ml) white pepper
2 tsp (10 ml) cumin
2 tsp (10 ml) mild curry powder
1 tsp (5 ml) salt
the juice of 4 limes (or 3 lemons, if you can't find limes)
1 tsp (5 ml) finely grated lime (or lemon) zest
a few large sprigs of lemon thyme
1 cup (250 ml ml) water

To top:
extra sprigs of fresh lemon thyme, and fresh lemon leaves

Cut the fish into portions each about the size of a deck of cards. Put the cornflour on a plate and season with salt and a little white pepper. Press the fish pieces into the cornflour, top and bottom, then shake them energetically to remove the excess. Heat the 3 Tbsp of oil in a pan over a medium-high heat, and when it is good and hot, fry the fish pieces, in batches, for 2-3 minutes on each side (depending on how thick the pieces are) or until golden brown and just cooked through. Take care not to over-cook the fish, or it will dry out. Remove from the heat and set aside on a plate.

Now make the pickling mixture. Wipe the pan clean of oil and residue using a piece of kitchen paper.  Heat 2 Tbsp of sunflower or canola oil in the pan, over a medium-high flame. When the oil's hot, add the onion rings, and fry, stirring now and then, for 2 minutes, but no longer (it's important that the onions retain their crunch). Stir in the garlic and ginger and cook for another minute, without letting the garlic brown. Scrape the onions, garlic and ginger into a bowl and set aside.

Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil over a medium-high heat in the same pan and add the mustard seeds, peppercorns, cardamom pods and red chilli [optional]. When the mustard seeds begin to crackle, add the bay leaves, sugar and vinegar. Bring to the boil, then stir in the turmeric, white pepper, cumin, curry powder, salt and half a cup (125 ml) water. Cook the mixture for 2-3 minutes at an energetic bubble, or it has thickened slightly and the strong vinegar flavour has dissipated. Stir in the lime juice and zest, the lemon thyme sprigs, the remaining half-cup (125 ml) of water and the reserved onion/garlic/ginger mixture.

Simmer gently for another minute and then remove from the heat.

Tip half of this mixture into the bottom of a ceramic or plastic dish just big enough to hold all the fish in a single layer. Pour the remaining mixture on top, making sure every piece of fish is well coated with the pickling liquid. Top with a few extra sprigs of lemon thyme, plus some fresh lemon leaves, if you can find these. Cover the dish tightly with clingfilm or a lid, and refrigerate for at least 12 hours - preferably 24 - turning the fish now and then in its pickle.

Serve cold, with buttered brown bread, and perhaps some cold crunchy salads, or warm boiled potatoes.

This mixture keeps well in the fridge for up to a week.

Serves 6-8 as a snack.

And here's what to make with the leftovers. If you don't have a small jug attachment for your stick blender, you can pound everything together to a paste using a mortar and pestle, or use a food processor fitted with a metal blade (although you might need to double the quantities if your food processor is a big one).

Cape Pickled Fish Paté

1 cup (250 ml, fairly tightly packed) flaked pickled fish
4 Tbsp (60 ml) butter, softened
¼ cup (60 ml) roughly chopped onion rings, taken from the pickle
1 Tbsp (15 ml) pickling liquid, from your pickled fish
1 Tbsp (15 ml) olive oil
the juice of a small lemon
½ tsp (2.5 ml) Tabasco sauce, to taste
3 Tbsp (45 ml) fresh coriander leaves
salt and milled black pepper

Make sure you've removed every bone and scrap of skin from the flaked fish.  Put the fish into the jug attachment of a stick blender, or into a liquidiser.  Add the onion rings, pickling liquid, olive oil, lemon juice and Tabasco sauce, and whizz the mixture to a fairly homogenous yet slightly chunky paste. If the mixture is too thick for the blades to turn freely, add a little more of the pickling liquid, or some water.

Now add the coriander leaves and press the pulse button a few times so the leaves are fairly coarsely chopped through the mixture,but not pulverized (which will turn the paste green).  Season to taste with salt and pepper, and add a little more lemon and Tabasco sauce if the mixture needs a little more sparkle.

Scrape into a bowl, cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for an hour or two, until just firm. Serve with hot toast or crackers.

Serves 4-6 as a snack

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Wednesday, 6 March 2013

A Scrumptious Pop-Up Dinner with David Walters & Christopher Duigan

It's been an exhilarating and interesting twelve months for me since my first cookbook was published, but none of these thrills and spills can match my excitement about this event.  On Thursday 7 March, I'll be collaborating in a once-off pop-up event in Pietermaritzburg with two inspiring people: my uncle David Walters, pre-eminent master potter, and my friend Christopher Duigan, South Africa's most popular concert pianist.  We're calling this event 'The Table', and we're doing it for the sheer fun of it.  Here are my co-conspirators:

Master Potter David Walters and Concert Pianist Christopher Duigan
Concert pianist Christopher Duigan (left) and master potter David Walters.

The Table is an idea dreamed up a while ago by Dave and Christopher, and they generously roped me in as the third wheel on their merry tricycle.  The idea is that everyone who has been invited to the jollifications (I was going to call it a soirée, but risk being smacked by Dave and Chris for such pretentiousness) will bring something to the table: Dave will be showcasing his beautiful plates, platters and bespoke dinnerware; Christopher and the acclaimed saxophonist Maxine Matthews will be performing works by composer Richard Guinness; and the food served on the evening will come from my cookbook, Scrumptious.

The event will take place at Christopher's home in Pietermaritzburg, Casa Mexicano, which I am told is  a villa of some splendour.  And it had better be, because I am spending a night there, and I will not be satisfied with anything less than fluffy white gowns, scented bath salts and hopefully a few oiled young men on stand-by should I require anyone to drop frozen grapes into my mouth.

Our VIP guests (including wine-makers, farmers, artisans, artists and some of KZN's top restaurateurs) will also be bringing their special gifts, goods and talents to the table, and I look forward to sharing all these contributions with you on Thursday night as I live-tweet the event (hashtag: #TheTable; follow me on

I'd hoped to offer readers of this blog a pair of tickets, but the event was so popular when Christopher announced it that it was sold out before I had a chance to put finger to keyboard.

I will be putting hand to whisk on Thursday afternoon, however, as I prepare the main course for the event: my fillet-steak and hot-potato-nugget salad with a Green Goddess dressing.  Here's a picture of this dish (I'll post the recipe next week, when I'm back):

Fillet Salad with a Green Goddess Dressing by Jane Anne Hobbs
My beef fillet salad with hot potato nuggets and a Green Goddess dressing.
Photograph by Michael Le Grange, courtesy of Random House Struik

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Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Glazed Roast Pork Neck with a Gingery Fresh-Prune Relish

All week long I've been feasting on ripe plums, which are in high season in South Africa. Plums are among my favourite fruits, so I was ridiculously pleased to find a gleaming pile of prune plums in my local supermarket. They reminded me of this pork-neck dish, which I haven't made in a while, and I galloped home with pockets bulging, all eager to sling the roast in the oven and hover excitedly over a saucepan of simmering prunes.  I was dismayed, then infuriated, when I couldn't find my recipe on this blog - it had vanished into the void where lost blogposts go, and I'd long since thrown away my scribbled testing notes.

Glazed Roast Pork Neck with a Gingery Fresh-Prune Relish
Luscious, dense-textured prune plums.
To my relief, I eventually found a copy of my recipe at Food24, together with some of the toe-curlingly amateurish photographs I made do with in my earlier days as a food-snapper.

 (I find it funny, in hindsight, that I'd branded one of the images with a copyright symbol and the name of my blog - as if anyone would want to nick a picture of such spectacular fuzziness. I've cropped that out to spare myself any further embarrassment,  and I suggest you do the same if you're in the habit of scrawling your name all over your images. Even top-notch professional photographers who have a great deal to lose if their online works are stolen have stopped doing this and  - let's face it - anyone who knows how to crop an image will hardly be deterred by that distracting little line of text in the bottom right-hand corner of your food snap.)

Anyway, here's the original post and recipe, with the toe-curling pictures. I hope they don't put you off making this unusual dish - it's delicious hot or cold, and makes the very best of that most succulent of cuts, pork neck. I have tweaked this recipe a little, the chief changes being shortening the cooking time of the pork and slightly reducing the oven temperature.

At the end of this post you'll find more of my seasonal plum recipes.

Have you ever tasted a fresh prune? That is, a prune plum before it’s dehydrated and turned into a soft and wrinkly ink-black sac? My local veggie shop is full of these little jewels, which are sweet, with a dense yellow flesh and a slight muskiness. I bought a big box of them, hoping they’d be devoured by the kids, but this variety of plum doesn’t have the eating appeal of the peach-sized, ruby-juice-running-down-your-chin, late-season plums on the market now.

Glazed Roast Pork Neck with a Gingery Fresh-Prune Relish
At the same time, I was pondering how to cook yet another lovely pork neck. Remembering that prunes and pork are a wonderful combination, I turned the prune plums into a sharp-sweet relish flavoured with preserved stem ginger, and then I slow-roasted the neck in a spicy oriental glaze. A delicious combination, equally good hot or cold.

You can use pork fillet for this recipe, but you will need significantly to reduce the cooking time because pork fillet will dry out if it's cooked for too long. Similarly, ordinary plums will do for this recipe, although they won’t hold their shape the way muscular prune plums do, so you might want to reduce the amount of liquid and, again, shorten the cooking time.

You will need to make the prune relish an hour or so ahead of roasting the pork.

Glazed Roast Pork Neck with a Gingery Fresh-Prune Relish

For the prune-plum relish:
2 cups (500 ml) prune plums, washed
½ cup (125 ml) dark sugar (muscovado or treacle sugar)
½ cup (125 ml) white-wine vinegar
½ cup (125 ml) water
one 2cm x 2cm piece of preserved stem ginger, finely diced or squashed (I pushed it through my garlic crusher!)
1 Tbsp (15 ml) ginger syrup, from the jar of preserved ginger
1 tsp (5 ml) powdered ginger

For the pork and glaze:
1 whole pork neck, trimmed of excess fat
a little olive oil
½ cup (125 ml) of the cooked prune-plum relish and syrup (see above)
4 Tbsp (60 ml) rice wine vinegar (ordinary white-wine vinegar will do)
2 Tbsp (30 ml) honey
1 Tbsp (15 ml) Kikkoman soy sauce
½ cup (125 ml) mirin (or you can use sweetish white wine)
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, finely grated
 freshly milled black pepper

Glazed Roast Pork Neck with a Gingery Fresh-Prune Relish
First make the relish. Halve the prunes and remove the stones. Set aside. Put the sugar, vinegar, water, stem ginger, ginger syrup and powdered ginger in a saucepan, set over a medium heat and bring gently to the boil, stirring now and then. Tip in the halved, pitted plums  and simmer uncovered for about 20 minutes, skimming off any foam as it rises. Watch the pan carefully, because a sugary syrup like this burns quickly. When the juice has reduced to about half a cup of thickish syrup, turn off the heat and set the pan aside to cool.

To roast the pork, heat the oven to 200°C. Put the pork neck  in a small roasting tray, brush with a little olive oil and season well with milled black pepper (but no salt). Roast the pork for 30 minutes at 200° C, or until it is beginning to brown at the edges.

In the meantime, make the glaze. Take a half a cup (125 ml) of the plum relish you’ve just made and place it in a food processor or liquidiser, along with all the remaining glaze ingredients. Whizz to a paste (not too fine: a few little flecks of prune are nice). Add more pepper, if necessary, but don’t add any more salt: the soy sauce is salty enough on its own.

Remove the pork neck from the oven and drain off any excess fat by tilting the roasting dish over the sink. Turn the oven down to 170° C. Pour the glaze over the pork, and cover the dish with foil or a tight-fitting lid. Roast the neck for a further 45 minutes, turning it over once during that time.

Now take the foil or lid off the dish, turn the heat up to 190 °C, and roast for another 35-45 minutes, basting frequently, or until the pork is cooked right through and the glaze is dark and glossy. Remove from the oven and allow to rest, lightly covered with a piece of foil, for 20 minutes.

Cut into thin slices and serve with the prune-plum relish.  This is good hot with a slightly bitter green salad and boiled new potatoes.  If you're serving it cold, take it to the table with the relish and some warm, crusty bread.

 Serves 6-8.

More of my Scrumptious plum recipes:

Cheesecake with a Fresh Plum Topping

Fresh plum jelly with a Lemon Panna Cotta Topping

Fresh-Plum and Almond Cake

Spiced Plums with Tamarind

Christmassy Plum and Tamarind Sauce

Festive Phyllo Crackers with a Spicy Plum and Almond Filling

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