Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Steamy Month

The steam oven was meant to go back to Miele this week. At dinner Saturday night Jaey and Marie were adamant we should keep it, it was obviously a good thing. 'But there's no proper space for it!' I cried. It has lived on the end of the kitchen table most of the month and on the bench where the dishes normally pile up when there were guests which is fine as a short term solution but not one you could live with. Can't afford to refit the kitchen so I had resigned myself to its return.

We played a game for a while, choosing places - 'a shelf above the clock?' 'but you'd hit your head when you stand up' 'top of the fridge?' ' too high to get food in and out' and then, suddenly, there was an answer. 'Make a shelf under the plate cupboard, it'll fit there.' 'Whatever, the chocolate puddings are ready!' Made them in teacups for a pretty presentation but sadly I thought they were a bit overcooked. And more of a disaster, when I warmed the lovingly made ultra decadent chocolate sauce, it split. I am still not great at making sweet things...

Next morning I snuck a look to see if it really would fit on a shelf under the crockery cupboard, and it could. Asked the man what he thought about keeping it. Didn't mind. Which meant that I now had my heart set...

When I was first offered the oven trial I called my mother to ask for her baked custard recipe, thinking that as she always cooked it in a bain marie, it would probably steam well. She was much intrigued by the notion of a steam oven and, without much hesitation started listing things she'd try. One of which was a pork and veal terrine that she frequently makes. Though I've yet to try the custard, I did steam the terrine and it was a total success, and stayed beautifully moist the whole week.

I was surprised that the top browned lightly but, upon eating it, it is the colours of the cooked meat, and just look at that juicy bacon...

The steam oven means I finally get to try a whole series of chinese recipes that I've fancied. This chicken and chillies is just about to go in for a 10 minute steaming. That quantity of chillies looks severe but they are ones I made recently, preserving them in salt. They are hot but not outrageous, and they add a brilliant bite to this dish.

That very same meal, a repeat of an earlier dinner, I also made this bowl steamed aubergine, which was creamy and salty with black beans and decadently delicious. The aubergine is fried first then steamed with aromatics, and it's that cleverness in technique that characterises a lot of the asian use of steaming as a cooking method. It is intriguing.

This stew is a whole other story, really. I had read that steaming curries was a good thing to do so, given that it is still definitely winter in London whatever the calendar says, I decided I would test the theory with a lamb and barley stew. I don't (yet) know why, but it made this really intensely flavoured, all the richness of the meat was there, the juices were divine, it was a totally stand out meal.

One (more) of my favourites are these little rice covered pork balls. It's the first time I have ever used glutinous rice, which must always be steamed. Boil it and it becomes porridge. The insides of these balls are an interesting mix of meat, ginger, chopped water chestnuts for a surprising crunch which is then rolled in rice mixed with shitaki mushrooms and tiny pieces of diced ham. Fabulous mouthful.

I could not possibly have had the steam oven without making a steamed pudding. I sincerely wanted this ginger syrup version to be the nicest thing I made, but I lack the requisite sweet tooth to vote this my favourite. But it is very pretty! I will experiment more with sweets and find some things that respond to the method.

Steamed eggs, on the other hand, are definitely on my favourites list. I really wanted set whites, runny yolks and creamy underneaths. And that's what I got! These eggs had parma ham, a dollop of cream, a shave of Parmesan and a tiny sprig of thyme in the base. I made another version on the weekend with a spoonful of cooked leeks and smoked bacon, a dollop of cream and a little Parmesan for probably the nicest lunch I've had this year.

This extraordinary bowl of food is probably the most interesting thing I made this month. It is smoked trout and smoked bacon, half and half in a shallow bowl, then topped with blackbeans, chilli flakes and a spoonful of rendered pork fat, all of it steamed for about 15 minutes. It was a wildly fabulous thing to put in my mouth, such an astonishing combination of things I would not have dreamed to put together if I'd never read Fuchsia Dunlop.

This may look like a visit from outer space but is my very first steamed savoury pudding. It is full of leeks and bacon and cream and that casing is lovingly constructed with suet for silky joy. It is a Bristish classic and a good example of the utterly different way steam is used in western cooking.

We had it with roast, so didn't finish it all, but the pastry doesn't hold up eaten cold next day. So, the obvious solution the next time was to have a whole one as dinner for two! I am not miss greedy pants for nothing.

This burnished beauty is a pork hock that has been boned, simmered in a red stock then steamed with black beans and chillies to finish. Delicate and toothsome.

This steamed savoury custard is already part of my repertoire, having made it three times in the last month. It is such a delicate thing, eating it is like a tender caress. I cannot imagine ever getting enough.

Pork and steam are a marriage made in heaven. This incarnation is made by blanching the meat briefly then steaming it with black beans and chilli and shaoxing. With rice and stirfried peppers, a delight.

I loathed this. The man thought he'd died and gone to heaven. It is a luxury rice pudding, made with cream and orange zest and syrup. When I was a kid, I hated rice pudding with a passion. That was then and I thought that now being an adult and with tastes expanded exponentially since then, and loving rice particularly, that it would be different. Ha! It only took the first tiny spoonful to bring all that disgust flooding back, the awful smell, the horrible texture, the globs on my tongue, euuuuugh. If the man hadn't been there I swear I would have spat.

I made little pots each morning for the man to take to work to have with his lunch. He loved it.

A seriously interesting month of cooking. I loved the extra scope the steam oven gave me and was surprised at just how much use I made of my new toy. I used it pretty much every day, steaming vegetables which made them taste perfectly of themselves, reheating things so they never dry out or catch on the bottom of the pan as well as making all these lovely things here.

I had thought I'd do some fish dishes, but no. Someh0w there simply wasn't time.

Lucky it's not going any time soon!


Gourmet Chick said...

Wow Bron you are a convert buying the steam oven - very impressed!

bron said...

Have to say I'm besotted. But then the plan was hatching when we were in Birmingham on first sight...