Friday, 23 July 2010

"Salt and pepper to taste"

Salt pans of the sapal, Castro Marim


Understanding proportion and balance in cooking is the key to successful seasoning......

When you read a recipe, it invariably says "salt and pepper to taste", this sounds simple. No not simple at all - just exactly how much does this mean? Cooking is about proportion and balance, and seasoning plays an important part. Some recipes indicate a pinch of salt. What is a pinch? Two fingers go into my bowl of sea salt beside my cooker and scoop up some grains, but we are not all given the same size fingers. My fingers are slightly smaller than Clarissa Dickson Wright´s and may be half the size of Chef Ramsay, who knows? By the way never do this with wet fingers or you will scoop up much more than you intended!! Seasoning advice in recipes is only a guide. Proper seasoning comes with practice. I never measure seasoning, I add it instinctively . Everyone has a different palate, I dont hold with the idea that if a dish comes to the table perfectly seasoned in chef´s opinion, it is bad manners to add salt and pepper. You must do what you like according to your taste.I cant imagine eating savoury foods without salt and pepper.
Even Strawberries get some help from a little black pepper. Tomatoes can often do with a good kick start to encourage them, and salting sliced tomatoes in a colander can do no harm either.
Seasoning gives balance to a dish - even if something is overcooked, if it is seasoned correctly you can often get away with it. However if something is over salted, it can ruin the flavours. Seasoning should enhance the flavours of the food, not dominate the taste. Meat and fish should be salted before cooking otherwise as it seals during the cooking, it builds up a barrier against whatever you are adding to it. Adding a sprinkling of fresh herbs over a dish just before serving allows their flavour to come through strongly, whereas herbs added during cooking can get lost in a melee of flavours. When you are making a sauce, you season at the beginning and then taste it at the end and adjust it accordingly. There are some foods that require great care with salting, hams, some other cured meats and parmesan already have a salty taste. Mozzarella on the other hand needs coaxing in order to counteract its blandness. Salt is imperative when cooking polenta - it slows down the swelling process of the starch so that the flavour has time to develop and the liquid can be evenly absorbed. I always use coarse sea salt, but any salt is acceptable.The correct ratio is one teaspoon of coarse sea salt per cup measure of polenta, unless the recipe is for sweet polenta,in which case less is fine.If you use a processed table salt, add half a teaspoon in place of the one teaspoon of coarse sea salt
Always use good quality, natural unrefined rock or sea salt,( flor de sal ) because it caramelises and melts during cooking but does not add too much salty flavour.



Chilli salt and pepper squid with chorizo, tomatoes and new potatoes


This is an amalgam of recipes. Its roots are in Spanish cooking, but I have adapted

a recipe of Peter Gordons and combined it with a classic Rick Stein,
and a bit of Donna Hay!!!


8 large squid, cleaned and separated into body and tentacles


150ml olive oil

8 large mild red chillies, seeded and sliced

1 Tablespoon  flor de sal

1 teaspoon roughly cracked black pepper

200g cooking chourico sliced at an angle into 8 pieces

2 ripe tomatoes cut in half

16 new potatoes scrubbed boiled and cut into halves


handful fresh parsley leaves


juice of one lemon


For this dish have your grill griddle or frying pan very hot.

Cut the squid in half lengthways from the pointed tail to the body cavity,
and then cut into eighths.
Combine the oil Chillies, salt and pepper. Heat a frying pan over high heat.
Add half the chilli mixture and cook for 1 minute. Add half the squid
pieces and cook for 2-3 minutes or until the squid turns opaque and just cooked through.
Remove from the pan and continue cooking with the same ingredients.The heat will make the body curl up, but don´t worry. Remove to a large warm plate and do the tentacles, which need about 30 seconds longer. Next fry the Chourico pieces for about 30 seconds on each side.
set aside on the warm plate with the squid. Fry the tomatoes for about a minute each side. Mix the potato with the parsley and divide between 4 plates. assemble the squid and tomatoes on top drizzling with some of the lemon juice and the remaining olive oil, Serve immediately
garnished with rocket leaves



Strawberries with black pepper and balsamic

Serves 4 to 6.

Balsamic vinegar and black pepper intensify the flavor of strawberries and bring out their sweetness.. Only use the best balsamic vinegar




500g ripe strawberries, rinsed, hulled, and sliced

3 tablespoons sugar

1.5 tablespoons good-quality balsamic vinegar

Freshly ground coarse black pepper


Place the sliced berries in a medium non-reactive bowl (such as glass).
Sprinkle the berries with the sugar and balsamic vinegar, and toss gently to coat. Allow the berries to macerate in the vinegar and sugar mixture for about 15 minutes.
Add 4 to 5 grinds of coarse black pepper to the berries, and toss to coat. Allow the flavors to blend about 5 minutes more before serving.
Serve with home made ice cream, lavender creme fraiche or honeyed mascarpone


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