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This gallery contains 15 photos.
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Having just returned from a few weeks off in Mexico, I thought I would post something about the mainstay of Mexican food, corn, and particularly how to prepare nixtamal and corn tortillas the traditional way.
What is nixtamal?
Nixtamal is dry corn soaked in and cooked in a solution of slaked lime and water. Slaked lime (calcium hydroxide) should not be confused with unslaked lime (calcium oxide), which cannot be used to prepare nixtamal. To slake lime, you first add it to water, allow it to bubble, let it stand for a bit and then you use the water to process the corn.
Preparing nixtamal may sound complicated but is actually very simple. First, mix lime and water in a large non reactive pot, then place over high heat. The proportions are about 500 grams of corn for 1 tablespoon of lime. When the lime is fully dissolved, add the corn and bring to the boil. If making nixtamal for masa to make tortillas, boil for a couple of minutes, remove from heat, cover and leave to soak overnight. The next morning, rinse the corn in a colander to remove the lime while rubbing the corn kernels to remove the softened hulls. Once cleaned, the nixtamal can then be ground into masa.
If you want to do this the traditional way, you should use a metate (a flat stone made of lava rock) and mano (flat oval shaped rolling pin, made from the same lava rock)
to grind the corn into masa. If you don’t have one, you can also use a hand cranked grinding machine, making sure you grind it as fine as your machine allows.
After the nixtamal has been put through the mill, you should work water into the masa, until you achieve a dough of medium to soft consistency.
Now is where the real fun begins. To make tortillas, knead the masa until it becomes smooth, pushing with the heel of the hand (3 to 5 minutes). Wrap the dough in film to prevent it from drying. Place a comal or a heavy-bottom frying pan over medium-high heat.
Break off a piece of the dough, place it in the dough press between 2 squares of waxed paper or plastic,
to keep your tortillas from sticking to the press, then press hard. Remove the tortilla from the press, then peel off the plastic. If the dough has the correct amount of water, the plastic will peel off easily. If the plastic sticks, the dough is too wet. If the tortilla cracks around the edges, the dough is to dry.
Bake the tortilla in the ungreased frying pan until the edges start to dry (about 30 seconds), then flip and bake for another 30 seconds. Cover to keep warm, you’re done !
Rosehips are now ripe all over my local area. Here is a quick and simple recipe for Rosehip Syrup.
Boil the rosehips for 2 minutes and let them infuse for 30 minutes. Mash up the rosehips, let them infuse for another 10 minutes and drain through a jelly bag.
Reserve the liquid. Add the sugar and bring back to the boil.
Bottle in sterilized bottles.
Lacto-fermentation is a microbial process which uses beneficial bacteria, including Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium spp. and other lactic acid bacteria (LAB). These thrive in an anaerobic fermenting environment and, together with yeasts, they work together to convert raw food into more easily-digestible components, along with releasing and stabilizing nutrients of the food.
Like the fermentation of dairy products, preservation of vegetables and fruits by the process of lacto-fermentation has numerous advantages beyond those of simple preservation. The proliferation of lactobacilli in fermented vegetables enhances their digestibility and increases vitamin levels. These beneficial organisms produce numerous helpful enzymes as well as antibiotic and anticarcinogenic substances. Their main by-product, lactic acid, not only keeps vegetables and fruits in a state of perfect preservation but also promotes the growth of healthy flora throughout the intestine.
Lacto-fermented condiments are easy to make. Fruits and vegetables are washed, cut up, mixed with salt, herbs and/or spices and then pounded briefly to release juices. They are then pressed into an air tight container. Salt inhibits putrefying bacteria for several days until enough lactic acid is produced to preserve the vegetables for many months. The amount of salt can be reduced or even eliminated if whey is added to the pickling solution. Rich in lactic acid and lactic-acid-producing bacteria, whey acts as an inoculant, reducing the time needed for sufficient lactic acid to be produced to ensure preservation.
During the first few days of fermentation, the vegetables are kept at room temperature; afterwards, they must be placed in a cool, dark place for long-term preservation. A room temperature of about 22 C will be sufficient to ensure a lactic-acid fermentation in about two to four days. More time will be needed if your kitchen is colder and less if it is very warm. After two to four days at room temperature, the jars should be placed in a dark, cool spot, ideally one with a temperature of about 4 C. In days gone by, crocks of lacto-fermented vegetables were stored in root cellars or caves. The top shelf of your refrigerator will do.
It is important to use the best quality organic vegetables, sea salt and filtered or pure water for lacto-fermentation. Lactobacilli need plenty of nutrients to do their work. If the vegetables are deficient, the process of fermentation will not proceed. Likewise if the salt or water contains impurities, the quality of the final product will be jeopardized.
About one inch of space should be left between the top of your vegetables with their liquid and the top of the jar, as the vegetables and their juices expand slightly during fermentation. Jars should then be closed very tightly. Lacto-fermentation is an anaerobic process and the presence of oxygen, once fermentation has begun, will ruin the final product.
At “Anchovies and Eclairs“, we believe that it is possible to eat better and tastier food, and spend less in the process. How? By buying simpler products and learning to cook the right dishes.
We are launching here a series of blog posts which will focus on what we consider to be “key” dishes, that everyone should be able to prepare, and which can become the basic building blocks of a healthier and tastier lifestyle.
“I live on good soup, not on fine words.”
We are starting the series with Fish Soup. Full of flavour, heartwarming, totally basic or excessively classy, fish soup can be prepared using almost free ingredients, such as fish bones, carrots and tomatoes. The recipe we are sharing here is based on several recipes originating from France, Sweden and Scotland.
Salt-baking is the starting point of the idea. In this case, the celeriac is not baked but rather salt-dried and “mummified” into becoming a condiment. The process can probably be applied to other (root) vegetables, I’ll try that and share the results in an ulterior post.
Wash and dry the celeriac, bury it completely in salt. Store for approximately 3-4 weeks at room temperature, turning occasionally. Once it has dried and shriveled significantly, remove from the salt, wash well and, if needed, put in a dehydrator or oven at 50°C to complete the drying process. The celery root needs to be rock-hard.
Store the celery root at room temperature and use it as a salt seasoning, for example, over mushrooms or beef. Grate directly over the desired ingredient.
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When you look at what Michelin-starred top chefs are doing these days, it looks like everyone is into burning food. Ash is on the menu at NOMA, with celeriac rubbed in hay ash and cooked in salt-crust pastry and at MUGARITZ, with an interesting dish of brined squid and ginger, garlic paste and a broth of burnt vegetables, as well as a grilled toast of bone marrow with herbs and radish ash.
At NOMA, MUGARITZ and EPICURE, and some others, burnt leeks can be found on the menu, as the humble leek appears to be one of the most “burnable” products available. Heston Blumental makes hay-smoked mackerel, layering hay and mackerel fillets in a fish barbecue clamp and then blowtorching the hay-fish sandwich…
Danish chef Christoffer Hruskova does beef fillet in burnt hay. He burns 500g of hay until black, blends it into a fine powder and rolls his cooked fillet of beef in the hay.
Using a slightly less direct approach, Pascal Aussignac, at CLUB GASCON, makes a juniper ash flavoured olive oil. He roasts 10g of juniper berries, uses a blowtorch to make juniper ash and then mixes it with 400ml of olive oil.
Tom Sellers, at STORY, does a dish of burnt onion, apple, gin and thyme.
Clément Leroy, at AUBERGE DU JEU DE PAUME (2 Michelin stars), cooks “burnt mackerel & pink radish”. The fish is marinated in salt and vinegar before being lightly blowtorched. The flavor is more progressive than if the flesh had been smoked and the product retains its almost raw and unadulterated nature.
“It is a technique of Japanese origin named yakisaba, explains Leroy, yaki means “grilled” and saba “mackerel”.
Finnish chef Mickael Viljanen, at GREENHOUSE, uses burning branches of juniper for cooking shellfish on. He also burns liquorice root until it turns amberish and roast carrots on it. As he says, “There’s so much you can do. There are no rules. Last year I got some reindeer moss and smoked that with hay and it smelt like the woodland when it came out with the venison.”
At YLAJALI (Oslo), the menu includes (or included as the restaurant is apparently closed) three “burnt” dishes: grilled leek, hazelnuts, cress & löjrom with Røros sour cream; quail eggs glazed in brown butter and leek ashes, with potatoe and leek ash chips; and mussels baked with hay (which makes me think of picnics on the beach in Brittany, with mussels carefully positioned in a single layer on a plank, then covered in hay or straw, which you set fire to).
At EPICURE (Hotel Bristol), Eric Fréchon (3 Michelin stars) cooks “grilled leeks from Ile-de-France, seaweed butter, tartare of oysters, white pear, spring onion and lemon”.
Huge leeks, as black as charcoal, are used as containers and contain a mix of the leek’s creamy pulp, whole oysters, oyster tartare, spring onions and toasted rye bread.
To round things off, here’s an interesting little recipe which I encourage you to try: Burnt onion butter
Chop a small onion, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally and adding water if necessary, until dark brown and very soft. Let cool. Mix the butter and caramelized onion, season with salt and transfer to ramekin, smoothing the top. Meanwhile, oven grill sliced onions on a baking sheet, turning occasionally, until dry and completely blackened. Once cool, grind to a powder and finish by dusting the butter with your burnt onion powder.
A few months ago I had the pleasure of meeting Laurent Petit, who runs his two-Michelin starred restaurant “Le Clos des Sens”, in Annecy (France) together with his wife Martine Coin. The son of a butcher, he defines himself as a “culinary artisan” and offers an elegant cuisine that is totally grounded in his local terroir, in his case the three lakes of Annecy, Geneva and Le Bourget and the soil of the Savoie region. For more information about Chef Laurent Petit, visit https://www.closdessens.com/
« La création est un état d’esprit, toujours en éveil. La création est mon quotidien. D’un objet, d’une matière, de mots, d’une rencontre, d’un produit naîtra la prochaine recette.»