January is generally a month of frugality (is that a word?), both money-wise and food-wise. I'm not going to say diet, as we never diet, but occasionally we take stock of what we're eating.
This post is not really about sensible eating, more like watching what we spend.
One of our favourite restaurants is The Orange Tree Tapas and Grill, and we have come to love several dishes on the menu. Since we are trying to watch what we spend at the moment (home improvements and credit card bills pressing) I decided to try and re-create some of our favourite tapas dishes rather than going out.
The dishes I tried were the Chicken in Paprika and Cream and the Beef in Peppercorn sauce from the restaurant. I also did a dish based on their Chicken with Mushrooms in Cream but with the addition of some cured ham. And also a dish of chorizo and prawns in a tomato and garlic sauce which I had seen some time ago on Market Kitchen.
The paprika cream sauce was simple to make, just a couple of lightly fried shallots with the chicken, then a splash of white wine and then the cream. And then enough paprkia to get the right flavour.
The mushroom sauce was similar, but I slowly cooked a couple of sliced mushrooms with the shallots. I wanted the flavour of the mushrooms throughout the sauce which seemed to work well. In both cases the chicken was finely sliced so it cooked quickly.
The chorizo and prawn dish was very simple, and the most tasty of the lot. I cooked two finely sliced cloves of garlic very gently in quite a bit of olive oil, so that the garlic softened but didn't brown and the oil was infused with the garlic flavour. I then added chucks of chorizo to the pan so that the lovely oils would mix together. Then came a good helping of passata and then the cooked king prawns just to warm through.
The dish I really wanted to get close to what we eat at The Orange Tree was the Beef in Peppercorn sauce. The sauce at the restaurant is lovely and rich, with a dark colour and is almost chocolately in flavour and texture. I've been searching for a recipe for something similar for a while now and came across a discussion on the BBC food messageboard about how to acheive this chocolatey-ness in peppercorn sauces. Several people thought it was to do with the use of brandy or madeira to de-glaze the pan, and the length of time cooking. One contributor posted a link to this recipe as a recommended version of steak in peppercorn sauce which could lead to the chocolately texture and flavour. So it was on this that I based my attempt to re-create our favourite dish.
Here is my adapted recipe:
1 steak (sirloin or rump, or any quick frying steak) cut into strips
1 shallot, finely chopped
a splash of brandy
crushed black peppercorns
1. First fry the shallot gently in a little olive oil (or butter).
2. Cover the steak strips in loads of crushed black peper then add to the pan and cook very quickly.
3. Remove the meat from the pan and set aside.
4. De-glaze with a splash of brandy making sure all the bits left from the meat are scraped up. Heating so the brandy reduces. I didn't heat it til it ignites as the original recipe suggests, as I am a wuss!
5. Add about 50ml of beef stock to the pan, and enough cream to give the consistency you want and heat through.
6. Return the meat to the pan, stir through and then serve.
Sorry that the amounts are vague, but I generally cook by eye and taste, if anyone would like more precise measurements, please let me know, as I will be trying this again!
This dish didn't turn out chocolatey, but was very tasty. I think next time I will cook down the sauce longer to reduce it, intensify the flavours and to darken the colour. I also think I added too much pepper to make it comparable to the sauce we have had at the restaurant. It was more like a standard peppercorn sauce that you have with steak rather than something that bit more special. Does anyone have any idea if cooking the sauce for longer will work?
Morale of the story: maybe it is best to eat your favourite foods at the place where they became your favourite! We will return to the Orange Tree, but maybe not this month!