Sunday, 29 August 2010

B is for... Braised baby gems, broccoli, bearnaise sauce and Brouilly and balsamic reduction

Main continued...

Braised baby gems, broccoli, bearnaise sauce and Brouilly and balsamic reduction

Braised baby gems

Preheat your oven to 200 C (180 C Fan)

Sometimes known as little gem lettuces, baby gems provide a perfect ready portioned side vegetable. Simply cut out a little of the core of each lettuce with a sharp knife - don't get over-eager here or you'll end up with braised lettuce leaves instead of whole baby gems. Wash each lettuce under cold, running water, then drain and pat dry. Heat a generous glug of olive oil in a hob-to-oven dish, add the baby gems and cook over a medium heat until slightly limp and caramelised. Add a couple of mugs' worth of chicken stock and a large knob of butter to the pan and bring to the boil. Season the lettuces, cover with greaseproof paper. Tuck the paper into the sides of the dish and place in the oven for about 20 minutes, basting every 5 minutes and turning the lettuces halfway through cooking.


There's no recipe of substance here. All I did was steam some broccoli florets in a steamer with a sprinkling of sea salt. The only thing to remember is not to over-cook them so they stay vibrant green and don't become mushy. People too often overcook broccoli - it should be soft but firm.

Bearnaise Sauce

This was the first time that I've made this classic sauce - I'm not sure why, given how delicious it is - so I followed a recipe by Tamasin Day-Lewis, but instead of using 4 tbsp tarragon and 2 of chervill, I used all tarragon as I love its aniseed-y flavour. She also starts by clarifying the butter, but it makes more sense to me to make the vinegar-based mixture first as it needs time to cool before using.

10 oz/ 250 g unsalted butter
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
2 shallots, finely chopped
6 tbsp fresh tarragon
10 peppercorns, crushed
4 egg yolks
1 tbsp water
Lemon juice, to taste

Place the vinegar, 2 tbsp of the tarragon, the shallots and peppercorns in a small, heavy-based saucepan and simmer gently until reduced by half. Allow the mixture to cool. In the meantime, clarify the butter by melting it in a saucepan over a gentle heat and then skimming off the milky sediment that rises to the top. Add the egg yolks and water to the vinegar mixture and whisk together. Place the pan over a low heat and continue to whisk until the sauce emulsifies - this will take about 10 minutes. Take the pan off the heat and whisk the clarified butter into the emulsion, a little at a time until it is all incorporated. Season the sauce, push it through a sieve and stir in the remaining chopped tarragon and some lemon juice to taste. Serve immediately.

I must admit, by the time I made the sauces I'd slightly overdone it on the bellini and beaujolais-front, which might have played a small part in the reasons why my bearnaise sauce ended up splitting. I managed to rescue it in the same way that I'd resuscitate mayonnaise. If your sauce follows the path of mine, stop adding butter immediately. In a clean, warm bowl whisk some more egg yolks with a little lemon juice and then slowly, drop by drop, add your split sauce and whisk it in until it re-emulsifies. Once all of your split sauce has been added, you can continue to drizzle in any remaining clarified butter.

Brouilly and balsamic reduction

Any palatable, medium-bodied fruity red wine can be substituted for the brouilly (preferably beginning with B of course) or you could even use ruby port instead, if the letter of the day isn't important to you. I used chicken stock as I already had some made, but you can substitute it for beef or veal stock to make a richer sauce.

1/2 bottle of Brouilly
1/2 pint of fresh chicken beef or veal stock
4 tbsp balsamic vinegar
A splash of olive oil
6 shallots, finely chopped
a couple of sprigs of fresh thyme or marjoram
A large knob of butter
Salt and pepper

Pour the wine into a saucepan and boil until reduced by half. Add the stock and balsamic vinegar and reduce by half again. In another saucepan, gently fry the shallots in the oil until soft and slightly golden. Add the thyme/ marjoram and a generous grinding of black pepper. Pour the reduced wine and stock into the shallots and gently simmer for 10-15 minutes to allow the flavours to deepen and for the sauce to thicken. Fish out your herbs, whisk in the butter, a little at a time, to make the sauce glossy and rich and season with salt and pepper to taste. At this stage, you can sift the sauce if you want it smooth. Pour into a warm jug and serve.

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