There are two classic sauces I remember with fondness from my youth, cranberry – associated mostly with Christmas, our North American friends with naturally associate with Thanksgiving and/or. I was too young in the 1950s to know if the cranberries were available in the UK or came by way of a Christmas hamper from relatives in Canada, bearing other wonderful goodies, such as sockeye salmon and maple syrup. Either way, cranberry sauce was an essential part of Christmas dinner. The other all-year round sauce with chicken, as well as turkey was bread sauce. Ironically, it was one of the few items my late mother did not make from scratch and was born from a packet from Sainsbury’s supermarket (though then, not the giant it later became). Just as an aside, younger readers might be amazed to know that butter was sold in a block, a portion weighed and then patted into shape with paddles. Supermarkets have changed over the years. A lot. I found the whole process fascinating.
I have only once noticed bread sauce on any shelves in Kuwait and of course, it brought back a flood of memories. It is a very much comfort-style of food, though to be honest it was unexciting, I think even my childhood memories had more to do with mother’s overall abilities to make a chicken become something utterly sublime. The thing is, both bread sauce – and cranberry, made from scratch are far from complicated and add much to the overall enjoyment of the total experience. Neither are particularly time consuming either, more simmering than anything else. The subject is more about reaching a balance and if pre-planned (both can be made in advance), on the big day, it is not a last minute panic. The cranberry in particular can give some piquancy to many meat dishes where a bite of sharpness brings something to the table.
The bread sauce is basically a riff on Sophie Grigson’s sauce that is probably a riff on her mother’s, Jane Grigson’s bread sauce. A lady that did much to encourage a lifetime’s fascination for the culinary arts through her British and European Cookery series in the Observer Sunday supplement in the Observer in the early 80s.
Discard the skin from a small to medium sized onion, I go for brown, but have used red, they work fine too and std with whole cloves as pinning a pincushion. I personally double Sophie Grigson’s 4 cloves to 8 as the milk and cream tend to dissipate the favour, not to mention the bread. Place into a saucepan and pour 500ml (1/2 litre) of milk and bring very slowlyto the boil. The idea is to let the milk absorb the flavours slowly and the milk boiling over on to the cooker will not get a nice result. Honestly. As this can be made up to three days in advance (with a little reheating prior to serving the poultry), it should not be a problem being patient for this step. This I do low and slow, though milk being quite a wilful spirit, I do look at from time to time so check it is simmering, not boiling uncontrollably. After some time, 20 to 30 minutes, I raise the heat slowly and keep watch over the milk until it looks like boiling, then I remove from the heat and remove the clove, studded onion. Add breadcrumbs, about 100g and stir on medium heat, see how the texture develops as the bread absorbs the milk. You want a good compromise between runny and like a like a brick. It is a sauce, not a gravy, though everyone is free to judge what texture they prefer. At this point, grate some nutmeg into the simmering mixture and when satisfied about texture, add a tablespoon of cream. N.B. even if a little runny, the sauce will thicken on cooling. If making in advance, do the cream stage last on reheating. To serve, sprinkle a little cayenne or black pepper for serving.
I think it tastes like luxury and personally love it sharp (especially if cut against the fat of goose), it is a very quick, hardly any skills needed, quick and easy recipe. Take a 12 oz packet of fresh cranberries. Well, they come from North America for the most part, so one occasion I am not using metric. In any case, we are not making a cake or dough, so no worries. In a saucepan, empty the cranberries, a little water and (I do not add sugar) a half a pot of redcurrant jelly. The Tesco variety is quite sweet and at the end I am adding some more redcurrants as I like the tart taste and we are keeping to the flavour profile. Heat gently, till the cranberries burst, best cover the pan! While that is bubbling away, julienne a slice of lemon peal (though could be lime or orange depending on your desired result). Add the julienned strips to the bubbling mixture and simmer for about ten minutes. Taste. I found mine a little sweet, so I added some pomegranate syrup and some fresh redcurrants to get the balance that suited me.
At the end of the day we are trying to achieve a taste that suits us, so in honesty, there could be very much variation in the ingredients, powdered nuts, could be added and indeed herbs and other spices if one wanted to go the Caucasian route. The main point is that the basic is at least for me a tradition, at least in my lifetime, and it is a very pleasant way of getting healthy fruit inside one’s body, without being a medical condition.
Forgetting the ‘Seasonal’ aspect, part of my aim is to encourage experimentation and understanding of taste. There are tips that can, with the benefit of experience lead the beginner in the ‘right’ direction, but food is not just culture, but a highly personal thing as well. I try to bridge the balance between, ‘classic’ and the personal in my recipes. Even within the same passport population, individuals are… individuals and for a cookery writer it is an interesting challenge to square that circle.
The Winter solstice is a time for reflection and I believe, on behalf of all at LiveinQ8 we want to keep the creative thinking moving forward and having fun in the kitchen as well as the rest of the home and at work.
A couple of more tips next week, InShallah.
Resident Chef: Harvey Pincis
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