Okey dokey artichokey

The thing is, I’m not one to question a cool new thing – if someone tells me this [insert cool new thing here] is the coolest, newest thing, I want it to be. I mean, who doesn’t love a cool new thing? I want to learn about it and then I want to tell my friends about it. Thus making myself cool by association (I am not at all cool but a girl can dream).

So when I spotted the brown-tinged, slightly forlorn looking artichokes labelled “frost kissed” with a label that speaks in the first person, “Frost Kissed™, To Delicious (sic), Once cooked, I transform into a perfect green artichoke with an enhanced, nutty flavor,” I was intrigued. This, I figured, must be the coolest new thing in food today. Then I tried them. 

Things you should know about the Frost Kissed™ Artichokes – first, that “Frost Kissed” is a trade mark. Second, that artichokes become “Frost Kissed” at temperatures below 32º. “The outer layer turns brown, flakes and peels, much like a sunburn.” That reference to scorched human flesh notwithstanding, I decided to give them a whirl.

They were to be a light, post day-at-the-beach supper with a gentle lemon butter sauce and a chilled rosé. I cooked them in the simplest possible way: blanched until just on the too-firm side of cooked, cooled in an ice-bath, drained immediately, removed choke, then back into boiling water for a few minutes at supper time.

While draining and removing the choke I was amazed at the amount of water coming out of them and thought, as you do, that it could not possibly be the fault of the coolest new thing, that I must have overcooked them. When it came to eating, the results were, predictably, disappointing. The leaves were waterlogged and had very little flavor.

I persevered. I knew that the soggy artichoke experience must have been my fault. So on Saturday I headed to the farmers’ market and bought a regular globe artichoke, the kind not kissed by frost and without any of those creepy sunburnt flesh references. I then went to the store and bought a Frost Kissed™, slightly brown artichoke and decided to try again.

Before cooking I went onto the Frost Kissed™ website to make sure I hadn’t missed a clever cooking trick – their cooking recommendations were pretty similar to what I was doing, the only real difference being that they used plain salted water while I added a couple of lemons, bay leaves and peppercorns to my pot. So I did not alter  my cooking method.

I did, however, stand dutifully over the pot during the whole cooking time, constantly checking the tenderness of my thistles to ensure I didn’t overcook them. The website advises cooking globe artichokes for between 30 and 45 minutes depending on their size. Mine did not take that long. The Frost Kissed™ was ready to come out of the pot after boiling for 18 minutes and the regular one was ready after 24 minutes – the regular was a bit larger but I think the difference in cooking time was more down to the water content of the Frost Kissed™ artichoke.

Again, I cooled them in an ice-bath and drained them upside down. Again, the quantity of water that came out of the Frost Kissed™ artichoke was astonishing compared with what came out of the other.

I have a friend who says, “The proof of the pudding is on the wall,” and I think in this case that mixed metaphor might apply. The texture of the regular artichoke was far better than the Frost Kissed™ and the taste was, well… artichokey. The flavor of the Frost Kissed™, however, was a bit more intense than the regular globe – and perhaps I had overcooked the first one a bit and diluted the flavor.

Given the choice, which would I choose? I preferred the regular artichoke and, barring an intense artichoke craving (I haven’t had one yet, but I hear they happen), I don’t think I’d rush to buy the Frost Kissed™ again.

I like the idea though, that farmers and supermarkets are finding a place for produce damaged by less than perfect weather and urge you to give the Frost Kissed™ variety a go. I don’t think the supermarket or the producer is trying to dupe anyone into buying an inferior product, it’s still pretty good and they’re not calling it “the coolest new thing in food” with a matching price tag. The Frost Kissed™ and the regular artichokes were both priced at two for $5. Perhaps my cooking method was wrong, maybe these artichokes would do better if roasted in foil with a drizzle of olive oil, thus eliminating the addition of water to an already watery product. Maybe next Frost Kissed™ season I’ll give that a go. Or if you give them a go, please let me know the results.

Visit Ocean Mist for more information about Frost Kissed™ artichokes. Even if you don’t want to know more about Frost Kissed™ artichokes their website is worth a few minutes of your time, they have loads of other artichoke information on there.

Bacon gold – the future of mayonnaise

“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”

“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”

“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.

Pooh nodded thoughtfully, “It’s the same thing,” he said.

Let’s pretend for a moment that Piglet is not made out of bacon and focus on the fact that breakfast, the very existence of breakfast, amounts to an exciting day.

This week it is all about the bacon. A love of bacon. That porky, salty, sometimes crispy, sometimes fatty, most perfect of all the meats. Bacon. Actually, it’s about bacon fat.

I’m not here to tell you how to cook bacon, I am going to tell you how not to cook it, then I’m going to tell you how not to waste the bacon gold. First, buy good bacon. Buy good bacon or don’t bother. If you’re buying pre-packaged bacon make sure you read the ingredients on the packet before putting it into your shopping cart. If “water” or “water added” appears anywhere on the packaging just put it down and walk away. This is not bacon, it is something else. I don’t know what it is, but it’s not bacon.

Second, don’t throw cold bacon into a screaming hot pan. Third, don’t throw cold bacon into a screaming hot pan to which you may have added any kind of fat – olive oil, canola oil, butter, whatever – you don’t need it.

Remove the bacon from the fridge about 10-15 minutes before you’re ready to cook it. Heat your good frying-pan to a moderate/high heat, add the bacon in a single layer (bacon that overlaps does not cook) and cook it slowly, rendering as much fat out of the bacon as possible – this may mean turning the heat down a bit. If you’re cooking lardons or bacon cubes the rendering process will take longer than if you’re cooking slices of bacon, but it is all worth the wait. I can’t tell you how long it will take, it really depends on how thick your bacon is, but it’s not quick (okay, so apparently I am going to tell you how to cook bacon).

Five or six paragraphs in and I’m finally at the point of this post: bacon fat or, more accurately, liquid, edible, bacon gold. Soon after cooking, so before the fat has a chance to thicken or set, strain into a fridge-suitable container. I line my tea strainer with a bit of cheese cloth and strain the fat into a clean glass jar – this leaves you with a rich, golden, bit-free liquid. Label it and refrigerate until you’re ready to make one of the following…

  • bacon mayo
  • whipped bacon honey butter (oh yes, that is a thing and it is awesome)
  • bacon caramel popcorn or just bacon popcorn or bacon chilli popcorn
  • Just about any veggies – collard greens, savoy cabbage, kale (or any greens really) cooked low and slow,
  • asparagus or brussels sprouts simply blanched then sautéed in bacon fat
  • wedges of hispi cabbage brushed in smokey bacon fat at grilled on the BBQ
  • roast potatoes
  • confit tomatoes
  • sautéed apples or pears for roast pork
  • serve it as a starter, warm and runny with some good bread for dipping

Really, the possibilities are endless, however I’m not going to bore you with the endless possibilities in this post. Today I’m just going to do the bacon mayo and in future posts I’ll show you some of the others if you’re interested. If there’s anything on this list you’re really eager to try and would like a recipe for, please get in touch and I’ll be happy to send it to you.

Okay, bacon mayonnaise. The future of mayonnaise. I don’t know why it’s not all bacon mayo all the time. Seriously, this stuff is awesome… on a burger, on a BLT, as part of a salad dressing (not for any kind of healthy salad, of course), on a fish-finger sandwich… a couple of nights ago we had seared, lightly seasoned mahi mahi with a dollop of bacon mayo – delicious!

  • 125 ml strained, liquid bacon fat (if it has come straight out of the fridge pop the jar into some warm water to melt the fat – it must be room temperature)
  • 125 ml oil – I wouldn’t use olive oil for this as it can be very strong. Grape seed is a good option but canola, veg or sunflower will also work
  • 3 medium egg yolks – from the best, free range, organic eggs you can find
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • salt to taste – you may not need this as the bacon fat is sometimes salty enough
  • cayenne pepper, freshly cracked black pepper, chilli flakes – these are an optional garnishes, choose something that matches your dish or leave them out altogether.
  • Cold water – this is not always necessary but if your mayo looks too thick add a bit of water a teaspoon at a time.

In a blender or with a whisk, beat your egg yolks well – a blender is quick and easy to use but after making mayonnaise the old fashioned way you really feel like you’ve earned it. With the blender motor running or with your whisk arm working as fast as it can go, slowly start adding your oil a little at a time. When you’ve added all the oil, do the same with the bacon fat. Once the egg, oil and bacon fat have formed a thick emulsion add the lemon juice and salt if required. Keep the water handy in case you need to thin out the mayonnaise.

If you do none of these things, if you never save your bacon fat, never use it to make popcorn or let its silken goodness drip into the crevasses of a toasted English muffin, never coat potatoes before roasting or BBQ hispi cabbage wedges coated in bacon fat, if none of these things appeals to you, that’s okay. I ask that you just do this one thing – please don’t tip your bacon fat, or any fat, down the sink.

If you think you deserve a treat: So, you’re on your way home and you’ve had a really hard day – I don’t mean a ‘meh’ day, a so-so day, I mean a hard day – stop and buy a good, crusty loaf of bread. When you get home, and preferably when no one is around to witness this heart stopping (literally, heart stopping) act, rip a chunk of bread off your new loaf, dip a clean knife into your jar of saved bacon fat and smear it onto a piece of fresh bread, add a sprinkle of Maldon salt, close your eyes and enjoy.

If you think you deserve a treat and you’re in Brooklyn, New York: Even if you’re not in Brooklyn, if you’re somewhere else and you think you deserve a treat, go to Brooklyn. For the handsome sum of $4, Fatty Cue in Brooklyn will serve you a dish called Dragon Pullman Toast with a side of master fat. Dragon Pullman toast, I think so named for the Chinatown Bakery that provides the bread, is just thick slices of slightly sweet toasted bread. The master fat is, I think, the expertly strained fat left after smoking and roasting endless pork shoulders and pork bellies. Put it on your list.

WARNING – while all of the above dishes are good for the soul, none of them are good for the body. Please exercise moderation.