Consommé: round one

From this …

Fragrant, local plum tomatoes cooked low and slow with all the usual suspects.

… to this …

Gently pressed through a fine sieve to extract all of the juice and none of the texture. Then returned to the pot with a herb-filled raft* (I was a bit liberal with the tarragon, truth be told. Lesson learned) to extract all of the color and hopefully none of the flavor.

… to this …

Perfectly clear and delicately flavored.. it just doesn’t look like a tomato soup though, does it?

*The raft is made from beaten egg whites, herbs, in some cases, vegetables, and in the case of a meat or poultry consommé, ground [insert animal part of your choice here]. It is stirred into a cool stock/broth/soup and slowly heated up – this is what clarifies your soup and turns it into a consommé.

There’s a perfectly good scientific explanation for why this works – something about the solid particles in the broth being attracted to the egg proteins as they heat up blah blah (Wikipedia can probably help out if you’re that interested), I prefer to think of it as magic.  You start with an opaque, messy pot of soup and you finish with a brilliant, glistening jewel. It’s got to be magic.

I hadn’t planned on writing about this but it just looked so pretty I couldn’t resist (it’s also why there are so few photos). I don’t usually blog about a dish unless I’ve made it a few times and thoroughly tested my recipe. This is still a “dish-in-development” (sounds poncy, doesn’t it?) so I haven’t written the final recipe yet… maybe more to come, we’ll see.

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I love clams!

This is delicious. And easy. And versatile. I know the recipe looks long but this is because I’m a bit wordy today – it’s really quite quick.

Chickpeas are very much de rigueur at the moment – really inexpensive and irritatingly good for you.

So this is a little chickpea something something. Barrafina in Soho in London had a similar offering on its menu last summer (not sure if it is still there) – more as a side dish and without the chilli but the idea is the same. This works as a starter or main course in a number of guises – skip the clams and serve as a side with just about anything from roast pork belly or roast chicken to a pork chop or sausages. Or don’t skip the clams and toss in some mussels as well. I’m not doing that here, we had it with clams so that’s what I’m going to show you.

This served two as a generous main course.

Ingredients

For the clams

As many clams as you’d like per person, I used about 20 in the recipe – scrubbed and purged in salt water to remove any sand

Enough dry white wine to steam the clams (a bit of chicken stock works too, if you prefer) – you shouldn’t need more than a cup

About 1/2  a large shallot, finely chopped (save the other half for the chickpeas)

2 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 table spoons olive oil

For the chickpeas

About 450g chickpeas at their cooked weight – so about a can if you’re using canned or about 200g dried if you’re using dried. The dried variety gives a better result and makes you feel a more virtuous chef, but they do have to soak for at least 12 hours and then cook for about 40 minutes (or more if they’ve been hanging around in your pantry for ages). Using canned makes this a pretty quick dish to prepare. (I won’t bore you with the details of preparing dried chickpeas, I’m sure you all know how but if you don’t and you’d like to, let me know and I’ll be happy to send you the method. Or just Google it. Or read the instructions on the bag).

250g smoked bacon cut into about 1/2cm pieces – thick-cut lardons give a better, meatier result but when I prepared this dish I could not find any uncut or thick-cut bacon so made-do with a good applewood-smoked bacon from our local deli.

3 large chipotles, chopped (or fewer if you want less of a kick) – if you can’t find chipotles, you can substitute the chipotle paste you find in the supermarket or regular, fresh jalapeños. I have recently read much about preparing chipotles for cooking. Some say dry fry first, others say it is not necessary. I have tried both and think the texture is much nicer if fried before soaking. They only need to soak for about ten minutes in very little water, just enough to cover. Save the soaking liquid as you may want to add it to your stock

1 and a half large shallots, finely chopped

4 to 6 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 large kale leaves (or more if you’d like)

600ml chicken stock (liquid is best but cubes will work)

Salt and pepper to taste

Ingredient notes

Kale can be replaced with a different leafy-green – savoy cabbage would work well. At Barrafina they use spinach but I prefer the flavour and texture of a more robust leaf (not that I think I know better than Barrafina’s Nieves Barragán Mohacho, because let’s face it, she is awesome. Her recipe for this dish is in the Barrafina book).

Chipotles and bacon – I was going for a bit of a South American twist so used smoked bacon and chipotles for extra smokiness but I have made this dish with cured, unsmoked lardons and fresh red chillis and loved that too. Toss through a handful of roughly chopped coriander leaves to change it up a bit if you like.

Prepare the chickpeas

Heat your saucepan over a medium heat and add the bacon (you can add a splash of olive oil to the pan if you think you need it but it should be okay without) and reduce the heat slightly, stirring regularly for 10 to 15 minutes. You don’t want crispy bacon but you do want good colour and as much fat rendered out of the bacon as possible.

If the bacon is colouring or crisping too much at this stage, remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add your chopped shallots and garlic.

Add the chopped chipotles and season lightly. Sweat until soft. Replace the bacon and add the stock (not fridge-cold) and chipotle liquid if needed. Bring to a gentle boil and reduce by a third.

Add the chopped kale and reduce by another third. Add the chickpeas, simmer for about 7 or 8 minutes and set aside. If you’re serving this as a side dish you can stop reading now, you’re done.

Prepare the clams

Warm the oil in a lidded pot big enough to easily accommodate the clams without crowding them. Add your shallots and garlic, do not colour, you just want them soft. Add your wine (or stock) and bring to the boil. You don’t want the clams submerged in liquid so reduce until you have just enough to create a good, steamy pot – the liquid should be no more than about 1/2cm deep. Add the clams and steam until they open, removing the open ones from the pot as you go – this shouldn’t take more than five minutes.

Return your chickpeas to the heat, add some (or all) of the clam liquor if you like, stir through the clams and serve.

I served this with thick slices of ciabatta, rubbed with a clove of garlic, drizzled with olive oil and grilled on the bbq.