The Fourth and Fifth Days of Christmas (of Breads and Limes)
The Fourth Day of Christmas was mostly spent cooking dinner for a group of hungry hunters, out for a pheasant shoot. It is the second time I have cooked for that group. It’s always a good thing when a client wants you back!
On the menu:
Alsatian Tarte Flambée and hot gulf shrimps with a spicy sun-dry tomato sauce. I love making that Alsatian Tarte Flambée – it’s easy and it’s always a winner! How can it not be? Slow cooked onions; bacon; crème fraiche. For informal groups like this one, I make a big rectangular tart on a large rimmed cookie sheet or a large free-form pizza. For smaller plated dinner, I make small individual perfectly round tartelettes served with a mache or frisée salad.
Mixed green salad with pecans, dry cranberries, sun-dry tomatoes in oil and parmigiano cheese. Fresh biscuits (in fact the ability to turn out good biscuits seems to have been a primordial reasons for being back). A choice of classic vinaigrette as well as ranch dressing. Ranch was requested by the client: I actually had to look up the recipe! Thank you Brooke for enlightening me. Ranch is surprisingly tasty. Who knew?
Beef Stew: Bourguignon-style, minus the pearl onions, but plus lotsof carrots and a not insignificant dollop of mashed fresh ginger root (à la Réunionnaise – the cooking of my childhood). Choice of rice or cheesy polenta. A side of Réunionese-style onion & hot chile salad (with yet more ginger)
Vanilla Bean Maple Custard. Fresh Whipped Cream. Homemade Chocolate Cookies.
No fancy food, just honest sturdy family-style food. They want me back next week… despite the fact that I refused to serve okra the first time they asked me to cook for them. I will not do fresh corn either, I said. Not in December I insisted. They are not in season, they won’t be good, and no, I won’t use frozen okra unless it’s in gumbo and frozen corn unless it’s for spoonbread or corn chowder. Still, local fare included the meat, bacon, eggs, maple syrup and dairy.
The Fifth Day of Christmas. I returned to non-local fare.
Did I say I ordered lots of citruses for Christmas? including 5 pounds of limes, bio-dynamically grown and untreated/unwaxed post-harvest from La Vigne Organics in California. Which means I could use them in preparation where the zest or the whole fruit is needed. In fact, I do not intend to waste any of it. If I can’t use them right away, zests will be dried.
So a few days ago it was all sugar and sweets: limoncello and Meyer lemon curd. Today, I turned to sour: I made a sweet and sour lime pickle based on a recipe from Sensational Preserves by Hilaire Walden (I modified the proportions as there was too much liquid as well as the seasoning). I also put together a condiment from Reunion Island (Confit de citrons verts). Any unused zest got dropped into vodka for a cordial (I wanted to make another Reunion Island recipe but did not have white rum on hand -gasp! – so it’ll be Reunion inspired only).
Both pickles have to sit for several weeks before they can be eaten. The cordial for about a week until the next step.
Reunion Island Preserved Limes
- 10 limes
- 3 tablespoons coarse see salt
- 1 thumb-size piece plump ginger root, peeled & sliced
- a few dry chile pepper (On Reunion Island, they use fresh chile, a type recommended for pickles… but I make do with what I have)
- cider vinegar (on Reunion Island they use wine vinegar, I did not have any so I used Braggs cider vinegar)
Bring water to boil. Drop limes in boiling water, let the water come back to a boil then remove the pan from the heat and let sit in water for a total of 3 minutes staring from when you dropped the limes in the water. I was not sure what that did ( I just remember it being done). Bu after having also prepared the Sweet & Sour Lemon Pickle (next recipe), I know that this step softens the limes and starts to release their juice.
Reserve the boiling water – let it cool.
Cut each lime in four, not slicing through completely so the quarters are still attached. Do this on a plate so you can easily collect the juice which will burst out of the blanched limes.
Arrange the limes into a quart-size European style jar (like French Le Parfait or Italian Fiddo), cut size up and slightly open. Sprinkle salt into the limes, as well as some of the ginger and chiles. Repeat. As you pack the jar, the limes release some of their juice. Also add any juice collected when you cut the limes.
Measure equal volume of the cooled water where you blanched the limes and of the vinegar – enough to fill the jar and cover the limes.
Seal. Let age for a few weeks, then refrigerate.
Preserved Limes Recipe # 2 – Sweet and Sour Lime Pickles
Based on a recipe in Sensational Preserves by Hilaire Walden, page 76
- 8 limes, each cut in 6 wedges
- 8 teaspoons sea salt
- 1 very very very large garlic clove, julienned
- 2 thumb-size pieces of plump ginger root, peeled, sliced and cut again match-stick thick
- a few hot dry chiles – to taste
- 6 limes
- white vinegar
In a very clean wide-mouth or European-style quart jar, make one layer of lime wedges, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt, a few pieces of garlic, ginger and chiles. Repeat until seven times. Press lightly on the wedges as needed.
Roll the other 6 limes on the counter, pressing hard – this helps release the juice inside the fruit. Remove the zest and reserve for another use. Juice the lime, and measure the juice (I had a scant 2/3 C juice). Put into a small non-reactive sauce pan with an equal volume of white vinegar and twice as much sugar (in volume). Heat up until small bubbles form, whisking to dissolve sugar. Pour over the lime wedges.
The original recipes said to process in water bath, but I am skipping that step. I am going to let the pickles age for a few weeks, checking the jar and pushing down on the fruit until they have thoroughly absorb the marinate and no longer float above the liquid. Then refrigerate.