Those pickles and preserves- things for jars.


I’ve blogged before about chili jam, which is a bit of a favourite at maison alwayssohungry. It is a brilliant chutney to make as it ticks so many pickle boxes: you can have it with any cheese or meat BUT but but… because of its heat, it also works really rather well in spicier dishes.  It livens up a stir-fry, can act as a marinade for chicken or fish when mixed with soy sauce and rice wine vinegar and I often dilute it with some water and sesame oil to make a light but scrumptious salad dressing.  And it just sings as an accompaniment to sausages.  I use the salad club’s recipe and double it.  But double doesn’t last very long. 

The only issue with this gorgeous glop is it totally stinks up the house.  I think it’s partly the fish sauce.  Let’s face it, the stuff smells like feet.  Then there’s the chili, which gets right at the back of your throat, particularly when you are blending the jam together at the start of the cooking process.  I stumbled upon a solution the other day when I was idly watching everyone’s guilty favourite, Come Dine With Me.  One of the contestants was blending soup with a stick blender straight in the pan, as I often do too.  The problem with this is that you get splashes of hot liquid all over your clothes, in your face, eyes (not great when you are dealing with 20 odd chillies), hair and kitchen.  I normally just roll with it and pretend it isn’t happening.  This is obviously a pretty stupid method. However, the CDWM contestant had cleverly covered his pot with cling film and made a hole in it to accommodate the blender, sparing any splash attacks.  So simple, so clever!  The CDWM commentator made a typically sarky remark at this technique, which was characteristically unnecessary and a bit cruel.  That commentator can be the best thing about the programme, but he does irk me sometimes.

In any case, this solved part of the problem but I still had to put up with the stink in the kitchen, made worse because I couldn’t escape due to my self-imposed deadline to make 4 preserves in one weekend.  I should obviously have done the chili jam last, rather than first.  We live and learn.
So, half-blind and choking, I proceeded to make quince jelly as the chili jam bubbled away.  The jelly is not dissimilar to quince cheese, perhaps just slightly less firm and put into a jar rather than a tray mold.  It of course works absolutely brilliantly with cheese, but I find it can also work very well with pâtés and rich meat dishes, in particular game.  Quinces are in season during the autumn, my local corner shop is currently selling them at the bargain price of 2 for £1.  But the season is short, so if you see them, don’t hesitate.   This was the first time I attempted quince jelly and with mixed success.  I feel it is much too sweet, so I have adjusted the recipe below accordingly.  I would also heartily recommend that you source some muslin (making sure you get the stuff that’s food-friendly, rather than something that has been treated with chemicals for DIY purposes) to use for sieving the quince pulp.  Here’s what I did:


Quince Jelly

You will need:

1.5kg quinces (about 5 large ones)
Approx 2l water
100g sugar to every 200ml quince juice (approx 400-600g depending on how juicy your quinces are and your patience, more on which later)
Method:
Remove any stems and cut off any bruised bits before coring and quartering the quinces, leaving the skins on.
Put the quince in a large pan and fill with enough water to cover all the fruit, bring to boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and leave for about 45min, until quinces are really soft and almost as if they are about to dissolve.

Take the pan off the heat and mash the quince and water mixture with a masher.  You want something that’s the consistency of runny jam or applesauce, so you will most likely have to add quite a lot of additional water.

Strain the mashed up pulp into a separate bowl, either through muslin or by using a fine mesh sieve.  Either way, this will take the patience of a saint, especially if you have to stir the pulp through the sieve, rather than just leave it to slowly drip through the muslin.  You will find out pretty quickly if you’ve not added enough water, i.e. if nothing happens.

You then need to measure the amount of juice you have, before pouring it all back into your pan and adding the sugar, 100g sugar per 200ml juice.  Bring the sugary juice to a boil, stirring constantly to make sure the sugar has dissolved and doesn’t burn at the bottom of your pan.

Bring the heat down to a simmer, skimming off any foam that bubbles to the top with a slotted spoon.  The mixture should now slowly begin to change from the colour of cloudy apple juice to a deeper amber.   The consistency will also start to change, gradually thickening.  The best way to check if the jelly (or any jam for that matter) is done is to put a small dollop onto a saucer.  Leave this to cool, then ‘push’ it with your fingertip across the plate.  If it wrinkles and shoves up, your jam is done, but if it is still runny, it needs more time.  Decant into sterilised jars and leave to cool.
Next up, a red onion marmalade.  This is one of my favourite pickles, again because of its versatility but also because it reminds me of so many things that I love about Scandinavian food at this time of year.  It has the evocative sweet and sour flavour from the vinegar and sugar combo used in lots of Swedish preserves and the thyme and mustard seeds lend a really deep earthy flavour.  This is wonderful with a crumbly goats cheese on rye bread or with a pâté. 
Red Onion Marmalade
You will need
1kg red onions
4 large garlic cloves
olive oil
2 tsp black mustard seeds
3 sprigs of thyme
1/2 tsp salt and pepper
75 g muscovado sugar
1.5 tsp black treacle
5 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
75mul white wine
Butter (optional)
Method
First, slice your onions, using the old wives’ tale of your choice to avoid tears.  My favourite is to suck on a spoon or light a candle near your chopping board.  Or both at the same time?  Cut the onions in half and then slice each half into thin half-circles.  Heat about 4 glugs of olive oil in a large pan, add the onions and crushed garlic along with the mustard seeds and thyme.  Season with salt and pepper.  
Cook the onions uncovered over a medium heat, stirring frequently, until they have reduced and are beginning to caramelise (about 20-30 min).  Make sure they don’t catch on the bottom of the pan (lower the heat if this starts to happen).
Stir in the muscovado, treacle, vinegars and white wine.  Leave to bubble away for another 20 min or so, until the liquids are just absorbed and the mixture is caramelised- but not dry.  Remove the thyme sprigs and add a knob of butter, if desired.  Decant into sterilised jars while the mixture is still hot.  Leave to cool and sore for up to 2 months.

Lemons are another brilliant fruit to preserve.  You can easily do this at home so don’t buy an expensive jar that will just sit at the back of your cupboard for months.  If you preserve your own lemons and watch them slowly mature and soften in their acidic juice over the course of a month, you will be counting down the days until they are ready for tasting and using, as I am now.   By the time they are done you will have come up with all sorts of delicious uses for them.  They are, of course, traditionally associated with Moroccan food, and do work beautifully in tagines, couscous and the like.  However, you can also blend the skins with creme fraiche or greek yoghurt before adding chopped mint or parsley to make a dip or sauce for fish.  They are wonderful when added as wedges for the last 20 min or so roast spuds.  Or stuffed into the cavity or under the skin of a chicken that’s been rubbed with paprika before heading into the oven.  They are also wonderful chopped up with vegetables and pulses such as chickpeas, okra, aubergine, courgettes… the list goes on.  Once mine are ready I’d also like to experiment with adding them to lamb, perhaps in a marinade of some kind.

Preserved Lemons
You will need
Lemons (UNWAXED), plus more for juicing. 
Coarse sea or kosher salt
Peppercorns
Bay leafs
This is super easy.  Wash and scrub your lemons good and proper.  Cut off any stems or tips, so that they can sit upright.  Quarter each lemon lengthways almost all the way through, so they are still whole and joined at their bottoms. 
Stuff each lemon generously with plenty of sea salt (make sure you don’t have any cuts or grazes on your fingers or this will be really painful!).  Put each salt-stuffed lemon in a large sterilised jar, really squishing them in as much as possible.  Even when you think you can’t fit another lemon in the jar, try to anyway.  You’ll need to give them a little push or a shove every so often for the first few days, to release more juices.   You will most likely need to add some additional lemon juice to get things going.   Also add some peppercorns and bay leaves for additional flavour.  Star anise also works well. 
After a few days the jar should be full of juice, but if not, add some more and do a bit more squashing.  Turn the jar every few days to distribute the flavour.  Leave them to preserve for a month before using.

 A note on sterilising glass jars.

There are several ways to do this.
The simplest way by far is if you have a dishwasher, in which case you simply run them through it on a short cycle.   I don’t have one of those fancy machines.  So, I alternate between one of the following methods- either putting the jars in a large pan of water on top of a steaming rack (so they don’t touch the bottom of the pan), and bring the water to a boil for 10 minutes. Or sometimes I put clean, dry jars sans lids, in a 120 degree C oven for about 15 minutes.  With all of these methods, however, you do run the risk of cracking the jars if they get too hot.  It is worth bearing in mind how thick your glass jars are and when in doubt, let things cool down a little. 

Keep all your preserves in a cool, dry place and once opened store in the fridge.  All of the recipes above will last for a few months.