A week ago it was me, 19 degrees weather and touch of sunlight and amazing city line views of the new concrete wonder Abu Dhabi.
Before then, I had had this idea of a coq au vin a.k.a Chicken in red wine, because my friend Tola is always disturbing my life for it. One day, one day I shall make it for her…but that’s besides the point. Like I said in my series spirit, I wanted to talk about Reds – most especially red wine.
People are usually confused as to which red wine to use to cook. My rule is, if it’s good enough to drink it’s good enough to cook. Now, does this mean you should pop a 200 dollar Châteauneuf-du-Pape or a 1995 Bordeaux? No! Abeg that’s for even showing your children you had good taste from time. But at least get that nice bodied Merlot or one of my favourites at the memento a Pinotage form South Africa. Price, I think, doesn’t really really matter. Some cheap wines are not bad especially if you want to use it to cook. However, when the wine is costing 500 Naira and tastes like unforgiveness… abeg kick it to the kerb.
Back to my Abu Dhabi story. So on my elevator ride down to the supermarket of my friend’s apartment I thought to myself “hmm I’m in the UAE… what meat is good here? Lamb. What can I pair with it that’s red and not red wine? PORT!” Then lo and behold I saw some alive pomegranates and I knew straight away what I was going to make. Sorry Coq Au Vin a prochaine foie ok?
Middle eastern cooking usually has fruit with savoury dishes. Apricots, for example, feature a great deal… also raisins and nuts too. So I had to take inspiration. Also in if I am being very honest, thinking about lamb took me all the way back to 2010 when I was in Cordon Blue and we had to make apricot stuffed lamb with couscous. It was one of my highlights of my entire culinary education. My Chef was in awe of my work that day. So I decided to kind-of recreate the magic but using Port wine.
What is Port?
Port is typically a sweet red wine made in Portugal. It varies from dry to semi sweet to just plain sweet. Also there usually Tawny which is oak barrel stored and Ruby which is stored in stainless steel barrels to retain its bright red colour and bright fruity flavour. I prefer using the tawny though has a little more depth as much as it’s sweetness. Being a sweet wine, it is celery a dessert kind of wine or taken as an aperitif (a small amount of sweet wine that’s taken before a meal)
I love using port to cook. It pairs well with almost everything. I wouldn’t (or more like) haven’t tried it with seafood yet, but some fish like a meaty snapper can handle port in small quantities. Port pairs very well with game meat such as quail and venison (meat of an elk.. yes, that cow-like animal with antlers) Duck is another friend of port. It also pairs well with chicken, pork, beef and lamb.
For this recipe I wanted to show again how you can be elegant in minutes. This recipe is a matter of prepping a few vegetables, throwing in some hot stock over the couscous, searing lamb chops, deglazing it with the port wine to make a sauce and doing a side vegetable that takes about 3 minutes to make. You would be looking like a James Beard award winner by the time you’re done on the plate.
Please forgive my iPad photography. The idiot in me was prevalent as I forgot to take my camera battery charger and all 3 batteries went dead on me. No, there was no vex money to buy new one. But the iPad tried.
You don’t have to use pomegranates for this recipe as I understand that it is quite expensive. You can opt for plums – one or two would do for this recipe. You can leave it out if you like. The dish would still taste great. If you have someone allergic to nuts you can add more herbs or some toasted corn for texture.
Lamb is a tricky meat to get here, but it’s available; if you can’t get lamb, settle for chicken, beef fillet or pork chop. If you want to use a tough cut of meat just add a little more port wine, aromatics (vegetables and herbs e,g rosemary, thyme, carrot, garlic) and cover and braise for a long time on a low heat or in the oven.
Enough of me blabbing.
1 rack lamb loin (to give about 6 chops minimum)
1 pomegranate halved and seeds beaten out with a wooden spoon (or something of the sort)
3 teaspoons dried rosemary
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon meat seasoning
4 large cloves of garlic bashed open
3- 4 Thai Chillies or 2 Ata Rodo or 1 tsp dried pepper (I prefer the small birds eye thai chilli as it’s just plain hotness. Ata rodo has a fruity taste that I don’t want to add to this dish)
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 cup port wine
1/2 cup chicken or veal stock (I make a quick chicken stock by pouring boiling hot water to chicken knorr cubes and crushed garlic. I leave to infuse for about 5-10 minutes)
3/4 – 1 cup medium ground couscous (or you can make potatoes in its stead if you don’t fancy couscous check my herb potato recipe here)
1 1/2 cups boiling hot water or stock (chicken is preferred here)
2 heaped tablespoons fresh herbs; Basil and Parsley
1 teaspoon finely chopped or crushed garlic
2 tablespoons finely sliced spring onions (the green and white part)
1 tablespoon roughly chopped pistachios
1 small chilli finely sliced (optional)
salt and black pepper for seasoning.
*** please add some bell peppers like green or red if you like.
1 bunch Baby Asparagus
1 tsp Salt
black pepper to season
1 tsp olive oil
Start by making the couscous.
In a bowl, (I used a stainless steel one, but you can use whatever even a pot but with aright fitting lid) place the couscous. Throw in half the herbs, spring onions, garlic and seasoning (if using stock watch out for seasoning, so it’s not too salty) mix well.
Then, pour the hot stock or water over it till it covers it an inch over. Like garri it would start to soak up the water and “rise”.
Cover with a plate or cling film or foil paper. The steam is enough to cook the couscous. Leave to one side.
Break the Asparagus at the point where it naturally gives way.
The end bits are too woody and stringy to eat. Alternatively you can just put them all together in another small pot on fire. When the water is boiling, add the salt and the asparagus. Blanch it (cook without colour) for about 30 seconds.
Take it out and place into ice cold water or early cold water. This is to stop the cooking.
In a hot pan, add the asparagus and butter with the olive oil. Shake around so the fat covers it evenly. Allow parts of it to “char” to give it that char-grilled effect. Check for seasoning and adjust if need be. Place the asparagus on a cool plate and reheat for when the dish is done to your satisfaction. You could do this when the lamb is ready. It’s totally up to you.
Or you could just cheat and add about 3/4 of water, add the butter and seasoning and cook down till charred and cooked.
I got my rack whole so I cut it up myself; but you can always buy them already cut up or ask your butcher or even the supermarket you’re buying from should be able to help you cut it up if it’s whole.
Season with the dried rosemary, salt, black pepper and meat seasoning. Leave to one side for at least 5 minutes.
Place a pan over a medium high heat. Add the olive oil to it and once it starts to smoke slightly add the chops and scatter the bashed cloves of garlic around the pan to flavour the oil. Allow the lamb to sear for about 1-2 minutes depending not he size. Don’t try to move the lamb around or check if it’s ready to quickly. You would ruin the chance of it getting a nice crust on the side.
Also it allows for the temperature to stabilise again. After the 2 min mark it should be nice and caramelised and crusty but not burnt. Flip over to the other side and add the butter.
Allow sizzle and cook the other side for another minute. Once the butter seems to bubbling to a brown foam add the port wine.
At this point I would recommend you be brave and shake it around – for the fireworks. It’s so nice to behold. It also helps cook off the alcohol faster too. But if you are afraid just allow it cook down.
Add the stock once the wine has reduced by half, add the chillies and pomegranate. (I used about half of the seeds, those things are like endless!)
Swirl everything around and allow bubble for another minute or two. once the sauce has reduced to a near syrup consistency take of the heat.
Fork through the couscous with the leftover butter till nice and fluffy. Place the couscous in mould you must have lightly brushed or rubbed with some butter or olive oil so it would come out easily.
Mould onto the plate. place the lamb nicely and top with the pomegranate or whatever fruit you have decided to use. Put the asparagus to the side after reheating it.
I recommend a smooth tempranillo (spanish wine) or a south african pinotage.
Forgive my iPad photography again. I hope you try this recipe out this festive season… pretty ideal!
Before I sign off totally remember Chef Fregz Special is On the 28th of December 2014!
It’s tagged “A Very Fregz Christmas” go lever to www.cheffregz.com to see the menu.
I am also doing a giveaway very soon on Instagram and twitter so go ahead and follow @chef_fregz on both platforms and Chef Fregz on Facebook.
See you next week…God willing!