Finally…..

The silence is broken. After a roller coaster year of renovations, expansion, opening a restaurant and a couple of trips to Jozi I have finally made it back to the blog.

Phew

Block work

Block work

I would like to thank all my customers and friends for all your support during 2015. Whilst occasionally challenging and stressful it was always rewarding to receive the positive feedback from everyone.

NEWS FLASH:

The next Cape Town charcuterie course will be on the 5th February 2016. It is a one day course covering block work, salami, sausages, bacon, prosciutto and coppa. You get to take home your own products too. If you are looking for the gift for someone who has everything this is ideal. Email me for more details. I have vouchers too if you want to give the course to someone as a gift.

Happy holidays and look forward to seeing you in 2016.

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Spice Route…..

 

One of my problems up until now has been the ability to show people all the products I make. My customers stock different parts of my range but none have the full range. Up until now that is. If you are looking for a day out that offers something for everyone then a trip to a Spice Route in Paarl is a must. Whether you like artisanal beer, beautiful chocolate, homemade ice cream, grappa, pizza, luxury teas, art, hand blown glass, wine or cured meats it is all on offer in one place.

 

You can try the wine and charcuterie pairing, wine and chocolate pairing or eat at one of the 4 restaurants on the estate, each offering their own unique style and panache.

 

Come and try some of our products, see our full range and enjoy some time out in the wine lands. Spice Route is just off the R44 on the Agter Paarl road next to Fairview.

 

 

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What am I?

The earliest known town in Europe was built because of me……

Wars were fought over me…….

I used to be worth more than gold……..

You would die without me……..

Too much of me will kill you……

I'm found all over the world…….

You can cook on me, covered in me or with me………

Roman soldiers used to defend me……

I am the most referenced food ingredient in the Oxford dictionary……

I was a strategic military resource…….

I have been used as currency as well as tax…..

I have been used in religious celebrations and sacrifices…..

Superstions about me were depicted by Leonardo Da Vinci……..

People came to Timbuktu for me…….

I'm used more often to de-ice the roads than eaten……..

(Sources: Wikipedia, saltworks.us, chriskresser.com, listverse.com)

By now you have guessed I'm sure. I refer to the common condiment and seasoning we take for granted every day. Without pausing to reflect on the wonderous, violent, profitable, necessary, salubrious and fascinating history of salt, we sprinkle it with scant respect whenever and onto whatever we choose. My business is founded on the wonderful preservation qualities that salt provides and I am still regularly in awe when a piece of meat that is over a year old is transformed into something so delicious.

Today many people have a negative perception of salt. It raises blood pressure, contributes to heart disease, can be found hidden in lots of fast food and highly processed foods and should be consumed sparingly. Our current minister of health has passed legislation to reduce the amount of salt permitted in processed foods. Current bad boys are bread, margarine, butter spreads, stock cubes, soup powders,savory snacks and breakfast cereals.

A professor who I respect and happens to be very controversial for a variety of reasons was recently (and is frequently) quoted as saying “Question everything”. He was referring to current medical opinion on diet but I like to apply the advice to everything. I can quote 9 studies currently that show no link between a low sodium diet and a reduction in heart disease. Don't take my word though, question everything. Go do the research, check your facts and understand what an associative study is before you make up your mind.

Another wonderful use for salt is cooking. I recently was privileged to receive a slab of Himalayan pink salt that is used for cooking. You can heat it up slowly until red hot and then use it to cook steak, vegetables, fish in a manner similar to a hot rock bit better as it seasons the meat perfectly without any added salt.

My current favourite spice rub is Chorizo Salt. I make a mix of smoked paprika, chilli, ground fennel seeds and salt. Use it as a rub, a seasoning for soups and stews, sprinkled on roasted vegetables or even to cure a beautiful piece of fresh tuna. The picture below is a slow roasted pork belly rubbed with Chorizo Salt.

– Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all – Nelson Mandela

 

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V Day……..

I've never been accused of being romantic, nor have I been described as a volatile and reckless person, however I do enjoy a bit of romance, special food (obviously) and hard as it might be to believe I do experience a variety of emotions. It is just that they don't necessarily always manifest in facial expressions or expletives. But I digress. What I do find hard to swallow is paying double for roses, fighting for restaurant bookings, being over charged for mediocre churned out food made from sub standard ingredients that the chef has sourced based on price and then being accosted by a swarm of single red rose sellers, often with raggedy small teddy bears in tow, who seem to think that between appealing to your sense of charity or desire to please your date, you will be forced to purchase their valentine delights. Wow I need to calm down lest I ruin my carefully crafted reputation that has taken so long to create.

In order to reduce the stress felt by many of my fellow humans at this time of year, whether you are a man or a woman just wanting a special evening on Valentines day, I have put together a simple menu of delicious treats which I plan to serve to Commander J. It is Banting friendly and requires no special skills, equipment or knowledge. You will have to do some food shopping and this is where you should not skimp. The recipes are brief and please adjust where you see fit.

Take a piece of Bresaola, inside place a dollop of soft cheese (goat or cream), add a drop of truffle oil and fold up like a wonton. Top with a chive or two and eat!

Buy the best smoked salmon or trout you can afford. Mix a teaspoon soy sauce, half a teaspoon wasabi and half a teaspoon minced ginger. Pour over the salmon, season with pepper and a good olive oil.

Bring a small pot with 2 cups water, 1 clove garlic and 100ml white wine vinegar to the boil. Add a teaspoon salt and a 250g punned of portabellini mushrooms. Boil for 5 minutes, remove from heat and cool slightly. Drain off the liquids and pour over some olive oil and a sprinkle of dried organum. Mom I think this might be your green bowl that I borrowed. Please don't get mad when you see this pic.

If you have ever made ghee, you will be familiar with the foam that is removed during the clarification process. Don't throw this away as it makes a delicious foam for asparagus and steak. However for the purposes of this simple dinner butter is perfectly acceptable. Once you have finished your mushrooms above, place them into a serving bowl and return the same pot to the heat. Nobody likes a sink full of pots and pans especially on V day so reuse wherever possible. Add your asparagus and fry in a good dollop of butter. Once they are just cooked squeeze over half a lime, grind some pepper and if not using salted butter add a sprinkle of maldon.

Ok so this one took a bit more planning. It is actually tuna that I “cured” with a bit of salt, lime juice and chilli, wrapped in cling film for 3 days and then thinly sliced. If you want to make this tonight you still can as it is delicious after an hour of curing. Try to find a nice log of tuna rather than a steak. I went to Ocean Jewels in Woodstock for this piece and the best part is Julie will cut you the piece that you want. Freezing the tuna for 30 mins before you slice it also makes it easier to cut thinly. On top is some store bought guacamole as I can't bear to buy avos from Spain even if I could afford to.

In keeping with my simple nature and intelligence I cut these tomatoes in half, added the best olive oil and tore some strips of basil. Salt is a must and that's it. If you store the tomatoes out of the fridge they have that summer sun ripe flavour that reminds one of Naples but they do need to be eaten faster this way.

In addition to the above I bought some oysters from Wild Peacock (they will open them for you) and also put a slab of feta cheese drizzled with olive oil to go with the tomatoes.

You can prepare a lot in advance and it is all served cold which means no running back and forth to the kitchen and ruining that romantic moment.

Happy Valentines day!

(Apologies to the chefs who take pride in their craft. The ones who source the best and insist on it from their suppliers and staff. You know who you are, I know who you are and for those who don't – they are the ones with restaurants full of locals all year round.)

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The Great Nitrate Debate….

 

One of the questions I get asked most often is wether or not I use nitrates in the curing of my meats. It is a very controversial subject and I will try to put as many facts together in this post so you can decide for yourself. One gentleman who shall remain nameless decided to debate the issue with me on a Sunday night via SMS and he clearly was far more interested in fighting than listening which might be due to the fact that he had no facts to back up his statements. He would not reveal his identity but I managed to track him down , posted some articles of interest and since then he has gone quiet.

 

What is it and why do we use it…….

Centuries ago the preservation of meat was found to be improved with the addition of saltpetre (potassium nitrate). This most likely occurred by accident and the exact events are unknown however since Roman times nitrates have been added to cured meats to prevent bacterial spoilage, control rancidity and preserve the colour of the meat (3). Today we use sodium nitrate and nitrite and it goes by many names – pink salt, Prague powder, Quick Cure or Quick Red. To give you an idea of the amounts used for 1000g of meat we use 0,08g of nitrate and 0,08g of nitrite. These amounts are too small to accurately weigh out and so the nitrates are combined with normal table salt. The name pink salt derives from the colour as a red dye is added to the salt to prevent it being mistaken for ordinary salt.

How does it work…..

I'm not a scientist nor a food technologist so here is a lay man explaining the process: The added nitrites are converted to nitric oxide. Nitric oxide combines with the myoglobin found in the meat to form nitric oxide myoglobin which is a deep red colour (1). Any added nitrates are converted to nitrites by bacteria and then are converted to nitric oxide. For products with a long curing time, adding nitrates and nitrites is recommended as the nitrates convert to nitrites over time and provide a longer lasting supply of nitrites. At the same time salt (sodium chloride) is added to the meat to dry out the moisture that many bacteria require to thrive.

 

So why the bad rap…..

Three reasons. Firstly in the 1950s in America infants fed formula from contaminated water were found to have methemoglobinemia (blue baby syndrome) and cyanosis. In essence their blood was unable to carry oxygen. The high levels of nitrates in the water was thought to have caused this and as a result the EPA reduced the recommended intake of nitrates. Subsequently it was discovered that the wells were contaminated with fecal matter and that was more likely to be the cause of the methemoglobinemia. (4)

The second reason is that nitrites can under certain conditions be converted to nitrosamines which can be carcinogenic. These conditions require that secondary amines are present in the meat, the pH is nearly neutral and the product temperature is above 130C as would be the case when frying bacon at high heat. The studies on nitrosamines were conducted on animals and the effects on humans is uncertain due to the high levels and specific amines used. Nitrates and nitrites on their own have not been proven to be carcinogenic. (4)

The third reason are the findings of Jiang et al (6,7,8) regarding the consumption of cured meats and the link to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. They have associated the nitrites in cured meats with damage to the lung without considering that most nitrites ingested come from vegetables and drinking water and additionally the subjects with a higher risk had a higher total energy intake, lower physical activity, higher BMI and higher exposure to smoking.

However did you know….

Vegetable are estimated to contribute 80% of the nitrites we ingest (3)

Plants absorb nitrates from fertiliser

Spinach, celery, radish and beets contain far higher levels of nitrates that cured meats (3)

Saliva converts nitrates to nitrites and this is how we get most of our nitrites

Nitrites help open arteries and can lower blood pressure (4)

“Nitrate free” cured meats usually contain celery juice which provides an alternative source of nitrates

To ingest a fatal dose of nitrites a 60kg human would have to eat over 30kg of cured meat in one go (1)

The nitrate debate is intense. We don't have definitive answers and most of the research calls for further reasearch particularly using human subject instead of animals. In addition causal studies need to be conducted rather than associative studies which are often affected by other factors. Nitrates clearly have benefits and are also toxic in extremely large doses. As with all things moderation is recommended even if you believe they are harmless.

I have listed the articles I used to prepare this post below if you wish to read them. Please feel free to debate the topic further with myself but bear in mind I am not a scientist. If I have misinterpreted the articles please let me know. If you do have a strong opinion please have the decency to include your scientific references in the debate.

1. Nitrite in Meat – Richard J. Epley, Paul B. Addis and Joseph J. Warthesen, University of Minnesota 2012

2. Food sources of nitrates and nitrites: the physiologic context for potential health benefits – Hord NG, Tang Y, Bryan NS, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2009

3. Human safety controversies surrounding nitrate and nitrite in the diet – Jeffrey J. Sindelar, Andrew L. Milkowski, University of Wisconsin 2012

4. Nitrate in foods: harmful or healthy? – Martijn B Katan, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2009

5. When does nitrate become a risk for humans? – Powlson DS, Addiscott TM, Benjamin N, Cassman KG, de Kok TM, van Grinsven H, L'Hirondel JL, Avery AA, van Kessel C, Journal of Environmental Quality 2008

6. Consumption of cured meats and prospective risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in women – Jiang R, Camargo CA Jr, Varraso R, Paik DC, Willet WC, Barr RG, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2008

7. Cured meat consumption, lung function and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease among United States adults – Jiang R, Paik DC, Hankinson JL, Barr RG, American Journal of Respiratory Critical Care 2007

8. Prospective study of cured meats consumption and risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in men – Vaqrraso R, Jiang R, Barr RG, Willett WC, Camargo CA Jr, American Journal of Epidemiology 2007

 

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A Castles Secrets……

 

I have a cooking cousin, Claudia Cabri aka Miss Lunch who lives in Paris (the French one) and runs a cooking school, restaurant, writes cookbooks and is also an artist. She has Sundays off too, would you believe unless she is collecting capers on the island of Pantelleria which she cures at home. She recently visited us in Cape Town to celebrate my father's 80th and not one to miss an opportunity, she and I agreed to cook a SecretEats dinner last week. For those who do not know what a SecretEats is please follow the link but in essence it is a dinner party you attend without knowing where to go or the menu until the actual day. It is a lot of fun and you meet interesting people. Organiser Greg Zeleny has a slick team that make the job a lot easier and enjoyable.

Claude at the Castle

This particular dinner was an honor to cater for as the venue was the Castle of Good Hope. A long table that can accommodate up to 100 people was made available and it felt as though we were in an alternate version of an episode of Downton Abbey. The Castle has an endearing mixture of preserved history and run down shabbiness and one kept expecting to hear the ghostly sounds of cannons, soldiers and horses. Fortunately the kitchen is huge and prep was easy even though we were on a different level to the dining area. It is also just across from the torture chamber but I believe that is just coincidental.

To make things more interesting cousin Claude and I gave each other 3 ingredients and we each had to design a course around the key ingredient. I gave her smoked trout, pancetta and chocolate. In return she gave me pomegranate, aubergine and berries.

 

The full menu went as follows:

* Cool Carrot Salad with Smoked Trout and Horseradish Cream

* Wagyu Bresaola with Labneh and Pomegranate

* Grilled Aubergine and Halloumi Stack with Mint Pesto

* Braised Rabbit stuffed with Pancetta and served with Salsa Verde

* Mixed Berry Sabayon

* Almond, Limoncello and White Chocolate Cake with Meringue

It was a lot of hard work and thanks to all the helpers including my wife Justine, Claude, Greg and his team and all the guests who had no idea what they were in for. Claude alas is back in Paris but we are planning our first cookbook together.

Photography courtesy of Samantha Du Toit

 

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Um…..

My favourite show in the calendar is soon upon us. The Food Wine Design will be held this year from the 7th to 10th November at Hyde Park Shopping Centre. Organiser Ross Douglas, ably assisted by a team of super organised staff put together a showcase of art, design, top wine estates and some delicious food offerings.

 

This year the show sponsors, Sanlam, have featured some of the participants and a couple of weeks ago a film crew came to my charcuterie and put together a short clip of us in action. Don't be fooled by the slick oratory skills as my dialogue took several minutes to prepare, um…. If you would like to have a peek it is here

This year at the show we plan to offer some new and exciting products as well as lots of tasty food to eat at the show. Please pop in and say hi and remember that if you cycle to the show entrance is half price.

Everything has it's beauty but not everyone sees it – um Confucius

 

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