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Oil of gladness

11 July 2014

By Simon Walsh


MY YOUNGEST niece was recently baptised. She was signed with olive oil, and then later with the perfumed oil of chrism. This preparatory custom goes back to Roman soldiers getting ready for battle.

Nowadays, we are familiar with olive oil in the kitchen. Most meats benefit from a slick of this golden liquid (keep the extra-virgin stuff for salad dressings). In preparing any kind of marinade, it certainly makes a difference. There is no secret here, and below I give different options in groups; but olive oil is always the ideal base.

Group A: oils and liquids

Olive oil, sesame oil, soy sauce, citrus juice (always lemon, but also orange and lime), Worcestershire sauce

Group B: wet flavourings

Grated citrus zest, grated ginger, minced garlic, mustards, tomato purée, chopped chillies, peanut butter, honey

Group C: dry flavourings

Paprika, cayenne pepper, mustard powder, cumin, salt, crushed peppercorns, dried herbs such as rosemary/oregano/sage

For the method, it depends on how much meat you have to marinate; but use a ratio of 3:2:1 parts from A:B:C respectively. For example, a pack of chicken drumsticks using 3 tablespoons of olive oil (A) to 2 tablespoons of garlic and lemon zest (B) to 1 tablespoon of mustard powder. Place everything into a plastic bag with no small holes, tie up the top, massage everything together, and leave in the fridge for two to 24 hours. Then just barbecue, grill, or coat and fry.

Chicken likes citrus and heat spices; pork takes Worcestershire sauce, honey, and ginger well. For lamb, citrus, tomato, and dried herbs. Beef works with everything. Where fish is dense and meaty, strong flavours such as ginger and sesame are good; if more delicate, then citrus and a little spice or herb.

Our native strawberries will be around for a few weeks yet. Here is a Strawberry crème brûlée.

400g (1 lb) strawberries, washed and hulled

300ml (half pint) custard

300ml (half pint) crème fraîche

1 teaspoon vanilla essence

6 mint leaves, chopped

5 tablespoons caster sugar 

Halve the strawberries, and place them in a bowl with the custard, crème fraiche, and vanilla essence. Combine all together, then loosely mix in the chopped mint. Divide between four (or more) ramekins, leaving a little space at the top for the sugar crust. On the hob, set the sugar with a dessertspoonful of water over a medium heat, and bring it to the boil. Do not stir, just shake the pan to keep the heat even. The sugar will darken to caramel colour. Quickly, before it goes too far, remove, and pour over the mixture in each dish. If you find you need more, just deploy some extra sugar, and do additional caramel.

Chill in the fridge for two hours, but not overnight, as this softens the brûlée crust. Use a grill or blowtorch if you prefer.

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