God’s Country and the Pope’s Potatoes

 

Papas del Papa

Papas del Papa

To pass an autumn like this in Buenos Aires is to truly know that you live in God’s Country. Two months in and we have had four days of rain (albeit torrential and in La Plata lethal), one day of cold and fifty or so of clear, warm, sunny, low humidity days, reminiscent of the best alpine weather without the inconvenient evening temperature drop or the unpleasantness of sliding around on all that white stuff.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise of course. We have lived with Maradona, “The Hand of God” for decades now. Messi is at the very least the illegitimate Son of God. Where else could such talent come from? We have not one but two queens, the glorious Christina whose empathy and oration would be far more appreciated if she stuck to her royal duties rather than trying to run the country and the ravishing Maxima, although she had to decamp to a flat, watery country, to establish her regal position. And now we have Francis, an Argentine Pope and the ultimate recognition that, whatever the Brazilians claim, God himself was probably Argentine.

Anyway, I’m still doing my Chef’s course and we are working our way through all the classics. I’d forgotten the delight of creamy, lightly garlic and thyme infused, Potato Dauphinoise. So when I decided to knock up a bit of pork (marinated in sherry, a pinch or two of curry powder and some nice smoked paprika, browned and then braised in a dark stock) with a few caramelised baby onions, I thought that good old pomme dauphinoise might make a nice accompaniment. But then I thought, what would the Pope eat? Well there is little doubt that he is an archetypal Argentine. Rumour has it that he has already installed a parilla on the papal balcony and is discreetly grilling chorizos while waving at the crowds. So, one meat wouldn’t be enough. At the very least he would want a bit of jamon, possibly a morcilla as well. Then he might like a bit of local Sardo cheese to finish.

I decided to incorporate the above into my Pomme Dauphinoise, rapidly renamed as Papas del Papa. And while the result wasn’t perfectly balanced, I know what changes need to be made, so confidently present the recipe to you. I need to warn you that it’s rich and strongly flavoured, but with flavours that Argentines will recognize and like. It’s also filling so will halve the amount of meat you need to feed these carnivores, without them feeling hard done by.  Best of all, it couldn’t be easier and just telling them you are serving the Pope’s Potatoes will tickle their jingoistic taste buds.

So here goes. This will feed between 6 – 8 as an accompaniment.

Cut a kilo of potatoes in large rounds, as thin as you can. Don’t bother peeling first, the skins add flavour (though discard the sides with lots of skin), and don’t stress about your knife skills. If the slices aren’t paper-thin you just need to cook lower and slower.

To accompany pork, do the same to a couple of apples. If you want a more appley flavour, squeeze a generous amount of lemon juice over them, otherwise stick with 100% spuds.

Cut the small amount of Serrano style or jamon crudo you have lurking in your fridge for a late night sandwich emergency, into thin strands to sprinkle. 20 to 30 grams is quite adequate.

Gut a morcilla, discarding the skin and chop up into crumbly bits.

Heat half a litre of cream on a low heat and bash a couple of cloves of garlic, throw them in, add a couple of sprigs of thyme (not so important) or a clove or a star anise, or nothing if you don’t have the previous. Don’t let it boil. The longer you can keep it slow and low the more flavour infuses. Take the solids out before use.

Butter some suitable ovenproof receptacle. A tip is to run its reverse side under very hot water, before rubbing the butter round it to create an even finish, then let cool.

Layer with partially overlapping slices of potato. It’s vaguely important that the bottom is neatly covered; for the other layers don’t stress. Alternate apple slices every two layers, sprinkle the ham 2 layers up, sprinkle the morcilla another 2 layers up, make sure the last layer is spud, pour over the infused hot cream and then (optionally) a sprinkle of choppedfine Sardo or anything else you have to hand (or nothing other than a good grind of pepper if you don’t). You don’t need much salt between the layers (if any), as the ham and cheese will provide that. The morcilla will provide a subtly feral, visceral dimension as well.

Into a medium oven for an hour or more y listo! If your knife slides easily into it and the top is nice and brown it’s ready. If not, turn the oven up!

It may not feed the five thousand, but it should demonstrate your argyphile reverence and deep respect for la/el papa (your choice) while tasting damn good!

End result;

Papas2

Ugly, but you know you want to eat it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Menu Trial – Argentino Irónico

With 6 months to go before the opening of The 5th Floor, my valiant co-chef Rudie and I are working on some menu ideas for the proposed puerta cerrada restaurant, trying them out on groups of friends of varied nationalities. Every Chef in Buenos Aires will tell you it’s easy to frighten the typical Argy. A mere wave of a chili will have him crying to mummy about the “jodido picante de la re puta madre”, that has left his delicate palate with 3rd degree burns. Many Chefs will also contend that any form of strong flavouring will also have the average punter running for the hills, or at least to the nearest provider of choripans, milanesas, or good honest, un-messed with wood grilled carne. So, what do you do if you don’t want to ostracise the locals from your culinary exploits. Trick them with ingredients that will remind them of their abuela’s cooking, and then bomb them with the strongest flavours you think they can tolerate and see what happens! This is after all the development stage and given a few puerta cerradas like the very excellent Cocina Sunae (http://www.cocinasunae.com) have generated a substantial and loyal local following for the well spiced, if not too spicy, I am keen to do the same. So menu 1, typically argentine produce presented in unusual (at least for Buenos Aires) and hopefully delicious combinations. ImageFirst up, Morcilla, the staple starter of all great argentine asados, only this time on a crunchy base (rosti next time), a slice of caramelised apple, topped with a pickled quails egg, a sprinkle of smoked paprika and a spray of passion fruit vinegar. The presentation was inelegant, the towers too tall and we could have gone madder with the vinegar which added a delicious touch (tested by spraying it directly into some of the guinea pigs’ mouths), but a surprisingly interesting combination. A keeper, albeit with re-engineered architecture.

Second, and luckily no one took a photo of this one, was Caracú. Beautiful roast bone marrow in the classic St. John style (https://www.stjohngroup.uk.com/) with a parsley, caper salad and lemon dressing. Except it wasn’t beautiful. Undercooked! A schoolboy error!!! Yes it looked great and rather archetypically carnivore until we scooped the pink (yes it should have been white) marrow onto the tostados. Would anyone even be brave enough even to try this or should I bin the lot? I kept quiet long enough to see. Surprisingly Tez, an American led the way and pronounced it delicious and after assurances that they were unlikely to die from mad cow disease everyone else tucked in but I was still kicking myself. This was meant to be a dish that was unchallenging for an Argentine (they still eat bits of offal that I haven’t got to grips with) but novel for most of the foreigners. I think the varied opinions were provoked by the unappetising appearance rather than the flavour and it is easy to perfect this dish. It is also economical as your friendly butcher will give you the marrow bones for free. However the decider is that you only get 2 decent pieces of marrow bone from each leg so getting hold of this in bulk is going to be too tricky. OFF the menu and to be reserved for a quick decadent snack with a close friend (normally red and liquid). ImageCourse three, for me the biggest success of the evening, big Sorrentinos (possibly, I can never remember pasta shape names), stuffed with Osso Bucco in a clarified consomme-like reduction of its cooking sauce. Everything cooked according to Gordon Ramsey’s fantastic recipe ( http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/ramsays-secrets/story-e6frefal-1111116489785) until the meat was stuffed into the pasta and the sauce clarified into a soup rather than reduced into a syrop. Rudie’s pasta came out light despite the facts he had to use tequila rather than the white wine he was reserving, that I had thrown into my sauce and that the sun was blazing onto his preparation area. This was as good as anything I have managed to produce. ImageThe main course required this, an evil looking meat syringe that my friend Tez has just brought me from the good old USA, land of the BBQ competition.   A glorious 5 rib bife de chorizo marinated inside and out with an asian marinade, sliced thin and served over a spiced noodle salad. Great taste, but plenty of mucking around pan frying the slices for those that don’t like rare meat. While they wont have the same visual impressiveness 2 lomos (fillets) cooked to different levels of “doneness” would make life easier in the kitchen. A MAYBE until the next trial! And while the dressing was lightly picante we forgot to filter it thus causing the immediate death of one of our Argentine guests as he bit into a minuscule slice of chilli.

If he had still been alive I am sure he would have enjoyed the cooling properties of the mango ricotta cheese cake with a mandarin and hesperidina reduction (which I wont put cinnamon into next time). A bit heavy after 4 courses, and actually much more delicious the next day when the flavours had a chance to meld (and the day after, and the day after that). But not a keeper.

Alcoholic Tres Leches Cake next time?

And the added bonus? What do you do with the remaining Osso Bucco and its jelly that has solidified in the fridge. Well if you are in Argentina there is only one option.

Unreliably claimed by my friends to be the best empanadas they have ever eaten.