Sunday, 11 June 2017

Elderflower Vinegar

Flavoured vinegars bring to mind a foodie gift that no one uses, in a pretty bottle from a posh deli. At least that was until I started experimenting with making shrubs; flavoured vinegars for drinks and cocktails, and suddenly I've become a bit more interested...

At Cook House at the moment we have vinegars infused with pineshoots, cherries, raspberry and black pepper, lovage and parsley, and most recently Eldeflower. I've got a long list of other things that I want to get on the go as they come in to season; full tomato stems on the vine, fennel, nasturtiums, gooseberries, rhubarb...

The Elderflowers are out everywhere at the moment, it seems to be a bumper year as I've spotted their big white blousey flowers waving at me everywhere I go. I have a good spot near Cook House that I pass when I walk down in the mornings so I filled a bag as soon as they appeared.

I've made batches and batches of Elderflower cordial in the past, but wanted to do something a bit more interesting with them this year, and something that I could add to the preserving shelves and use all year round. I'll have to think of something else to do with them too as there are just so many it seems rude not to.

I gave the flower heads a gentle shake to get rid of the tiny black bugs that love them so. Some of these will no doubt get in to the vinegar, but you can strain it through a cloth before you use it and it'll be fine. I went for the most straight forward approach for this vinegar, no heating or additional flavours. Simply fill a jar with flower heads and pour over good quality white wine vinegar. That's it. Give it a bit of a shake to get rid of any air pockets and then leave.

I've been giving it a bit of a swirl everyday and after a week the smell was delicious, really powerful Elderflower, stronger than the vinegar. Sometimes it can smell a bit sickly sweet for me so it works well in vinegar which balances it out. It is great in salad dressings, drinks or a spritz over BBQ'd meat or fish in place of lemon.

I have left the flowers in for two weeks so far and it is smelling and tasting very good. I strained some off to use in a cocktail at Cook House's Spring dinner evening last week (you can see photos here). We served 1 part gin, 2 parts lemon cordial, 1 part Elderflower vinegar and topped up with soda water. It was delicious! The cocktail aspect has definitely got me thinking about what to pop in the next jar of vinegar that might go well with a gin...

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Lovage Salt

I don't know why you don't find lovage in the shops alongside the likes of parsley, mint and dill. It's very easy to grow, keeps well and has grown in Europe for centuries.

Some friends gave me a cutting of it a few years ago to go in the allotment, it took well and we now have a huge bush of it that requires no looking after at all. I hadn't really known it's flavour much until then as you rarely come across it.

The leaves are used like a herb and you can eat the root too, but I'm yet to dig it up, the seeds can be used too. It's flavour is similar to celery, celeriac and parsley, but I enjoy it more than all of them, slightly more pungent and complex. If you just eat a leave straight off the plant it is pretty intense, it works best in small doses to complement other things.

I love it in a tomato salad, in a leek and parsley soup, in a mayonnaise; it works really well with roast chicken which is how this salt came about, a simple idea but lovely sprinkled over moist roast chicken and it's buttery juices. I have chopped it up and mixed it with crème fraiche before and stuffed it under the skin of a chicken before it goes in the oven where the cream and flavours sink into the meat as it cooks.

I have used it in sweet stuff too, to flavour a panna cotta, and while going through a phase of candying everything last year I candied little sections of the stem. It's delicious as something sweet, a bit like angelica, lovely sweet fennel like flavours

This salt also works well with other herbs; like thyme, sage or dill. Simply chop the herbs finely and mix with an equal quantity of Maldon sea salt. Mix them together and I find it best to put it in the sun and let it dry out over a few days. The water will gradually evaporate and you are left with a delicious flavoured salt that can go on roast meats, salads, soups, bloody mary's, whatever you fancy...

If you want to try this with roast chicken, I would smear it all over with butter, squeeze over the juice of half a lemon, pop the lemon in the cavity and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 15 minutes very hot, about 220˚C, then 40 minutes at 190˚C for a relatively big chicken. When it is done leave it to rest for 15 minutes then carve it into the buttery juices in the tin and sprinkle with lovage salt.