Are you renowned for making the perfect risotto, roast, apple pie?
Or is your risotto mushy, your roast burned on the outside and raw on the inside, your apple pie soggy?
Most of us have dishes that we are skilled at cooking and dishes that we just can’t muster no matter how hard we try.
For this month challenge please share with us which are the dishes that you cook best/worst?
I am going to talk about a dish that has few ingredients and is generally popular but can be annoyingly difficult to do well if you don’t understand the key techniques for getting it right. Once you get it - it’s easy.
I am talking about quiche - French egg and bacon pie. It is great for a luncheon or a light dinner with a fresh salad. A delight of tender pastry and filling if you get it right and a tough or soggy imitation if you don’t.
The bones of it are fresh short pastry that is tender and buttery, filled with soft egg custard, flavoured with salted and smoked flesh of a piggy chopped; bacon, ham, pork belly or other will do.
It doesn’t take much effort but you have to allow some time. I am going to concentrate on the method and the points where care is required. This looks long and elaborate but it isn’t, I am explaining the reasons why you do it a certain way which makes the story long.
Make your shortcrust pastry in advance as it needs to rest so the flour hydrates. It is just butter, plain flour with a pinch of salt and the right amount of water. I do it by hand, cut room temperature butter into small lumps and rub it into the flour on the bench until it is homogenous pale yellow crumbs. Then add 3/4 of the water into a well in the middle and lift the dry walls into the wet centre until it comes together. As you do this get a feel for how wet it will be and add spoons of extra water until it is just right. Why muck about, why not just dump all the water in at once? Because different flours need different amounts of water. It should be a medium-firm dough that stands on its own. If too soggy add a bit more flour. It will stiffen a little as it rests.
Do not overwork the dough and if the kitchen is hot try to keep it cool. This is the opposite of bread making - you do not want gluten development in pastry as it will be tough. Wrap the ball in plastic and allow to rest for a few hours. If you put it in the fridge you may have to wait until it warms up as it will tend to crack when rolled if too cold.
This is where you need to make a decision because the pastry needs to cook and brown and be crisp which takes much more heat than is needed to cook the custard. Eggs will be cooked when they reach about 80C but pastry has to be more like 200C. You can blind bake the case before filling it or not with the right oven.
I do the second because it is quicker and simpler and my oven has the choice of bottom heat with fan. I use a metal pie tin as it transfers heat better to the pastry and you can get them with a false bottom. If you have a fixed tin it will be impossible to get tender pastry and wobbly egg out in one piece.
Why not just let it rip at 200C until the pastry is cooked? Because the egg will be overcooked and leathery. If you see the custard start to swell up above the rim of the tin it is already cooked and needs no more. If you don’t blind bake or have oven bottom heat this will not work out.
So you butter the tin and lay in the rolled circle of pastry. It ought to be about 3mm thick - trim off the edges against the rim of the tin and prick the base all over. Add the cooked bacon with the thick fat trimmed off (boil for 5 minutes and drain). The butter in the pastry and the cream in the custard are already rich enough. Then the custard (eggs, cream, salt and pepper). The amount of salt in the custard depends on how much is left in the bacon and your taste. You can sprinkle the top with grated cheddar (not traditional but nice) if you like. Bake until the crust is firm, brown and pulling away at the edges and the top is browned (approx 25 minutes). If your oven does not have 100% even heating then rotate the tin half way around, half way through cooking. Remember browning adds flavour.
When cooked put it on a board and allow to cool a little then get your oven gloves on. Lift the tin up and put one hand underneath the bottom and allow the rim to slide down your forearm, then slide the false bottom on to the board and discard the rim. Slide a metal spatula underneath the pie and then work the pie to one side carefully withdrawing the false bottom sideways until the naked pie is left on the board. Slice and serve while warm. Don’t slice on the metal bottom as it will damage your knife.
For one 250mm pie tin
200g plain flour
100g softish (not melted) butter
200g bacon chopped & cooked
6 whole fresh eggs
300ml cream (thickened will do fine)
Salt & pepper
Thanks for the detailed instructions, @syncretic! Quiche is one of those things I never really mastered, although I did make a few 40-50 years ago when they were all the rage. Maybe I’ll have another go some time.
Something I can turn out reliably these days is bread, whether it’s sandwich loaves, pizza bases, or buns. A batch of freshly-made wholemeal dinner buns to have with a hearty soup or stew goes down well with my family - literally! They polish off the lot. Plaited loaves are simple to make and look great. Impresses guests when such a loaf is brought out to accompany the barbecue.
My tip for bread-making is: research, then practice! There’s plenty of bread-making advice online. Just be aware that it can take time to get the knack: of mixing, kneading, oven temperature, and baking time. Don’t give up if it seems messy and/or doesn’t turn out well the first few times. It’ll probably taste good while fresh anyway, or you can always cut up the duds, dry the pieces in a low oven, then use as croutons or turn into breadcrumbs (store in the freezer).
Many people still overcook pork. Historically we were warned that pork must be very well done to avoid possible transmission of Trichinosis. Today in Oz meat inspection standards are fairly good and the chance of infected meat entering the food market are slim. I do not want to see bloody pork but you can sure leave it juicy by reducing the temperature and cooking time. Also remember, especially with larger cuts of meat, to rest it after taking off the heat.
One common problem is getting the skin to crackle when the meat is cooked. I cheat. If roasting (say) a leg of pork I will use a spear thermometer and take it out when the centre is about 65C, it will rise to about 68C while it rests. However I take the skin off before I wrap up the roast to rest and while it sits the skin is scraped and goes back in the oven on a rack. The result; juicy pork and light crispy crackling with little fat.
I used to put the pork skin in the microwave to quickly make crackling, but I would use up a lot of paper towel to absorb the fat. Now I put it in the air fryer. With either method, I have to take care I don’t abuse my teeth with the resulting output
I am sure the air fryer works well but I reckon since the oven is hot and the baking pan and rack are already dirty I should reuse them and not get out another gadget. Such decisions are the road to domestic bliss when the cook does not washup.
You reach a certain level of experience when you nibble round the tough bits of pigskin that didn’t puff up and assume that all olives may have a pit regardless of what the label says. Teeth are valuable.
My challenge is pan cooked or grilled fish. Fillets, skin on or off, white flesh. It can turn out delightfully moist and flaky in the pan or exude a fine white substance at the edges to produce a rubbery disaster.
One possibly ill founded theory is unless the product is genuinely fresh it’s not the cook but a high risk cooking method. For fillets one can never be sure of how the fillet was treated before reaching your shopping basket. I don’t seem to have a problem cooking with fresh from the fish markets on the coast. Another thought is the pan too or hot too cold? To dust with flour and season, or not? More oil or less oil?
Aussie farmed salmon seems to always deliver with a spoonful of oil and equal of butter to set the pan up. Crispy skin and depending on the prior store knife work that delicious belly fat. Though Woolies seem to now leave the scales on their skin on portions. Not the easiest to deal with trying to scale without murdering the flesh. Now off the weekly shopping list.
I find this intensely annoying. It is so much easier to scale a whole fish before you fillet (steak) it and I see no reason that you would ever want the scales on. The fishmonger saves two minutes per fish and the buyers spend 5 minutes each doing the many portions.
I can make a very tender and subtle-tasting ricotta gnocchi (subtle means it’s easy to overwhelm it with a sauce).
It may seem ridiculous, but I can’t seem to master mashed potato - mine are always lumpy.
I don’t like the result when I just flour the fish and pan fry. For some reason it always turns out really well when I do it in egg and breadcrumbs. Maybe the coating protects the moisture in the fish (?) but it is never dry. Don’t cook it for too long.