October 1st, 2008 | shivering sands
For no good reason I can see, my insane publishers stuffed the rear of the paperback edition of CROOKED LITTLE VEIN with some of the experiments in food I’d put on my mailing list Bad Signal. They were put on the Signal either by request or because I was worried I’d forget them. The response I’d get from those was, frankly, weird in its enthusiasm.
So tonight I randomly experimented in the kitchen. So randomly, in fact, that I was basically making it up as I went along. And now I’m thinking I’m probably going to forget what I did. So, before it all fades away into the same haze that occludes things like What I Did Yesterday, Whether Or Not I Went To The Toilet In My Pants or What Sex Is Like, I give you Experiments In Food:
First, some notes:
Everything below is made for two very hungry people in a cold country on a rainy day who have had at most a very light lunch previous to this meal. Adjust accordingly.
I am not an exact cook. Not big on precise measurements. Trust your instinct/Zen/The Force/Flying Spaghetti Monster/whatever.
I use organic produce wherever possible. Organic produce often costs a little more, and looks a little funny. It does, however, taste a lot better, and it is better on your system. Trust a man who is 95% toxins on this.
Salt. I use Maldon sea salt. You’ll have access to sea salt of some kind where you are. Use it. There’s a difference between that and plain old table salt. Don’t get silly and let people talk you into smoked salt. You should shank those people.
Sweet Potato & Roasted Garlic Mash
* Roasting garlic
Pull a good length of tin foil. Fold it in half. Fold the edges together, a half-inch or so, to make a seam. Fold it in half again. Fold a seam along the sides, leaving the top open. See what you’ve made? A tinfoil pocket. A shiny silver scrotum from the future. Now get a garlic, a whole head. Find a knife and slice the very top off, so you can see the tops of the individual cloves inside. Put it in the tinfoil pocket.
Open a bottle of beer. Not fucking Budweiser or Labatts — a proper beer, damnit. During this experiment, I used the outstanding Black Adder ale from Mauldons. A good bitter, an ale, an IPA — a proper fucking beer, you know what I mean. Pour some down your throat. Now pour some in the tinfoil. A mouthful or so. Spit your mouthful out into the pocket if you’d like. I mean, it’d be disgusting, but the person you’re cooking for will never know, right? Close up the pocket, so you now have a sealed tinfoil bag full of a head of garlic and (possibly regurgitated) beer.
Sling it in the oven. Your oven is set to 190 degrees C, which is 375F or Gas mark 5. It’s going to be in there for an hour. Have some more beer. Swallow it this time, you freak.
* Sweet Potato Mash
This bit is going to take you half an hour. So time it so the end of this coincides with the garlic popping out of the oven.
Fill a reasonably large saucepan about halfway up with water, put two or three twists of salt in it, and put it on the hob to boil.
Take three sweet potatos and peel them. This is a pain in the arse. Use a small knife and pare off the skin in motions that go away from your body, like Sarah Palin field-dressing a moose. Five or ten minutes later, you’ll have a complete fucking mess and three nude sweet potatos. Which do in fact look a bit creepy, like mutant stillborn moles or something. Unless that’s just me. Anyway. If you’ve got a stronger, bigger knife, grab it, and slice the sweet potato into coins. If you end up with some big thick ones, cut those in half.
Once the water’s boiling, fling the bastards in. You can pretend they’re screaming as they hit the boiling water if you like. Try not to let people catch you making the noises.
They’re going to boil for twenty to thirty minutes. It’s okay to turn the heat down somewhat if they boil over the side of the pan, but keep ’em bubbling. When a knife goes through a bit of sweet potato effortlessly, they’re done.
Drain off the cooked sweet potato — just set the lid on it slightly off-centre and upend the whole thing over the sink, letting all the water out while leaving the sweet potato in there. Once it’s drained, bring it back to your work surface. Where you now need to look for a masher. If you haven’t got one… fuck it, use a big spoon or something, this isn’t hard.
Get the garlic out of the oven. Be very careful how you open it. So, once you’ve slashed or chewed it open and seared your face off, take the garlic out. There’s no easy way to do the next bit, so — open up the tops of the cloves with your knife and squeeze the garlic out into the sweet potato. Roasting it turns it into a hot paste, and it just squidges out of the skin like delicious zit pus. (You can also just smash it down on the counter top under the flat of a big knife, and scoop up the paste as it shoots out obscenely).
Mash it all together. If you have some ground cinnamon, you can throw a pinch in, and it’s good, but not essential.
Sweet potato is a superfood, and garlic is a medicinal plant that retains a lot of its potency even after cooking. This is actually pretty good for you. The next one… not so much.
This is a hot marmalade made in small quantities as a fresh accompaniment to meats. This is going to take you about half an hour too, but bear with me,
One large onion. See how the onion clearly has a top and a bottom, as defined by the hairy bits. Stand it on its bottom. See the top. Imagine now you are considering the head of a small animal. Like a seal. See the little seal head. Now take a knife and slice off juuust enough of its skull that you can see the very very top of its brains. Yes? Excellent. Now turn it on its side and slice downwards, so that you’re getting relatively thin rings. Pop out the rings-within-rings, and you’ve got a big pile of rings there. Cut some of them in half, or quarters, randomly, just to get a little variety happening.
Take a smallish saucepan. Put a knob of butter in it. Just curl one out with a knife, big as the top half of your thumb or thereabouts. Get some heat happening under the pan — you don’t want to be there all day, crank it up to three-quarters. The butter will melt, and a little while later you’re going to see the surface of it prickle with little bubbles, and start to shimmer. Chuck all the onion in there. Now, there’s loads of onion, and it’s a little pan. So you need to be turning the onion so it all gets buttery and nothing burns. Five or ten minutes of that, and you’ll see the onion getting soft and paler.
What you really want to do is shake a bottle of balsamic vinegar over it three or four times. Red wine vinegar will also do the trick, I’m told, but you should really obtain, borrow or steal a little bottle of balsamic vinegar, as it’s useful stuff. Three or four splashes of it. It’s sharp and aromatic and adds a layer to the flavours.
Do you know what a dessert spoon is? It’s the spoon that’s the same size as a dining fork – not the little teaspoon, not the huge tablespoon. Fling two dessert spoons of sugar in there.
(I use a raw organic demerara sugar. Which sounds flash, except that I get it from the local Co-Op supermarket, which means it’s not fucking flash at all, is it?)
And then chuck half a bottle of beer over the top. Call it… 200 or 250ml of beer. Good beer, mind. See above. If you wouldn’t drink it, don’t fucking cook with it. (This doesn’t mean that you should use meths just because you drink it.)
Stick a lid on it. You’re done. You should come back and stir it every five minutes or so, but basically that’s it. That’s going to take twenty or twenty-five minutes to cook down to a dark, glossy pile of Cthulhu droppings. Seriously, it’s a bit grotesque-looking. And, yes, sometimes it moves when it thinks you’re not looking. But it goes great with sausages, so what the hell.