Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Atlantic Delivers a Summer's Feast

It’s nearly the end of summer – sorry to say it, but it’s true. The days are getting just a little bit shorter – morning risings are now in the dark, with me stumbling towards the kitchen in search of the coffee pot. The weather’s turned to Cape Town’s in-between period before the Autumn, when the Southeaster blows and the temperatures are still warm. When summer ends, the driving rain arrives and there’ll be no more weekend hikes, kayaking trips, or diving for crayfish – the fishing season ends in April. When the chill creeps in, I’ll be swopping my glass of Sauvignon Blanc for a rich Merlot, and my flip-flops for some nice warm booties.

Wanting to celebrate the end of summer, this weekend I planned a fitting feast to enjoy at sunset - hand-caught Crayfish (local rock lobster), Coconut Rice garnished with coriander and avocado, and crisp Sauvignon Blanc. Luckily the conditions were perfect for a diving adventure in the Cape Point Nature Reserve – small swell and light winds, early in the morning. My boyfriend and I loaded up our two-man kayak, paddles, wetsuits, flippers, snorkels and goggles and made our way south past the Slankop Lighthouse, along the beach and Misty Cliffs, until finally reaching the reserve. A troop of baboons stood at the entrance, as if placed to greet us, or perhaps to collect a breakfast toll. Not their lucky day, we moved on towards our launching spot, suited up and slipped into the glossy water.

Paddling quietly, the sun still rising, birds glided low and a seal surfaced, as if to inspect us. We carried on, checking out the sea caves that open up like secret passageways into the sheer rock-face that lines the shore. We found a diving spot in a kelp-heavy zone – it was so thick the plants held us snugly in our place and we didn’t need an anchor to keep from drifting. As the swell rose and fell the these strange plant-beings were revealed in short bursts and they seemed to peer up at us in a strange chorus as the water trickling over them fell back into the sea.

It was time – we slipped into the water. Now with our goggles and snorkels in place my we eyed one another and made odd sounds to try to communicate the plan – go this way, stay steady, don’t get too close, have the bag at the ready. The water was clear and icy cold on my face, threatening to steam up my goggles. My boyfriend dove into the deep as I swam along the surface, looking through the eerie kelp forest towards the rocky bottom where my dinner was hiding, somewhere, under a dark ledge. He rose back the surface, took a breath, and dove again – over and over – time passed. Then all at once there was a rush of activity – two crayfish were in-hand! I rushed with the goodie bag to collect the creatures and quickly put them in a secure place back on the kayak.

The paddle back to shore was triumphant – so often crayfish diving becomes just a dive, with only the pure pleasure of the sea for your reward – so today we were extra-lucky. We returned home and prepared an afternoon braai on the balcony overlooking the sea. With a million-dollar view, crayfish tails on the fire, savory coconut rice topped with avocado, and a glass of crisp Sauvignon Blanc we felt like royalty – living the good life – enjoying a perfect summer’s celebration.

The Menu: Wine: Kleine Zalze 2009 Cellar Selection Sauvignon Blanc Crayfish: Boil a big pot of very salty water. Take a deep breath and gooi the crayfish in – put the lid on and look away. Let it boil for 3-4 minutes – the shell turns bright red. Remove, allow to cool until you can handle it, break the head away from the tail. Cut the tail down the center – carefully remove the sand vein. When everything else is ready to eat, put the tails (now cut into halves) on the hot braai and baste with garlic butter. This doesn’t need much time, just a very few minutes, to get the smoky flavor. Coconut rice: Fry green thai curry paste in oil and butter for a few minutes, then add onions and when they are soft, garlic and mushrooms. Add the rice, coconut milk, and a little of the water you used to cook the crayfish. Don’t stir or it will become gummy – cover it and leave it till done. Garnish with coriander and sliced avocado.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Roast Chicken with Garlic Lemon & Thyme

Roast chicken is one of life's great comfort foods - not only is it easy to prepare, it feels like "home" especially when you're tired or having dreary weather. At the same time chicken can become boring and expected, especially since it's affordable and thus often prepared for supper in many homes on a regular basis.

If you're looking for a way to add new zest to this meal, a white wine marinade may be just the trick. What follows is not a gourmet masterpiece by any means, but I promise it is tasty, suits any budget, and will transform boring old chicken into something more worthy. You will need:

Chicken – half a bird pre-cut into portions, or if you prefer and have a knack for carving, a whole bird (Note: if you chose a whole bird, carve it into portions and double the marinade. I find that the meat from a whole bird is tenderer than that of the ready-made portions, plus the price per KG is generally less.)

• 1 cup dry white wine (your choice)
• ½ cup minced onion
• 5 Tablespoons Canola oil
• 4 Tablespoons lemon juice
• 3 Tablespoons dried thyme
• 3 Tablespoons minced garlic (freshly prepared from the garlic head is best)
• 1 Tablespoon white pepper (freshly ground or crushed)
• 2 Bay leaves

Combine your marinade ingredients and mix well – nothing too fussy, just make sure it’s combined.

Place the chicken in a plastic bag, like a Ziploc or else one of those freebie bags from the grocery store (if you use one of these double it, as they are very thin and are at risk of bursting).

Pour the marinade over the chicken, get as much air out of the bag and seal it. You want to allow the marinade to surround the chicken.

Once the bag is sealed, gently massage the marinade into the chicken taking care not to puncture the bag.

Place the bag inside a bowl or any container you have in case of a spill, and then refrigerate for two days. One day would be sufficient, but I find the longer the better and have even pushed it to four days. This is a great plan if you shop for the week’s groceries and generally freeze your meat until it is needed. Instead of freezing the meat for 4 days and eating it plain, you can use that time to flavor infuse and create something amazing. The wine in the marinade seems to assist in keeping the meat fresher for longer, plus also the fact that there is limited air in contact with the meat.

When you’re satisfied with the marinating time, remove the chicken from the refrigerator and (if possible) allow it to come to room temperature before roasting it.

Pour the marinade mixture as well as the chicken into your roasting dish. I like to prepare a layer of par-boiled carrots on the bottom of the dish, which the chicken sits on top of while it roasts at about 190 Celsius. The juices from the chicken as well as the marinade keep the carrots juicy and assist in their cooking, plus the carrots work to raise the chicken out of the sauce, allowing it to brown nicely.

Rub par-boiled potatoes in butter and place them around the edges of the chicken, so they are also raised above the sauce and can begin to brown. Cooking with the marinade allows the flavor to concentrate, forming a beautiful base for your gravy.

If you like to double your starches at supper (like we do in our house), this would be the time to put on some nice brown rice - double the water to the rice - maybe even add a little more. Use a low heat and keep it covered - don't peak excessively (like more than once or twice) or "boil" your rice as it's meant to be steamed and will otherwise turn out hard and chewy instead of soft and lovely.

Towards the end of roasting time (you know your ovens better than me!) pour off the stock / marinade sauce into a saucepan – now your gravy base – and return the roast to the oven. Increase the temperature to 220 degrees celsius.

While your roast is nearing completion, browning and crisping nicely (especially the potatoes and now exposed carrots), prepare a cup of Bisto (or any other instant gravy mix. Remember, this is simple food...) and add it to your gravy base.

Once your gravy is finished, voila – dinner is served!