CHEF JP GOES ALL OUT BLACK THIS BLACK FRIDAY
Chef JP is in a black mood this week. He’s shrugging off the shopping mania and heading to the kitchen to create food magic this Black Friday
Yup, it’s that time of year again. The Christmas baubles and mince pies have invaded the shops and all are claiming un-bee-lieve-able specials in the name of Black Friday – officially, according to my best mate, Dr Google, the first shopping day following Thanksgiving and the beginning of the frenzied Christmas shopping season.
Ja Well No Fine, so Black Friday is about as South African as Kentucky Fried Chicken, Mc Donald’s and Hollywood. But despite how empty our wallets are at the end of a tough 2022 and hot on the heels of another interest rate hike (hide those credit cards!), my guess is that our retail endorphins are kicking in again and the silly spending season has officially begun..
We are told that some retail junkies camp out outside large retailers in the name of the ultimate bargain. Maybe not in SA where the real bargain will be had by the guy passing by and nabbing your phone.
So you’ve worked out that I’m dishing up my Black Friday with a seasoning of cynicism. Some call it fickle, some say its frivolous. For me, this is just a fictional fixation for us to spend more than we can afford, consume even more than we need and, ultimately, get into even more debt.
Shortly after Black Friday hit the shelves across America, retailers (or is that marketers) began spinning the tale that Black Friday derives from the concept that businesses operate in the red until after this cataclysmic event and that they can move back into the black once festive season shopping kicks off with Black Friday.
Although this was subsequently proven untrue, in my mind there is a tinge of truth here – especially for the many struggling South African businesses, not to mention consumers like me who have fallen victim to retailers’ attempts to hoodwink us with everything from shrinking pack sizes to poor quality merchandise.
Which brings me to my next apparent Black Friday yarn. In 1869, two wall street brokers, who were trying to stage a run on the market and push up the price of gold, apparently bought so much of this mineral and traded so much stock that they inadvertently created a massive shortfall. The price of gold plummeted and an economic crash followed. Seems nothing much has changed and we are seeing similar stuff happening over and over again – from oil to our beloved bitcoin.
But back to creating real Black Friday culinary wisdom.
I’ve decided to switch on the lights in the kitchen and stop banging pots and pans in pure frustration during the lead up to what promises to be our best Christmas in about 3 years.
We were talking about consciously clever shopping last week – only to be plunged into darkness once more by Eskom. My advice? Don’t let power cuts or this pseudo retail mandate get into your head. My retail manifesto is – buy what you need, not want and rather enjoy good food around the table than invest in more unwanted clutter.
If you are one of the lucky ones with a bit of cash to spare, you can localise Black Friday with sensible gifts that fit the times. Think long term and buy a traditional black cast iron pot (see my recipe below) which will future proof you from future blackouts. Alternatively, convert to cooking on gas or invest in the likes of a new braai or even a Wonderbag that will slow cook a casserole without any help from Eskom!
I confess that I have decided to do some shopping this Black Friday. I guess that I’ll claim my fair share of sensible Black Friday specials create black gold culinary magic.
Each of the dishes that follows has a black food element or two to add a little zing. All of my seven dishes are fun, tasty and creative – this year, good cooking has to be the new black!
BLACK STRAP OSTRICH
This dish is a combination of a lot of flavours and textures. It consists of lean ostrich fillet, black strap molasses, black activated charcoal and elderberries. A lot of funkee things are happening here.
For your mise en place – just a Fancy French word we use in high street restaurants for prepping ingredients and dishes ahead of service – check the load shedding schedule, set your game face and turn on the gas – just to play it safe.
The combination of the ingredients includes what has now become a tame (-ish) game meat in the form of ostrich. Game meat is very red in colour and goes well with a sweet and sour approach. Some folk refer to black molasses as sweet and a perfect substitute for sugar. Then, come the elderberries which are sour, but very floral.
When prepping your ostrich fillet, rub it with rapeseed oil and Kikkoman soy sauce before covering this ‘birdie nom nom’in activated charcoal and some sesame seeds. Then, let it rest in the fridge.
Now for the interesting red wine jus. The term ‘jus de viande’is used for a dressing that is half way between a gravy and a sauce, with some complexities.
In a medium sized saucepan, heat a dollop of salted butter (Lupra if you can), add a splash of oyster sauce and soy sauce and 50 ml, Pinot Noir. This is a lovely cooking wine with fresh notes of cherry and raspberry with flavours that are enhanced when the wine has been fermented in French oak.
Add a teaspoon each of black strap molasses, wildflower honey and truffle oil. These will also bring out the notes in the wine. Add some sliced red onion and sweat them until glossy.
Stir vigorously on a medium heat and let the alcohol burn away. Once you have caramelised your jus, you can thicken it with 50 ml chicken stock and some corn starch before adding your handful of fresh elderberries.
You are now ready to fire up your big bird. Sear your ostrich fillets in the same pan for a minute on each side (medium to warm pan temp) and let the jus connect with the tender meat.
You are then ready to plate up. Serve the meat on fresh greens and rocket – and drown that bird in your jus.
Seasonal fruit is now hitting our shelves. Mango just screams summer from the soap box in store and I couldn’t resist the temptation to combine some squid ink pasta with some healthy game meat and seasonal fruit.
Talking about the seasonal, the new season of SQUID GAME is out on Netflix …
But back to the kitchen. I find it very interesting that we are so drawn to the colour black (despite the fact that it is not officially a colour according to the gurus. This time round, this is particularly pertinent as it offsets a kaleidoscope of colours that include red, yellow and green.
The quest to find squid ink takes me back to the good old times with chef Marco Nico (RIP) and my business partner, Albert Eloff. We were filming a pilot for a broadcaster and we spent the morning with him on the rocks in Umdloti, gloved up and searching for fresh squid/ octopus. We eventually found one and immediately dunked it in salt water.
We spontaneously had to give it its last sea breeze on the rocks before collecting the ink from the ink sack and heading for the frying pan where he made us the best grilled octopus breakfast that I have ever had.
So, I suppose that this is both a tribute to him and testament that, even today, I still managed to get my gloves on a packet of squid ink tagliatelle.
To put this together, choose your game meat (sustainably please), sear and season it and then prepare and serve it with your squid ink pasta. Add mango slices and mascarpone cheese to balance the flavours and then garnish with Italian parsley and radish.
I think that Marco would definitely love this rendition.
MEDITERRANEAN CALAMARI AND BLACK OLIVES
Having remembered that happy morning spent with Marco, my local hero chef, I went back to basics and came up with a grilled calamari salad that is simplistic and speaks of Sicily.
This is a grilled calamari steak that is just pan fried in the traditional Italian way and then smothered in olive oil and served with Italian parsley, garlic and lemon juice, garlic butter, black pitted olives, fresh fennel, lemon wedges and pickled ginger.
As fresh calamari is hard to come by, I now use frozen. As a chef, the best way that I have found to defrost a calamari steak is to soak it in some milk and 1 teaspoon of bi-carb. This will soften the steak and eliminate any impurities, including mercury.
After 20 minutes in the fridge, rinse of the milk and soak the calamari again in a flat dish with some hot water. 2 minutes will do. Damp the excess water and, now, you ready to lightly score the top to ensure that the steak doesn’t curl up, when pan frying.
You can lightly season the calamari and then put it in a shallow frying pan for 2 minutes a side.
The only thing missing from this dish is The Mediterranean…
BLACK SEA BASS
This snappy 10-minute meal is perfect for those hot summer evenings around the pool, with the temptation of a good, award winning and well-chilled chardonnay by my elbow.
I used Atlantic sea bass which isn’t found in our waters which means spicing up your shopping habits to a whole new level – this time heading to the tropic of Cancer and the Gulf of Mexico that this succulent coral fish calls home.
I added some Black Friday voodoo to the black scales and spiced it up with a Mexican salsa verde.
It starts with making a quick beer batter with 100g of self-raising flour, 80 ml sparkling water, 20 ml beer (as Corona is the beer of choice in Mexico, I used this) as well as Panko breadcrumbs and black poppy seeds.
Fry your fish at 180°C in canola oil until it is crispy (after 5 minutes). Damp the excess oil with a paper towel and drizzle some freshly squeezed lime or lemon on the fish. Serve with your salsa.
To make this, chop up equal amounts of green, yellow and red chilli, some cucumber (to ease the palette a bit), tomato, red onion and corn kernels. Add some salt and pepper, spring onion, and cilantro.
BLACK CAT BUTTER CHICKEN CURRY
I couldn’t resist including this black pot butter chicken infused with black strap molasses and black Cat peanut butter. This Malaysian mild yellow curry dish which, when cooked up as a potjie is really the cat’s whiskers and certainly something quite unique.
The recipe comes from a Ghanaian chef who shared it during one of the WACS chef Conferences that I attended.
You can choose your own vegetables for this one. This time round, I selected some yellow patty pans, baby marrows, sweet potato and green beans.
To start the fire and ignite your taste buds, add some olive oil to your heated pot.
Once it is simmering over a medium heat, add your onions, leeks, black beans, a drizzle of Black strap molasses, garlic chives, rosemary sprigs and your spice rack which includes 1 Tablespoon each of turmeric, ginger, mild yellow curry powder, jeera and masala.
Stir the mixture to form a paste and add your chicken after you have given it a smooth, creamy Black Cat Peanut Butter and olive oil rub.
Whilst your potjie is simmering and after your chicken is seared with the peanut butter, add 500 ml of chicken stock, some fresh peeled tomatoes, and close the lid. Leave to slowly simmer away.
After about 20 minutes, remove the lid and add your veg. Leave the lid off and let your veggies simmer away in the juices of the chicken and the sauce.
Just before serving (another 10 minutes), you can add some fresh cream to enrich the taste and season with salt and pepper and fresh parsley. Serve with your choice of starch. Basmati rice is my favourite.
THE BODACIOUS BAGEL
There are so many exceptional restaurants in Cape Town, but apart from fine dining, my favourite lunchtime venue was the New York Bagel Company in the heart of Sea Point.
There is nothing better than the smell of fresh bagels in the oven – ok, maybe coffee aromas and crispy bacon…
They have a selection of 10 different styles of bagels, from sourdough to sesame crusted and, of course, my passion, an activated charcoal bagel. They may not look so appetising when you first lay eyes on them but, trust me as a chef, you will never look back.
The charcoal is positively charged burned coconut shell and it makes the bagel not just healthy but super crunchy. In Durban, finding a black bagel can be tricky but you can get them baked to order at BREAD in Windermere Road.
Whether black or more conventional, making your own bagels can be quite tricky. Some bakers firmly believe that boiling them is what makes this treat so world renowned. I agree to disagree, but let’s not upset the baker …
FROM YOUR BAGEL PANTRY:
250 ml water for the mix
1 litre of water for the boiling process
4 cups of self -rising flour
3 Tablespoons white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons honey
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons activated charcoal
1 Tablespoon instant yeast
Mix all the ingredients (except the water for boiling) for about 6 minutes in your kitchen mixer. Scoop out the dough and place it in a well-oiled bowl. Cover with a kitchen towel and let it rise to the occasion for 2 hours.
Pre-heat your oven to 240°C.
Kneed your dough one last bit before cutting into six slices. Roll each of these into a sausage shape – about 14cm in length and then join the edges to form your bagel shape.
Now for the boiling part. Bring the water in a large saucepan to a boil. Add some honey. Boil three bagels at a time for two minutes. They’re done when they rise to the top of the water.
Remove them using a slotted spoon, season them with coarse salt and transfer them on to parchment paper on a baking tray and bake for 15 -18 minutes. Voila, homemade bagels.
For me, Salmon Gravlax, salted and cured and served on a hot black bagel with some Crème fraiche, a dash of mustard and fresh dill is enough to make anyone happy – Jewish or otherwise!
Garnish with some capers and lemon wedges.
BLACK BALI MUSSELS
When on the lookout for so-called black ingredients, another thing that set me adrift in the land of memories was the black mussel.
That took me back to when I accompanied my friend David Fletcher – aka Stretch as he is only 4 foot 4 inches – went down the South Coast to Aliwal Shoal armed with a chilled bottle of Chardonnay, oyster shuckers and rock mussel gloves.
This was 5 am, on an idle Tuesday.
For starters, we had fresh oysters, Mains was the vino and dessert was take away fresh local black mussels, preserved in saltwater bucket. Say no more.
This dish is inspired by a cuisine rom Bali and served with fresh grated cucumber, some steamed angel rice noodles, and pickled ginger.
I did add some bread crumbs and fish oil when I grilled them in the air fryer for 6 minutes to provide just a hint of crunch and aromatic bliss from the ocean.
It doesn’t get any fresher Fletcher … a squeeze of lemon and, bottoms up, my friend.
As you get to the end of your shopping – and cooking – mania, I have to remind you that local is still lekker.
Kitchens get warm at this time of year, so I headed outside with a well-deserved Jack Black local brew. Cheers – I hope that I have given you new respect for Black Friday cuisine …