Monthly Archives: July 2015

Cold-press rapeseed oil: oil for one and one for oil

I originally wrote this piece for the Tiki Chris blog IMG_4759

Oil is an everyday foodstuff used in many kinds of dishes – yet the sheer range of options available can be baffling. The paradox of choice is obvious in every supermarket – how to choose between olive, sunflower, coconut, rapeseed and numerous other culinary oils and fats? The best advice is not to choose: keep a range for different purposes.

One variety which is increasingly likely to be found in kitchens across the country is rapeseed oil, with sales rocketing in the last year. The golden elixir attracting shoppers is not the cheap, refined, processed stuff often labeled as “vegetable” oil you may associate with rapeseed. British farmers are now producing premium cold-pressed, extra virgin oils from rapeseed crops which comparable in quality to the best olive oils.

IMG_4736 IMG_4745

The founders of Hillfarm Oil, married couple Clare and Sam Fairs, made their family farm in Heveningham, Suffolk the first farm in the UK to cold-press and bottle their own rapeseed over ten years ago. Hillfarm is now one of the UK’s leading producers, bottling over 500,000 litres of their oil for shops, restaurants and supermarkets across the land.

Clare and Sam Fairs speak passionately about the health benefits of rapeseed oil and are quick to compare the numbers to olive oil: it has half the saturated fat, eleven times more natural omega 3 and more vitamin E. While the Hillfarm branded tshirts may proclaim they are “challenging the olive”, in fact all sorts of oils should be welcome in the kitchen.

There is nothing quite like the peppery, grassy kick of extra-virgin olive oil drizzled over dishes just before serving. But olive oils are not the best for cooking: not only does the quality deteriorate, applying very high heat can cause release toxic chemicals according to scientists. Coconut oil is often described as excellent for cooking due to its high burn point, but the strong flavour and greasy mouthfeel can be overpowering. Rapeseed oil also has a high smoking point, so can be used for roasting and frying. It’s also relatively thin as an oil, meaning vegetables crisp up more quickly than with other oils. Taste wise, rapeseed certainly doesn’t pack the same punch as really good olive oil, but the faintly nutty, mustardy flavour is undeniably delicious and does not interfere with other ingredients. Instead of trying to “convert” shoppers from one type of oil to another, we should be encouraged to expand our repertoire of oils, in the same way we build an arsenal of herbs and spices in our storecupboards. Rapeseed oil has a lot going for it: the British providence, the high burn point and the distinct, mellow flavour. IMG_4787

Cake Shop Bakery, a renowned bakery not far from Hillfarm, use the rapeseed oil in many of their recipes including a stunning “British foccacia”.

IMG_4740IMG_4743

It’s not just rapeseed oil that is liquid gold, earning praise from big names like Tom Kerridge, Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson. Hillfarm is now growing and selling rapeseed greens and seeds for culinary uses, which are popular with chefs like Mark Hix. Hillfarm also make seriously amazing mayonnaise – the yellow colour, thick wobbly texture and mellow nutty, mustardy flavour are glorious. The most recent launch is a new range of rapeseed hand soap and creams which feel lovely to use.

Time to make room in your kitchen cabinets: there is a new healthy, home-grown crop around.

rapeseed field3 I was invited to visit Hill Farm oil to learn more about the company by the Founders and Food Safari

Recipe: Jewelled Aromatic Rice by Amira

IMG_5036

 

This recipe is based on the classic Persian dish, Javaher Polow, or “jewelled rice”, an opulent dish of fluffy rice, sweet and tangy fruits and crunchy nuts. It’s traditionally served at weddings and celebrations. Each of the ingredients represents a precious jewel; berries for rubies, pistachios for emeralds. The dish is a symbol of wishing sweetness and wealth for the newly married couple – of course it was on my wedding menu last year!

So when the people at Amira rice contacted me to ask if I’d like to try their recipe, I was instantly reminded of happy, delicious memories and had to say yes. The recipe on the Amira website is not totally authentic (traditionally you’d use zereshk/barberries not cranberries, for example) but I was really pleased with the outcome, so it’s a good one to keep hold of particularly if you live in an area where sourcing Middle Eastern ingredients may be a challenge.

The buttery golden crust that develops on the bottom of the pan, “tahdig“, is the best bit – to be able to turn out a perfect crust in one clean motion is a good sign that you’re marriage material (phew – I passed the test!)

IMG_5368

Using high quality rice is really important – please don’t assume that all rice is the same because that’s just not true. You will notice the difference if you source properly aged rice – ordinarily I would always go for basmati for the exceptional fragrance, but Amira’s “Superior Aromatic” is not basmati yet still has the fragrance, nuttiness and and the extra long grains you would expect from the best quality rice.

Ingredients:
300g high quality rice such as Amira Superior Aromatic Rice
Generous pinch of saffron threads
150 g dried cranberries
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
60 g unsalted butter
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp cardamom pods
1 cumin seeds
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

To finish
100 g walnuts, roughly chopped
Seeds picked from 1 large pomegranate
Generous bunch of parsley, chopped
Finely grated zest from 1 orange
1 garlic clove, very finely chopped

Method
Add rice to a sieve and rinse under running water. Tip into a bowl and cover well with cold water. Set aside to soak for 1 hour. Add the saffron to a small heatproof glass and cover with 2 tablespoons of boiling water, then set aside to soak. Add the cranberries to a small heatproof bowl and cover in boiling water, set aside to soak.

Add the oil and half the butter to a deep frying pan and set over a low heat. When the butter has melted, add the onion, cinnamon, cardamon and cumin and fry gently for 30 minutes until the onion is soft and lightly caramelised, then turn off the heat.

IMG_5041

Drain your rice and add to a large saucepan. Pour over boiling water so it comes a generous 3 centimetres above the rice and set over a medium high heat. Boil for 3 minutes, then drain and rinse under cold running water to cool and drain well. The rice will have started to cook but will still have plenty of bite and the grains will not yet be fluffy.

Combine the cooled rice with the onions, along with the saffron, cranberries and their soaking water. Stir well but be careful not to break the grains of rice, which would make them stodgy and starchy – you want separate, elegant grains! Season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper, then dot the surface of the rice with the remaining butter.

Using the handle of a wooden spoon make 5-6 holes through the rice all the way to the bottom of the pan – this helps it to steam evenly.

IMG_5042

The recipe instructions said: “tear off a sheet of baking paper, scrunch it up under cold running water, shaking off the excess, then lay snugly over the surface of the rice. Cover the pan tightly with a layer of foil and set over a very low heat.”

I did what I’ve always done to achieve a perfect tahdig: wrap the lid of your saucepan in a tea towel to ensure a snug fit, so no precious steam escapes. Pomegranate pattern optional!

IMG_5043

Cook for 40 minutes on a very low heat, after which time your rice will be fluffy and a delicious buttery crust will have developed on the bottom.

While your rice is cooking, toast the walnuts in a dry frying pan until golden. Tip into a bowl and stir through the pomegranate seeds, parsley, orange zest and garlic. Set aside.

Once your rice is ready, remove the lid, place a large platter on top and in one swift, brave movement, flip the pan upside down. Your rice should slide out in a cloud of fragrant steam. Ta da!

IMG_5368

(If you’re not feeling brave, you can scoop the rice out onto your serving dish and then scrape the lovely crunchy caramelised rice from the base of the pan to arrange over the top.)

Enjoy! We ate ours with chicken thighs cooked simply with diced onion, garlic, saffron, salt and pepper over a medium heat, with sides of salads, yoghurt, and my mum’s torshi (Persian pickle) – keep meaning to post the recipe here, bear with me.

IMG_5050

I was sent Amira rice to sample and review and will definitely be buying it in future! Amira rice is stocked at selected Morrisons, Asda, Tesco and Waitrose stores.