Carving with your eyes shut

I’ve avoided roasting joints of meat as they can be too difficult to carve elegantly without sight.  See  https://youtu.be/gJTOoOTXBPA

how, In Australia, I learned one way of getting around the problem.

I was in the Sydney home kitchen of chef and lecturer Martin who is also visually impaired and who shares his recipes, hints and tips through his website: www.enabledcooking.com.

We were making a straightforward rack of lamb with Middle eastern flavours: baba ghanoush, pomegranate seeds, slivers of toasted almonds, sheep’s yoghurt and mint.  We seared the meat to give it some colour and flavour.  Not the easiest task for two blind cooks.  Martin judged it by time: about a minute each side.  I relied more on hearing and touch: the hot oil in the pan sizzles madly when the raw meat  is first added but calms as water  is evaporated;  don’t move the meat in the pan until the sound has reduced; when you do turn the meat, the side that has just been seared will feel hot and much firmer, even a little crisp in places.

About 10-12 minutes in the oven and the same again resting and we were ready to carve.  The joint could have been designed for it: a “rack” describes the row of lamb or pork ribs before they are separated out in to individual chops.  You can run a finger down your side and feel your own rack of ribs.  Lamb racks are often “French trimmed”: the fat and sinew cleaned off the bones so that just the meaty part of the chops remain below the separated and shortened bones – they stick out like a row of soldiers.

And those bones are the answer to blind carving.  You can hold them to get a good grip of the joint without touching the bits that will be eaten.  Then a sharp knife just follows the line of the bone from top to bottom and the first serving is ready.  Simply repeat between each soldier and the job’s done!

Then Martin’s accompaniments add the taste of the Middle East.  Toasting almonds or any other nuts or seeds without sight depends mainly on your sense of smell when you can’t see.  I use a non-stick frying pan without oil and add the nuts or seeds while it is heating up.  After a few minutes, you can smell them becoming toasted, so it is time to give them a stir to cook the other side.  Seeds tend to be easier as you can also hear them start popping.  The trick is to take them off the heat early before they start burning.  If there’s any risk, pour the pan contents on to a cold plate to stop them cooking further.

Next time, Eddie’s Iranian barbecue brings more of those Middle Eastern flavours.

Good cooking!

Penny

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Top tips from a professional blind chef

Sydney’s professional Blind chef, Martin, gave me an expert lesson with fish – so straightforward that anyone can do it as you can see at https://youtu.be/R-JqsTefRf0

Already a highly experienced chef, Martin had lost his sight in his middle years but still has a very successful career teaching his skills to aspiring cooks and chefs at a local college in Sydney.  He goes further: keen to encourage anyone with limited sight or other difficulties to keep on cooking.  His website (www.enabledcooking.com) is a treasure trove of recipes, hints and tips – anyone can find great dishes and new ideas.

He welcomed me in to his own home kitchen where we made fish to be baked in a paper parcel (en papilotte if you want the posh French version).  With many stunning Asian flavours, this is perfect for entertaining: just make up the parcels earlier in the day and whack them in to the oven when your guests are arriving.  Just slide the cooked parcels on to plates so that everyone can open their own to experience the wonderful fragrances – and easy on the washing-up too!

Martin’s dish was a lesson in the organisational care that makes a good professional chef: everything ready beforehand so that adding each ingredient is easy and fast.  I’ve learned   that it works for visually impaired cooks too.  In the past, there have been too many times when I’ve wandered around the kitchen part-way through a recipe, hunting for an ingredient and leaving a sticky, messy trail behind me.  Getting every ingredeient and utensil out first seems a chore at the time but saves on clearing up later.

 

Our ever-supportive hosts, Ken and rosemary, had driven us the two hours from their seaside home in sleepy  Kiama to the thrusting energy of Sydney and threw in a short tour so Toby could catch some of those familiar skylines.  Even if I couldn’t see them, the distinctive image of the Opera House lives on in my head.

 

Just one day: paper bark cooking plus air/sea rescue.

A few hours and life lurched from one extreme to another: a truly enlightening morning getting a glimpse of bush tucker with aboriginal Fred followed by the high drama of nephew and videographer Toby and another friend being rescued from a life-or-death sea emergency.

With Fred (www.fredsbushtucker.com.au), I felt rather foolish and thoughtless for not recognising that his ancient culture had the sophisticated development we see in our own more modern societies.  Hence, it is no more reasonable to ask him as an expert bush tucker cook about the medicinal qualities of plants than expecting a chef to know the best treatment for an illness.  Aboriginal culture, like ours, has a whole range of experts – from law and medicine to cooking and childcare.

Fred showed me the plants that can be ground in to flour for bread, the seed head that can be carried from camp to camp to light fires and much more.   He helped me wrap a snapper fish donated by the local fish market (www.shellharbourfish.com.au), stuffed with lemon myrtle, in soaked paper bark and lily leaves for smoking on a barbeque – the origin of French style “en papiloutte”.

What I most admired was his clear and close connection with nature: the scrub land that he uses as a super market; his equanimity in the face of modern hustle and bustle; his irreverent sense of humour.  It was a real privilege to be shown just a glimpse of his world – all thanks to the planning and organisation of our Kiama hosts Rosemary and Ken.  They managed a week of different experiences: cooking with the award-winning Jo (sweetwoodcakes@gmail.com) of the Country women’s Association; Martin, the blind chef in Sydney (www.enabledcooking.com); wine-tasting with Raj (www.thesilos.com); an Iranian fire-pit and barbecue meat fest with Eddie.  The generosity of spirit and enthusiasm for cooking was the essence of a magnificent week that had taken huge effort to arrange by Rosemary and Ken – huge thanks to them.

 

 

 

 

But, even the best laid plans couldn’t have prepared us for the drama that was unfolding as I was still chatting with Fred.  Toby and another friend had slipped down to the beach for a quick swim.  Within minutes, a rip tide had dragged them out 300 metres from the beach and was pulling them further out.  Thankfully, 12 year old Hannah had spotted them (not waving but drowning) and her family called the emergency services.  We arrived to find police cars massing alongside paramedics and lifeguards with two helicopters close on their heels.  Eventually a surfboard lifesaver reached them with the board providing extra flotation as they had reached critical levels of exhaustion and cold.  One-by-one, they were helped back to shore and encased in huge foil and thermal warming suits – they looked like two capons ready for roasting!  But, it was no joke at the time as they were probably less than 10 minutes from tragedy.  The emergency services did a wonderful job and I cannot be more thankful to them.  And the whole drama completely upstaged the Baking Blind activities on the local TV – you can watch the clip on YouTube.

 

 

 

There’ll be lots more videos and recipes from this latest visit as soon as we have edited them – probably early next year so please do keep tuned in.

Penny