Tuesday 9 October 2012

Sourdough bread # 2: Puri And Cooking On A Small Boat

I recently had a long conversation with some of my friends in the sailing fraternity. All sea gypsies and sailors of some description. The gist of the discussion was about cooking on board small sailing vessels. Specifically making bread.
Long voyages on small vessels easily become a bit of a survival camp, especially if you don't plan sensibly. The boat does not stand still and you have very few appliances aboard to ease your work in the galley. (For those non-sailing friends out there, the kitchen on board a boat or ship is known as the galley.)
Typically you would have one 25 cm pot, one 15 cm pot, a small kettle and a wok or a frying pan. There would also be a mixing bowl and some cutlery, as well as some kitchen implements. As a result of this dearth of implements, I have gone and bought my very own spatula, kettle, chef's knife, filleting (boning) knife and paring knife. All good quality stuff that does not rust within the first week. I also take along a knife sharpener and a proper potato peeler. I use that one also to peel butternut pumpkins. A wooden spoon, wooden tongs and an Indian rolling stick completes my galley kit.
And I have my own spice box that goes along. No mixed spices in my food if I can help it. You mostly have very little idea of what a proprietary spice mix contains. My masala powders are bought from shops that mix their own spices, so there are no preservatives or other chemical additions. Well, hopefully. And I make my own green masala paste (recipe here).
You may well ask what this has to do with making bread. The answer lies therein to sketch the conditions aboard. Spare a thought for these people that would like to stay alive in some style. Most of us shore bound folk probably don't have a feel for the conditions of cooking at sea while we are standing in our well-equipped kitchens on solid Mother Earth turning out five star dishes.
My sailing friends are gearing up and preparing for the ocean race for the Governor's Cup. The race starts in Simon's Town, False Bay in South Africa and ends at the island of St Helena. All of about ten to twelve days' worth of sailing, just over 1800 nautical miles in all.
So, after our last discussions, I decided to make bread that is suited to these conditions.
Bread can be made in several ways. Firstly, one can use dough that is leavened or not. Then there is the method of cooking or baking. One can bake a bread in the oven, as what is regarded as normal in the western world. This may be in a baking tin or just on a baking sheet. Then there is a whole variety of flat breads to be made in a frying pan. One may use a dry pan, a little bit of oil or fry the bread in deep oil. And lastly, in South Africa, we sometimes make bread by simply putting the lumps of dough on the braai (barbecue or griddle for our foreign friends).
I decided on an Indian style of bread by the name of puri. This one is a leavened bread baked in a frying pan in light oil. You certainly don't want hot oil spattering around on a small boat bucking in the ocean.
I used my latest wild yeast, the story of which is related in an earlier post on this blog. Ingredients are one cup of wild yeast, two cups of white bread flour, one cup of whole wheat brown bread flour, half a cup of rye flour, a pinch of salt and about one cup of tepid water. And about half a cup of white bread flour for the kneading board.
You need a starter, so that's where I used the half cup of rye flour added to the sourdough. This is for increasing the yeast quantity. This was left for eight hours overnight to get really lively. The frothing result was boiling over by the time I got to mixing the main dough. At least something positive there. The rest of the ingredients were added and the dough kneaded until it becomes silky to the touch. I then wetted my hands with some cooking oil and patted the dough ball to cover it completely on the outside. This dough ball was then put away in the plastic mixing container with a lid on. Between the oil and the lid the dough does not dry out.
After seven hours the dough had risen to more than double the volume and I kneaded it back to the original volume. After that I left it to rest for another hour or so. Then I rolled the dough ball into a long snake about two inches or 50 mm thick. Cut it into shorter pieces if the snake gets too long. Use a sharp knife and wet the blade with water, else the dough will stick to the knife. You don't want to tear the dough, it needs to stay nicely sealed to keep the bubbles that are forming whole.
Now cut the snake into short cylinders to make balls of the same size as the snake. Wet the small balls with a little oil and roll them out to less than 6 mm or a quarter of an inch. You can do this one at a time, there's no rush. You get a one person production line going. Fry the flattened breads immediately in a dry pan. You roll out the next one a soon as the preceding one goes into the pan and so on. There is enough oil on them after the rolling out that you should not need more oil. Earlier I said the bread is to be fried in light oil. You may put a millimetre of oil in the pan if you prefer, the results are pretty much the same. Watch out that the oil does not get too hot, else the bread will burn in spots. The oil helps the flat piece of dough to make proper thermal contact with the frying pan.
You need the frying pan on the warm side. Turn the bread over after a minute or two. The fried bread should look like the outside of a normal loaf, just thin. You can fry them as dark as you like, but watch out for drying them out completely. Remove each one from the pan and set aside on a paper towel to cool and absorb any excess oil.
And wait till they have cooled down properly before digging in. A burnt tongue is not a happy experience.
This recipe is also suited to get primary school children into making bread. Holiday pastime, especially in rainy season, methinks. I would use instant yeast or dried yeast which goes faster, else they may lose interest.
These breads do not need a bread knife to cut, which is a boon at sea. As this is a salt bread, you can have it as a side to a stewed dish, much like the people in the Middle East and India do. Or you can eat them like flapjacks. These ones were made with a wild yeast and thus have a sourness which is exquisite with honey and real butter.
You make'um, you eat'um. How is nobody's business.

This post also linked to Yeastspotting!

Authored by Johan Zietsman
Last updated on 2012-12-12

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