Thursday 25 May 2017

Tropical Pilaf With Chicken

Living here in the Western Cape we are surrounded by the Cape Malay style cooking, in a geo-culinary way. Which means that we literally have access to all the ingredients that make up the Cape Malay menu.

And we are not really expanding our domestic menu. Not very clever, one would venture.

So, with this realisation in mind and having the creative urge again, I did some brief research. Meaning I actually opened two of my cook books and perused the contents in a scholarly fashion, rather than a drooling hungry sailor fashion.

In our home we have regular curries with plain rice. But also we make biryanis, risottos and paellas, not forgetting stir fried rice with veggies. All of these are dishes that contains some form of sauce, making them on the juicy side. From my brief research the missus and I then decided to broaden our scope of rice dishes by trying a drier variety of rice dish and specifically pilaf. This dish has a myriad of variations and flavours and can be served as a side with just about any main by just varying the spices. The dish also has different styles and names, depending on where in the world you are. Wikipedia has some interesting facts on this dish.

We decided on a version with chicken, where the chicken is steamed in the rice. This makes it a complete one pot main. No extra cleaning up required! And just for fun I decided on a sweet and fruity version. Complete with coconut milk and mangos.

This dish will go very well with any fried or barbecued fish as a side dish. Especially in a tropical setting. The ingredients are simple and the process is almost a no-brainer. Preparation and cooking time is about half an hour.

The standard pilaf consists of raw rice fried in a flavoured oil, then slowly simmered in a stock till done. The rice comes out fluffy and loose, with all the flavours blended in. I chose to use coconut milk and some chopped dried mangos as main flavours to enhance the nutty flavour of the basmati rice.

Part of the stock for this dish comes from the caramelised meat sticking to the pan in the beginning.

The ingredients for this dish are simple and few, which is what makes pilaf so popular, I guess.

So here goes:

Tropical Pilaf With Chicken


400g chicken breast fillets, diced
1 to 1¼ cup basmati rice
¾ cup fresh peas
400 ml (1 can) coconut milk
3-4 slices dried mango, chopped
1 medium onion, diced
1 tsp whole cumin seeds (jeera)
1 tsp whole mustard seeds
3 pods cardamom (elachi), seeded
1½ tsp turmeric
salt and pepper to taste
ghee, butter and oil for frying


Pat the chicken quite dry, then fry the cubes in a dry pan until they are brown. Set aside. Now add some ghee or butter and a small amount of oil to the pan and fry the onion until at least translucent. Add the whole spices and fry them until the fragrance fills the kitchen. Now add the raw rice and stir fry until all the kernels are coated with oil. This will help with flavour and with the separation of the kernels. The flavours of the rice should begin to fill the kitchen too.

Now add the coconut milk and the chopped mango and the turmeric. Check for salt and add as required. Mix through and check again. This will be the last of stirring the pan. Add back the chicken and cover the pan.

Turn the flame down to a minimum, the lowest it will go on the smallest burner.

The rice will swell out and absorb the fluid, so you will need to check that the dish doesn't burn. Add some boiling water as required. The peas are added when the rice is almost done. Peas cook quite fast and you want them not to be soggy and lose their flavour.

The most important part comes now. Once the rice is done, turn the stove off and leave the dish to rest for at least fifteen minutes. Some recipes even call for covering the pan with a dishcloth before putting the lid on. The dishcloth will absorb the steam and not allow the condensed water to drip back into the pan. This all is designed to allow the rice to turn fluffy.

Now dish up in bowls and garnish with some fresh coriander leaves.

And then understand why pilaf may just be the prince of rice dishes.

Bon appetit!

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2017-05-25

Monday 6 March 2017

Soul Food on A Cool Night: Chicken Korma

I had the privilege recently of  having a long discussion about good food. Almost as good as eating the same.

This time around it was a lively discussion around food on board. A passion of mine. The company consisted of myself and a bunch of sailors from India, no less. These sailors were asking questions about food on board and provisioning. This after they had just completed the Cape to Rio Yacht race and brought the boat back via the notorious southern Atlantic ocean. A feat not to be sneezed at.

After some time, during the discussion, I came to the realisation that they sailed the boat from India to Cape Town, then participated in the Cape to Rio race, then sailed the boat back to Cape Town, all without a refrigerator on board. Around ten thousand nautical miles across the sea. Now they have to sail the boat back to India. Another voyage of around thirty-five days at sea, non-stop. It took a moment or two for me to realise the enormity of the provisioning problems on hand. A very interesting exchange of ideas, especially for a relative novice like me.

The conversation went around dried meat and other dried provisions, pickling of fish, baking bread and growing sprouts, amongst other things.

Of course, then we got hungry from the talk and the topic morphed to recipes. Why am I not surprised?

We discussed at length the merits of the various spices and their uses, and then I struck gold. We exchanged recipes.

Chicken korma. One of my favourite recipes. No heavy spice, just an explosion of aromas and flavours. And the weather here in Cape Town has taken a turn to cool. Opportunity, indeed!

I have made this dish several times before. All very tasty. This time around I got some proper info on what the locals do in India. My own interpretations appear to be but a watered down version of what the dish should be.

This dish is soul food par excellence. And one has to prepare it with passion. Otherwise just go and get a take-away sandwich. The dish is simple to make, with some preparation required. Nothing onerous. The preparation is where the passion comes in. The flavours all comes with the preparation and process. Simple spices, commonly available.

The first rule for this dish is to roast the whole spices, including the almonds, then grind them to a powder before use. Roast them separately, as the grain sizes differ and therefore the roasting time will differ.

Then fry the onions before taking the blender to them. Along with the roasted almonds. This time, after my discussion with the intrepid Indian sailors, I used coconut cream instead of water. The dish needs a very thick onion sauce to cook the chicken.

But I am getting ahead of myself. Let's start at the beginning. Ingredients first.

Chicken Korma with coconut cream


600 g chicken breast fillets
2 large or 3 medium onions, chopped coarsely
1 cup yoghurt
½ cup almond slivers
2 cups coconut cream (1 can)
2 tsp coriander seeds (Whole dhania)
2 tsp cumin seeds (Whole jeera)
1 tsp whole jeera (Another, keep separately)
1 tsp black mustard seeds
¼ tsp asafoetida (hing)
2 tsp turmeric
5 green chillies, finely chopped
3 cinnamon sticks
1 ½ tsp freshly ground garlic
1 tsp freshly ground ginger
1 tsp red chilli powder. (Cayenne pepper will work for the South Africans)
some water
some butter, ghee or cooking oil
some coriander leaves for garnish
basmati rice


Cut the chicken into thumb size bites and marinade in the yogurt with the turmeric and red chilli powder. Leave for 30 minutes while you prepare the sauce and the dry spices.

Roast the mustard-, coriander- and cumin seeds separately in a dry pan, then grind it all to a fine powder. Add the hing.  Roast the almond slivers. Keep the almond separate from the rest of the spices. All this effort is what will determine the eventual flavour, so take care. And this is the bulk of your effort, the rest is a no-brainer.

Fry the onions and cinnamon sticks in the butter until the onions turn brown, then add the fresh chillies, garlic and ginger. Fry these for another 30 seconds, then add the almonds. Add the coconut milk, then blend the onion, almond and spice mix to a thick sludge. If the sludge is too thick, add a little water. You need a thick sauce for this dish.

Bring this lot to a slow boil, then add the ground spices to the sauce. Mix through, then add the marinade with the chicken. Add salt to taste. Turn the heat down so that the dish only just bubbles. Now add the raw cumin seeds.

Cook until the chicken is done.

In the meantime, soak the rice and cook as per instructions.

Dish up with some fresh coriander leaves as garnish.

And be careful, there are a lot of sensual flavours that creep out of this dish and through your soul. And you may have made too little food...

Bon appetit!

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2017-03-06

Sunday 1 January 2017

Boeuf Bourguignon in Cape French Style

It has been a while since my last posting. Nursing a torn shoulder muscle saps away one's energy like nothing else. This injury put a serious crimp on my sailing activities. However, it is a new year and time for another cooking adventure.

We have high summer here in Cape Town around this time of the year, so making a stewed dish may sound somewhat eclectic. However, this one is very easy to make, requires but a few ingredients, and will feed the hungry hordes on their return from the beach or their other outdoor activities. And I probably have very little convincing to do to my northern hemisphere readers!

Another hearty dish originating in France, now used all over the world. I have made similar dishes with great success without wine, using soy sauce and tomatoes instead.

This dish may be made a day before serving. It ages and develops flavour if left in the refrigerator overnight and takes well to freezing.

So this is another one of my few experiments in cooking with wine. Somehow I have not yet explored that avenue of the culinary arts properly.

Most of the recipes on the internet use beef chuck as the main ingredient, so I opted for the same cut. It is one of the cheaper cuts from the carcass and quite flavourful. Basically any juicy cut from the forequarters will do. I also keep some of the bones. They tend to enrich the sauce part of the dish. Just be careful of too much fat. I usually trim most off. Between the bacon fat and the marrow you probably have sufficient fat for a delicious combination.

As for the bacon, most recipes propose pancetta. Over here in Cape Town, pancetta tends to be more expensive than the standard smoked bacon bits that can be obtained from your friendly chain store grocer.

You don't really need fancy cuts of bacon or beef, as you will be stewing it in wine anyway. I opted for a less pricey version of both.

Talking about the wine, there is much fuss. Some recipes specify quite fancy wine, others specify cooking wine. Others specify cognac as well. The reason for using the wine lies in the acidity and some flavour. The acidity will help to de-glaze the pan. The flavour of the wine itself is of less importance, as the dish contains a lot of other strong flavours that will overwhelm the wine. There is a caveat, however: The stuff sold as cooking wine may not be drinkable as a result of added chemicals. You don't want to use such concoctions. Use wine that you will drink yourself. While some French recipes specify burgundy, any easy quaffing dry red will do.

For this dish I specifically did not use tomatoes. It is up to the cook to decide. Both Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsey has recipes on the net that use tomatoes. After a long chat about this subject recently to a French student of mine, I decided to go without tomatoes.

As for stock, I follow the school of thought that the preparation procedure creates sufficient stock to thicken the sauce, so no additional stock is required. So far this line of thinking has stood me in good stead.

The vegetables I cut into chunky, coarse bits. The meat is chunky, so the chunky veggies add to the texture. I did not have fresh thyme, so had to use the dried herb.

I always add some chilli to my stewed dishes, it brings out the other flavours. There is a caveat again: you need to have only a tiny amount in the dish. Once you start tasting the chilli, you have too much. If you are too scared, used a tiny bit of cayenne pepper instead, it is much more user-friendly.

So here goes.

Boeuf Bourguignon in Cape French style


1 kilo beef chuck cubed into 20mm cubes
250g bacon bits
250 g small brown mushrooms, quartered or halved
2-3 cups red wine
4 cloves garlic
2-3 brown onions, medium sized, chopped coarsely
3-4 pickling onions
sprig parsley
4 medium carrots, julienned coarsely
4 stalks celery, chopped
½ cup plain cake flour
1 tablespoon dried thyme
4 bay leaves
½ hot Thai chilli, chopped.
salt  & pepper


Fry the bacon bits in a medium hot pan until the fat has run out. Remove the bacon from the pan and keep aside. While the bacon is frying, pat the meat cubes dry with paper towels and roll them in the flour. This is the only tricky part. The meat has to be quite dry before dusting with flour. If not, the meat will not brown properly and your dish will not have the rich flavours that you want.

Now fry the meat cubes in the bacon fat until they are nice and brown. You have to do this in batches, otherwise the meat juices will make enough water in the pan to boil the meat, not fry it. Add a dollop of olive oil if the fat seems too little. The bottom of the pan will now get a layer of caramelised meat and flour. Don't worry, this is your stock forming. Just watch that this layer doesn't burn. Keep the temperature low enough.

Once the meat is done, fry the onions in the remaining fat/olive oil. Once the onions go brown, fry the chopped garlic and the chilli, then remove from the pan.  Now add the mushrooms and fry them for 30 seconds to a minute. Remove them from the pan as well and keep aside.

Once this is done you may turn the heat to low and add the wine. This will de-glaze the pan and you should have a thick-ish sauce.

Add back the beef cubes and bring to the boil. Now add the chopped carrots, celery and the bacon. Here you may add either boiling water or more wine, as you prefer. The dish needs to simmer in juice, so check it frequently. This simmering must really be just a simmer: very slow indeed. Budget at least two hours and keep the lid tightly on the pan.

Once the meat starts going tender, add the mushrooms and some chopped parsley. Close the lid and wait another twenty minutes or so.

In the meantime you may prepare the accompanying side dish. This may be in the form of pasta, toasted bread, potato mash or any other starchy side dish that you prefer. This is a very juicy dish, so any starch that will absorb sauce will work. I opted for baby potatoes boiled in the skin.

It is always good practice to allow the dish to repose for at least half an hour before dishing up. This will allow the flavours to develop. However, if you have hungry hordes to feed, you may just be outnumbered and swept aside!

Now dish up. Of course, not to forget that you will need at least another bottle of red wine to go with the dish...

Bon appetit!

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2017-01-01