Update 11.11.14 – I didn’t win – BOO – but man, do I have some tasty dinners in the freezer from making this!
DISCLAIMER: If the photos are slightly shaky, I apologise, but I broke my wrist on the 1st September, so it’s still healing, and my camera is a bit heavy!
Dedicated to Nigel Slater, because he always makes me feel such a sense of autumnal comfort and calm. Something about this dish, and his books and TV shows, fill me with gentle happiness, and the sense that a cup of tea, and a decent slice of cake or a good biscuit, will make everything alright again.
A few weeks ago I was asked if I’d like to have a go at a recipe competition run by Kikkoman’s, the soy sauce people. I love their soy sauce, with its rich, salted caramel flavour, so of course I said yes. Info on them here: www.Kikkoman.co.uk
The twist was to make a NON ORIENTAL one pot dish, using the sauce as a seasoning, not just as a stir fry sauce. It’s surprisingly hard to get every single oriental dish out of your brain when they are trying to crowd in, all yelling their ideas, but I managed to clear a space. Eventually.
I decided to go with a fairly British autumnal comfort food. Stew and dumplings. I have, of course, managed to make this on the one day that is as warm and sunny as an early summer day, but never mind.
As the idea was to use the sauce not just as a sauce, but as a seasoning, and as salt is one of the most important seasonings, I was struck by the idea of dehydrated soy sauce. Would it crumble up into salt crystals so I could use it in a dried form?
The answer is yes, it does. Very soft, sticky flakes, admittedly, but oh my they work. I fought back ideas of chocolate and soy salt tart, and got on with the savoury. (But don’t think I won’t be trying that sweet version.)
It took 2 bits of prep, but the taste was so worth it that I’d definitely do batches of these two things again to keep in the store cupboard/fridge. That would make this a very easy one pot dish.
1 shallow roasting tray, lined with non stick foil right up the sides too.
2/3 cup Kikkoman’s
Pour the sauce into the lined tray and bake on about 160C until it looks like this.
Some of it will still be liquid underneath the crust, so I tipped the tray until those bits ran out and kept baking until they crystallised as well.
Then leave it to dry overnight, and scrape it off gently into an airtight pot. It is quite sticky.
The Reduction **
1/3 cup Kikkoman’s
1/3 cup good aged balsamic, one with a sweet edge
1/4 cup brown sugar
Mix the above together in a pan, and bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Simmer until it’s reduced by half. It will go foamy, and then as it cools it will thicken to what looks like Marmite. To use as a drizzle just put the pan on a very low heat and it will liquefy again. This is one of the most umami-laden things I have ever tasted. I had to keep tasting it just to make sure, of course. Thinned down with a bit of water it would make an amazing salad dressing.
This is a shaky photo, taken one handed, of just how thick it becomes, and how bubbly it looks when it’s ready.
1 large oven proof casserole dish that can go on hob and in the oven
2 packs of Lidl venison meatballs
1 cup red wine
1 tin good quality chopped tomatoes and juice
1 pack Merchant Gourmet ready cooked chestnuts, half chopped, half left whole
4 large banana shallots
6 oz plain flour
3 oz suet
1 – 2 tsp soy crystals
A good grate of fresh nutmeg
Tiny pinch sea salt
Small pinch dried thyme
Chop the shallots down the middle and then across.
Fry them in some olive oil until they start to soften and brown at the edges, then add in the meatballs and some of the reduction.
Keep frying and mixing until the meatballs are all coated, adding more reduction if they don’t seem coated enough.
Pour in the chopped tomatoes, red wine and then add the chopped chestnuts. DO NOT ADD SALT.
Mix everything together well, then add in another tablespoon of the reduction.
Leave the whole lot to cook in the oven on around 150-160C for about an hour.
Make up the dumplings.
Mix the flour and soy salt together then mix in – but do not rub in – the suet. Grate in 1/8 tsp of fresh nutmeg, and add 1/4 tsp dried thyme.
Now add just sufficient cold water to make a fairly stiff but elastic dough that leaves the bowl clean. It took about 10 tablespoons for me.
Knead it lightly then shape it into 12 dumplings.
Turn the oven to gas mark 6, 400°F (200°C)
Place the dumplings on top of the stew, brush with some watered down reduction, and bake uncovered for a further half an hour. As you can see, it really thickens up! The bottom of the dumplings hold lots of gravy, and the tops are slightly crunchy.
I am definitely making this again. If you left out the meat, doubled the amount of chestnuts, and added mushrooms and parsnips, this would make an excellent vegetarian winter casserole. (Using vegetarian suet, obviously.)
* – if you can’t be faffed, just use smoked Maldon sea salt in the dumplings, and add a tiny touch of Marmite to the mixing water.
** – again, if you can’t be faffed, mix very good, sticky aged balsamic with the soy sauce.