Fridge and freezer

Fridge and freezer

By
Claire Thomson
Contains
14 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
ISBN
9781849499552
Photographer
Mike Lusmore

I don’t have a large fridge and sometimes when other people open my fridge they remark upon how empty it is. ‘A chef’s fridge,’ I say, and they often look puzzled. Wouldn’t a chef’s fridge be stuffed full of ingredients to cook with? It sometimes is, at Christmas or on other occasions when I expect to feed a crowd, but as anyone who is interested in cooking will know, cooking on a daily basis means maintaining a steady turnover of food and ingredients. The movement of food from uncooked to cooked gives a sense of rhythm to the comings and goings of the fridge. Raw ingredients become finished dishes, then return to the fridge or freezer as all-important leftovers. A holding pen for ingredients, the contents of my fridge say an awful lot about how I shop and cook, week in week out.

The exception to this fast turnover of ingredients in my fridge is the top shelf, home to an international selection of preserves, pickles and condiments. These are all pungent ingredients, used more sparingly and with a longer shelf life; various jars, bottles and tubs, shop-bought, homemade, some labelled and some not. Their worth in the kitchen is that they all pack a punch as spoonfuls and handfuls or served as accompaniments. There is often mustard (Dijon and grain), miso, tamarind pulp, Korean red chilli paste (gojuchang), Chinese fermented black beans, jars of capers, anchovies and olives and usually a big jar of shopbought Polish sour pickled cucumbers, all cloudy with dill. With the pickles long gone, I never throw away the juice but use it to dress chop chop salads, in bread doughs in lieu of some of the water for an impossible-to-identify, intriguing sourness, or as a general piquant seasoning liquid, for example in cabbage and caraway soup. Kimchi, Korean fermented vegetables, is for me an essential grocery item. Eaten fridge-cold, sour, crunchy and hot, kimchi with steamed rice and broccoli is one of my laziest suppers and the one I relish the most for its simplicity. There might also be some rhubarb ketchup I’ve made myself, an assortment of Indian pickles in jars, or some blueberries pickled to accompany the ham one Christmas back. On the rare occasions (time, inclination and curiosity) that I delve to the back of the fridge, it is there that I will come across something more esoteric, like the jar of bergamots in syrup bought in Italy or the plastic tub of sausage casings all frosted with rock salt.

In the door of the fridge there is always milk. I have three young children, so I buy full fat. There never seems to be enough, milkguzzlers all three, and we forever run out. On the shelf above the milk sits butter. Butter is tremendous to eat and to cook with. I never buy so-called spread, finding it oleaginous in name and substance. I’ve worked in restaurants where butter use has been so flagrant, the butter had to have its own fridge. Yoghurt features often in the food I make at home and I am never without a large tub of plain yoghurt in the fridge to use as a marinade, in lassi, on porridge or bircher, in cakes or stabilized with flour and egg and cooked with rice for yoghurt and rice soup. This recipe stands out here as one of my favourite recipes in the book. Crème fraîche or sour cream, though less frequently used than yoghurt, has an equally good shelf life and will always find a use.

As for cheese, all the best people I have known in food and kitchens share a deep and greedy love of it. In London once I worked in a cheese shop – a brief break from cooking at the stoves. I wanted to learn more about cheese. And I did. I learnt about the different milks used to make certain cheeses, from Alpine cow’s to Staffordshire goat’s and Italian sheep’s. How some cheeses are washed and some are cave aged. How proper blue cheeses should never have crude and uniform injection marks from the mould but should be marbled sensitively throughout with a deep and beautiful blue. Hard cheeses with salty crunchy crystals, mountain cheeses made in monasteries, and soft voluptuous cheeses barely able to hold their form; bursting at the rind . . . I still often think about those cheeses. Good cheese should always be a treat. In my fridge and used more frequently are any one of a good-quality Cheddar, halloumi, ricotta, mozzarella or feta. Knockout individual cheeses are certain to arrive and depart readily from the fridge on special occasions.

Eggs should be stored at a constant temperature below 20°C, which in most domestic kitchens means the fridge. This avoids temperature fluctuations, which can alter the porosity of the shell. Egg storage is a contentious issue, with a split between those who keep their eggs in the fridge and those who don’t. I keep my eggs in the fridge. My kitchen is small and can get quite hot in the summer or if the oven is on, and the fridge is a reliably cool storage place for eggs and helps to maintain their quality. I also store my eggs in their original cardboard carton and never in the fabricated plastic egg box in the door of the fridge. The cardboard cartons help to reduce moisture loss and protect the eggs from absorbing other fridge flavours. The opening and closing of the door can also be disruptive to the egg’s form and temperature. As for cold eggs having a reputation for being trickier to bake with, I am in the habit of removing eggs destined for baking an hour or so before use to acclimatize. Eggs are a miracle food, and there is nothing I can write that hasn’t already been written. Without eggs, my cooking comes to a grinding halt; they are the breakfast, lunch and dinner to my life.

Next to the eggs in a wide tub with a lid sit some brined pickled vegetables. Quick pickled, these vegetables won’t last indefinitely like brined and long-fermented pickles. Prepare the pickles the day before you serve them and use the excess vinegar in salad dressings and marinades. Serve the pickles as antipasti at the start of a meal, or sliced and added to cheese, ham or hard-boiled egg sandwiches, or use them in salads and chopped into mayonnaise like you might with capers or gherkins. The steady depletion of this pickle tub is determined by just how moreish these sweetsour vegetables are.

Vegetable drawers can be funny things, a bit like vegetable graveyards. In mine there is stock celery and carrots, a cucumber (always a cucumber), some lettuce and lots of apples. Fridgecold apples are the best; they are my guilty secret and I love their cold juicy crunch. The vegetable drawer is not where I look for stimulus to cook but where I rely upon the contents to support the food I cook. Celery and carrots are the fulcrum for my love affair with lentils, which is why I am never without either, but they will rarely feature as a showpiece vegetable come lunch or supper. I love vegetables and relish their seasonal bounty, but they are best eaten soon after purchase. Which is why, in my house, any vegetable hoard will sit royally ready for use slap bang in the centre of the kitchen table, much like the fruit bowl. Herbs, however optimistically I refrigerate them, never seem to last all that well. Bay leaves, sage, thyme, rosemary and even leafy robust parsley, these are all hardy enough to survive out of the fridge, ready and waiting. Soft herbs – basil, mint, coriander, dill, chives and tarragon – are far better used flamboyantly and without a care for conservation; they have no place in the fridge.

I am, however, conscious of the modern-day reliance on refrigerating absolutely everything, when often there is no need. On a cold winter’s day, the doorstep is a fine place for milk to sit. I love that my mum uses the windowsill in her front porch as an extension of the fridge when all the family descend at Christmas and her fridge is fit to burst. I am proud of the paucity of my fridge. Its bare bones represent the fact that I let nothing go to waste and that I always strive to use any ingredients at their optimum quality.

My freezer might raise even more eyebrows than my fridge. Packed tight in plastic bags are my favourite dresses and most treasured jumpers. I remember staying with my aunt a few years ago and feeling quite spooked by the fact that her freezer was full of clothes, stashed and frozen in shopping bags. Had she murdered someone and was she hiding the evidence? ‘Moths,’ she said casually; ‘it’s only way to save your clothes.’ She was right – like Jenny, I now freeze any items I’m terrified the moths will want to munch. They’re a hungry bunch and, try as I might, they are a devil to get rid of. Freezing is the only solution, though some garments are a little chilly of a morning!

I enjoy cooking daily, and the thought of cooking something to freeze and eat on another day is anathema to me. As such, I rarely use my freezer to store excess food (it tends to all get eaten) or ready-made meals. Cooking is an incredibly emotive activity: what I want to cook will depend on what mood I am in, who I am feeding or what ingredients I have to hand. I can’t imagine having the forethought to cook something for a day yet to happen. There are exceptions I suppose, the arrival of a new baby in the house for example, when all is a bleary bubble – then, absolutely, some frozen previously made meals are a lifesaver. Like the fridge, my freezer is kept pretty spartan; squashed in among the clothes are always frozen peas and spinach, fresh curry leaves I’ve bought by the branch (they freeze brilliantly), filo pastry and endlessly reliable wholemeal pita breads for packed lunches, fattoush salads, with falafel, ful medames or baked eggs.

Frozen spinach is a relatively new freezer favourite for me. Fresh spinach is wonderful, but bought by the bag from the supermarket the yield is always low and big leafy bunches from greengrocers are often hard to come by. Defrosted and added to any wet soupy dishes such as coconut and egg curry or heated through with cream and mustard, frozen spinach is a useful staple. Like peas, spinach fares particularly well flashfrozen and retains many of its nutrients. Frozen peas are a reliable substitute for fresh, especially any bigger peas, which can be floury in texture, with tough skins. With no real need to cook, thawed and thrown in rice dishes, dhals, curries and salads, or crushed and spiced for samosa-like filo parcels, or heated with oil and mint for sott’olio, my freezer is never without frozen peas. Widely available, filo pastry is also well suited to the freezer. Defrosted just enough for it to no longer be brittle, in a flash these paper-thin translucent sheets of dough, brushed with melted butter or olive oil, can be formed to make any number of crisp pies or delicate crusts. Use it to make quick samosa-like parcels or pumpkin and feta pie, among others.

I see the fridge and freezer very much as a continuation of my larder. Cannily stocked with key staples as suggested, and working in conjunction with the dry store, I am able to produce assorted delicious and economical dishes daily. To finish – as if to close the door on this chapter – I have a friend who swears by the fact that she will sometimes open her fridge door and scream something, anything, into the fridge as a therapeutic release from the bedlam of parenthood. I know this feeling all too well. When all around you is shambolic and no one is listening to anyone, shouting into this plastic abyss – door wide open and your head in the quiet of the cool – is an entirely liberating and sensible thing to do. Flashpoint over, serendipity is the bottle of wine in the door of the fridge.

Fridge and freezer basics

Fridge

milk

butter

plain yoghurt

crème fraîche

Cheddar cheese

halloumi

feta

mozzarella

eggs

Freezer

spinach

petits pois

filo pastry

pita bread

curry leaves

Featured Recipes in this Chapter

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