27 DECEMBER 1963, Page 24

Consuming Interest

Salted Away

• By ELIZABETH DAVID WITH drinks, the packaged cashews and peanuts of commerce make wretched It is, goodness knows, easy enough to pre- pare almonds for salting. They cost half the price of salted almonds in jars or tins and taste twice as good.

If blanched whole almonds• are not to be found, the skinning process is a matter of minutes. Plunge the almonds—it does not matter whether they are Jordans or Valencias—into boiling water. When the water has again boiled, turn the almonds out into a colander. While they are still warm, slip off the skins. This part of the operation can be done in advance, and the blanched almonds stored, ready for baking and salting, in a stoppered jar. For six people, allow not less than a pound of almonds.

All that is needed, apart from the blanched almonds, is an oven, a baking tin, kitchen salt, kitchen paper, and, if possible, a phial of sweet almond oil bought from the chemist. Butter will pass instead of almond oil.

It was via a Sudanese cook called Suleiman who worked for me in Egypt that I first dis- covered how the best salted almonds are made. Suleiman used not more than a teaspoonful of almond oil or butter per half-pound of almonds. What you do is to put the blanched almonds in a baking tin rubbed with the oil or butter. The tin then goes into the centre of.a very slow oven (the oven in my Cairo kitchen was a galvanised- iron box perched over a primus stove. The magic of this primitive device can be very well repro- duced with any gas, solid fuel, 'or electric oven at a temperature of approximately 210° F. or gas No. 2) and there leave it for about forty- five minutes until the almonds are the colour of pale toast. Have ready on the table a sheet of perfectly ordinary kitchen paper strewn with perfectly ordinary kitchen salt (about three table- spoons to lb.) or, if you prefer, pounded gros sel. Free-running table salt is to be avoided, for this as for all other purposes. Empty the toasted almonds on to the paper. Swish them round in the salt. At this stage,-add if you like, a cautious sprinkling of cayenne pepper. Gather up the corners of the paper and twist them so that you have a tightly fastened little parcel which you put away in a drawer, or in the kitchen cup- board. This part of the ritual is not so much witchcraft as plain common sense. In my ex- perience, it is necessary to conceal salted almonds from all eyes until the appropriate time comes for them to be produced. Few sights so set the gastric juices to work as a dish of freshly toasted and salted almonds. Even to say the words does the trick. Whoever first thought of calling a

cocktail bar The Salted Almond knew a thing or two.

When the moment arrives to set out the almonds, unwrap the parcel and discard the excess salt. If by some very unusual chance there should be salted almonds left over, they can be re-toasted in a slow oven—but they will not again be quite the same. Suleiman used to put away any spare salted almonds, with raisins and pine-nuts, into a rice dish. And he could not be persuaded to produce salted almonds without due notice. He held it essential to give them their few hours in the salt. He was right. The important points about salted almonds are that they must be so dry from the slow toasting in the oven that they squeak as you bite into them; at the same time they must be perceptibly 1 salty, but not to the extent that their taste is killed.

Many cooks fry rather than bake their almonds for salting. Anyone who prefers to try this much more tricky method would be well advised to use clarified butter for the frying and to drain the fried almonds on a sieve before salting them. For the non-stick and non-burn butter' frying of croutons for soup and for the slow- frying of fish, clarified butter is so important that a supply seems to me an essential kitchen store. It is a question only of melting butter in a pan over low heat and leaving it to cool, so that the sediment settles, before filtering it through a piece of doubled butter muslin into a pot or jar, to be kept in a larder or refrigerator.

Whatever happened to English potted meat? Potted, venison, spiced beef, ham, ox-tongue, grouse, partridge, goose and hare, how did they turn from the home-made delicacies of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century English break- fast table into the glass-encased pastes which constitute one of the minor shames of th English food industry? The old recipes are over- due for return from the factories where the have been misused to our own kitchens, where they can now, after an eclipse of fifty years, b put once more into practice.

My own candidate for revival among th eighteenth-century potted meat 'dishes would b the most basic and straightforward one mad with ox-tongue. It is a characteristically English speciality, of appetising aspect and delicat flavour. As with a number of old dishes o English household cookery, among them th creams and syllabubs and fruit fools which r quired prolonged and vigorous whisking, or muc stirring and sieving, the return of potted meat to home cooking is made possible by the adven o of cheap light-duty electric blenders and mixer th For these we have to thank the Frenc Trj Moulinex* firm, whose ingenious little machine allow the cook a degree of control which give II

the feeling that the mechanism is almost boil( into one's own hands. The Moulinex Marinette £5 19s. 6d., is first-class value for small hous holds. The Robot Marie, at £8 19s. 6d., has teh mincer attachment added to the collection of in blender, cream and sauce whisk, egg-white beate /it * Distributors are Andrews Housewares, 13 Kirkdale, SE26, d lightweight dough-mixer of the Marinette. To pound cooked tongue by hand and pestle heavy going. With the aid of the machine it easy. Proportions are, approximately, a half- nund of tongue to four or five ounces of clari- ed butter, plus a minimal seasoning of freshly illed pepper and mace—and nothing else what- °ever. The tongue, first cut into small pieces, is educed to a paste with three, ounces of the utter (in this case it is clarified for easier work- g and amalgamation). The mixture is packed to china or white lined earthenware pots or rrines, for preference shallow and wide rather an deep and narrow. The rest of the butter is -melted (if it is not entirely Clear of sediment, -filter it) and poured over the tongue to form sealing layer. As an unexacting first-course nch dish, well-chilled potted tongue with hot esh thin toast is as admirable as it is for reakfast or for tea.

Among the lesser lunacies of this year's festive ason the prize for sheer offhand insouciance es to the overdo-it-yourself department of the luminium Foil Bureau. 'Get,' this body ad- es the ladies and gentlemen of the press, 'get boy doll; give him a collar and then make him surplice of two layers of pleated aluminium d: result—Christmas Choirboy.'