"Secrets" is more than a recipe collection of what probably is Britain's most outstanding chef, you'll also find Gordon Ramsay sharing the tricks of the trade to make you a better cook and enhance your repertoire with new techniques.
One I was particularly intrigued with was pigeon breast cooked in a portwine and madeira sauce enriched with a date-orange paste, prepared using the "sous-vide" technique (people help me out here, but from what I remember of my French lessons at uni, it should not be "sous-viede" as in his book! But he's a chef, not a French teacher, I guess...). This involves cooking meat with a variety of ingredients in a sort of vacuum, and you achieve this by placing them in a plastic bag, from which you extract the air and tie it up, then put in boiling water. Interesting! I hadn't heard of that one before.
But when the time had come to try this in my own home, disaster struck. Or maybe I am exaggerating. Judge for yourselves. The pigeon breasts had clearly decided not to stick around for the best-before date on the pack, when I opened my cupboard, I found that all the madeira had evaporated miraculously and when it came to preparing the sauce, the dates (which I swear had been sitting on that shelf ever since last Christmas) had also decided to look for pastures new. But worst of all, when I looked for the bags in which to cook the breasts, I found an empty box in that cursed drawer!!! What was I to do?
The pigeons were replaced by chicken, a recently opened marsala stood in for the madeira and instead of the date and orange purée, I created an orange and prune sauce. All there was to do is run to a 24/7 and buy some freezer bags (oh yes, and yell at my 11-year-old daughter, who hasn't come out from under the stairs since).
The sous-vide technique allowed the fillets to cook in their own juices, revealing perfectly moist and tender, melt-in-the-mouth chicken pieces and the sauce was a revelation - were it not for the skin that I left on the chicken breasts, this would have contained virtually no fat and yet been incredibly tasty... you must really try this!
I served it with apple-potato purée and caramelised onions - expect a post on this some time soon.
Chicken breasts sous-vide with port-marsala sauce
4 chicken breasts (skin on)
1 medium onion (sliced)
1 medium carrot (chopped)
1 celery stick (chopped)
1 bouquet garni
2 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp port wine
4 tbsp marsala
1 small handful thyme sprigs
1 small handful rosemary sprigs
2 cloves garlic
4 freezer bags (as thick as possible)
125 g chopped semi-dry prunes
100 ml fresh orange juice
Fry the vegetables in the olive oil until softened, add 600 ml water and reduce to create a rich stock. Season with salt and pepper.
Put one chicken breast in each bag, adding a few springs of the herbs, half a clove of garlic, one tbsp port, one tbsp marsala and 2 tbsp of the vegetable stock. Extract as much air as you can and close the bags by tying a knot. Place the bags in a large pot with simmering water and cook for 20 minutes, shaking the bags twice to baste. Watch those bags - they will inflate quite a bit, but make sure they don't burst.
In the meantime, place the prunes and orange juice in a non-stick pan and cook until the prunes have soaked up the orange juice. When the chicken is cooked, cut the bags open and transfer the juices into the pan with the prunes. Purée with a hand-held blender. Arrange the chicken breasts on plates with their accompaniments (I used apple-potato purée, caramelised onions and brokkoli with "poor man's parmesan") and spoon the sauce around.