“Look into your pantry, into your refrigerator/freezer and on your kitchen counter, then take a mental snapshot. Then using only the ingredients that you have in those places, create a dish for eight people. Go.”
No, …but the devil… is not getting all Top Chef Quick Fire challenge on you but a recent themed dinner I participated in used exactly this as it’s theme. Even though my mission was to create a starter, it was an interesting food-to-brain exercise to put something together this way. To make it even more interesting, I decided to use only what I could “see” and didn’t uncover or dig into the far recesses of my pantry and fridge. The first two items I saw were a box of cous cous and a box of Japanese-style curry roux. Then things got interesting.
I had recently been craving both Japanese curry rice and kurokke (koo-row-kay), a deep-fried, panko-crusted mashed potato-meat patty, known better in Western cooking as a croquette. Suspecting that cous cous might make a interesting substitute for potato, I landed on a curried cous cous croquette. And a natural sauce for a curried dish is chutney and the kitchen counter near the sink had two recently purchased Piñata apples and a yellow onion. Piñata apples are a newish variety that are a nice mix of sweet and tart and keep their crispness and color longer than other varieties. This makes them versatile for both cooking and slicing up raw for salads. I had intended to make a dish or two of quickie apple cobbler with them but they were just begging to be chutneyed.
The only apprehension I had was getting the curry flavor into the cous cous. Japanese curry roux comes in flat blocks in packages that make 4 or 9 portions depending on the size of the package. When dropped into a pot of simmering meat, potato and carrot, the roux thickens very quickly. I didn’t want to have a liquid so thick that the dried cous cous couldn’t soak it up so it was a bit of crap-shoot as to how much to use. I settled on three small blocks out of a twelve block package. As soon as I dropped the curry roux into the boiling chicken stock, it started to thicken and it looked like maybe I had used too much. I stirred in the cous cous, slammed the lid on and waited. After 7 minutes or so, I peeked under the lid. I was expecting a sea of curry sauce with semi-hydrated cous cous floating around in it but instead all of the curry liquid was gone and the cous cous was plump and had turned a deep curry-brown. And it tasted really good. Score.
Most of the battle was over and it seemed like I had won. Making the chutney was an easy sauté and simmer. Adding a binder with a bit of cream, some beaten egg and flour to make croquettes was a no brainer for the actual frying part of the adventure. My ever present bottle of sambal was also on the counter so I had a heat component to give the dish another dimension. The end result was a dish of crisp edged croquettes with a fall-apart texture inside. The frying also toasted the outside cous cous grains so there was yet another flavor in the mix. The chutney added sweet and fragrant spice.
I had a real blast stretching my head around creating a dish where I had to resist the urge to go out and buy ingredients. My pantry is pretty overloaded so maybe it’s time to do more invention. There’s no guarantee of success 100% of the time but that’s not the point. It’s fun to really play with your food.
Curry Cous Cous Croquettes (Korokke) with Apple-Onion Chutney
1 10 oz. box plain cous cous
3 curry blocks from a “serves-9” package of Japanese curry roux
(you could also use a third of a package of a small size box of curry roux)
2 cups of chicken stock
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon each coriander seeds, fennel seeds and cumin seeds
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 apples (I used Piñata apples but you can use any apple that stands up to sautéing, like Granny Smth), peeled, cored, cut into medium (1/2 inch) chunks
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup Sherry wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
pinch of chipotle powder (optional)
ground black pepper to taste
3 eggs, well beaten
4 tablespoons of flour
1/4 cup heavy cream (you may need to add a bit more to get cous cous to “bind”)
canola or peanut oil for frying
sambal oelek for service
1. In a medium sauce pan, bring chicken stock to a boil.
2. Add curry blocks and stir until dissolved (the mixture will start to thicken as the roux dissolves).
3. Add the cous cous and stir.
4. Remove the pan from the heat and put the lid on and let the cous cous steam for 5-8 minutes.
5. Check to see that the cous cous has soaked up all or most of the liquid, then fluff up with a fork.
Let the cous cous cool. You can even make this a day ahead of time an store it in the refrigerator.
1. In a small, dry saute pan over medium-high heat, add mustard seeds, coriander seeds, fennel seeds and cumin seeds and “roast” until the spices start to give up their oil (they’ll become fragrant). Immediately remove spices from the pan, put them into a coffee grinder or a mortar and grind into a coarse powder.
2. Add olive oil to saute pan over medium heat.
3. Add onions to the saute pan and cook 10-15 minutes until caramelized to a golden color.
4. Add 2-3 tablespoons of the ground spices to the pan and stir
5. Add apples to the pan and saute until edges of apple start to soften
6. Add the vinegar, sugar, allspice, ginger and chipotle powder to the pan and stir until well mixed.
7. Reduce the heat to low and simmer gently until apples are cooked but hold their shape.
The chutney will have a chance to develop it’s flavors after sitting covered overnight in the refrigerator
Cooking and service
1. In a shallow, non-stick pan, pour oil to about a 1/2 inch depth (you’ll want to “shallow” fry the croquettes) and heat over medium-high heat.
2. Re-fluff the cous cous with a fork or break it up with your fingers
2. Beat the eggs and add them to the cous cous.
3. Add the flour and cream to the cous cous and mix until the cous cous can stick together enough to make croquettes (small patties or oval falafel-like balls). You may have to add more flour and/or cream to get cous cous to “bind”.
4. Test the oil temperature with a small patty of the cous cous mixture – it should start to sizzle around the edges right away.
5. Make 6-7 small (2-2 1/2 inch diameter, about 1/2 inch thick) croquettes of the cous cous mixture
6. Cook the cous cous croquettes on each side until lightly crisp (about 2 minutes per side, depending on your oil temperature). Watch the croquettes carefully, they will burn quickly if you don’t.
7. While the first batch of croquettes is cooking, form a second set of croquettes.
8 When each batch of croquettes are done, put them on a rack to cool. Don’t put them on paper towels – they’ll get soggy on the bottom side if you do.
9. Repeat Steps 5 through 8 until you run out of cous cous mixture.
Arrange 2-3 freshly cooked croquettes on a plate and serve with the apple-onion chutney (best at room temperature) and sambal.
Makes about 30 croquettes.