I've just made a kilner jar of Piccalilli. It's going to be good, but I think there's room for improvement. A quick recap (using my standard recipe): I chopped up garden vegetables, sprinkled them with sea salt and let them stand for 24 hours. I drained off the water and rinsed them in cold water. Next, I combined a bottle of cider vinegar (500ml) with 250g of white sugar, a dollop of Colman's English Mustard, various spices (including turmeric) and heated it though. I added the rinsed vegetables and cooked the whole thing gently for about ten minutes. Finally, a cornflour paste was added to thicken it up.
It's going to need tweaking. So if you're a Piccalilli junkie, and interested in getting it just so, here are my kitchen notes fresh from this Friday morning's experimentation. The beauty of Piccalilli is that, apart from the mustard and the cauliflower, there are countless variations, and it's impossible to say that one recipe is more correct than another.
Piccalilli: What is it?
A typically British chutney, often made at the end of summer and in early autumn. Essentially, left-over vegetables bound in a mustard yellow sauce. The dish probably originated in 18th century British India.
Traditionally, yellow. A radio-active yellow. And I think, in the interests of nostalgia, it needs to be like this. Otherwise there's a danger it's just going to look like yet another chutney. The stuff I made this morning's having an identity crisis- it's turned brown. I think that's because I used cider vinegar (rather than the lighter coloured white wine vinegar) and my turmeric wasn't fresh enough.
They need to be crunchy; to have bite. I used cauliflower (broken up into small florets), yellow and green peppers, cucumber, baby carrots, baby courgettes, shallots, baby yellow tomatoes and green beans. The vegetables were cut up into small, bite-size pieces, placed in a bowl, sprinkled with sea-salt, and left overnight. This is a "Dry Brine". After 24 hours, you'll find that masses of water will have drained away from the vegetables, leaving them extra-crunchy and crisp. The salt was washed off before cooking. The earthy smell that came off the fresh marinading vegetables was heavenly. This technique would also be great for Vegetables à la Grecque.
Ideally, I do think that the vegetables used in Piccalilli need to reflect the British nature of the dish. Mr Oliver includes mango and dried oregano in his. The Waitrose version includes American butternut squash. Really not sure about either of these and I'm not convinced by Jamie's addition of grated apple. After much thought, my ultimate piccalilli vegetable list might include: cauliflower, marrow (oh, the whiff of the allotment), red and green chillies, silver skin or pearl onions, cucumber, green beans, shallots, fennel, baby carrots, baby courgettes and baby yellow tomatoes. I would cut them up into relatively small pieces, too.
Mustard. Hints of Curry. The dish originated in India, after all. I used a large dollop of Colman's English Mustard, turmeric, ground ginger, ground mustard seeds, ground cumin, smashed up coriander seeds, chili flakes, nutmeg, black pepper and cayenne pepper. I think I can probably improve on this.
It needs to be thick. The Waitrose version looks too runny. Cornflour, you're needed! As well as being a fantastic thickening agent, there's also that shiny, glossy surface thing going on, think Chinese sweet and sour sauce. But it needs to be cooked through properly, otherwise you get that stodgy, uncooked floury taste. My original version adds the cornflour at the end. Much better if it's cooked right at the start.
Sweet and Sour
My current version is too sweet. I need to cut down on the sugar. Getting that balance between the sweet and the sour is difficult. I'm really not keen on sickly over-sweet chutneys. If anything, an authentic piccallili needs to be on the sharp side.
So after much deliberation (trumpet fanfare) here's the newly improved, ultimate and official Greasy Spoon Piccalilli Recipe. Please do let me know if you think we can improve upon it:
1 cauliflower, broken up into small florets
1 small marrow, diced into small chunks
2 green chillies, finely sliced
2 red chillies, finely sliced
Handful of green beans, chopped into small pieces
Handful of silver skin or pearl onions
A few shallots, chopped up into cubes
2 bulbs of fennel, cut into small chunks
Handful of baby carrots, peeled and cut into small dice
1 small cucumber, peeled and cut into small dice
Handful of baby yellow tomatoes, sliced in half
A finger or so of peeled ginger, grated
2 tablespoons mustard seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 tablespoons fresh turmeric
2 tablespoons Colman's English Mustard Powder
Pinch of grated nutmeg
Sprinkling of chilli flakes
Pinch of cayenne pepper
3 cloves garlic
500ml white wine vinegar (ie small bottle)
200g white sugar
3 bay leaves
Place the vegetables into a large bowl, and sprinkle generously with sea salt. Leave overnight. In the morning, drain off the vegetables in a colander and rinse with cold water.
Heat up a large saucepan, and add a little oil. Mustard oil, if you can get it, would be ideal. Fry the mustard seeds, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fresh turmeric, a sprinkling of chilli flakes, grated ginger and pinch of grated nutmeg for a minute or so. Lower the heat and add the Colman's Mustard Powder, crushed garlic, three tablespoons or so of cornflour and a splash of the white wine vinegar. Stir until it forms a paste. Let the flour and garlic cook for a bit.
Gradually mix in the remaining vinegar, stirring all the time so that the ingredients are combined. Then add the white sugar, bay leaves and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Check the seasoning, grating in some chunky black pepper if you think it needs it. Cook on for a few minutes, stirring well to make sure the sugar dissolves.
Add the drained vegetables to the pan and stir well. Cook for about ten minutes on a lowish to medium heat. The vegetables need to be slightly cooked through (especially the green beans), but ideally, at the same time you want them to be crunchy and firm.
Decant into sterilised jars. The piccalilli will need to mature in a dark cupboard for about a month, and then should keep for at least six months, meaning that it's most certainly going to be ready in time for Christmas.
You can play around with the amounts of flour, sugar and vinegar to use. You want a smooth, slightly thick, tangy, mustardy sauce and a nice balance between sweet and sour. I don't think you'll need to add any salt, as the vegetables, although drained, have been sitting in sea salt all night long.