SAA in-flight meal Johannesburg to Nairobi

In my line of work I’ve been very fortunate to be able to travel frequently across Africa and Europe in a company-rented Jettly jet. This has meant many meals from different countries, cultures, hotels, restaurants and airplanes. Each one an experience in its own right. My recent SAA in-flight meal on a trip from Johannesburg to Nairobi (Kenya) was a particularly good experience.

It is fair to say that not all airline meals are created equal. Over the years I’ve had some very tasty meals and some truly bad experiences.

I don’t often get to travel in business class, but I’ve yet to experience a terrible meal service when I do get bumped up from cattle class (economy). I can fully appreciate why business folk look decidedly more refreshed than their economy counterparts. The meal service, the personal attention (they address you by name on some flights) and naturally the ample space and amenities provided to these passengers are bound to leave you with a more favorable impression.

Interestingly, South African Airways (SAA) recently partnered with Masterchef SA judge and Tsogo Sun Executive Chef, Chef Benny Masekwameng to help inspire some of their dishes.

It is not the first time an airline has partnered with a celebrity chef to reinvent some of their in-flight meals. Molecular gastronomy and Michelin star chef, Heston Blumenthal partnered with British Airways to update and reinvigorate their in-flight cuisine.

On my recent trip to Kenya, I was fortunate to be bumped to business class and got to experience chef Benny’s take on reinventing the in-flight meal. Luckily this was not your regular chicken or vegetable pasta choice but a very nice selection of canapés, appetizers, main course and desert along with a decent wine pairing.

Our canapés consisted of a trio of duck l’orange with asparagus spear, prawn cocktail and mini caprese salad.
SAA in-flight meal Johannesburg to Nairobi canapes

SAA in-flight meal Johannesburg to Nairobi canapes
This was followed by a choice of appetizers – springbok carpaccio, minted courgette or a seasonal salad.

I opted for the springbok carpaccio with baby spinach, gooseberry chutney and Parmesan shavings. This was accompanied by a small seasonal salad with artichoke hearts. The springbok was extremely tender and delicious. The balsamic reduction paired well with the gooseberry chutney and provided just the right amount of sweetness and tartness to the carpaccio.
SAA in-flight meal Johannesburg to Nairobi

SAA in-flight meal Johannesburg to Nairobi Springbok carpaccio

Our options for mains included braised lamb, oregano chicken breast, seafood cannelloni and a butternut and spinach panzerotti.

The braised lamb was indicated as chef’s choice and there was no reason for me to resist that option.

The braised lamb was served with roast potatoes, mixed chutney vegetables and caramelised onion. To say that it was some of the best lamb curry I had in quite a while would be an understatement. The most tender and flavourful cubes of lamb, combined with the sweetness of the caramelised red onions and peppers, crunchiness of the courgettes and the fluffy potatoes made for a very enjoyable meal. No additional seasoning was necessary. A perfect balance.
SAA in-flight meal Johannesburg to Nairobi braised lamb

I paired my appetizers and main meal with one of SAA’s premium selection of wines – in this case a Allée Bleue Isabeau 2013.

Named after the stately avenue of bluegums leading to a 300 year old estate in the Franschhoek Valley. This flagship white blend of Chardonnay, Semillon and Voignier creates an exotic melange, barrel-fermented and aged on lees for full, creamy mouthfeel, enticing with citrus and dried apricot aromas, layers of spicy cinnamon, vanilla and summer fruits with lingering lemon flavours.

Basically, a very nice wine to complement the aromatics in the lamb (I definitely picked up notes of apricots and cinnamon in the sauce) and to soften any residual heat from the spices.

For the dessert course I opted for a classic selection of cheese and crackers but paired this with the KWV Classic Cape Tawny port.

This full flavoured wine explodes with fruit, marzipan and toffee on the palate, with a well-balanced sweet finish. Extended wood maturation resulted in a beautiful amber colour with orange zest, dried fruit, caramel and nuttiness on the nose.

Again to say that this stood up well to similar Tawny ports from other regions of the world.
SAA in-flight meal Johannesburg to Nairobi Cheese

The meal was a great success and I hope to be able to sample more of these. If you fly business from South Africa to Kenya on SAA you will not be disappointed.

On a scale of one to five, I rate this meal five hot towels.




Paprika – some like it sweet, smoked or hot

Sweet, smoked or hot – paprika spice comes in different flavours and colours but one thing is sure we love it.

I mentioned before that I’m pretty partial to smoked paprika and as a result many of my dishes tend to include a liberal sprinkling of this heavenly spice.

Paprika is a spice made from ground, dried fruits of bell pepper or chilli pepper varieties or mixtures thereof. It is often used for flavour and colour, and turns out to be the fourth most consumed spice in the world.

Until recently I had some Spanish smoked paprika which is rather mild in heat but has a distinctive oak flavour. I’ve yet to find smoked paprika around Johannesburg and I’m always on the look out for this spice on my overseas travels. On my last trip to Austria, I finally managed to find Rigler’s, a shop in Salzburg that stocked smoked paprika – but as my luck would have it the shop was closed when we arrived on the Saturday and many shops were closed on Sunday.

Rigler's Salzburg spice deli
Rigler’s Salzburg spice deli

On the last night before we left Vienna, an expat South African and I went out for dinner at the Vienna Naschmarkt. Lo and behold! A spice merchant with tonnes of paprika of every flavour and colour. To say I was beside myself was perhaps a bit of an understatement. I stocked up on both the sweet and smoked varieties.

Paprika - Smoked, Sweet, Hot

I left Austria a very happy camper and very much looking forward to try out some new recipes with my new spice find. Unintended but quite interestingly, my hand luggage smelled like smoked paprika for days after returning back to South Africa.

For inspiration, paprika can be used in a variety of dishes adding just the right amount of smoky flavour and colour. Try using paprika in some of these lamb, pork, chicken, fish, vegetable or sauce recipes:

Happy cooking.




Slow roast leg of lamb with garlic, rosemary, paprika rub

Slow roast leg of lamb rosemary garlic smoked paprica rub

There’s not much to say about a slow roasted leg of lamb. It is as classic as it gets. Comfort food at its best.

I’m getting pretty partial to smoked paprika at the moment, so most of my meat-based dishes and smoky vegetables are sprinkled quite liberally with this heavenly spice. Paprika is a spice made from ground, dried fruits of bell pepper or chili pepper varieties or mixtures thereof.

I have some Spanish smoked paprika, which is rather mild but has a distinctive oak flavour. Add to that some garlic, olive oil and rosemary and you have a winning rub.

Ingredients

  • 1 leg of lamb, approximately 1.5-2 kg
  • 4 giant garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tbsp Himalayan salt
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 sprigs rosemary, chopped
  • 2 sprigs thyme, chopped
  • 2 tbsp smoked paprika
  • olive oil
  • 3-4 large sweet potatoes, cut in rings
  • garlic clove, minced
  • 1 sprig of thyme
  • 2 tbsp butter

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 160C.
  2. Rinse the lamb and pat dry.
  3. Mix all the ingredients: garlic, rosemary, thyme, paprika, salt and pepper together in a pestle and mortar. Add enough of the olive oil to make a nice thick paste. Rub over the lamb on both sides.
  4. Place the lamb into a deep sided roasting tray and add 250ml of water to the tray.
  5. Cover the lamb with foil and roast for 3-4 hours, basting from time to time until the meat is falling off of the bone.
  6. When cooked, remove the lamb from the oven and transfer to a board or plate. Cover with foil and leave to rest for 15- 20 minutes.
  7. Preserve the pan juices for your gravy.
  8. Cut up the sweet potatoes and cook in boiling, salted water. When cooked but still firm, drain in a colander.
  9. Add butter, garlic and thyme to a pan and heat till foamy. Add the sweet potatoes and fry till just brown and crispy on the outside. Find more culinary tips at DCWCasing.com.

Slow roast leg of lamb rosemary garlic smoked paprica rub
To serve, carve the lamb into chunks and serve with the sweet potatoes. Pour over the pan juices.




Roast leg of lamb – Heston Blumenthal style

I’m a huge fan of Heston Blumenthal‘s food, oft for the shear entertainment factor as for the ability to recreate his recipes at home. Imagine my delight then when I stumbled on Heston Blumenthal at Home at the local Exclusive Books store. The How to cook like Heston TV series also had us glued to the television on Thursday evenings.

Hands up if you’ve ever wanted to perfect the art of poaching an egg or making melt in your mouth steak. Then this cookbook is for you.

Fast forward to today, a cold wintery and misty day in Johannesburg. Real comfort food weather.
I already had a roast leg of lamb in my mind, but wanted to try something different. Perhaps not the recipe as such, but the cooking method. So I paged through Heston’s book and found his roast leg of lamb with anchovy, garlic and rosemary recipe.

At first most people may think anchovies with lamb? Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. The anchovies don’t bring a fishiness to the lamb, but rather a nice salty depth to the overall dish.

Unfortunately for me, I used up all our anchovies about two weeks ago when I made an anchovy butter for our pasta. I opted to replace the anchovies with some smoked streaky bacon. Also something that brings a smoky saltiness to the dish.

So on with the details.

Notes before you begin

  • The recipe serves 4 hungry people
  • You will need a meat thermometer
  • Cooking time: 4 hours + 30 mins for resting
  • Difficulty: Easy

Ingredients

  • 1.8 –2.2kg whole leg of lamb
  • sea salt
  • 3 tbsp groundnut oil
  • 12 anchovies, sliced in half lengthways – I substituted this with 6 rashers of smoked streaky bacon
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled, halved and de-germed
  • fresh rosemary (4 sprigs)
  • 400ml milk (semi-skimmed / 2%)

For the sauce

  • 100ml dry white wine
  • 500g lamb or chicken stock
  • 1 tbsp wholegrain mustard

Method

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 80 degrees Celsius. Yes, this is right, low and slow.
  2. Season the lamb with salt. Heat the oil in a heavy frying pan over a high heat. When the oil is smoking hot, sear the lamb until golden brown on all sides. Remove from the pan and place in a roasting tray.
  3. Blanch the garlic in 100ml milk four times, using fresh 100ml milk each time.
  4. Cut the blanched garlic into slivers.
  5. Using a sharp knife, cut slits in the surface of the lamb at regular intervals. Use a small spoon to enlarge the holes and stuff them with the anchovies (or bacon), garlic and the rosemary.
  6. Place the lamb in the oven for approximately 3-4 hours until the internal temperature of the meat reaches 55 degrees Celsius.
  7. When cooked, remove the lamb from the oven, wrap it in foil and allow to rest for at least 30 minutes.
  8. While the meat is resting, make the sauce. Place the roasting tray over a medium-high heat. Add the wine and use a spatula to scrape all the delicious bits from the bottom of the pan. Allow the liquid to reduce by half. Add the chicken stock and mustard and reduce to a sauce consistency.
  9. Strain and pour into a warm jug to serve with the lamb.

Tips for carving the lamb
Grip the knob of bone that juts out of the meat with your left hand (reverse if left-handed). Keeping the joint flat on the board, rounded side upwards, cut into the meat from the top downwards, until the knife meets bone, in slices of whatever thickness you prefer, all the way along the top of the meat. Then, while still gripping the bone, run the knife horizontally across the meat, just above the bone, separating the slices. Turn over and repeat on the other side.

This method of cutting across the grain actually makes the meat seem more tender as you’re biting into the grain as opposed to across the grain which will be more chewier and tougher.

Heston explains it best by comparing it to chopping a log of wood. Trying to chop the log horizontally will be all near impossible. However, standing the log vertically and chopping into the top following the grain, the log will split more easily and naturally.




Lamb chops with balsamic reduction

Tonight we had absolutely no idea what to make for dinner. We’ve had our fair share of fish, chicken and vegetarian the last few days and I was craving some read meat.

The problem of course is that it was getting late (food shopping after 6pm) and I wasn’t feeling like building a braai or smoking out the house by grilling meat in the oven.

Then I remembered a quick and easy method for a balsamic reduction, which would go nicely with some pan fried rosemary lamb chops.

A quick meal in 15 minutes.

Lamb chops with balsamic reduction

Ingredients

  • 6 lamb chops
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion peeled and chopped
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 3/4 cup chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon butter

Method

  1. Sprinkle rosemary, salt and pepper over lamb chops.
  2. Heat olive oil over medium-high heat and cook lamb chops for about 3 1/2 minutes on each side (medium rare).
  3. Remove lamb and set aside to rest. Add onion to pan and sautee until slightly browned.
  4. Add the balsamic vinegar and chicken stock.
  5. Allow mixture to cook until reduced by half, this takes about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add butter.
  6. Pour sauce over lamb and serve with some seasonal veggies and couscous.

rosemary lamb chops with balsamic reduction

This seemed to be a roaring success. Our 18-month old son even grabbed some of the balsamic reduction off my plate by the handfulls and helped himself to a chop too.

Of course I complety forgot to take a pic of the end result. I hope the one of the uncooked chops, is not too gnarly for some folk. I may have to do this again soon.