FOOD & DRINK : KITCHENALIAT

GRATERS
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The Independent Culture
READY-GRATED raw carrots in a supermarket pack can cost five times the price of the same quantity of whole carrots. So a simple pounds 2 grater soon pays for itself in carrots alone. What's more, you'll have added an invaluable item to your batterie de cuisine.

Grated raw food releases its appetising aroma - and a lot of its vitamins - immediately, which is why grating should be carried out just before eating; and because grating breaks down the fibre structure of food it becomes more digestible. To anyone with a lacklustre appetite, or who is tired or ill, these are important considerations.

As they are for such notorious vegetable-dodgers as young children, who can often be converted to healthy food if it's grated. A combination of ripe pears, apples and crisp white cabbage tossed with grated dates and a honey-yoghurt dressing usually proves popular. And with all those money- saving grated carrots? Make a layered carrot and celeriac tian, or some flame-coloured angel's hair jam (but add plenty of lemon to counteract its sweetness), or a spice-rich carrot cake, or - best of all - toss the carrots with a little grated fresh ginger, seasoning, olive oil and the juice of a blood orange for a zingy-flavoured salad.

This last is a dish that our grandmothers would have found difficult to accomplish without the metallic taint imparted by their tin-plate graters. For in our damp climate the thin metal rusts readily on contact with food acids and requires frequent cleaning with wire wool to remain untarnished.

The earliest metal graters were home-made: a rectangle of tin was punctured by driving a nail through it to produce a series of ragged holes then, curved round with the ragged surface outwards, it was nailed to a piece of wood. Before that, food was grated with a knife. Manufactured tin-plate graters date from the 18th century and were immediately popular because they were simpler and saved so much time. Early tin-plate graters are of interest to the kitchenware collector, and some of the most charming examples are small nutmeg graters with a built-in spice box.

Mrs Beeton includes a one shilling (5p) bread grater in her list of essential kitchen equipment, adding that breadcrumbs "rank as one of the most important ingredients in many puddings, seasonings, stuffings, forcemeats, etc, and add much to the appearance of nicely fried fish". Although breadcrumbs are not in such great demand today they are quickly made in a processor or with the grating disc of an electric mixer.

The most versatile hand-held grater is undoubtedly the stainless steel box grater with its choice of grating and rasping surfaces. It works well for grating small amounts of nutmeg, chocolate, nuts, bread and cheese, as well as a wide variety of vegetables and fruit. For the sake of your fingers, though, you should either grate from a lump of food larger than you need or cut up any remaining stub with a knife.

Increasingly, food shops that cater for our growing interest in oriental cooking stock specialist cooking equipment. A bamboo ginger grater, for instance, is both decorative and useful. Shaped like a miniature abacus without any beads, it makes short work of grating fresh ginger.

But to produce a puree of grated ginger nothing compares with a Japanese ceramic grater, which is like a saucer with sharp cera-mic teeth in the centre. If you also acquire a small flat bamboo brush you can use it to remove all trace of the ginger and to blend a dressing or vinaigrette in the saucer itself.

For those strange people who don't like to handle garlic, an alternative to the garlic press is a new garlic slicer/grater (pounds 4.95 Divertimenti) that is said to prevent "smelly fingers". Ideal for the soapless.

A zester is the best grater for citrus fruit. This small implement can produce fine tresses of pith-free peel from a lemon, lime, orange or grapefruit. Look for a heavy gauge stainless steel zester - the cheaper thin metal ones don't work so well. Long shreds of aromatic citrus zest are highly decorative, and taste good too, if they are used sparingly as a garnish to a salad and other dishes. Or, blanched in boiling water and then simmered in a sugar syrup for a few minutes, citrus shreds can be used to decorate cakes, sorbets and ice-creams. However, the short shreds of zest that are produced with a box grater - the six-sided version from Prestige now has a plastic container to capture any fugitive strings - are fine for adding to cakes, biscuits, curds and custards.

Those of us who are addicted to Parmesan cheese - on pasta, in soups, over salads - insist on its being freshly grated to obtain that wonderfully rich, winey flavour. So a hand-held cheese grater - one that can even be used at the table - makes sense. The little mouli-mill with its revolving drum grater has been around a long time and works well even with a rock- hard lump of cheese. A good Italian alternative, operated with a handle on top, has now appeared.

For producing really finely ground Parmesan, however, I'm rather taken with my latest cheese grater, which is American (PomoGrata pounds 4.95) and looks like a white china mushroom with sharp teeth in place of gills. You simply scrape or rotate the grater over the cheese to produce a snowy dusting of Parmesan. If you also want to grate luscious, curly shavings of the cheese over any other dish, use a potato scraper or a Scan-dinavian- style cheese slicer.

COD STEAKS EN PAPILLOTE

Serves 4

4 cod steaks or skinned fillets weighing 150g/5oz each

salt

freshly milled pepper

1 lime

55g/2oz unsalted butter, melted

a walnut-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated

12 coriander leaves, chopped

2 spring onions, cut diagonally into short lengths

4 sheets of baking paper

Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas 5.

Use kitchen paper to pat the fish dry, then season with salt and pepper on both sides. Use a zester to remove most of the lime peel and set aside. Mix the strained lime juice into the butter and stir in the ginger and coriander. Spoon a little of the flavoured butter into the centre of each sheet of paper and place the fish on top. Spoon the remaining butter over the fish and sprinkle the spring onions and lime zest on top.

Fold up the paper to enclose the fish completely and either neatly fold the edges together or twist the ends like a Christmas cracker - if necessary, you can use wooden clothes pegs to hold the paper in place - so that the parcels are leakproof.

Place the parcels on a baking sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the fish has become opaque. Transfer the parcels to warm plates and serve them straight away.

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