Sole Power

7 Nov

I could tell you that my favourite fish is Pollock or Pouting, but then I’d be lying. I am keenly aware of fish sustainability, as we all should be and I know it’s not very “right on”, but for sheer deliciousness you can’t beat the flat fish Kings of the sea- Turbot, Brill and Dover sole. Their flesh has a gelatinous quality, especially when cooked on the bone, a firmness and sweetness that is unrivalled in other fish. They are also entering their prime now and, conveniently, pair so well with other Autumn and Winter staples. The following recipes are truly delicious and perfect for special occasions…

 

Brill fillet with white cabbage and grain mustard sauce.

Serves 2

The method for cooking the fish here is part braising, part poaching and part baking which produces just-cooked, moist, pearly fish. Try and get the 2 larger fillets from the upper half of a thick fish and ask your fishmonger to skin them.

 

Preheat your oven to 140 degrees C.

Shred a quarter of a white cabbage as finely as you can- set aside. In a medium sized saucepan, heat a glass of dry Riesling, reduce by half and add a knob of unsalted butter. Now add the cabbage along with a pinch of salt, a twist of black pepper, a couple of crushed juniper berries and another knob of butter. Clamp on a lid and cook on a medium heat for 5 minutes. Take off the heat, leaving the lid on to keep warm.

Butter an oven-proof frying pan and season the pan with salt. Introduce the brill fillets to the pan, pour over another small wineglass of Riesling. Season the fish lightly with salt and put a small knob of butter atop each one. Cover the fish using either the paper from the pack of butter, or a small circle of buttered baking parchment. Place on the middle shelf of the oven and cook for 8 minutes, basting after 4.

Whilst the fish is cooking, make the sauce. Into a small sauce pan pour 200ml of double cream, add a teaspoon of Dijon mustard along with a heaped teaspoon of grain mustard (if  you can get hold of it, Pommery mustard is the best). Warm the sauce, stirring with a smalll whisk. Once the fish is cooked, pour any juices into the sauce, taste it and adjust the seasoning accordingly.

To serve, reheat the cabbage without the lid and place a pile of the cabbage in the middle of warmed bowls, place the fish on top and pour the sauce over and around. Little steamed, parsleyed potatoes would be a great accompaniment.

T-bone of turbot with ceps

Serves 2

Ask your fishmonger for a couple of 200g turbot steaks, on the bone, in cheffy parlance this is called a “tranche”. I think T-bone’s better.

This dish is cooked in one pan, so you’ll need to have everything chopped, prepped and to hand before you start cooking. So, clean 200g of firm ceps, using a pastry brush to remove any loose dirt from the caps and bases, any more persistant dirt, i.e. around the base, can be scraped off using a small knife.

Finely chop 2 cloves of garlic. Take the leaves off half a small bunch of parsley and a few leaves of either tarragon or chervil and roughly chop. Now, let’s cook:

Heat a heavy-based frying pan over a medium flame, this is important- if the pan isn’t hot before you add the fish, the fish will stick. Also, you need a pan into which the fish will fit fairly snugly- if the pan is too large the butter will go dark oo quickly, not big enough and the fish will not fry properly. After a minute, add a splosh of olive oil and a knob of butter, allow the butter to melt and sizzle. Season your turbot with salt and a little pepper and place in the pan. Leave the fish to cook undisturbed for 2 minutes, baste with the buttery juices and continue to cook for 1 minute. Turn the fish over using a metal spatula and cook for 1 more minute, again over a medium heat. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the fish to stand, in the pan for 1 minute, then transfer to warmed plates- keep warm whilst you cook the mushrooms.

Return the same pan to the heat and turn up to high. Add another knob of butter. Once this has melted and sizzled, add the ceps. Allow to cook, unperturbed for a minute, then stir around a bit to make sure none of the ceps are sticking- season with salt. Once the mushrooms are golden edged, add the chopped garlic. After another minute add a good squeeze of lemon and any juices from the fish plates. Stir, lifting any crusty bits on the bottom of the pan- further flavouring the sauce. Now add the herbs along with a further small knob of butter and remove from the heat. Stir so that the butter and liquids emulsify producing a simple, but delicious “sauce”. Pour on top of the fish and serve. No futher embellishment is required, however, a glass of Macon or even a Mersault would be most welcome.

Dover sole with oysters, mussels and prawns

Serves 2

This is my take on an old-school French classic “Sole Dieppoise”, I first came across it in Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking. It is wonderful.

Preheat an oven to 200 degrees C.

Wash and de-beard 250g of mussels, preferably rope-grown, steam open in a little dry white wine or cider. Remove half of the mussels from their shells and set aside. Peel a couple of handfuls of shell-on prawns, saving the shells. Shuck 6 rock oysters, keep them (shell-free) in their briny juices in a bowl. Make a little shellfish stock by covering the prawn shells with cold water along with some parsley stalks and a few peppercorns and simmering for 20 minutes- strain and set aside.

Take a large baking dish and butter the inside well. Season with a little salt. Finely dice a couple of shallots and strew across the baking dish. Take two 340-400g skinned Dover soles, trimmed of their “skirts” ( the frilly part around the edge, your fishmonger will be able to do this for you), and nestle them in the baking dish on top of the shallots. To the dish of soles add a couple of tablespoons of dry white wine (or dry cider), a few tablespoons of the mussel cooking liquor, and the prawn stock. Lightly season the fish, top each with a small knob of butter and cover with a piece of baking parchment tucking it around the fish. Bake for 8-9 minutes.

Once the fish are cooked, carefully decant the cooking liquor into a large saucepan. Keep the fish in the baking dish, covered by the baking parchment to keep them warm. Reduce the cooking liquor over a high heat, once reduced to a syrup add 100ml of double cream and bring back to a simmer. Add the mussels to the pan, followed 30 seconds later by the prawns and oysters, along with their juices. Off the heat, swirl in one final knob of butter and finish with a tablespoon or so of finely chopped parsley.

Serve the soles on large platters anointing them liberally with the copious shellfish sauce. This wonderful dish deserves a classic French white, like a premium Muscadet, a Sancerre or a Chablis. This, my friends, is the good stuff.

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A walk on the wild side

18 Oct

In case you didn’t know, we are now slap band in the middle of the game season. For me, to keep returning to the butchers staples of beef, lamb, pork and chicken, when there is a whole world of seasonal, healthy and gastronomically exciting options available, would be to miss out on a golden opportunity. The textures and tastes of game are phenomonal- compared to farmed meat, they are in a league of their own. Partridge and pheasant, the most widely available of game birds, are a good place to start- their flesh, flavour-wise is a step up from free-range chicken and a million miles from the intensively reared equivalent, faintly herbal and intensely savoury. A whole partridge is a perfect portion for 1, a whole pheasant is a glorious feast. Further up the flavour chart, though not quite on a par with say grouse or woodcock, are the wild duck family- wigeon, teal, pin-tail and my very favourite- mallard. Their, dark, sweet, succulent flesh has a mild livery taste and pairs so well with braised bitter-sweet vegetables such as turnips, celery, chicory or even radishes. Game is a real treat, not be missed.

It has been brought to my attention that many cooks struggle when it comes to cooking game, well, it needn’t be so- as with all cookery, mastery comes from knowing your ingredient and practise. The following recipes are by no means difficult, but will require your full attention, and to those new to game, will open the door to an exciting world of culinary delights.

Roast and braised mallard with chicory

Serves 2

You will need:

1 large mallard, cleaned (ask your butcher/ game dealer)
2 heads of chicory, cut in half lengthwise

a splash of wine vinegar

a small glass of white wine
unsalted butter
chicken stock

2 juniper berries

the balls from 2 cloves

a sprig of thyme, stripped of its leaves

salt and black pepper

Pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees C. In an oven-proof frying pan, over a medium heat, melt a good tablespoon of butter. Once the butter foams and starts to go brown, introduce the 4 halves of chicory to the pan, cut side down-continue to cook until the chicory is lightly gilded on this side, flip them over using a spoon, or tongs if you are of a nervous disposition. Now add the vinegar – a scant tablespoon-  and allow to evaporate before adding the white wine. After the wine has reduced in volume by about a third, turn the chicory back onto the cut side and add 150 ml of chicken stock to the pan. Cover the whole loosely with a circle of baking parchment and pop into the oven. After 20 minutes they will be ready- remove from the oven and keep warm.

Now, using a pestle and mortar, crush the spices, salt and thyme to a rough powder and rub this liberally all over the bird. Take your mallard and place it breasts up on a chopping boar. Using a sharp knife (boning knife preferably), carefully remove the legs by cutting  down between them and the carcass. The back bone that the bird’s legs were attached to will now be sitting flat along the board, remove this by cutting across it at the base using a sharp, sturdy knife. You should now be left with a crown of mallard, 2 legs and a section of back bone.

In an oven-proof frying pan ( I use an iron skillet), brown the mallard crown, legs and bone in some neutral oil, over a medium-high heat, adding a knob of butter towards the end. Once nicely coloured place in the oven and cook for 12 minutes, basting half-way through. This will give you nice rosy-pink meat- simply cook longer if you prefer your meat dry. Take the crown out of the pan and leave to rest on a plate in a warm place, tented loosely with tin foil. The legs will require a little longer, so discard the darkened butter and put them back on a low heat. At this stage if you are feeling particularly keen, add a slosh of red wine or port to the pan with the legs, along with a knob of butter and any excess juices from the chicory and allow to reduce- whilst braising the legs of mallard. Once the legs feel tender the sauce should be of a coating consistency.

Spoon the chicory onto warmed plates. Remove the breasts from the breast bone, by carving either side of it and then underneath the breasts to remove them whole, place alongside the chicory, with the leg resting against it on each plate, spoon the sauce over and serve.

A red from Costieres de Nimes would be nice here.

Pheasant with apples and Calvados

Serves 2

Ask your butcher/ game dealer to remove the legs and back bone, to leave you with a crown of pheasant, or have a go yourself following the instructions for preparing mallard above- save the legs for the soup below…

In a casserole dish, melt 50g of butter, season the pheasant crown liberally with salt and white pepper and brown over a medium heat- discard the browned butter and add 75ml of Calvados to the dish. Burn off the alcohol with a match- mind you don’t set fire to your eyebrows. Add a small glass of apple juice, stir and cover the pan. place in an oven pre-heated to 180 degrees C for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, peel and core 2 or 3 crisp apples like Cox or Spartans, dice into 1 cm cubes. Remove the pheasant from the pan and allow to rest. Add the apple dice to the pan along with a couple of tablespoons of double cream, put the pan over a medium heat and allow the sauce to thicken. Carve the breasts from the bone and re-introduce to the pan, let the sauce and the pheasant to get to know one another for a minute then serve without further ado. Some steamed curly kale would be a good accompaniment, as would a bottle or two of dry cider.

Pheasant, lentil and bacon soup

Serves 4

I used to be dissatisfied with the way pheasant legs cooked when roasting the bird whole, so I came up with this, pretty frugal too. Use the legs left over from the previous recipe, if there are any other trimmings left, do add these to the pot- they will strengthen the stock.

Fry the pheasant legs in a little oil until golden, then transfer to a saucepan. Deglaze the pan in which you fried the legs with a small glass of white wine or dry sherry if you happen to have some, pour this into the saucepan and add a pint of cold water, a stick of celery, halved, a peeled carrot, halved, 2 cloves of garlic and half an onion stuck with 2 cloves and a bay leaf. Bring to a simmer, then turn the heat down so that it doesn’t boil. Simmer very gently for an hour (time for a cup of tea and a Sodoku). Check the pheasant legs by inserting a knife into the thigh, they should be very giving, if they’re not give them another half hour or so.

Once the legs are cooked, remove from the pot using tongs and set aside. Strain the pheasant stock through a sieve into a clean saucepan and return to a medium heat. Once the legs are cool enough to handle, strip the meat from the bones- of which there are plenty- set the meat aside in a bowl and cover with a ladleful of stock. Discard the skin and bones.

Add a couple of handfuls of Puy lentils (or similar) to the stock and cook until al dente, this will take about 20 minutes, though do check after 15. Whilst the lentils are cooking slice 2 rashers of smoked streaky bacon into lardons, set aside. On a clean board finely dice 1 small carrot, 1 small onion and a stick of celery. Once the lentils are cooked, drain in sieve set over a bowl/pan- to hold the precious stock. Discard the stock vegetables.

In a roomy saucepan heat a couple of glugs of olive oil then add the bacon lardons. After a couple of minutes the bacon should have released some of it’s fat, now add the diced vegetables and a good pinch of salt, sweat the vegetables for 6 minutes- stir every so often so that the bits in the corners don’t catch. Now add the drained lentils another good pinch of salt and some black pepper, stir and then add a tablespoon of sherry vinegar, stir again and allow some of the acidity from the vinegar to be driven off. Now add enough of the hot stock to just cover the lentils along with the pheasant meat. Stir.

Now, this is where you need to use your palate- taste a spoonful of the soup (careful, it’s hot) and adjust the seasoning accordingly. I usually add a small slug of sherry vinegar at this stage- if you feel the urge please do so too. Finish the soup with some chopped celery leaf and a drizzle of olive oil.

Serve in deep warm bowls with crusty bread and good salted butter. This soup restores and revives like almost no other.

Wild duck, beetroot and blood orange salad

Serves 2 as a light lunch

For this bright and beautiful salad I like to use wigeon, you could also use a small mallard or 2 teal. The blood orange season starts late November, which happens to be when wild duck are in peak season too. Handy that.

Wash half a kilo of baby beetrot and dry. Wrap in tin foil along with salt, pepper and a glug of olive oil. Bake this parcel in a medium- hot oven (180 degress C) for an hour and quarter. Once cooked, remove from the oven, allow to cool and unwrap the parcel. Slide the beetroot skin off with your fingers and set aside.

Pick the thick stems off a perky bunch of watercress and set aside.

Season the wigeon well with salt and pepper. Heat a skillet and add a splash of oil, when hot brown the bird all over. Cook in a medium- hot oven for 10 minutes, remove from the oven but leave in the skillet. At this point it is best to remove the legs from the bird ( as described in the mallard recipe above) and then place them skin side up in the skillet next to the rest of the bird- this allows the legs to continue cooking in the residual heat of the skillet.

Peel a large or 2 small blood oranges using a sharp knife- make sure no pith remains. Cut across in half centimetre slices, reserve the slices and the juice. Cut the beetroot into half centimetre slices too. Peel a small red onion and slice it into rings as thinly as you can (if you have one, use a mandolin).

The duck should now be well rested. Remove from the skillet and remove the breasts from the carcass cutting either side of the breast bone with a sharp, thin-bladed knife and then following the bone around untill the breasts are removed.

Make the dressing for the salad in the skillet- whisk in the orange juices and return to the heat, reduce for a minute or so to concentrate the flavour. Off the heat, add a teaspoon of good red wine vinegar, a pinch of salt and a little black pepper and a tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil, whisk well to combine.

Put the onion, beetroot and orange slices in a mixing bowl along with a tablespoon of the dressing, mix and then add the watercress, lightly toss and pile onto white plates. Top with slices of the wigeon breast and a leg for each person, finish with more of the dressing and eat with gusto.

A few of my favourite things…..

17 Aug

Over the next few weeks nature’s bounty is at it’s most generous. Ask seasonal cooks their favourite time of the year and most will say either early June when the sap has risen or harvest-time in late August/ early September. As much as I love the leafy shoots, asparagus, gooseberries, and legumes of late Spring it is over the next few weeks that I know my palate will truly be treated.

Only now would I consider using British tomatoes- so dissapointing until they’ve had some genuine heat- along with aubergines, courgettes and peppers, to make a beautiful ratatouille. Spring lamb, while always tender, has now acquired flavour to match. Allotments across the country are burgeoning with runner beans, French beans and sweetcorn. At no other time of year will you have such an array of fruit at your disposal- raspberries, currants- black, white and red, apricots, nectarines, cherries, melons and peaches from across the Channel, tayberries, loganberries, all manner of plums and very soon we will see the hedgerows festooned with wild blackberries, which along with first of the season Discovery apples, make the finest crumble of them all…

 

Discovery apple and blackberry crumble

Please don’t buy blackberries for this, pick them (you’ll thank me later)

 

To make the topping rub 125g of ground almonds and 125g of plain flour into 125g of  chilled, grated butter along with 125g of caster sugar (prefarably golden). Add a small pinch of salt and a pinch of Chinese five-spice. Chill.

Peel and core 5 Discovery apples then cut into chunks. Find yourself a suitable dish ( it always seems to be oval) and fill with the apple along with two big handfulls of wild blackberries. Shake 3 tablespoons of sugar over the fruit, then using the same spoon decant the topping onto the fruit in little mounds. PLEASE do not pack it down, the topping should be loose and … crumbly.

Bake at about 180 for 30- 40 minutes. Once cooked, leave to stand for 10 minutes. Serve with thick, cold custard or the best cream you can find. At this moment, I can’t think of an easier, more delicious pud.

 

 

Poached peach, raspberries and lemon verbena ice cream

Obviously this recipe is based on Escoffier’s classic peach Melba. I prefer white peaches to yellow and the lemon verbena really lifts the dish, if you can’t get hold of lemon verbena use basil leaves.

 

To make the ice cream bring a pint of milk to a simmer in a heavy-baseed saucepan along with a large handful of lemon verbena leaves. Take off the heat and cover to infuse. Into a large bowl, seperate the yolks of 7 free-range eggs, add 250g of caster sugar, whisk until thick and pale. Pour the infused milk onto the yolk mixture, mix thoroughly and return to the saucepan. Cook this custard over a low heat, stirring all the time with a wooden spoon, pay particular attention to the edges of the pan. After up to 5 minutes the mixture should thicken (if you have a thermometer the custard will be ready at 83 degrees C), strain through a fine seive into a large metal bowl, add 750ml of double cream and chill. Churn in an ice-cream machine until softly set.

To poach the peaches add 500ml of water to a heavy based saucepan. To this add 400g of caster sugar along with a split vanilla pod and the juice of  a lemon. Heat slowly until the sugar has dissolved. Take two large, slightly under-ripe white peaches and using a small, sharp knife score a small cross through the skin on the bottom of the peaches.  Place in the saucepan and cover with a circle of baking parchment- poach on a very low heat for 10-15 minutes, they should offer very little resistance when pierced with a small knife. Once cooked remove from the syrup using a slotted spoon. Cut the peaches in half along their natural “cleft”. With the aid of a small sharp knife, remove the skin and stone. Set aside.

Take 450g of British raspberries and place a third in a liquidiser along with a small ladleful of the peach cooking syrup. Blend for 1 minute, then pass through a fine seive into a bowl add the remaining raspberries and set aside.

To finish the dish divide the raspberries evenly between four glass sundae bowls. Nestle a peach half on top, cut side up-anoint with a little of the poaching syrup. Into the cavity of the peach place a large scoop of the ice cream. To me, this dish eaten in seaon, is pure, unbridled joy.

 

 

Raspberry ripple ice cream

To make this childishly delicious ice, follow the recipe above but without the lemon verbena. Whilst the ice-cream is churning whizz a punnet of raspberries with 2 tablespoons of icing sugar in a blender, pass through a sieve and mix lightly with the ice cream once churned.

 

 

Greek salad

Not really a recipe, more of an assembly job, yet this perenial favourite of mine deserves a little more thought and care than it usually gets… (for 2-3)

For my Greek salad I slice 3 or 4 large, ripe, red tomatoes ( not the firm, orangey-red  monstrosities), lay half on a platter and season well with Maldon salt and black pepper. Next, I peel and thinly slice about a third of a cucumber, scatter half over the tomato base and season lightly. Next up peppers, – I’ve found that the thin-fleshed, very pale green, elongated ones are best here, you’ll need about 2 . De-seed by cutting off the stem end and rolling the pepper between your hands, again slice thinly and scatter most, reserving a few pieces. Very thinly slice a firm red onion into rounds- I normally use a mandolin- scatter half onto the salad.

Now return to the reserved tomatoes and start another layer on top, followed by the reserved cucumber, pepper and onion- this layering makes the salad much nicer to eat- again, season well. Now top with pitted black kalamata olives and crumble a generous amount of a good-quality feta over the whole.

All the salad needs now is to be generously lubricated with your very best extra-virgin olive oil (say 4-5 tablespoons) and a little shake of red wine vinegar (a tablespoon- I use the Forum brand, it’s delicious). Finally strip a few stems of marjoram– flowers and all, and strew over the dish.

 

 

Veal T-bone with runner beans and girolles

Please use British Rose Veal for this recipe, not only is it ethically reared- it tastes bloody marvelous too. Ask your butcher for a thick-cut T-bone steak, this will easily feed 2.

 

Remove the steak from the fridge at least half an hour before cooking. Get your BBQ good and hot, once the flames have died down and you have glowing white embers, you’re good to go.. Season the steak well with sea salt and black pepper and rub a little oil onto it, place onto the grill bars and leave well alone for 2 and a half minutes. Turn the steak over and leave for 2 and a half minutes. Repeat again, turning the steak 90 degrees for that pleasing cross-hatch of bar marks. Remove the steak to a warm plate and loosely cover with foil whilst it rests. This will give you a tender steak, that is still pink in the middle.

Prepare half a pound of runner beans in the usual way, removing the “strings” on either edge of the bean with a vegetable peeler, then slicing the beans into thinnish strips. Boil in well salted water for 5 minutes, then drain, returning the beans to the now empty pan along with a good glug of extra-virgin olive oil and a twist of black pepper.

For the girolles (you’ll need a couple of large handfulls) heat a large heavy frying pan or skillet. Ensure that the mushrooms are grit free- use a pastry brush to loosen any detritus and trim the bases with a small knife. Introduce a tablespoon or so of oil to the pan along with a good knob of butter, as soon as the butter ceases to sizzle add the girolles- don’t prod them, shake them or touch them, simply allow them to sizzle. After a minute season with salt and add a few branches of thyme, again, leave them to sizzle. After another minute, give them a stir and introduce a couple of bruised garlic cloves. Once the mushrooms have taken on some colour and are starting to smell delicious, add a few drops of lemon juice to the pan followed by the juices from the rested steak. Take off the heat.

Place the steak on a large white platter with the runner beans beside. Top with the girolles along with their wonderfully savoury juices. I’d probably go for a decent Chianti with this one, like a Fontodi. Belissimo!

Summer lovin’

29 Jun

Knowing what is at its absolute best and when, is to me, the foundation of good cooking. Things that are in season together seem to have an affinity with one another and when cooked with care produce delicious, harmonious plates of food.

Unfortunately, cooking and eating seasonally isn’t always easy- come March each year I really feel the need for a holiday. Then the wild garlic comes in and for me, that marks the start of a glorious procession of seasonal bounty.

Now in July, things really are in full swing. As a cook I have peas, broad beans, all manner of long beans, delightful, creamy-textured new potatoes, courgettes, summer salads, an abundance of fresh herbs and edible flora, Spring lamb, mackerel, plaice, seatrout, elderflower, gooseberries, strawberries, raspberries and cherries to play with; this time of year menus write themselves.

The following dishes really speak of an English summer to me. Prime, local ingredients cooked simply and perfectly. Bring on the sunshine!

Seared scallops with samphire.

This recipe is so simple it almost beggars belief. It’s success relies on perfectly fresh, perfectly cooked scallops – so please do try and get the best scallops out there. Best prepared for 2 rather than 4.

Wash around 400g samphire and pick through it, removing any tough bits and grass. Drain and set aside.
Place a large saucepan of cold water on to boil- do not season. Heat a large, heavy frying pan until nearly smoking.
Once the water is boiling, add the samphire to the saucepan.
Add a generous glug of olive oil to the frying pan, season your scallops lightly with sea salt (3 large or 5 small per person) and carefully place in the pan, seasoned side down in a clockwise fashion.
Drain the samphire and keep warm.
Lightly season the scallops on the exposed side. After a minute, turn the scallops, starting with the first one you put in the pan and proceeding clockwise until they are all turned. After a 30 seconds on the other side turn off the heat, but leave the scallops in the pan- they will continue cooking in the residual heat. In the pan, squeeze a little lemon juice over each scallop.
Onto warm white plates, place a nice pile of samphire with the scallops alongside. Anoint the whole with some very good extra virgin olive oil, paying particular attention to the samphire. Serve straight away with wedges of lemon.

Mint sauce for lamb

Pour 75ml water into a small saucepan and add 3 tablespoons of soft brown sugar, slowly bring to the boil. Meanwhile pick the leaves from 1 bunch of mint. Add the mint stalks, chopped up a bit, to the dissolving sugar syrup. Once the sugar has dissolved, set aside to cool for 5 minutes.
Finely chop the mint using a sharp, heavy cook’s knife- the sharper the blade, the less the mint “bruises”.
To the sugar syrup, add a tablespoon of malt vinegar. Dip your finger in and taste, you are looking for a balance between sweet and sour. Too sweet? – add a little more vinegar, continue tasting and adjusting until you feel you have the right balance.
Strain the liquid into a small bowl and add the chopped mint.
Serve with Spring lamb. Preferably rump. Preferably pink. Preferably with buttered new potatoes and peas. And a glass of red Bordeaux… preferably large.

Elderflower syrup

 
Elderflowers are everywhere at the moment, take a walk in the country and you’ll be falling over them. This simple, frugal recipe forms the base of countless desserts including elderflower ice-cream: – amazing with gooseberries.

 
Take 2 litres of water and 1.7kg white sugar, place in a large pan and slowly bring to the boil, once the sugar has dissolved add 2o nice heads of elderflower, switch off the heat. Add the juice from 4 lemons along with the spent skins. If you can get hold of it add 50g citric acid.


Leave to steep, covered, for up to a day.

Strain through a fine sieve and use for cocktails, sorbets, custards, ice creams or even fruit soups…

Summer fruit soup with meringues and vanilla ice-cream

A truly joyful dessert…

First make the ice cream. Split and empty a vanilla pod in a heavy-based saucepan along with a pint of full-fat milk, slowly bring to a simmer, whisking occasionally to disperse the vanilla seeds. Meanwhile separate the yolks of 7 eggs into a large bowl (save 3 of the whites for the meringues) and add 250g of caster sugar, whisk until pale and smooth. Pour the hot milk onto the yolks and whisk thoroughly and transfer back to the saucepan.

On a low heat, cook the custard until lightly thickened, stirring with a wooden spoon or whisk so that the eggs don’t stick to the bottom of the pan. This can take up to 10 minutes so be patient and don’t be tempted to increase the heat. The custard is cooked when it thickly coats the back of a spoon (this happens at 84 degrees C if you have a probe thermometer). Strain into a large bowl and add 750ml cold double cream. Churn in an ice cream machine until softly set.
Now for the meringues. Into a scrupulously clean mixing bowl add the 3 egg whites along with a good pinch of salt and a squeeze of lemon juice, beat until they form soft peaks, now, a spoonful at a time, add 180g of caster sugar and continue mixing until you have stiff peaks.
Line a tray with non-stick baking parchment – I usually wet it with my hands, just to make sure- and using a dessert spoon form little oval mounds of meringues (quenelles in chef-speak). Bake at 100 degrees c for an hour to an hour and a half (ovens vary- check after an hour).
Take 2 punnets of strawberries, and a punnet each of raspberries, blackberries and blueberries. Cut the strawberries in half, quarters if they’re big ‘uns, and place half of them in a large bowl along with the other fruits. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon and half a lime over the fruit in the bowl, along with a tablespoon of sugar. Mix carefully and allow to macerate until the other components are ready.
Blend the other half of strawberries in a liquidiser for 1 minute along with 4 tablespoons of elderflower syrup and pass through a fine sieve to remove the strawberry seeds, set aside.
To serve, combine the strawberry/elderflower sauce with the macerated fruit and taste. If it needs sweetening add a little more syrup, if it needs more acidity add a little lemon or lime (you don’t want it sickly sweet- it’s meant to be refreshing). Ladle into chilled bowls, add a scoop of vanilla ice cream and distribute 3 meringues around the soup.

Summer?

15 Jun

In the early nineties, the likes of Alistair Little, and the River Cafe girls published cookbooks singing the virtues of rustic, Mediterranean food. Until then, I doubt few of us would have bought or grown our marrows so small that they could be considered to be courgettes (or zucchini for those of Italian persuasion).

The courgette is a vegetable of subtle charm. As an accompaniment to fish or meat, for me it instantly makes a dish summery. Although I have perhaps a rather old-fashioned fondness for chunks of courgettes rapidly boiled, then tossed in butter and lemon with plenty of salt and black pepper, this vegetable really shines when charred and burnished by the intense heat of a grill or a fierce oven. Cooked in this way it really speaks of the sun.

However, possibly the nicest way I know is in the following recipe, where it isn’t cooked at all. Those that grow their own will find the courgette flowers easier to come by (at The FitzWalter Arms I used to pick them to order). By omitting the parmesan and using fresh, finely chopped garlic rather than aioli,this dish becomes that rarest of things- a truly delicious vegan dish:

Courgette salad with fritter:

3-4 small-ish courgettes, a mixture of yellow and green if possible.
1 small red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped
Garlic mayo, a.k.a aioli.
1 Lemon
Your best extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp of freshly grated parmesan
4 very fresh courgette flowers, stamens removed
Doves gluten-free, self-raising flour
Cold, sparkling water
Salt and pepper

First, the batter- Take a small bowl and add 7 or 8 tbsps of the flour. Season lightly. Now, using a fork, whisk in enough cold sparkling water to form a batter giving you the consistency of thick paint. Set aside.
In a deep-fat fryer or large, heavy-bottomed pan, heat a neutral oil (sunflower/ groundnut or vegetable) to 185 degrees C.

Wash the courgettes and top and tail them. Using a mandolin, slice them lengthways into very thin ribbons, transfer to a bowl and season with salt and pepper.

Now add some of the chopped chilli. If you like it hot, add the whole thing, if not, add less- this part is down to personal taste, use your judgement. Now dress the courgettes with a couple of healthy glugs of olive oil and the juice from half the lemon, toss lightly. Add the parmesan and toss lightly again. Transfer the courgettes to shallow bowls and add tiny blobs of the aioli, here and there (I find a squeezy bottle the best tool for this job).

Take your courgette flowers and submerge them in the batter, shake off the excess and fry ( if they’re large flowers, which they should be, I’d suggest no more than 2 at a time). Drain on paper towels and season lightly with flaky sea salt.

Top your salads each with one of these and pour yourselves something chilled and Provencale. Roll on Summer!

A Kentish Feast!

16 Mar

Here follows the menu for my first Kent Pop-Up on the 28th April, I don’t know about you, but it’s making me hungry…

 

Just-picked Selson Farm asparagus with a poached egg and wild chervil hollandaise.

Seared Ramsgate Silver mullet with wild garlic risotto

Braised shoulder of Kentish lamb, glazed spring carrots, spring turnips and spring onions and spring garlic mash

Rhubarb and ginger trifle

£32

A King’s Ramson

6 Mar

Ramsons, buckrams, bear garlic, bear leek and broad-leaved garlic. Allium Ursinum, or Wild Garlic has as many names as it has uses and to me is the first gastronomic treat of the New Year. Not only does this pungent and prolific leaf mark the very beginning of a whole year’s seasonal goodies, it is absolutely delicious AND free.

Wild garlic starts to appear in the last days of February in a mild winter, like the one we’ve just had, or more usually a week or so into March. Country-folk will almost certainly know of a local spot for it, though getting them to reveal this information can sometimes be tricky.. It generally grows in the shade of woodland and is the botanical enemy of the bluebell, both like the same sort of terrain and it’s distinctive broad leaf gives off a powerfull oniony aroma when torn. Flavour-wise I find that it lies somewhere between chives and bulb garlic and I’ll use it in any dish that requires a combination of conventional garlic and herb. Try some thrown into the pan when cooking mushrooms or added to mussels in the final moments of cooking.

So, if you want some tasty, free food you should pull on your wellies, grab yourself a pair of scissors and take a stroll in some of our beautiful woodlands, lunch is only a walk away..

 

Recipes are for 2

 

Wild garlic soup

 

1 leek, halved and rinsed well, then chopped

1 large floury potato

Knob of butter

Splash of olive or rapeseed oil

a small glass of white wine

2 large handfulls of washed wild garlic leaves

Salt and Black Pepper

 

Put a large, heavy-based saucepan onto a medium heat. Add the oil and butter, once warm add the leeks along with a pinch of salt. Allow the leeks to soften without colouring- move around with a wooden spoon, if they seem to be frying, lower the heat accordingly.

Whilst the leeks cook, peel, rinse and chop the potato into thin slices, a mandolin is useful here, though not essential. Once the leeks are sweet and soft add the potato along with another pinch of salt (not only does the salt season the ingredients you add, it draws out moisture, thus helping things to soften gently). Fill up your kettle and switch it on. Move the potatoes around amongst the leeks and their buttery juices so that the two get to know one another, after a minute or so, turn up the heat and add the white wine- stir into the leek/potato base ensuring that nothing has caught and stuck to the bottom of the pan.

Cook the wine until it has all but evaporated, you don’t want the soup to taste “winey”. Now cover the leeks and potatoes with boiling water. Bring back to the boil and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Check the potatoes for doneness with the point of a knife, they should drop off easily. Once the potatoes are tender throw in the wild garlic leaves and cook for a further 30 seconds. Transfer the soup to a liquidiser and blitz thoroughly (you may have to do this in 2 batches), the result should be the most marvelous emerald-green soup. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

If you want a super-smooth soup strain it through a fine sieve pushing down on the solids with the back of a ladle or for a more homely soup, serve it as it is. If you’re in the mood, poach a couple of fresh eggs and add them to your bowls. This is a magical soup.

 

Wild garlic butter

I find this butter most useful. It is great added to a pan of frying mushrooms, dropped onto hot vegetables and whisked into a sauce for roast chicken or poached fish. Perhaps my favourite is to place a generous pat atop a rare, grilled sirloin steak.. ooh!

 

4 fistfulls of wild garlic

1 pack of unsalted butter

2 clove of garlic, crushed

4 anchovy fillets (optional)

the skin of a lemon, finely zested

4 pinches of sea salt

8 or 9 twists of black pepper.

a tiny pinch of cayenne pepper

 

Allow the butter to soften at room temperature for about an hour. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and have ready a large bowl filled with ice and water. Once the water is at a rolling boil add the wild garlic leaves to the pan, bring back to the boil and remove the wild garlic (a “spider” type utensil is best here), plunging it straight into the iced water to arrest the cooking.

Once the garlic has cooled down in the iced water*, remove and squeeze absolutely dry in a clean tea towel, transfer to a chopping board. Roughly chop the wild garlic and anchovy fillets if using. Add the butter and all the other ingredients to a food processor and blitz until bright green and smooth.

Lay out a rectangle of cling film and transfer the butter onto this using a spatula, try to form a rough cylinder shape. Roll this cylinder fairly tightly in the cling film- like a Christmas cracker. By holding the ends and rolling the enclosed butter on a work surface you should end up with a perfect tube. Chill for a couple of hours. It is now ready to be used with gay abandon.

 

*As most edible plants are water-soluble any vegetable left in this state for too long will loose flavour, once the ice water has taken effect remove them and dry. You’d be suprised how many professional cooks get tripped up by this.

 

Wild garlic salsa verde

A potent lotion if ever I knew one. You’ll need a decent pestle and mortar for this.

 

A large fistfull of washed wild garlic, roughly chopped.

Leaves from a couple of sprigs of mint

Leaves from half a bunch of flat-leaf parsley

1 tbsp salted capers, rinsed.

4 anchovy fillets, chopped

1 peeled clove of garlic

1 hard boiled egg yolk

Much fine quality extra-virgin olive oil

Small pinch of salt

Black pepper

 

Start by adding the garlic and salt to the mortar, bash up a bit with the pestle, grind until smooth. Now add the anchovy fillets and continue to bash and grind- the aim is a smooth paste. Now add the capers and continue as before. Usually (ie. when making pesto this way), one would add salt as a kind of abrasive, this helps to break things down, however in this recipe the capers and anchovies provide all the salt you’ll need so if you think it needs a little help, just add some coarsely groung black pepper- it does much the same job.

Now for the herbs. You need to add a handful to the mortar and continue to process until smooth, then add the next handful of herbs, continuing until all the herbs are in the mortar- the mixture will be very thick at this stage. Now introduce 1 or 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, stirring in with the pestle. Now add the egg yolk and work the mixture until the it has been evenly incorporated. Now add a further 5 or 6 tablespoonsof olive oil until you have a good consistency- you want it to drop easily off a spoon, but still to be packed with herbs. This is absolutely beautiful with grilled lamb or salmon.

This is one of those jobs that you can start in a bad mood and by the time you’ve finished you’ll feel very good about life indeed.

 

Chicken, leek and wild garlic broth

 

1 Free-range chicken carcass, chopped

2 carrots, peeled

2 onions, peeled

2 sticks of celery, washed

a head of garlic, halved width-ways

6 black peppercorns

2 cloves

1 sprig of thyme

1 bay leaf

1 sprig of parsley

1 leek, split and washed

a handfull of washed wild garlic leaves

salt and freshly ground white pepper

 

Place the chicken bones in a large heavy-based stock-pot and cover with cold water. Chop the stock vegetables roughly and add to the pot along with the garlic, herbs and spices. Season with a pinch of salt. Slowly bring the pot to a simmer, then immediately reduce the heat to very low, it is important that the stock NEVER boils. Leave to cook on a very low heat like this for a couple of hours, the stock will produce a “scum”, which should be removed periodically using a small ladle ( the great Joel Robuchon advises rinsing the ladle after each “skim”, I think this a very good idea).

After the allotted time strain the stock through a colander into a large bowl. Strain this through a fine meshed sieve into a large, clean saucepan. Transfer to a low heat and allow the stock to slowly reduce, thus concentrating the flavour while maintaining it’s clear appearance.

While the broth reduces, finely slice the leeks and roughly chop the wild garlic. Once you have about a pint of broth in your sauce pan add the leeks, after a further 4 minutes take the pan off the heat and add the wild garlic to wilt in the heat of the broth. Season to taste and serve in deep bowls. Many times has this beautiful broth saved me from the perils of excess the day after.