Who doesn’t love tapas whatever they are called, whichever country of origin?
Spanish Tapas, an Indian Thali or simply a selection of starters from your local Chinese, it’s all the same to me in principle: lots of different morsels to explore rather than one large plate of one dish.
Almost anything goes. Fun to make, fun to order, fun to eat and share.
A household and family favourite as far back as my memory reaches, and beyond!
After a number of disappointing experiments with various types of coating or batter, here’s what I settled for.
I use frozen baby squid with bodies between 7 and 10 cm in length, not counting the tentacles. Thaw and clean thoroughly. Although being pre-cleaned, I find the job isn’t always done perfectly so I prefer applying some extra scrutiny before setting the tentacles aside and cutting the bodies into rings. Put on some tissue to take away the excess moisture.
5 of these baby squid make one good sized portion.
Now it is time to start the fryer. I use a small wok or pot with lid and plain vegetable oil, but obviously a real fryer would be better as it is better at reaching and holding the temperature. Shoot for 190 C.
For the coating, mix 4 heaped tablespoons of white wheat flour, four heaped tablespoons of semolina, a tablespon of corn starch. Season with a generous pinch of salt and a sprinkle of pepper.
Toss the squid parts in the coating mix, shake off the excess and set them side-by-side on a board for a few minutes. This allows the coating to stick better.
Then, fry quickly, until the coating takes on a very light golden colour. Be quick about it since the squid cook quicker than the coating; you’re looking at 2..3 minutes at most.
Serve with aioli, salad, fresh bread and white wine and Bob’s your uncle!
Many other recipes include ingredients such as milk or egg. Avoid! At best, you’ll get Calamari a la Romana, more likely you’ll get a disaster.
There’s a reason for the great classic recipes to be among the great classics, and this is one of them: a poached chicken breast, served with a Beurre Blanc sauce alongside anything suitable: freshly baked bread or some egg tagliatelle are popular, potato or potato-and-parsnip mash also works. The photo shows a potato gratin with toasted Brussel Sprouts, also nice.
Following is the wholesome from-scratch method that takes a little preparation time. I can’t vouch for the express method that uses breast fillets and instant poaching liquor.
Here’s the full Monty, which rewards with quality results and a second meal.
For the poaching liqor:
Buy a whole free range chicken, preferably a corn fed one. Take off the breasts and chill. Meanwhile chop one medium-sized onion, 3 gloves of garlic, two thumbs worth or fresh ginger, and any other suitable vegetables you find: leaks, cabbage greens, carrots, and so on.
Put the bird with the vegetables into a pot. Add 4 or 5 star anise, a heaped teaspoon of salt and pepper each, a couple of chillies. Then add cold water to just cover the lot, typically 1 to 1.5 litres, bring to the boil then let simmer very gently for 2 hours. Let cool down in the pot.
Eventually, take all meat off the bone and put it in the fridge. This makes a great chicken salad or a Fricassee on the next day, almost an instant meal! Or combine it with the poaching liquor and a splash of double cream for a delicious creamy chicken soup lunch!
Take the breasts from the fridge when you start cleaning the chicken. It helps to start at room temperature.
Poaching the breasts:
Key to poaching anything is to remember that poaching is not to cook. So, bring the liquor up to 85 C, remove the skin from the breasts and let them rest in the hot liqor for 15 minutes, a few minutes more if the meat was still cold or if you bought one of those 2 kg monster birds with breasts to match.
For the Beurre Blanc:
Dice a shallot finely and cook with a ladle of the poaching liquor and a ladle of dry white wine until the volume is reduced to half. Add a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper, optionally add a teaspoon of wholegrain mustard and, or, a tablespoon of small capers.
Take the pan off the heat and never return. It must not boil from here on!
Then take 125 g of cold butter. Dice it to little cubes, maybe 10 mm each side. Keep 5 or 6 of these behind and melt the others in the sauce, whisking fairly vigorously. Then add the remaining butter and stir in very gently, thus dissolving any foam that might have developed.
Dish out your chosen side dish, slice the breast, add the sauce and serve with a dry white wine.
I am not sure if this is a concept or a recipe since it has seen so many variants over time, but it always comes out as a finger-lickin’ and lip-smackin’ success.
This dish was originally inspired by Nigel Slater. Allow me to step into his footsteps and try inspire you:
Lazy Chicken is a dish of chicken thighs roasted with rosemary, garlic and olive oil, then served with lemon juice and basil along a good helping of sage butter fettuccine. And, as the name of the dish suggests, it’s dead easy to make even for the lazy cook.
Find a roasting tin or an earthenware dish.
Measurements per portion:
Take 2 or 3 free-range organic chicken thighs, skin on. Trim where necessary but leave most skin, fat and bones with the meat. Put into the roasting dish.
Crush two cloves of garlic, with skin if you need to be rustic, otherwise without. Add to the dish. Add one small dried red chilly and a star anise.
Sprinkle with a generous amount of sea salt, then add a good helping of olive oil and juice from half a lime. Toss it all about to ensure an even mix and good coating, then re-adjust the thigh peaces to be skin-up with the skin exposed. Sprinkle some more salt onto the skin.
Put the dish into the oven at 210 C for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 180 C for another 25 minutes.
Sprinkle a generous helping of Marsala across the dish and freshen up the flavour with another sprinkle of lime juice. (Marsala is an Italian fortified wine. Substitute with dry port wine if necessary.)
Give it another five minutes in the oven, then take out and add a handful of finely chopped fresh Basil.
Meanwhile, cook some good quality egg-rich Fettuccine. When these are ready, melt 50 g butter per diner in a saucepan until foamy, then fry a handful of finely diced fresh sage leaves.
Toss the pasta with the sage butter, serve with the chicken and a crisp white wine.
It won’t look like fine dining, but neither will the finger-licking diners. It’ll make for a fine dinner though.
Everybody loves these, and most people usually say “oh! I remember we used to make those, too!”
Everybody used to make devilled eggs for all occasions some time during the past century. Not so for us. We still make them and still love them and whenever we offer some, at most one is left over if nobody dares take the last one. Otherwise none.
Hard-boil half a dozen of medium-size free range eggs, then shock in very cold water and peel. Cut right through the middle, arrange the egg white halves on a serving plate and collect the yolks in a small mixing bowl. Add the devil in the form of a very generous amount of mustard, and perhaps a small amount of soured cream to make the mix lighter. Mix well with a fork or a hand mixer, fill into a piping bag and into the waiting egg whites.
Optionally decorate with a caper or a sliver of red peppers, although I find this is taking the retro look too far. For a more refined look and for far more fiddly preparations consider using Quail eggs.
Pretty quick and easy to prepare and very satisfying on a cold day: Poached smoked Haddock with a poached egg, served on a bed of green lentil ragout.
For the lentil ragout, finely dice a medium-sized onion, half a fennel bulb, 2 cloves of garlic and one medium sized carrot. Melt a walnut-sized piece of butter and an equivalent amount of olive oil in a pan, then fry the diced vegetables until they begin to caramelise. Add one cup of green (“french”) lentils, two cups of cold water and one chicken stock cube.
(Really, a stock cube. It helps cook the lentils much faster than you’d think.)
Add a twig of thyme or lovage, cover and let simmer very gently. This takes about 30 minutes from now.
Meanwhile, clean the undied smoked haddock but leave the skin on, cutting portions of about 220 g per person. Heat a pint of milk in a pan, add three bay leaves and half a dozen of crushed juniper berries. Check the temperature; you want the milk hot but well below the boiling point. Gently add the fish, skin side down, and simmer for 15 minutes.
Bring a saucepan of water to the boil. When it is boiling, add a generous splash of vinegar and let the temperature drop to just below the boiling point. Crack one egg per portion into a cup, then gently drop the egg into the hot water. Let them float for 5 minutes.
Sample the lentils ragout. Season to taste with salt, mustard, and balsamic vinegar or balsamic glaze.
Plate a good portion of the lentils ragout, topped with the fish, skin now removed, and a poached egg on top. Chilly oil, pumpkin oil or more balsamic vinegar make for a decorative splash.
So rewarding, and so simple to make. No need for mysterious powder or ominously yellow stuff from a tetra pack; just make your own. It’s quick and easy to make, delicious, and free from artificial stabilisers, preservatives, colouring, other E-numbers and whatnots. You don’t even have to faff about with the Bain-Marie if you are careful.
Follow these steps:
Have 5 fresh medium sized free-range eggs ready at room temperature.
Mix half a pint of double cream with half a pint of whole milk and gently heat the mix in a saucepan. Use one with a heavy bottom so that it retains some heat when taken off the fire.
Meanwhile, separate the five eggs. Keep the whites for something useful; we only need the yolks for custard. Whisk the yolks with four to five generous tablespoons of sugar (80 to 100 g) until foamy. Add the seeds from one vanilla pod, or an equivalent amount of vanilla essence.
When the milk-cream-mix reaches boiling point, remove it from the heat, then whisk in the egg mix. Whisk vigorously for one minute more than you think necessary. The residual heat is enough to cook the egg but you must avoid scrambled egg, especially near the bottom and the edges of the pan.
Pour into a suitable jug or container and let cool down to room temperature, then chill in the fridge until it is time to serve it, perhaps with a fruit crumble.
Well that’s a very simple recipe, but it has a place here because I keep forgetting the correct proportions. For the record:
To make four portions of fruit-crumble-and-custard, mix
50 g butter, soft but not runny,
50 g ground almonds,
50 g white wheat flour and
50 g caster sugar.
Its 1 : 1 : 1 : 1, how hard can it be to remember?
I make this hours before the meal. Bring the four ingredients together with an electric mixer, add a handful chopped toasted hazelnuts at the end, and put in the fridge until it is time to bake the fruit crumble for approximately 18 minutes at 180 C.
Following on with the theme and tone set by the Sexy Salads article, this is about Sexy Soups. Soups which surprise, which take you on a journey of discovery through different colours, textures and tastes, soups for more than just to stain your shirtfront.
They can be vegetarian, but I confess that pork belly with crisp skin, or a juicy chicken breast, a pink seared duck breast, some prawns or at least a poached egg or a poached egg yolk are normally my very personal star of the show.
I usually begin with chicken stock, nice and easy to make and less overpowering when compared to a beef stock. I get a whole chicken, fill it with plenty of grated fresh ginger and garlic, then add enough cold water for the soup I need. This will gently simmer for 90 minutes, after which I remove the pot from the heat but leave everything to cool down as is.
One idea is to remove the breast before the cooking. They don’t really add to the soup but can be seared with rosemary butter, then served with the soup. It all depends on your plans for the soup and tomorrow’s meal.
When the soup has cooled down, remove the meat and discard the bones. The meat should make for a fabulous Chicken Fricassee on the next day, or perhaps a quick Coq au Moutarde or a sexy chicken salad with the remaining fennel, apples, oranges and bitter chicory.
A little extra effort pays dividends: whisk up one or two egg whites until they are just foamy, then add to the cold soup. Gently bring it back to the boil, occasionally lifting the egg white very gently off the pot’s bottom in the beginning to prevent it from sticking. Once the soup is at the boiling point and all the egg whites are floating on the surface, drain through a mousseline sheet or at least a very, very fine sieve to complete the clarification.
The rest is up to you, your imagination and whatever you’ll find in the back of the fridge or kitchen larder: croutons from garlic bread are always nice with a broth, and so are mustard greens, skinned cherry tomatoes or charred little Gem lettuce. Mushrooms and egg noodles perhaps, or fresh garden peas and a poached duck egg yolk?
It always pays to heat some clarified butter and crisp fresh Sage leaves to top the soup, but young pea shoots, cress, radish or mustard shoots are also nice for visual appeal, a bit of a spicy bite and a fresh taste.
A household favourite: seared filet of white fish, served on a potato and mushroom ragout with Sauce Vierge.
If you’re using dried mushrooms, get them soaking at least 6 hours before the event. Use a 1:1 mix of hot water and cold milk, add the dried mushrooms, and stir occasionally. For fresh mushrooms, prefer Girolle, King Oyster or Cep.
I have also used fresh artichokes instead of mushrooms.
Steam some waxy potatoes, then drain and let cool down.
Now, prepare the Sauce Vierge, or my variation thereof – it doesn’t need to be done early, but it can be done early. Something else out of the way? So, take fresh flat parsley, a few mint leaves, and a couple of spring onions or shallots. Wash if you must, but be sure to dry well, and chop finely. Add some chopped capers (I prefer the salted, crispy type, but make sure to remove the salt without rinsing). You could also add finely chopped anchovies, or olives, or other herbs (sorrel comes to mind), depending where you want to take it. Add a sprinkle of sea salt, a tiny bit of nutmeg, a little black pepper. Mix well and set aside.
For a genuine Sauce Vierge experience, add petals of small skinned tomatoes.
Filet the fish. I usually use Sea Bream, but Red Mullet or Sea Bass are also OK. Leave the skin on, prick the remaining bones.
Heat a frying pan. Chop the potatoes into thick slices, and fry gently in a small amount of butter and olive oil. Add coarsely chopped spring onions (for a spring onion potato ragout) or finely diced red onions (for a red onion potato…), drain the mushrooms (keep the liquid!) and add the ‘shrooms. Fry and stir. Add a splash of dry white wine and a splash of the mushroom soaking liquid (multiples of this combination as necessary to keep it all nicely moist – moist, not wet!). Season to taste with salt and black pepper.
Meanwhile, heat another pan with a little 1:1 butter and olive oil. Toss the fish filets in some salted and peppered corn fine semolina. Gently sear the fillets on their skin side. Give them the time to almost cook through just from the skin side; this leaves the meat tender while crisping up the skin. Flip over for the last 30 seconds only to ensure they are cooked through.
Meanwhile, heat a ladle of olive oil (maybe 100ml) until it is very hot but not yet burning. When you see or smell smoke from the skillet, it’s too late and the oil too hot. When it’s just right, hot but not yet smoking, pour over the herb mix prepared earlier, and toss it violently to wilt the herbs while cooling down the oil. The herbs release all their oils in the process. Add a splash of lime juice or too, to taste.
Plate up, serve with a crisp white wine and enjoy.