One of the world's great unsung heroes, I am a saintly person who has taken in the feeble and bewildered. And I have even taken in the deranged and deported - Brenda is the shining example. I have shown compassion and sympathy and am currently teaching her to cook properly, but she is horribly lazy and has some dreadful habits. I'll stamp them out if it's the last thing I do.
This is one of those lusciously cooling and fresh dishes that also looks lovely and is very easy to make.
Dare I say it, this fabulous platter of salad will invariably elicit general enthusiasm, nods of approval and even a little ripple of excitement – why do you think I chose it, living with Brenda?!
INGREDIENTS (makes for an intimate two but will obviously double and double again very easily fi you have a larger party to cater)
250g multicoloured/heritage tomatoes, halved or quartered dependent on size, but small bite sizes is the overall effect
250g watermelon – in cubes about the same size as the tomato pieces
30g pitted black olives – torn into a couple of bits each
1/4 red onion – sliced as finely as possible with a mandolin
small bunch basil
extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper
Gently tumble the watermelon and tomato together in a bowl, along with the finely sliced onion, olive pieces and a little salt and pepper. Tear most of the basil leaves into the bowl, stir once to combine.
At this point it can be left for a few hours or even till the next day to marinate and allow the flavours to meld. When ready to serve, turn out the salad onto a platter where it can be finished with a little drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, a sprinkle of sherry vinegar and the last few basil leaves.
I was feeling a little faint from my recent little bit of calorie counting and it’s at that point I realised I was in danger of purchasing fast food. Now most of us live near at least one purveyor of such edibles but in south London, the choice is very wide, 24/7. This was an emergency – so I made what I thought was on balance a good decision; namely, I knew I was going to cave, but at least I thought if I made it myself, I could mitigate the harm both in terms of what I was swallowing (and who hasn’t done damage control there I ask you?) – and to my reputation in terms of being seen in curlers and Brenda’s stained bed jacket. Long story. Not a good week.
When you factor in the improved quality and taste – not to mention the cost advantage – it’s well worth a go, particularly once you’ve done it a few times and are “set up” for it. Be warned though, you may find it so addictively good that you regularly exceed the Government’s recommended limits on consumption of “the good stuff”……..
4 chicken breasts – each cut into two, 4 thighs, 4 drumsticks - I had this number as I’d just cut up 2 chickens to use the carcass for stock. This quantity should easily feed around six people.
600ml (around a pint) of buttermilk. I couldn’t get this on the day, so I used sour cream – or could have used creme fraiche or even yoghurt, let down with a bit of water to make it a bit more liquid.
1 onion – finely diced or sliced. You could easily cheat here and use a dessertspoon or so of onion powder. In fact it would probably be better.
1 or 2 cloves garlic – crushed (or, as per the onion above, about a tsp of garlic powder)
Hot chilli sauce – like Tabasco or Encona
About 100g self raising flour – but you can get away with plain if that’s all you have – although half a tsp baking powder added in that case, would be nice.
2 medium eggs (or one extra large one)
splash of milk
good couple of big pinches of salt
around 1 1/2 litres cooking oil – veg, sunflower, peanut, canola etc – your choice.
(FOR THE SEASONING/SPICE MIX)
2 tsp sea salt
2 1/2 tsp paprika (I used half in half hot- and smoked-)
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried thyme
Ideally, if you have time and the power to predict 24 hours in advance when you will have a craving, please do feel free to “brine” your chicken pieces overnight. The acid in the dairy tenderises the meat, helps keep it juicy after frying and really works the wondrous spicy flavourings well into the chicken. Because, also, the buttermilk both provides flavour itself to your crispy coating and a means by which your spice mix can stick to the chicken pieces, it’s absolutely fine to do this stage immediately before cooking. The chicken Brenda and I used for the video, had been marinating for 2 days. It’s up to you.
So, in a medium to large size bowl, pop in your chicken pieces, buttermilk, onion and garlic (slice, dice, or powder – up to you), salt and loads of hot pepper sauce – maybe a third or half a small bottle (I’d say around 50-75ml) It may seem excessive but don’t forget the vast majority will be drained off the chicken pieces. It’s messy, but massage in thoroughly with clean hands and leave while you carry out some of the next stages if you’re cooking immediately – otherwise cover with cling and refrigerate over night.
If expecting to accompany your chicken with some fries (or chips, to us Brits), now might be an idea to make them. By the way a good tip for those is keeping them in submerged in water (even better if it’s from a just-boiled kettle) with some salt and sugar added – stops them going brown before you’re ready to fry them, draws out some of the water which makes them fry to a crispier state – and if you’ve used boiling water, pre-softens them a bit before frying. Pat dry on kitchen paper before doing so. Or just use frozen bought ones.
The question of accompaniments aside, now is definitely the time to get your dish of flour ready and make your spicy seasoning mix. If you don’t mind cooking your own “fast food” and enjoy the results (at least more than the offerings from whichever vendors you have previously sourced), to streamline this stage in future, you can always make up a big batch so you have spare mix pre made.. Should last OK for up to 6 months if stored in a cool, dark place in a sealed jar. It’s Ok to simply mix up all the seasoning ingredients as they are and voila – but I wanted to make sure that the mix ingredients could incorporate thoroughly together/with the flour and stick super-well to the chicken pieces so I put the salt (Maldon sea salt crystals are quite big), cracked pepper, oregano and thyme into my spice grinder and whizzed to a fine powder. A mortar and pestle would do this too.The paprika, cayenne and garlic are already finely ground so even if, like me, you’re wanting a nice even powdery blend, these can be used as they are.
The quantities listed above are about right for the stated amount of chicken so just put the spice mix in a bowl or small oven tray ready for use and, in another dish, beat the egg(s) with a splash of milk, a few more dashes of hot chilli sauce and a few pinches more or garlic powder.
Now put the oil on to heat up on the hob, in a big spacious pot which should ideally allow the 1 1/2 litres of oil to come up to around a third – but definitely not more than half – full. While this is heating up,take the chicken pieces out of their creamy bath and allow to drain on a wire rack. Even on a high flame, it may take up to ten minutes to get to temperature but, depending on the size of your chicken pieces, you may need to fry cooler for longer or hotter for a shorter time – this is both to avoid over-cooking the coating while under-cooking the chicken. Generally, 160C seems to provide a fairly moderate simmer, you definitely don’t want the oil smoking hot and burning everything, If no thermometer to hand, test after about 8 mins with a cube of bread which should just sizzle nicely and go golden brown in about a minute.
So, to get that finger-licking coating, first lightly sprinkle some of the seasoning mix all over the chicken pieces, then add the rest of it to the flour. Now thoroughly dredge the chicken pieces in the (seasoned) flour, then through the egg mix and then once again back through the flour. This will give you a fabulously crispy carapace to bite through! At this point, all that remains between you and that crunchy, spicy satisfaction is to fry the chicken off. You’ve got this far so do be patient and do therefore fry in batches as there’s no way you’ll be able to fit this much into even a big (4 litre) pot – so have the oven on low (like 60C) and a tray lined with kitchen paper so you can keep the completed batches warm. Lower each piece in carefully using tongs or a slotted spoon – I reckon 3 big pieces or 4-5 smaller pieces max. When the chicken goes in, make sure the flame is turned down to medium low as any higher and it goes too fast. You’re looking for a core temperature of 75C or, in the absence of a food probe, for the juices to run clear – test cut a piece when you think it’s ready and return if there’s any pink juice which comes out. Another helpful hint is that the pieces float to the top when they’re done and the sizzling sounds of the frying has become quite quiet.
PS, As well as making fries, I steamed and buttered a corn on the cob to serve!
Whilst we are, of course, normally far too busy being exceedingly fabulous hostesses to stop for afternoon tea, there are just occasionally times when the planets align and we are able to let our mascara run and our reinforced under cladding sag (well away from public view, obviously), kick off our court shoes and spark up a Capstan Full Strength while the kettle boils.
Seeing as though also we are trying to reintegrate into high society once again, this uniquely English institution is a remarkably civilised and uncomplicated step to take on that journey. One thing it does require, though, is cake – and this is a slightly exotic version of a Victoria Sandwich. I hope you enjoy its rich denseness and alluring pale green and amaranth colours, just not quite in the somewhat literal sense Brenda seems to have done by the look of the stretch marks in her Spanx and the jangling palette of her maquillage…..
for the cake
200g unsalted pistachios – shelled and skinned
275g butter – in approx 1-2cm cubes and at room temp
275g icing sugar
7 large eggs
375g ground almonds
2tsp baking powder
for the filling
stewed plums – we had these in the freezer. Don’t worry if you don’t, you can use a neighbour’s – or just use plum jam.
sugar to taste
Preheat the oven to 180°C while you shell and skin the pistachios – if you buy pre shelled, excellent. Rub most of the skins off but don’t overly fret if some get left on, making a cake should be a pleasure, not turned into an afternoon of purgatory.
Place the pistachios in a metal pan and roast for 5 mins, perhaps briefly taking out half way through to give the pan a small shake.
Once hot and fragrant, take out and blitz in the food processor until they’re forming a paste.
Now lower the oven temperature to 150°C while you grease with butter and line a 22cm cake tin.
Add the ground almonds, the butter, icing sugar and eggs (I popped a couple of extra yolks in too which I had in the fridge left over from making a meringue!). Whizz for up to 2 mins or so till well combined, add the cornflour and whizz on slowest speed for a few seconds till just combined.
Pour the mix into the cake tin and slot into the oven on the middle shelf for an hour or a tiny bit longer if not quite yet cooked. I also turned mine half way through to ensure very even cooking.
Meanwhile, take about 300ml of the stewed plums, pressed them through a sieve into a small pan and heated gently on the hob. Then add just enough sugar to take off the sour edge but not cause the fruit to get too sweet. Allow the puree to just simmer for about 15-20 mins so that you end up with something quite jammy in consistency. Set aside to cool.
Once the cake is done, turn out onto a wire rack to cool which may take a good couple of hours. With a long, thin blade, slice horizontally in two, and on the lower half, spread a fairly thin layer of the plum puree – as if to spread jam on toast. Replace the top half of the cake, dust with icing sugar and serve with cups of tea using your best china!
I thought this would be a great moment to introduce a light, but rich and tasty lunch or supper dish.
With just a few ingredients, most of which will likely be on standby in the fridge anyway, you can prepare this from start to finish in less than 45 minutes. It’s probably only the asparagus you’ll need to pop out for – and speaking of which, this makes a change from serving this wonderful vegetable as a starter with hollandaise or just butter.
Asides from anything else, we’re currently right in the middle of the English asparagus season so whatever you do, whether it’s part of this recipe or one of your own, do make the most of it. You can get it all year round of course, but I wouldn’t recommend it…… plus I try to do my bit in offsetting Brenda’s vast carbon footprint by avoiding out-of-season pale imitations of the real thing, flown in from Peru.
Ingredients – serves 3-4
1 medium onion or shallot – finely diced
1 small glass vermouth/ dry white wine
150g cream cheese/creme fraiche (or mix)
juice ½ lemon
300g asparagus - each spear cut into 3
300g spirali or spaghetti
80g smoked salmon – cut into strips
Sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper
3 tsp lumpfish roe/caviar (optional)
Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley or dill
Do all your prep first, including snapping the slightly woody end off the asparagus spears. If, like me, you had some quite fat ones, I also gently peel the skin at that end but use a light touch. The “spear” end should always be left as is. Cut each into about 3 pieces.
Melt the butter in a pan, then fry the onion/shallot for around 5 mins until softened. Then add the wine or vermouth and and boil to reduce to by half – another few mins.
Meanwhile, pop the kettle on and get a pot ready for the pasta and once the water’s boiled, add to the pot and switch on, making sure it’s well-salted and with a good glug of olive oil. Put the pasta in to cook.
Going back to the onion pan, now stir in the crème fraîche and/or cream cheese season and stir through to get a smooth sauce the consistency of custard. Leave to simmer very gently.
When the pasta is three minutes from being cooked, add the asparagus chunks to the boiling pasta. Mine was quite thin linguine which took 6 minutes, therefore I added the veg only three mins after starting to cook it.
While the pasta and asparagus finish cooking, squeeze in the lemon juice to the creamy wine sauce and toss through the strips of smoked salmon. The hob should now be switched off completely, with the residual heat being more than enough to warm through the salmon and only very slightly cook it.
Drain the pasta/asparagus through a colander, ensuring about 100ml of the pasta water is retained. Now tong the pasta/asparagus through the sauce, ensuring everything is gently, but thoroughly combined. Add enough pasta water to ensure it stays smooth, glossy and loose – it’s meant to be a delicate Spring eat, plus no-one likes claggy pasta!
Serve a few twirls onto warmed bowls garnished with a teaspoon of caviar, if using, and a sprinkle of chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley or dill.
For all salad dodgers – of which Brenda is definitely one – this is one you can make and enjoy with confidence…… the name “salad” is something of a misnomer as really, you can consider it more of a chilled beef noodle dish, with a few leaves in.
Having said that, it does also fit the bill for those tireless (and fabulous!) housewives looking to serve something reasonably light – but still filling enough to genuinely constitute a proper meal. It also uses steak in a slightly different way than the usual fried in butter and garlic and served with potato in some form.
There are so many delicious herbs and sweet, salty, sour and hot Far Easten flavours going on so just cooking off and slicing the steak, as is, would be more than sufficient, although you can also marinate it beforehand if you wish. Below however, is my version exactly as I had it this evening ….
NB For those with allergies to peanuts or peanut oil, any light, flavourless vegetable oil can happily be substituted for the peanut oil
INGREDIENTS – serves 2
350g ribeye steak – I pushed the boat out and used 28-day aged.
100g dried rice vermicelli noodles
100g snow peas, trimmed – most halved, the smaller ones just left whole
1 medium cucumber peeled lengthways into ribbons with the veg peeler
1/2 bunch fresh coriander leaves
1/3 bunch fresh mint leaves – cut into thin strips
4 shallots – thinly sliced
thumb size piece of fresh ginger – peeled and finely grated
2 cloves garlic – peeled and finely grated (possibly only need this if marinating – reduce to 1 clove if using in salad dressing)
1 carrot, peeled, cut into matchsticks
50g bean sprouts
60g Asian leafy salad mix – can be a bit specialist so I used lambs lettuce but great if you like to include tatsoi/mizuno etc
1 fresh red chilli, finely chopped
juice of 1 1/2 fresh limes
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 tablespoon fish sauce
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tsp light brown sugar
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp sesame seeds
If you’re going to marinate the steak, just use a dribble of rice wine vinegar, peanut oil, a grate of fresh ginger and garlic, a little lime juice and a dash of soy. Leave to infuse for an hour, covered, but out of the fridge to allow the meat to come fully to room temperature.
Put whichever salad leaves you’re using into a large bowl, along with the beansprouts, carrot matchsticks, a quarter only of the sliced raw shallots, strips of cucumber, coriander and mint.
For the rice vermicelli noodles, follow the packet advice on preparation which will inevitably involve merely boiling the kettle and pouring on hot water to cover and then leaving for 3-4 mins. However, don’t let them just sit there swimming in their hot bath – as soon as they have soaked to the required degree of doneness – perhaps one notch more tender than al dente – they should be tipped into a colander or sieve and run under the cold tap for half a minute or so, then left to drain with a tablespoon of sesame oil tossed through to stop them going claggy.
Fry the remaining 3/4 of your shallot slices in a little more peanut oil till crisp and set aside.
I even toasted my sesame seeds in the oven but this could probably be done quicker in a small dry frying pan over a medium low heat and watched like a hawk to avoid burning – which they will do extremely quickly. Set aside.
When ready to fry off the steak – just the usual instructions i.e. get the pan nice and hot, if you’ve marinated, gently pat dry – or if you haven’t, dab a tiny bit of oil on both sides. Bit of seasoning might be good too. Sear quickly for 2-3 mins each side and set aside, covered and in a warm place, to rest.
Now quickly conjure up your dressing by combining the peanut oil, sesame oil, fish sauce, rice wine vinegar, lime juice, chopped chilli, soy sauce, sugar and grated ginger – this will be so fragrant you’ll swoon! By the way I didn’t use any garlic in this dressing, having marinated the steak in some earlier and anyway, i don’t think raw garlic works that well in this!
Simply now add to the awaiting salad, the cold noodles, the dressing and the sesame seeds (or they can be sprinkled on top) and toss together.
Finally, slice your rested steak into thin strips and dot decoratively – or toss through – and garnish with the crispy fried shallots (and sesame seeds if you haven’t already combined them in the salad)
Given that asparagus has a fairly short season – and April is its peak – I thought it would be remiss of Brenda and I not to show you something made with these perky green spears. This is this quick to make – and feels like a quite exotic dish.
I’ve adapted this from Delia – so you know you’ll be in good hands, if further reassurance is required. This serves 4 and like virtually all other recipes, can be halved/doubled etc, to suit. Allow about 125g asparagus per person. By the way I have roasted the asparagus as I think it keeps in more flavour and is also easier to manage timings-wise; although you can steam or boil yours if you prefer (in which case do it at the end of the process, instead of towards the beginning, as per below)
500g asparagus – just gently bend, and the spears will snap off at the natural divide between the woody “end” which you discard and the tender part you use.
2 large eggs – separated with the yolks in one medium glass bowl and the whites in another
1 dstspn white wine vinegar
1dstspn lemon juice
pinch sea salt
fresh cracked black pepper
Switch the oven on to 200°C and place a knob of butter into an oven dish or tray with sides, just big enough to hold your asparagus spears in a singe layer. Season lightly.
In a small pan, place the 100g butter on the heat and begin to melt gently.
Using an electric whisk, beat the egg whites till light and fluffy – the soft peaks stage is great (you’re not making a meringue so don’t go mad but don’t worry if you do, it won’t really matter…). Leave momentarily to one side.
Place a medium pan containing just an inch or so of water on the hob which should reach no more than a gentle simmer. Place the glass bowl containing the yolks over the pan – season with a pinch of sea salt and a little ground pepper and whisk using the same beaters that you’ve just done your egg whites with. After not much more than a minute, the mix will have turned lighter and already be quite foamy, so you can now go ahead and add the lemon juice and vinegar – continue whisking for another 30 seconds or so.
By this time, the butter should have completely melted (take off the heat if done before as you don’t want it going brown or burning). If you need to enlist a friend, great, but the idea is to add the butter fairly gradually (a bit like making mayo) so it doesn’t all split. So long that you’re fairly deft about it, start with a few tablespoons of the butter and whisk in immediately. Keep going adding butter and whisking in – I suppose I combined all the butter into the yolks in about 5 cycles over around 2 mins.
Continue whisking for another 30 seconds or so and take the bowl off the pan of simmering water.. Take about a quarter of the egg whites and whisk into the yolk/butter mixture for just a few seconds, then again for half of the remaining egg white and then the other half (i.e. 3 cycles). You should have a gorgeously smooth, pale yellow, light but creamy and foamy sauce ready to apply to the asparagus. The bowl containing it can be placed back in the pan of water to keep warm (but the water pan should itself be off the heat)
All of the above takes around 12 mins which is the point where you need to check the asparagus for doneness. It should still be bright green and tender, but not soft. Return for another 2-3 mins if it’s still a bit firm.
Turn out onto a warmed serving dish and coat generously with the sauce and sprinkle with black pepper. Yum.
I went to buy “some olives” the other day. Now you would think this would be a relatively straightforward task, with the choice whittled down from a few broad categories such as “green” or “black” “with pits” or “pitted” and perhaps a couple of stuffed options.
But no – I’ll save you the full rant but there was choice beyond what could be considered reasonable – I’m not advocating the return to the days when, within mine and Brenda’s lifetime, olive oil was procured from the chemist’s (being sold as a means to loosen ear wax). I expect actual olives also were similarly “exotic. However, 192 “versions” available at one well-known supermarket does seem unnecessary. We are, after all, discussing olives.
So, rather than getting bogged down with ensuring I got the “right” olives from the “right bodega” – I went for 2 options whose main distinguishing factor was price. The fact that the Moroccan “cheap” ones were merely moistened with oil (sunflower, at that) where the “deli” ones came swimming in a lake of extra-virgin olive oil, further widened the already yawning price chasm. In fact nearly a quarter of the net contents of the ‘Olives Et Al’ jar was oil. Turning to the taste, while these things are nearly always subjective, Brenda and I both preferred the Moroccan ones – richer, tangier, saltier, denser. But we always had a soft spot for a Moroccan!
So £1.30 plays £3? We’ll take the the Moroccan thank you – and for the price of the ‘Olives Et Al’ we’ll enjoy more like 3 times the amount of olives in the process…
I was mulling what to cook for dinner one evening, as I so often do, when I came across Brenda who was engrossed at her computer. “What are you looking at that’s so interesting?” I enquired, nosily. She clearly hadnt heard my approach as the flustered look and speed with which the lid was slammed down (not in time for me to miss a flash of nudity though) told me a quite different story to the “I might be considering Internet Dating” reply I received.
Now don’t be fooled – behind Brenda’s stately facade, ls the soul of an alley cat. She therefore requires younger friends, with the stamina to keep up with her needs. Since it had also been her birthday, and a landmark one at that (for which I had bought her nothing), I thought what better than to make it up to the old chicken-chaser than with the reward of a Hunter’s Chicken – or as it is more pleasingly rendered in the Italian, Chicken Cacciatore
8 chicken thighs – boned, but skin on
1 tbsp flour (heaped – around 15g)
sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
80g pancetta lardons or smoked bacon lardons
4 fat cloves garlic, peeled and well chopped
2-3 sprigs rosemary – I left mine as sprigs with good results but nothing to stop you stripping the leaves and finely chopping them
200-250g preferably wild mushrooms – I should have had Glistening Ink Caps and Horns or Plenty seen it was for Brenda but I used a mix of Forestiere and large flat field mushrooms. Oyster mushrooms, chanterelles and morels are other common wild mushies.
Good splash of dry white wine (about 50-100ml)
1/2 litre chicken stock
2tbsp tomato puree
small handful of dried red chillis – mine were Kashmiri which are not very hot – as always, use your discretion
10g dried porcini mushrooms – but soak them a for a good couple of hours (or overnight) in about a scant cupful of water and KEEP the soaking liquid.
Handful of chopped parsley
Approx 25g roasted pistachios, roughly chopped
Served with lentils
1) Glug a few tablespoons of olive oil into a large casserole dish and set it over a high heat
2) Meanwhile, dredge your check thighs in the flour – plus season with salt and pepper.
3) When the chicken pieces are all coated and the pan hot, pop them in and fry for 6 -7 mins or however long yours take to go nice and golden.
4) Once this happens, set them aside, lose most of the oil (but keep any nice caramelised bits stuck to the bottom) and add the pancetta, rosemary, fry for s minute or two to give them a head start then the garlic which you don’t want to burn while the bacon and woody herbs turn darker and release their fragrances!
5).Now add the fresh mushrooms – chopped randomly depending on size but not too small – and the wine to cook and absorb for a few minutes – and follow that with the dried porcini and their soaking water.
6) Now switch the oven on to 180C (fan) and while that’s pre heating, return the chicken pieces to the pan, add the tomato paste to the stock, stir to combine, then pour the mix over the chicken dish, add the dried chillies and bring up to the simmer.
7) By this time the oven should be up to temperature so transfer the dish from the hob into the oven now, Check after half an hour but it’s meant to slightly “catch” on top – which could be reminiscent of pots of food being cooked with an open fire. It looks attractive and gives the dish that extra layer of taste – you’ll probably need another ten mins which is just time to pour yourself a drink, roast off the pistachios for 4-5 mins and chop the parsley – add a sprinkle of the latter two as a final garnish when serving and apply as many mouthfuls of the former as you feel like/are necessary.
Let’s face it, each of us has their own idea about what “luxury” is – and perhaps few will see at this moment in time, the possibility of a fine-dining version of something which is basically sausage in batter.
However, even if the starting point is just a few simple ingredients, by “making it the best you can” you’ll hopefully see how something quite everyday can be transformed into something rather stunning!. The Italians have a phrase for it which is “bella figura” – something Brenda had never heard of (which I didn’t have the heart to tell her was self-evident…)
Hopefully you’ll see what I mean and enjoy this special edition toad.
140g self raising flour
4 large eggs
300ml semi-skimmed milk
1 tbsp mustard – Dijon or wholegrain
handful of herbs – leaves picked and chopped. To enhance the leek and onion in the sausages I used thyme and chives, plus sage. Rosemary would have also been good.
4 tbsp vegetable oil plus some goose or duck fat if you have it. Or use a bit of extra oil.
6 sausages – any variety – we used nice herby Lincolnshire ones.
2 red onions – each cut into 6
fresh cracked black pepper
Tip the flour into a bowl and crack in the eggs, one at a time, whisking as you go. Pour in the milk and keep whisking until you have a smooth batter. Finally, whisk in the mustard, herbs and some seasoning and set aside for 1-2 hrs. I’m not 100% sure why this seems to work – and you will see plenty of debate about it – but in any case, making the batter in advance gets it out the way!
Heat oven to 200C. Put the oil (and goose fat or equivalent – I did say this was the luxury version!) in a roasting tin or baking dish, roughly 30 x 22cm, with reasonably high sides. After a few minutes heating up, add the onion wedges and sausages to the dish, place back in the oven and cook for around 20 mins until getting nice and brown. You can turn everything half way through this if you like. For the last few minutes of this stage, increase the heat to 220C.
Now you can add the batter – ideally by opening the oven door and pouring the batter round the sausages/onions, in situ, using a jug. But if you don’t want the extra washing up or just feel more confident doing it on a surface, the key thing is to ensure you work quickly so that when the batter hits the fat, there’s a good sizzle. If you’ve achieved this stage outside of the oven, get the dish back in ASAP, leaving enough room overhead for it to rise, closing the door nice and smartly to keep as much of the heat in as possible.
The main advice to getting a lovely rise, a crisp golden brown finish while retaining a soft, mallow-ey base, is don’t open the door before 25 minutes. Depending on your oven, it may need a few more – I deemed 27 minutes perfect.
The eggy, light crispness of the batter, puffed to perfection by the roiling goose fat – further enhanced with the herbs and mustard – is a masterwork. If you have some leftover gravy, serve that with it, along with some greens perhaps. You probably won’t need potato as the batter takes care of the carbs! I hope having tried this, you’ll be reluctant to return to the “standard” version any time soon….
This is quite an undertaking planning-wise as the pork should ideally be left over night to marinate, so it would be good for an Easter celebration lunch. However, left for at least three hours should also give good results. You can also short-cut the mixing and roasting of the various spices by using a standard Chinese five spice blend but we’ve done the full home-made version here.
500g bag of beansprouts
a carrot – sliced into batons
a red or orange pepper – sliced into approx 1cm batons
a few florets of tender stem broccoli
a small handful of sugarsnap or mange tout peas
a small handful of baby corn
a few asparagus spears
a handful of oyster mushrooms
a red chilli – finely sliced
a large clove of garlic (or two!) – minced
hoi sin sauce
groundnut or vegetable oil
Pak choi – if using
The key is producing a tender and melting joint of meat with an intense and crunchy crackling – to this latter end, score the skin lightly (don’t go down to the flesh) with a Stanley knife unless you happen to have a particularly sharp carving knife. I keep a variety of weapons to hand as sometimes Brenda can be quite tense and occasionally needs fending off by force.
Next, boil the kettle and with the meat rind-side-up on a rack suspended over the sink, pour on the hot water. Leave to drain a moment and then pat dry.
Meanwhile, heat a small frying pan (you can use a wok but it’s probably over-large for this) over a medium heat and add the Szechuan peppercorns and the piece of cinnamon. Move these around regularly for one minute then add the star anise. Continue stirring to keep everything roasting evenly and after 30 seconds more, add the fennel seeds and cloves. Dry fry for another minute by which time all the ingredients should be turning one or two shades darker, the fennel and pepper may be beginning to crackle a little bit and just a haze of light smoke beginning to rise. Take off the heat immediately and continue moving around. The spices should be toasted and not burnt.
In a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, grind these altogether along with the salt, then mix in the sugar.
Lightly oil the meat all over and then massage in the salt/spice mix – but particularly into the skin (rind). Leave in a cool, well ventilated area, lightly covered, at least a few hours but better overnight.
When it comes to roasting, start at 200°C. While the oven is heating up, pour away any liquid which has accumulated around the pork (which is mainly excess moisture and salt) and put the pork on a wire rack placed over a roasting tray with a few cm boiling water poured in the bottom. The water level should not be touching the pork joint. Roast like this for 15 mins then turn down to 140°C for a further two hours. For the final 15-20 mins, raise the temperature again to 220°C to give a final fierce burst of heat to ensure that crunchy crackling! Take out and rest in a warm place for a 20 mins
Meanwhile, you can get to work on your stir fry which, apart from a little chopping and prep work, is made in minutes – here’s how
METHOD for the stir-fry
The idea is to get your veg into pieces approximately the same size. Clearly, matching broccoli florets with batons of carrot is not going to be an exact science, but the lovely pictures we helpfully provide, should help. As a further hint, I just broke down the broccoli into fairly small individual florets, split the baby corn once lengthways, cut the mushrooms once or twice and split the carrots lengthways into either four or six and the peppers into slices approx half to 1cm width.. Sugarsnap peas I left whole.
If you also want to serve some pak choi, this can either be separated into its individual leaves, left whole or cut in halves or quarters lengthways. Just lightly steam just before starting the stir fry.
Get the wok nice and hot and follow with a couple of tablespoons (about 30ml) oil. When starting to smoke, throw in the minced garlic and stir fry for ten seconds or so – don’t burn it which will happen very quickly – then add in the veg and toss and coat quickly and continue to stir fry for about 1-2 mins.
Add the beansprouts and stir through, mingling and coating with the other veg for about 30 seconds and then add a few tbsp soy and the same of oyster and hoi sin sauces. Stir/toss a final time and switch off.
Just before serving, drizzle a few tsp of sesame oil, ditto on the steamed pak choi if using.
We don't do "slumming it", which is awfully bad English but there we go. Exquisite food for people who appreciate the better things in life.