Monday, 11 May 2009

Office lunches, plotted and potted

The weekend's culinary exertions have paid off! Finally, I have worked out a way to bring in great packed lunches to work, for little effort.

Inspired by reading the section on potted meats and fish pastes in Elizabeth David's An Omelette and a Glass of Wine, I decided to pot myself some fish. Initially, I had the project in mind for easy, midweek suppers, but then it occurred that individual ramekins would make perfect lunches for work.

After coming up blank at my usual two sources of kitchenware, John Lewis and Lakeland Plastics, I finally found muslin for sale at that unlikely source (to my mind), Amazon, and two packs hit the doormat late last week.

Thus on Saturday, my trip to Broadway Market included a lengthier visit than usual to Vicki, the fishmonger. Not only was there my own dinner to cater for that night (The Other Half was on Rugby League duty 'ooop north', so I only had my own tastes to consider), but I also bought dressed crab, smoked haddock and salmon and to pot.

After The Other Half had departed, I took to the kitchen. I'd intended to put some music on, but the peace and quiet, broken only by the sounds of food preparation and the occasional meeped comment from The Queen B, was delightfully soothing.

I've never cooked from one of Mrs David's books before and indeed, some people complain that her recipes are not always easy to follow. But this was incredibly – almost outrageously – simple.

The salmon (cut off the fish in front of me) was placed in a suitable dish, dotted with butter, covered in buttered greaseproof paper and popped in the oven at around 140˚. I'd bought two dressed crabs and took the meat from just over one of them (the rest was for my dinner) and mixed it with paprika (Mrs David used cayenne), lemon juice and black pepper, and pressed it firmly into two small ramekins. Melted butter was then poured over the crab mixture and the little pots were placed in a bain-marie and joined the salmon in the oven. They had around 25 minutes to cook, the salmon about 40.

After that, I drained the salmon and let the potted crab cool. Then the salmon was flaked and mixed with lemon juice, more paprika and some drained green peppercorns (the last one being my idea: capers would do just as well), before packing more of the little dishes. Three and a half dishes, to be precise. The final one was topped up with flaked smoked haddock, which I'd popped into a pan with some boiling water and left (not on any heat) for 10 minutes. The final pot was packed with smoked haddock alone, seasoned only with lemon juice.

All bar the potted crab then had greaseproof paper squares placed over them and were weighted with assorted tins that fitted just inside the ramekins, then placed carefully in the fridge. The potted crab were sealed with clarified butter straight away – the rest were done the next morning.

I used Mrs David's method of clarifying the butter – hence the muslin – and that worked easily too. I'd never realised just how much butter splits.

So now I'm sitting at my desk in the office, with a little pot of salmon, together with a little tub of cherry tomatoes and green olives stuffed with garlic.

My colleagues have declared this is really rather sophisticated. And my editor is contemplating whether such a display of chic gives us an edge in our perennial battle with the press office.

But it took little over an hour to prepare the heart of seven lunches. It will work out as costing less than lunch every day at Pret a Manger (which is just about the best option around the office) and it gives me real quality.

One can only wonder at why so few people do such things.

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