Monday, 22 June 2009

When you can't win for trying

You could be forgiven for thinking that, if you announced to someone that you had just bought something rather special as a treat for that night’s dinner, there’d be some sign of approval.

Or perhaps that was my naive mistake: believing that, on arrival back from the market on Saturday, the news that I had purchased a piece of turbot – the ‘king of fish’ and a sort of once-a-year treat – would be likely to raise a hint of enthusiasm rather than an ambivalent shrug, a slight curl of the lip and the comment: “it’s not my favourite.”

In a demented fear of there being fuss later in the day, I dived into a sea of books: Leith’s Fish Bible, Larousse Gastronomique, Rick Stein’s English Seafood … reducing myself to a state of salivating mush, mentally grazing on recipes that I couldn’t even contemplate in reality since The Other Half absolutely wouldn’t countenance eating some ingredient or other.

Eventually, I found a Gordon Ramsay concoction that brought forth another: “Umm.” Only this one sort of rose at the end, which I took to being less ambivalent and more optimistic than the previous one.

So, because I’m still stupidly desperate to please and because I do actually make efforts to cater for the faddy eater, I then spent a great deal of time running around as though someone had lit a fire up my arse, in order to cook something far more complicated than I had intended.

It had been a case of seeing no sole (which had been in my mind) on the stall, but seeing turbot and thinking: “This would be a nice treat. I’ll cook and serve it simply with fresh, seasonal vegetables.”

Theoretically at least, he likes white fish.

Now I am aware that, last summer, we had a slight contretemps after I’d dared to serve a dish of plaice, grilled with butter, only to be told in no uncertain terms that it was “bland” and therefore, apparently inedible. So inedible that it went, uneaten, into the bin. The accompanying sulk did not, unfortunately, go with it into the trash.

So my initial thoughts had dutifully taken into account that turbot is not like eating a mouthful of birdseye chillies (not that The Other Half likes very much of anything as strong tasting as chilli), but most certainly could not be accused of lacking in flavour.

It's worth noting here that I really try to work around the faddiness; to cook interesting, varied food that is not overcomplicated but is also, generally speaking, healthy. Fish is usually a Saturday standard because I can get it pretty fresh and because it's healthy and a change. At maximum, we'll have fish twice in a week.

Menus are not based predominantly around my tastes – far from it. There's a great deal of food that I love that he wouldn't touch with the proverbial bargepole. I frequently ask if he has any requests: 99.5 times out of 100, a shrug is the nearest thing to any sort of an idea.

I raced back to the market and queued for around 20 minutes to get fish remains from Vicki, who did a double take on seeing me at the stall for a second time. Then there was tagliatelle and a load of stock and sauce-making ingredients. Back home, the fish carcasses (including heads), plus bouquet garni, a bottle of white wine, white peppercorns, chopped celery, garlic, onion, fennel and leek went into my biggest pot to make stock. Cook for around 25-30 minutes (no more or it can get bitter) and then allow to cool right down. I strained it was through a muslin-lined colander, and decanted and froze three pots after setting aside what I needed for the evening.

Empty the kitchen bin and take it around to the communal bins at the back, because I don't want all the fish remains stinking up the flat. Frequent washing of assorted utensils – and my own hands – with occasional applications of hand cream as the skin chaps.

Later, I cooked chopped shallot and asparagus in a little oil, before adding some of the stock and then wilting baby spinach in it. Then it was all puréed and pressed through a sieve.

The fish, which I had bought with skin on and un-filleted, since I was going to grill it, now required skinning and filleting. Which I managed, even though my best knife broke when sharpening, leaving me even more pissed off than before. Then a little oil was heated in a sauté pan and the fish pieces were cooked on each side for a round a minute, before more stock was added.

Spears of asparagus were cooked briefly. The pasta was cooked. A little cream was added to the sauce, which was heated gently.

To serve, the pasta was drained and plated, topped by the fish, with the sauce and asparagus spears around.

No complaints.

No thanks, either, mind. No positive comments. I had to nearly physically restrain myself from actually asking whether it was okay – almost begging for affirmation – even though I knew that it was a perfectly good dish, with good ingredients, cooked to a decent standard. I had to fight too, to concentrate on eating and enjoying my own meal and not fretting about his reaction or lack of.

And quite frankly, when I then managed to roast a piece of pork loin and produce cracking crackling on Sunday – and still received no comment for my troubles – not even a basic ‘thanks’ (although he did open a paperback at the same time as starting to eat) – it crossed my mind that no judge would ever convict.

I’m going to check the membership data and have a vote amongst this union of one – because I’m bloody sorely tempted to go on strike.

In essence, I cook because I enjoy it – not in order to win plaudits. But sometimes at least, a minimum of very basic good manners and appreciation would go a long way.


  1. Shame on "Other Half" for not appreciating your cooking efforts. Your dishes sound delicious to me.