Rick Stein, that is. One of my favourite celebrity chefs.
On Thursday, I hit a point; a point of feeble concentration at work. Or rather, a point where I had to work very, very hard indeed to maintain concentration.
That day, two colleagues had set off for Argeles-sur-mer, just north of Collioure, where I'll be in ... oh, just a day under three weeks! They had set off from St Pancras, on the Eurostar, just a five minute walk from the office I was sitting in, struggling to concentrate. I could have looked out of the window of my office and seen their train pull out, an hour after I'd got to work.
Anyway, in a mood of heightened longing-for-the-Mediterranean, I had found myself planning a weekend menu of varied dishes from the region. Things started on Friday evening with ratatouille – southern French vegetable stew of tomatoes, aubergine, courgettes, peppers, onion and basil, garnished with a mixture of crushed garlic and chopped flat-leaf parsley. And served, of course, with good bread.
Well, that was a decent start. Tasty and most certainly healthy.
With Vicki my fishmonger away for a wedding on Saturday, I had a choice. I could either have a meaty weekend or I could try the new fish shop at the top end of the market.
Now, I'd already, the week before, had a look in that shop. Since Vicki didn't have any cod, I'd wondered if they had, since I wanted to salt it for bacalao. We didn't get off to a good start. First, supposedly specialist fishmonger doesn't know what bacalao is. And then, receiving something akin to a lecture about sustainable fishing and cod.
Yes. I know about the issues with sustainable cod fishing. Vicki and I have discussed it at length. It's why I know that there are no problems with certain stocks of cod. And, unlike a lot of my fellow Brits, I can think beyond cod.
But most of all, I don't take kindly to such patronising lectures. So at least there will be no temptation to betray Vicki by going into their shop again. And even then, they shouldn't have said shop, since Spirit, a trader on street for years, was very wrongly ousted from his shop (where he sold fish) by our very dodgy local council in their very dodgy dealings with a local property developer.
Meat it was, therefore.
So on Saturday, we had roast chicken, done my favourite way, as in River Café Easy Two.
Heat the oven to 80˚C. Take your bird. Remove any inards and stuff with a good handful of rosemary, a handful of sage and some chopped garlic. (I chucked in a half lemon that was sitting in the fridge looking forlorn)
Pop it into roasting dish that it fits quite tightly. Pour 200ml of water into the dish. Pop in the oven and cook for an hour.
Remove. Turn the bird the other way up. Pop back in the oven and cook for another hour. Turn again and cook for a third hour. Remove from the oven. Turn the heat up to 200˚C. Take some butter and massage it all over the skin of the bird (great, messy fun). Season well. And then pour 100ml of Vermouth (Pernod would work too) into the dish. Put it back in the oven and give it half an hour.
Bingo! Superb chicken. And after you've had your dinner, superb chicken needs using properly. So after stripping the remaining meat, I took the carcass, plus an onion, additional herbs, three sticks of celery, a carrot, some peppercorns and a very large amount of water, cooked it all for around two hours and then strained it through muslin to give myself around three litres of stock for the freezer.
But what of Sunday's efforts?
Well, a couple of years ago, I was asked to review a cookery book – Rick Stein's Mediterranean Escapes. In an incredibly brief period between getting my paws on the tome itself and filing my copy, I had time to test out one recipe – a dish with sausages and lemon. Perfectly tasty. I wrote my concise 200 words, put the book on the shelf and pretty much forgot about it.
Fast forward to last week. Mulling over what to do for midweek meals, I picked it up and started reading rather more seriously. And realised that there were many more options than I had previously realised.
One that sprung to my attention was kleftiko, a Greek lamb dish.
Apparently, it was known as 'thieves' roast' and allegedly used to be made by the criminal classes in the Greek countryside. They would nick a lamb, put it in a hole in the ground with hot embers, seal it with earth so that no smoke could give it away, and then go about their nefarious business during the day, returning in the evening to their slow-cooked meat.
And that lovely bit of colour was thanks to m'friend George – not Mr Stein.
Anyway. I've never had it and indeed, have had a low idea of Greek food since a poor meal in a Greek restaurant in Amsterdam in 2000, where the salad was washed out and devoid of taste.
And I've never cooked a dish like that – slow-cooking a big piece of meat in such a way. But I grasped the nettle and was encouraged by the interest displayed by The Other Half, who mused that, in the days before I had emerged on his scene, he used to quite regularly eat it in a Greek restaurant around Clerkenwell. He was also able to advise that the meat needs to be really falling away from the bone.
Okay. So I bought a should of lamb and got the butcher to quarter it for me (the easiest way to portion it for two people). A couple of online recipes talked of putting greaseproof paper at the bottom of the dish to stop the ingredients sticking, but Rick didn't mention this, so after some consideration, I stuck with Mr Stein.
Heat the oven to around 190˚C. Peel and dice some maincrop potatoes. Take a whole bulb of garlic and pull off the papery cover. Then cut the whole bulb in half. Pop the meat, potatoes and garlic in a big casserole.
Add the juice of two lemons, two teaspoons of salt and lots of ground black pepper, a tablespoon of dried oregano and two tablespoons of fresh oregano (or marjoram), six bay leaves and then 100ml of water. Cover the ingredients with kitchen foil, pop on the lid and then put it in the oven. After two hours, check it hasn't dried out and needs more water. Then give it at least another hour.
In the event, I needed to give it around 45 minutes more before the meat, as The Other Half had described, was really starting to fall away from the bone. But there had been no worry about potato sticking to the pan – the water sees to that. It really is a great flavour – and reheated, it'll do at least one (and probably two) more meals.
I should know to trust Rick.