It’s 2.17pm on Boxing Day. Coffee-flavoured custards in caramel-lined ramekins are in the oven and the sauce espagnole has just started its journey.
A week of feeling under the weather as a cold meandered its way to and fro in my system hadn’t left me feeling particularly inspired on the food front. All I wanted to do was curl up in a chair with a book.
But I’d motivated myself to make the beef stock early in the week and on Thursday, headed to Borough Market.
After the final trip to Broadway Market to collect various orders and pick up a few basics, Christmas Eve saw something close to a frenzy in the kitchen, with a turkey leg roasted – in a fit of nostalgia, I decided that, if I didn’t want a roast turkey dinner, I still wanted the dark meat to wedge, well seasoned, between slices of factory bread in the evening as I sat in front of the telly.
Two pears were poached in spiced red wine and the remaining liquid bubbled away to almost a syrup.
And, if not quite as expected after all my reading up, the consommé was clarifying. I’d thawed and deposited the two tubs of game stock from some weeks ago into a large saucepan, together with a big handful of dried mushrooms. And then, as per the clarifying instructions, stirred an egg white into the mix before heating very, very gently – it must barely simmer.
It’s a piece of culinary wizardry, as the egg white attracts fat and impurities in the broth to it, forming a sort of cloudy ‘raft’ on the top that can, after a couple of hours of the most gentle reduction imaginable, be skimmed away.
That made a difference to the clarity, but there was still some way to go. Eventually, I hauled out a square of muslin, lined a sieve and carefully poured the broth through. Which pretty much sorted it – although I still ended up convinced that it was a little cloudy at the bottom and, when I decanted it back to a pan the following day, it was with great care, attempting to avoid even that little cloudiness.
Yet even after a day of such kitchen delights, I still needed a metaphorical kick up the backside yesterday to actually get up and get going.
No decision had been taken about exactly when I was aiming to have dinner started on Christmas Day itself – that, of course, is one of the joys of not being tied down by the timings of anyone else.
But as we sat comfortably in front of the TV, The Other Half raised the issue of food – was I planning a Christmas lunch or something later? Because if it was going to be the latter, then he’d need to get himself something in the interim.
I took that as a cue and, after a sluggish beginning, got myself properly going.
The reality is that it was far from a difficult cook, because for once I’d really got the preparation and planning pretty much nailed on.
First things first: final prep. Four plum tomatoes, skinned, halved, de-seeded and then diced.
The steak: allowed to come to room temperature, trimmed and then well seasoned with crushed black pepper.
The consommé went on to come up to a merry old heat, while I clarified some butter.
One of the things I learnt about consommé is that you need to make plenty. Not as much as you would usually expect to be enough, but much more.
There was nowhere near enough to bother hauling out soup bowls, so I decanted it into cups. But if that didn’t allow me to revel in the clarity – and yes, I really did feel like preening over that – it detracted nothing from the taste, and that was really strong and not remotely salty.
It was a success.
Next up, the tomato concasse had been gently warmed with a little dried chili, a little olive oil and a drizzle of dipping Balsamic.
That was portioned out into neat circles (I have two rings for such things) as the scallops were pan fried. Pretty good.
Then the clarified butter was heated and the steak fried. Basmati rice was bubbling away in another pan, allowing me to heat the brandy over it in a ladle before setting it aflame and pouring it on the meat.
I’ve done it before, but there’s still something about seeing the flames that gives me an adrenalin surge. Once the alcohol has all burnt off, the meat is deposited onto a warm plate, covered with foil and popped into a just-warm oven. The sauce is reduced slightly, meaty bits scraped off the pan, and double cream added. Take the meat back out, drip any juices that have been released as it relaxes into the sauce and then serve.
Plate up by buttering a cup and using it as a mould for the rice, popping steak next to that and then dripping sauce around the plate in pale imitation of true cheffy drizzling.
After that, dessert was a doddle. Pop a pear in the centre of a small plate, drizzle the sauce around it, feel posy and drizzle a little raspberry vinegar on the plate too and then finish with a drizzlette of double cream. It might have looked quite good on a canvas in the Pompidou – it certainly tasted alright.
The only thing that had not worked had been the rhubarb sorbet, which I’d abandoned after seeing that it had become simply a mound of pink ice crystals that we barely capable of sticking together.
But you only learn by trial and error – and in general, I had plenty to be thrilled about.
Individually, everything was fine, but the consommé was way beyond my expectations.
The meal worked as a whole – not just on a practical level, but feeling balanced too.
And so to Boxing Day, invigorated and ready to spend more quality time in the kitchen.