Saturday, 19 March 2011

A messy day in London town

It's been a messy, messy day in the kitchen. After a busy week that saw my food desires hit the stage of a cup of Bovril and a cucumber sandwich for dinner on Thursday night, this has been the opportunity to get down and dirty on the culinary front.

It has been, indeed, an utterly gorgeous day, with the sun beaming down from early morning, bringing real warmth in its rays.

As blossom fluttered down like confetti, I sat in my usual halfway-through-the-shopping place, just off Broadway Market itself, and mused over the sheer pleasure that good weather can bring.

And then it was back and to work.

First things first: the new challenge of a sabayon, a mix of egg yolk, sugar, dessert wine and lemon juice, cooked incredibly gently in a bowl over simmering water so that you don't scramble the egg, and then with whipped cream folded in.

Trying to whisk the mix as it warmed through, with a thermometer on the side of the bowl, was number one messy moment, as blobs of the mix went everywhere when the electric whisk hit the aforementioned thermometer. After it's been whisked for around eight minutes like that, you continue whisking it over a bowl of iced water.

Then cold and very concentrated coffee is gently stirred through it, before it's decanted into a terrine (or ramekins) and popped in the freezer until tomorrow. And thus was made Raymond Blanc's iced coffee parfait. It might not be as light as it could be (this was my first effort at a sabayon, after all), but since cook's perogative allows wiping out bowls with a finger, I can say already that it certainly tastes good.

Messy episode No2 of the day came with the soup for lunch.

The weather has lightened so much that I wanted something a little lighter and fresher for lunch. So I decided to make a watercress soup.

Start with an onion, finely diced and softened in a little butter, in a lidded pan. After that, add a diced potato and some chicken stock, and cook for around 12-15 minutes until the potato is cooked through. Then add a bunch or two of watercress that you've trimmed and roughly chopped, and cook for a minute.

Let the soup cool a little and then blitz it.

I decided to use the mini processor and do it in stages, decanting each load of blitzed liquid into a clean pan. Unfortunately, this illustrated that the the Cusinart is not actually liquid proof – as soup spurted out from under the lid, over me, the work surface and the mixer itself.

Eventually, I got it all done and then popped back on the hob – although I was beginning to look a little like a particularly non-figurative piece of modern art by this time.

Season to taste with salt, pepper and a little grated nutmeg and give it a moment or two more. Then add a little cream and warm through. When serving, garnish with some chopped chives – which really do add to the finished soup.

Mess aside, it's a subtle taste and the fresh, flecked green is perfect for the changing season.

Fortunately, after quite some clearing up, that was the worst of the day's messiness over and done with.

A rhubarb syllabub served for dessert in the evening, preceeded by sautéd potatoes, pan-roasted cod and courgettes, done in a lidded pan with a small amount of butter – all of which was accompanied by homemade aïoli, as the handheld electric whisk put in a lot of overtime.

There is something about aïoli – it's like a taste of the sun. When I've made it, I could almost eat a bowl of it without anything else. No wonder it's such an iconic sauce in the south of France – it's food to life the soul.

Actually, not I come to think of it, there's a little of the watercress soup left over that I'll have for lunch tomorrow – perhaps a whirl of the aïoli will compliment that? We'll have to see.

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