Thursday, 14 June 2012

A taste of the '70s

It’s one way of measuring age to say that you can tell you’re getting older when things you remember from your youth become fashionable again; when what was nostalgic turns up once more, but repackaged this time as retro chic.

The weather is not the only source of deluges of late – inspired no doubt by the Diamond Jubilee, we've been swamped too with nostalgia for all things ’70s, when the last big Jubilee bash occurred.

That was a decade in which scampi was posh food. I remember day trips to Blackpool, my father desperate to go to the famous circus; my mother less so.

We did go, at least twice; in the halcyon days of the great Charlie Cairoli. I remember with enormous pleasure the mix of innocence and anarchy of his troupe of clowns (catch an example).

Stopping at souvenir shops on the promenade, my father bought my sister a Bolton Wanderers pendant and me a Manchester City one: the roundel badge in enamel on stainless steel. Very much of its time.

And we visited a restaurant where scampi came in a basket and I felt so sophisticated eating such a swanky meal.

It was the decade too of chicken Kiev: the sort of dish that you'd never have at home, and which I only remember as some sort of mythical, exotic concoction.

The Other Half used to quite enjoy a Kiev: the sort that came out of the chiller cabinet in the supermarket and was cooked on a tray in the oven. Neither of us had experienced the real deal.

And so, in this mood of nostalgia and retro chic, it occurred to me last week that it would inserting to actually make some. Within a day or two at the most, the Guardian, having clearly anticipated my mood, published a column by Felicity Cloake, testing out five recipes to find which was best Kiev.

Frankly, I was surprised at just how easy it looked. And so on Sunday, between the football, I set about the business. It's something that is made in stages, so you need to some hours beforehand.

First, make your butter. Cloake used a variety of flavourings: I settled on straightforward crushed garlic, with some chopped parsley from the garden. Once it's blended into the butter, simply roll in cling film until you've got a lengthy sausage shape, then wrap tightly and pop back into the fridge.

A hour or so later, take your chicken breasts, place them between cling film and beat out carefully. You could cut pockets. You could used the piece of meat that comes attached to the main breast flesh. Or you could do as I did and simply wrap half of the chilled utter 'sausage' in each breast, tucking in the ends. The cling film helps enormously. Get your meat nice and neat and tightly wrapped – and then pop it into the freezer for two hours.

So, what next?

Well, after about two hours, beat a couple of eggs. Make a load of breadcrumbs. Season some plain flour.

Take out your rolled chicken. Unwrap. Roll first in the flour and the in the eggs and then in the breadcrumbs. Repeat the eggs and breadcrumb bit, making sure you've got even, all-over coverage.

Pop on a plate and pop into the fridge. And this is the key that Cloake had found works best. By letting it get close to frozen, the breading is made easy. And then you simply allow it that final hour to thaw before cooking.

When you're ready, heat a large pan of oil to 160˚C – a thermometer makes this so much easier than guessing and doing the bread cube test – put the Kievs carefully into the pan and cook for eight and a half minutes.

If you have more than your pan will hold, you can put each cooked batch into a pre-heated (to 150˚C) oven while you do the rest.

And voila! You have chicken Kiev.

I let the oil get hotter than I should have (impatience) and the breadcrumb crust became very brown. But they were perfectly edible; the meat had remained decently moist - and the biggest achievement of all was that none of the butter leaked out.

I was going to serve them with a salad of orange and pickled beetroot, but since The Other Half had bitten his tongue rather nastily while listening to the radio commentary of a particularly tense Castleford Tigers match, he asked for something less sharp.

So they were served with new potatoes and asparagus, with further butter - hardly a hardship.

It wasn't to be the end of the retro food, though. Or, for that matter, the beginning.

Over the Jubilee weekend, I'd tried my hand at trifle for only the second time. Boudoir biscuits crushed at the base and mixed with raspberries, good raspberry jam and a smidgen of Banyuls that had been languishing in the fridge, were topped with raspberry jelly - The Other Half insists that jelly is essential to trifle.

Later, came homemade custard, topped eventually with whipped cream, more raspberries, grated chocolate and a few sprigs of mint. It didn’t have a very firm set, but it tasted fine.

And so to this Tuesday and a visit to my parents. They have decided, in the last year or so, that instead of my mother spending hours in the kitchen to rustle up something, they'll take me out for a meal. It means less hassle for her, and also ensures that we actually spend time as a trio together.

This time, it was to a country pub a few miles away: the Grumpy Mole at the Inn on the Green. And jolly pleasant it was too. I don't exactly get to such places very often - you really do need a car.

Unrushed, with very pleasant service, the menu was the epitome of nostalgia, with fish and chips, steak and kidney pud, liver and bacon, and various pies, together with a few nods to more ‘modern’ tastes – or put another way, curry.

I started with a very pleasant chef's pate, followed by another retro classic. Yes, you guessed it – scampi.

The peas were the frozen variety, as were the chips. But at least the scampi wasn't any of the reformed nonsense that I've had whenever I've ordered it in assorted hotel restaurants on my travels around the UK in recent years. The tartare sauce hit the spot exactly.

It’s not posh; it’s not sophisticated. But there is a place for such dishes. And it’s still a darned sight better than most of the rubbish served up as ‘fast food’ these days.

At home later, with the mood still over me, I downloaded some music from the decade too. Punk.

Unsurprisingly, given the prominence of the Sex Pistols et al at the time of Her Maj’s celebrations in 1977, there has been a swathe of programmes about that counter culture too.

I didn’t ‘do’ punk at the time. Oh, I have vague memories of it, but while the memories are vague, they’re invariably negative. I had just started my O’level music course - with no parental encouragement, I hasten to add - and was infinitely more interested in Beethoven than the Buzzcocks.

I was also a million miles from being a rebel – although to be fair, I was finding my own little ways to do just that: studying music and proclaiming a future trading the boards were my rebellion, and they took plenty of energy to maintain in the face of much objection.

Standing on a stage, even doing Shakespeare, was my punk. It was my freedom. Punk sailed over my head.

But listening to some of it now I can hear the music - and the poetry. Ian Dury and the Blockheads are a prime example of the latter.

Watching a TOTP2 special, The Other Half was voicing disappointment that so many of the artists had ‘sold out’ – or to put it more clearly, are reforming to ride the wave of the nostalgia boom.

I still have never ‘got’ the idea that people really expected musicians to somehow stay outside of so many of the norms of our time.

John Lydon advertising butter makes me laugh - not beat my head in despair.

It is, it seems to me, as inherently foolishly idealistic as those people who condemn football players for moving clubs when higher wages are on offer – and more chance of winning things, but let's forget 'career profession' for the sake of this argument.

They voice regret that ‘loyalty’ no longer exists. But in a world where staying in the same job, with the same employer, for all your working life is now derided, why do they expect anything different from footballers?

It seems as though we put vast faith in others to buck the system on our behalf.

Perhaps it’s retro and perhaps it’s not, but maybe there’s a moral in that little observation?

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