Saturday, 1 December 2012

Get those gams out

Has retro food ever had it so good? After all, at the top of the pile there’s Heston Blumenthal himself with his restaurant Dinner, which serves ‘meat fruit’ amongst myriad other reinvented dishes.

And it was accorded official approval by the award of a Michelin star less than a year after it opened in early 2011.

Elsewhere, Marcus Wareing is guiding the Gilbert Scott along similar, if less outré, paths, with a range of dishes that pay homage to English cooks of yore, including Mrs Beeton, the patron saint of English cookbook writers (even if she did plaigerise).

But celebration of the past doesn’t have to be limited to the fine dining end of the food scene. Indeed, there are one or two dishes that were perhaps most in fashion in the 1970s and which linger on – but could seriously do with a bit of a boost.

Scampi is one – done properly, it can be very, very good. But all too often, it’s just an excuse for an eatery to be lazy – not least by everything having come out of the freezer.

Only the other day, The Other Half commented that a fondant potato on Masterchef: The Professionals looked overcooked – then Michel Roux Jr complimented it.

The thing is, we’re so used to the utter insipidity of frozen and oven-cooked chips that we’ve forgotten that a deep golden colour on a fried potato dish is not an indicator of it being burned.

But another retro dish that is failed badly by being cobbled together from inferior ingredients is gammon steak.

Let’s face it, on most occasions that it’s served, it’ll be a piece of pink rubber in a suspiciously regular shape, served with pale chips and frozen peas; possibly with a fried egg on top, and with brown sauce or ketchup on the side.

Yet like so many things, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Last weekend, I decided that it was worth doing it differently. On Broadway Market on a Saturday, one of the stalls is Downlands farmers/butchers.

They specialise in pork products and, recently, we’ve had their sausages and bacon a couple of times. And by gum, it’s good.

They also sell gammon steaks – but they’re nothing remotely like those regular discs of pink you’ll find in the supermarkets.

I bought two. And last night, they were given the Voluptuous Manifesto test.

They each come packed in vacuum bag, with a suggestion that they be blasted fleetingly in a seriously hot pan, before a little water is added, the pan is lidded and the meat is allowed to steam for five minutes.

Now these are farmers, and if they say that – as opposed to one online source suggesting sticking them under a hot grill for 10 minutes a side – then I’ll go with the farmer. He (or she!) probably has a clue, which doesn’t involve killing the cut.

So that was what was done.

Some heat, a little water and then a five-minute wait.

In the meantime, I’d peeled and par-boiled some new potatoes, before finishing them off in the oven in a little duck fat. To accompany this was a mix of red and white cabbage, cooked à la Robuchon and, being very retro (and because The Other Half thinks it essential) a couple of pineapple rings on top.

Gammon is from an old northern French word ‘gambe’, meaning the hind-leg of the pig, or ham.

But over the years, eateries have denuded it of any real class, serving it as a processed, tacky dish – the sort of thing you eat in desperation.

Done this way, using quality – real – gammon steaks, it’s a real pleasure.

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