Queen Mary claimed that if she was cut open, Calais would be emblazoned on her heart. Well, if I were cut open you would probably see a Barolo and marrow reduction running through my veins. Fine food is the quintessence of human experience, and the thing that enhances further still is preparing it.

 

If I lived by the sea (and have untold wealth), I would almost certainly buy fish and prepare my own sashimi all day every day. But I happen to live as far from the sea as it is possible to get in England, so that is a treat that has to wait for Tuesdays and Thursdays after pay day, when both the bank and the fishmonger have goods of the requisite quality.

As it is, I am in the middle of the most wonderful network of butchers and farm shops, so the comfort of rich meat dishes figures largely on my menus. What I am building here is a list of dishes with ingredients. Putting aside patisserie, which is more of a science than an art, there are no quantities but do get in touch for further info.

Starters

Sweet and sour King prawns on fennel with a quails egg

Exactly what it says. King prawns marinated not for very long (and in their shells) in rice vinegar, brown sugar, coriander, and chilli oil then flash-fried in the marinade, served two to a plate astride a bed of wilted fennel in which nestles a poached quail's egg.

Green tea risotto with tuna carpaccio and calamari

A wonderful mix of Asian and European flavours. A simple risotto with shallots and a little parmesan, the liquor for which is fish stock made with a few leaves of green tea added at the last minute. A tournedos of sushi-grade tuna is covered in honey and then seared before being cut into thin strips. and laid around the edge of the plate. All topped with lightly floured calamari fried for a few seconds.

Chicken oyster compote

Chicken oysters, with the skin left on, seared on the skin side, sealed on the other, and fast cooked for 5 minutes in a closed pan with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sugar, and fresh coriander. Served on top of a rocket, grated radish, and spring onion salad, and dressed with the juice.

Pigeon breasts with a savoury carrot cake

Boil sweet young carrots then brown off in a large amount of excellent dripping (half white, half brown) with a handful of redcurrants and a couple of capers then puree and serve in a ramekin, topped with 2 rare pigeon breasts.

Five-pointed star

Basically a fancy way of serving pate and pesto - both home-made, which is the point of the dish! Arrange toast points into a pentacle on the plate, and serve quenelles of pate and pesto between the points. Works best with a pate that is closer to rillettes - try wild boar, goose fat, capers, juniper berries, pepper, red currants, garlic, and pancetta cooked down for 3-4 hours on top of the oven and potted. Proportions of parmesan, pine nuts, salt, pepper, and oil to taste in the pesto.

Fish

Pan fried mackerel with pancetta and fennel

Well, mackerel's not a very sexy fish despite the fact it makes such wonderful sashimi, largely because it's so cheap, but it is an incredibly robust one as well as being full of good oils, so it can stand up to a recipe like this. Lift the fillets from the mackerel and pan fry in really hot oil so the skin is crispy. In a separate pan sweat down some pancetta, adding a small amount of diced shallots once the fat runs. When these are transparent, add good sized slices of fennel and a twist of grated nutmeg, and wilt down. Serve the mackerel in a cross on top of the fennel and sprinkle with the fennel tops. To turn it into a more traditional French-style dish you can add equal parts of vermouth and fish stock to the fennel and reduce. Whichever way, it's still best served with polenta (mixed with a little truffle oil).

Meat

Rabo de Toro

People turn their noses up at oxtail, but this twist on a Spanish classic, that I first tried a stone's throw from a bull ring in Andalucia, is heavenly. Use good beef or goose dripping to brown off the chunks of oxtail and remove them from the casserole dish. Now brown off white and red onions and add some seeded and skinned beef tomatoes. Let these cook down until the water from the fruit has started to evaporate and put the oxtail pieces back in. Add a bouquet garni of thyme, sage, hyssop, and a bayleaf, and a few crushed juniper berries. Put in some finely diced roots - carrots, parsnips, and salsify are best, but sweet potato would work really well. Just cover with really good home made beef or veal stock and put in a very low oven (150c) for as long as you can! The Spanish serve this with fragrant rice, and it's very similar to Gardienne from the Camargue, which is served with locally grown rice, but you can also try adding some cannelini beans about one and a half hours before cooking has finished. You can also serve it with aligot (see below).

Rack of lamb north African style

The key is in the crust/marinade. Pound some sundried tomatoes, the flesh of a fig, a few capers, and an anchovy into a paste. Add some cumin seeds, ground sumak, and ground coriander, and coat the rack of lamb. Leave for 2 hours then oven cook until pink inside, and serve with asparagus spears and qinoa.

Italian Tournedos

This is a bit cheffy but I couldn't resist it, and sometimes you want to be a bit intricate as an antedote to the carefree approach - just don't get complicated. Ingredients: tournedos of fillet steak, Recioto della Valpolicella, Amarone, marrow bone, haricots, speck, red onions, sugar snap peas, spinach. As you'll see from the ingredients, this is all about balancing sweet and bitter. To prepare the beans, render a generous amount of speck in a casserole dish and use it to soften one large red onion. Now add the haricots and cook in a medium oven for one and a half hours (as though you were cooking a cassoulet without forming a crust). now drain any liquid fat and puree. To prepare the sauce, flash the bone marrow in the pan, add equal amounts of the two wines and reduce by half. The sugar snap peas and the spinach should both be cooked in water as they are there to cut through rather than add to the richness. Finally prepare the tournedos to taste (preferably blue). Place it in the middle of a large plate and surround with the green veg, one sort on either side. Pipe a concentric circle of the haricot puree around this, and finally an outer circle of sauce.

Veg

Accompanying vegetables, that is. There is no place here for vegetarian dishes.

Aligot

A French classic from Aveyron. My preferred quantities and ingredients are: a kilo pf peeled king edward potatoes, a good sized bulb of garlic, 100g each grana padano and gruyere, a small pot of double cream. This isn't the traditional (or healthy!) version, but as a once in a while treat it's incredible. It will also stand alone as a paysan version of fondue. Boil the potatoes and half of the garlic together and drain when ready to mash, leaving the garlic. To avoid losing all the garlic oils, heat the other half very gently in the double cream. Now pour the garlic and double cream in with the potatoes, add the grated cheese, and mash together, then heat at just below a simmer for a further 10 minutes, stirring constantly.

DAN HOLLOWAY'S RECIPES

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