Saturday 29 June 2013

Francesca's Four

We don't get many bookings of four any more; it's mainly eights and tens. While the larger parties can be very entertaining, these smaller groups allow me to spend a bit more time plating up; working with the presentation; getting it 'just so'. Well, that was the plan.

Tonight, with Francesca, was unusual also, because I served four new dishes. Normally I only include one innovation per evening and even that has me waking early in the morning muttering... 'chicken... must check the...'. Last night I dreamed of raspberries! The difference tonight was all the dishes were prepared on the hob once guests had arrived. There was no slow cooking and therefore no issues of timings. Also, these were all variations on family favourites so I've cooked versions of them many times before.

What was annoying tonight:  I was partially robbed of my sense of taste. Bloody, bloody, bloody hay fever. This could become a real issue. What do pro chefs do? Without smell I'm left only with bitter, sweet, salty, sour and umami. You've all done the taste test right? Pinch your nose hard and while holding try and see if you can differentiate between apple and a potato, or tea and coffee. Many people have no idea that most of what we think of as flavour is stuff that happens in your nose. Your tongue really has only the most rudimentary detectors. Taste is in the mouth but flavour is in the nostrils!

I normally serve a mushroom and truffle veloutĂ© as an amuse bouche but because Fransceca had plumped for a truffled starter I needed something new. Also, what is essentially posh cream of mushroom soup wasn't what was needed on a warm summer evening. OK, so it was clammy and overcast and not warm at all, but still...

The dreadful spring has blighted our fruit and veg too. Although I hear we're in a for a tremendous strawberry harvest. It's always difficult to buy properly ripe, rich, deep red tomatoes but the simple lack of UK sunshine exacerbates matters.

So I took tomatoes and concentrated the flavour by drying them in the oven. Tomato crisps. You do lose a lot of mass. There are three large tomatoes in the picture below. I served them here with a basil oil dip. They are very delicate but most agreeably flavoursome (...Mr Darcy).

I was hoping the oil would look like an emerald sea, a limpid pool... rather than a village pond. Ho hum.

The starter I had done before, sort of. It was based on a veggie main. Truffled polenta with mushrooms. Here I served it with onion crisps, a port and beef stock reduction and thyme flowers from the garden. I'm not quite sure what this picture reminds me of. I'm not even sure I like it. Maybe it's a wood pile on a massive omelette? Maybe it's too kitsch; you expect Heidi to appear with a hop and a skip and a goat.

How do you make tomato or onion crisps? Same as apple: fine slice the veg and brush with a little oil then bake for two hours (maybe less for the toms) at 80°C.

Who ordered the omelette?
Mains was pan fried sea bass with crash pots, green beans, roast toms and roasting juices. The picture looks a little dry here but it wasn't. In the shop (wonderfully miserable Pat at Green Lanes Fisheries) the bass looked exceptionally fresh: vivid gills, bright, clear eyes and absolutely no smell. I'm not keen on messing around too much with good fish. You really don't need fancy-schmancy sauces and I even think strong flavours like capers or lime detract from the subtlety of the flesh. Yes you need some acidity but that's where the tomatoes come in. Pan fried bass in (lashings of) butter to get that crispy, golden fringe around soft, flaking flesh; there are few things I like more.

Crash potatoes are new pots, Charlottes or something fairly waxy, parboiled and crushed then roasted at 220°C with olive oil, Maldon salt, black pepper and crushed fennel seeds for around half an hour. It's a forgiving dish, another ten minutes just means a crisper finish. The fennel worked well here with the lemon juice and basil oil that I added to the buttery frying pan juices.

I went for a rustic presentation. Sod it. it's honest.

The potatoes are meant to look that like. Honestly, they're delicious.

Dessert was poached peaches with an orange tuile, raspberries in raspberry coulis, little meringues and Chantilly cream. I've been developing this dish over the past few weeks. I love fruity desserts, almost always choosing a lemon tart over chocolate say.

The tuiles are a doddle, not nearly as fiddly as they look (and I do hope they look fiddly). I took some photos to illustrate the recipe. I'll post that when I get back on Monday. I've shut the restaurant this Saturday because I'm going to see one of the finest bands in the world: Sigur Ros playing at the Eden Project.

I want to improve the presentation. I know I said I like 'honest' but desserts are the exception; they should look... a bit... contrived. I want to make a tall, curving tuile that the weight of the peach keeps in place. I'm fairly sure I can achieve that. This classic shape looks too much like a baseball cap. I'm very pleased with the colours though.

The peaches address each other: 'yo blud'.

Maybe not

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