Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Duck with gooseberries, peas and lettuce

Around this time of year, gooseberries become the darling of social media. Shiny cherries, old, grumpy looking pumpkins and heritage tomatoes can briefly step aside from the iphone lense and form a queue behind these plump, veiny orbs. Restaurant menus also jump on this seasonal bandwagon, tempering their tang with creamy fools, or scattering raw slices with halibut crudo (which if I’m honest, makes my stomach turn a little). Yet gooseberries rarely turn up in home cooking, possibly losing ground to more user-friendly strawberries. I always associate gooseberries with when I was a child. Being relatively greedy and already knowledgeable of other types of sweet, messy summer berries, I stuffed my face without realising the cheek-raspingly sour consequences. I lived and learned the hard way. 


Like anything bitter, sharp or sour, a little guidance from contrasting ingredients can conjure magical results. Sugars and fats seem to work best at this balancing act, and in this case a plump, laden duck proved the perfect sidekick. I’ve often struggled to cook duck in the past, with most methods that suggest frying and then roasting the breasts consistently producing overcooked, disappointingly grey results. So this time I stuck to the hobs and was much happier with the pink, juicy flesh.

As with many savoury dishes, there is nothing quite like a deep, meaty sauce to tie everything together. These intense reductions need a bit of time and care to get right, but are definitely worth all the effort spent browning, simmering and straining. In the end, a shockingly small puddle of sauce is produced, but it is compressed flavour, and only little is needed with each serving. The same principles of sauce making can be reproduced with beef, lamb, chicken etc etc…

It’s hard to ignore the other green, vibrant summer produce at the moment, with beautiful lettuces and, of course, peas working their way into lots of meals. The end result is a warm salad of sorts, a combination of rich, gamey duck and refreshing, multi-textured accompaniments.

Serves 4


1 duck, portioned into breasts, legs and wings. Carcass bones cut into pieces and reserved

For the pan-fried breast:

The breasts from the duck, trimmed of sinew and excess fat 
1 large knob of butter

For the duck sauce:

The wings and bones from the duck, fat removed 
1 shallot, chopped 
1 carrot, chopped 
1 garlic clove, crushed 
A few sprigs of thyme 
1 large glass of white wine 
500ml chicken stock 
1 large knob of butter

For the gooseberry puree:

500g gooseberries, trimmed 
2 shallots, finely chopped 
1 garlic clove, finely chopped 
2 sprigs of thyme, leaves picked 
3 tbsp of caster sugar 
1 knob of butter

For the torched gooseberries:

1 handful of gooseberries, halved

To finish:

2 handfuls of fresh peas, podded 
A few large lettuce leaves, washed and torn into small pieces 
½ a lemon, juice only


Preheat to oven to 160⁰C. Season the duck legs all over with salt and pepper. Place a metal rack above an oven dish and top with the legs, then slide into the oven and bake for 2 hours, or until the duck is tender in the middle with a crispy skin. When the legs are cooked, allow them to rest for 15 minutes, then strip from the bone in large chunks. 


While the duck legs are cooking, make the gooseberry puree. Melt the butter in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add the shallot, garlic, thyme and a good pinch of seasoning, and sauté for a couple of minutes, until soft and slightly caramelised. Add the gooseberries and the sugar, and continue to fry for a further 5-8 minutes, or until the berries start to melt. Taste a little of the sauce, and add more sugar if needed. Pour the contents of the pan into a food processor and blend well. Add the butter and blend for a further few seconds, until fully emulsified. Pass the puree through a sieve into a bowl, cover and set aside.

For the sauce, pour a good glug of olive oil into a saucepan and bring up to a medium-high heat. Season the duck wings and bones and brown well in the hot pan, cooking in batches if necessary. Add the shallot, carrot, garlic and thyme and continue to fry for a couple more minutes, until the vegetables are slightly caramelised. Pour in the white wine and allow to reduce by two-thirds. Use a wooden spoon to scrape up the crust from the bottom of the pan. Top up with the chicken stock and return to the boil. Reduce the liquid a second time, by around three-quarters, until thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon. Strain the sauce through a sieve into a smaller saucepan, and stir in the butter. Keep warm. 


Fill a saucepan with water and bring to the boil. Pod the peas and add to the water with a good pinch of seasoning. Blanche for 1 minute, then drain. Pour over lots of cold water to halt the cooking process. Shell the peas into a small bowl. Tear up the lettuce and add to the peas.

Season the duck breasts all over and place them skin-side down into a cold, dry frying pan. Turn on the heat to medium-high and fry for 6 minutes, until the skin is crispy and has released its excess fat. Turn the breasts over and continue to cook for a further 4 minutes. Transfer the cooked duck to a side plate and allow to rest for 10 minutes, then slice in half lengthways.

Halve the spare gooseberries and arrange cut-side up on a metal tray. Use a blow torch to char the berries, holding the flame over for about 10 seconds, or until they are slightly blackened.

Squeeze the lemon juice over the lettuce and peas, and sprinkle on a little seasoning. Use your hands to mix well.

To serve, arrange half a duck breast and a few pieces of leg meat to each plate. Add a large dollop of the gooseberry puree to the side. Scatter the torched berries, peas and lettuce around the sides. Finish with a generous amount of the duck sauce.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Beetroot salad with lardo, broad beans, roasted garlic, treviso and balsamic

My local greengrocer in North London has recently started stocking a range of the most beautiful baby vegetables. Shelves are stacked high with technicoloured little pointy carrots, miniature fennel bulbs with amazing long fronds and perfect, blemish-free turnips the size of a radish. And then there is the beetroot, all gold, red and pink. When I first saw them I was shopping for a different recipe, but I was instantly inspired and vowed to return soon. 

Thankfully those sweet little beets were still there upon my next visit a few days later, and I grabbed a few bunches, along with a rather elegant treviso radicchio, a bulb of fresh garlic and a few broad beans to form the foundations of this little salad. Next stop, a proper old-school Italian deli close-by for some thin slices of silky lardo and a wedge of amazing strong pecorino (I’m a little obsessed with this at the moment). I skipped home a happy and hungry man, and it wasn’t long before everything was assembled on the plate and ready to eat.
I’m so pleased that I managed to grow up and shake off my childhood fear of beetroot. I think it was something to do with the violently staining red colour, or the strong association with vinegary pickle (a definite no-no for a younger me). Now I adore it, although I’m pretty sure that I’ve managed to marry a girl who loves it even more. Apparently when she was younger, Katie’s grandmother nicknamed her the ‘Beetroot Queen’, for her ability to consume so much. I’ve certainly never witnessed anyone get through a (large) jar of pickled beetroot with such gusto. So naturally, I expect that this salad will become a staple in our house.
Serves 2
For the beetroot and garlic:
2 bunches of baby beetroot, washed and trimmed 
1 bulb of fresh garlic 
A few sprigs of thyme
For the balsamic dressing:
½ a lemon, juice only 
1 garlic clove, grated 
1 tsp Dijon mustard 
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar 
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
For the beans and leaves:
2 handfuls broad beans 
A few big treviso leaves 
A handful of fresh basil leaves
To finish:
2 tbsp pine nuts 
A few shavings of strong pecorino 
10 slices of lardo

Preheat the oven to 200⁰C.
Toss the beets, whole garlic bulb and thyme into an oven dish and coat with a glug of olive oil and a good pinch of seasoning. Slide into the oven and roast for 25 minutes, turning occasionally. Once cooked, allow to cool before carefully peeling away the skins. 

Fill a saucepan with water and bring to the boil. Blanche the broad beans for 30 seconds. Fill a large bowl up with very cold (ideally iced) water. Transfer the cooked broad beans into the cold water to cool quickly. Once cooled, drain away the water and squeeze the vibrant broad beans out of their shells.
Bring a dry frying pan to a high heat and scatter in the pine nuts. Toast for 2-3 minutes, until golden brown.
Make the dressing by combining the garlic, mustard, lemon juice, vinegar and a good pinch of seasoning in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in the olive oil, until fully emulsified. 

Roughly tear the treviso leaves and add to a mixing bowl with the broad beans and basil. Dress will a little of the balsamic oil.
Plate up by arranging slices of lardo onto each plate, layering the beetroot, treviso, garlic cloves, broad beans and basil on top. Finish with a sprinkle of pine nuts, a generous amount of pecorino and an extra drizzle of the dressing.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Dover sole with summer girolles, sage and butter

As it was my mum’s birthday, I really wanted to spoil her with this lunch. So after the squid was devoured, I chucked the grill on and set about on a speedy main course. There were only the three of us eating, so the evening before I had excitedly rushed home with a trio of lovely Cornish Dover sole. Having only cooked and eaten these prized fish on less than a handful of occasions, I was determined to cook them carefully and treat them simply. A bag of mushrooms, a slab of butter and few bits picked from the allotment were all that was needed. 

My mistake was in bringing the fish down to Brighton unprepared. I thought that my parents would want to be hands on and take interest in learning how to skin the fish. They were, although I wasn’t quite ready for the total mess that it would cause. At work, any mess is barely noticeable as it gets quickly slooshed away with a bucket of water. There was no such solution this time as scales sprayed across the kitchen, attaching themselves to the floorboards, fridge, clothing and hair. I felt so bad!

But once the fish was prepared and that total lead balloon had worn off a little, the rest of the dish came together in a flash. Simply grilled fish is always a pleasure to eat, especially when it emerges golden brown and sizzling from the oven and is swiftly doused in hot melted butter. Mushrooms and sage might seem a strange combination, but they provided a lovely contrast to the rich and meaty flesh. 

We were all stuffed to bursting after two plates of food, but of course there was cake. And cream. And clotted cream. And ice cream. Oh heavens! Dad had followed a particularly lovely Nigel Slater recipe for lemon cake, all sticky and dense, and with tangy candied sliced burnished on top. After half an hour of eating grace to try and find some extra stomach space, it was happily forked up to complete a memorable afternoon celebration.

Serves 4


4 Dover sole, each about 400g in weight, skinned and trimmed 

2 large handfuls of girolle mushrooms, brushed clean 
1 clove of garlic, crushed 
A few sprigs of sage, leaves picked 
4 tbsp of butter 
1 lemon


Heat the grill to high. Line a large oven tray with greaseproof paper and rub with 1 tsp of olive oil and a good pinch of seasoning. Place the Dover sole on top and rub with a little more oil and seasoning. Slide under the hot grill for 8 minutes. 

Slice or tear the mushrooms into bite-size pieces if necessary.

Bring a large frying pan to a medium heat. Add the butter and melt, then toss in the mushrooms, crushed garlic clove and a pinch of seasoning. Fry for 4-5 minutes, tossing frequently, until caramelised on all sides. Add the sage leaves about halfway through, and allow them to slightly crisp in the hot butter.

Carefully transfer the cooked fish to each plate. Squeeze half of the lemon juice into the butter and mushrooms and stir to combine, then spoon generously over the fish. Serve with the remaining lemon on the side.

Squid with baby courgettes, samphire and marjoram

I spent the weekend just passed on a whistle-stop visit to Brighton to celebrate my mum’s 68th birthday. And as is now tradition, I arrived clutching a bag of provisions to make lunch on the Sunday. Wherever they have lived, the kitchen has always been the central point of the house, and it was a total pleasure preparing food and catching up as they sat around the table with a glass of wine. As usual, I wanted to keep things simple and quick, just a few seasonal and tested ingredients together on a plate. 

In the morning mum and I had driven to their lovely allotment on the hills overlooking the city, shrouded in the morning mist and spitting rain. There we collected beautiful courgette flowers, herbs, salad leaves and bulbs of garlic. They are always so humble about it, but I know how hard they work planning, digging, planting and watering, and I’m always blown away by the produce that flourishes in the neat beds and winds around geometric canes. It was exciting to collect food knowing that it would be on the plate within a few small hours.
First course out of my bag was a paper-wrapped package bulging with squid. Dad gasped. The man loves his squid, and some of my fondest childhood memories involve visits to fishmongers with him. Without fail, dad would always be drawn to squid, and we would rush home to fry them in a thin, crispy batter. On this occasion they were seared quick and fast, until charring at the edges, before being drenched in lemon juice. 

I can’t get enough of samphire at the moment, so a few handfuls were also thrown into the mix. Combined with the incredibly tender young courgettes and a tangy dressing, they sat perfectly alongside the squid. This whole dish took about 15 minutes to casually put together, perfect for maximising time sat down eating together.
Serves 4
4 medium squid, cleaned 
4 small handfuls of samphire 
4-6 baby courgettes, with flowers if possible 
2 sprigs of marjoram 
1 lemon 
1 clove of garlic 
1 good pinch of dried chilli flakes 
Extra virgin olive oil

Fill a saucepan with water, and bring to the boil. Fill a large bowl with cold water and add a good handful of ice cubes. When the water in the pan is hot, tip in the samphire and blanche for 20 seconds. Drain and transfer straight into the iced water to cool quickly. When cold, drain and shake dry, then add to a large bowl.
Tear up the courgette flowers (discarding the stamen). Slice the courgettes into long, thin batons. Add both to the samphire, along with the chilli flakes, the lemon zest and half of the juice, the marjoram leaves and the finely grated garlic. Pour in 2-3 tbsp of olive oil and a good pinch of seasoning and toss to combine. 

Using a sharp knife, open up the cleaned squid bodies to create a flat sheet. Carefully score one side in a crisscross, and repeat with the wings. Slice the tentacles into a few pieces.
Bring a large, heavy frying pan to a high heat and add 2 tbsp of olive oil. When smoking hot, add the squid and a pinch of seasoning. Cook the squid, in batches if necessary, for one minute on each side, or until golden brown and caramelised.
To serve, layer the squid and the samphire and courgette salad onto each plate. Finish with an extra squeeze of lemon juice and a crack of black pepper.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Brill with baby fennel, heritage tomatoes and bottarga

It’s summer supposedly, but despite the thunder, rain and perpetual state of mugginess, people are still eager to dust off the barbecue. Only barbeques in Britain require additional equipment of multiple umbrellas, raincoats and windshields. Due to this every-reliable method of cooking, everyone is all mackerel, bream, prawns and tuna. Despite being in prime season and wonderful condition, suddenly the humble soles, flounders and other flatfish become seemingly invisible. So here’s a summer recipe that takes full advantage of these delicious fish that can be whipped up in no time. 

Turbot, lemon sole, plaice or halibut would all work perfectly with this recipe, but in this instance I opted for brill. Poor brill. Brill is like a child named Butch who turned out to be a bit of a weed. Nobody seems to want to hang out with brill. Its dull brown appearance and large size don’t do it any favours. It gets enough attention mind; “OH that’s a brill” they say, pointing, before finishing with “I’ll have two slices of salmon please”. Brill needs a break. Because underneath that dull exterior is beautifully textured, pure white flesh that on its day gives the prized turbot a run for its money.
Last year I splashed out and bought a whopper. I poached chunky fillets in butter and they were to die for. I fried the roes with anchovies and chanterelles. I even cured a bit. This time I wanted to go back to basics and simply fry a tranche with a few tried and tested companions. Cooking flat fish on the bone results in extra succulence and flavour, and it’s really not that fiddly at all when it comes to eating. A few technicoloured, ripe tomatoes, some wonderful baby fennel and a pile of finely grated bottarga and you’re pretty much there.
Serves 2
For the brill:
2 tranches of brill, about 200g each 
1 large knob of butter
For the tomatoes:
4-5 assorted ripe heritage tomatoes 
1 small clove of garlic, grated 
A pinch of dried chillies
To finish:
6 baby fennel and fronds 
A generous grating of bottarga 
A few fresh oregano leaves

Slice the tomatoes into randomly-shaped pieces and slide into a bowl. Grate over the garlic and sprinkle over the chilli flakes to taste. Season generously and combine with about a tablespoon of olive oil. Leave to sit while the rest of the preparation is completed. 

Fill a small saucepan with water and bring to the boil. Cut the fronds from the fennel and blanche in the hot water for about 30 seconds, then immediately drain and shock in cold water. Set aside.
Set the grill to medium-high. Place the baby fennel bulbs onto an oven tray and toss with a little olive oil and seasoning. Slide under the heat and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side, until lightly caramelised and al dente.
Pour a glug of olive oil into a non-stick frying pan and bring to a medium-high heat. Season the tranches of brill all over. When the pan is hot, add the brill and fry for three minutes on each side. For the final 2 minutes, add the knob of butter to the pan and baste the fish continuously. 

Remove the fish from the pan and set aside briefly. Pour in the tomatoes and add the fennel and fronds. Warm through for about a minute, tossing in the oil and butter.
To serve, add a piece of brill to each plate and surround with the tomatoes, fennel and fronds. Spoon over some of the buttery pan sauce, and grate a generous amount of bottarga on top. Finish with a few fresh oregano leaves.