Tuesday, 19 June 2012


I’m not from around these parts. I’m not a royalist and; at best, I find the class divide of my adopted home rather bemusing, dahling. What I can say for certain is that anyone who has dedicated sixty years of their life to something deserves a bit of a party. If that someone happens to be the monarch of the United Kingdom, countless other Commonwealth realms and Supreme Governor of the Church of England...well, it’s definitely time for top shelf bubbly. Toss in an Olympics and Wimbledon, wrap it all up in reams of pomp and circumstance bunting and you’ve got the making of a cracking British summer. Even that coquettish tease the sun, won’t be putting a dampener on these proceedings.
1953. Tea, sugar and eggs had only just come off rationing, with meat and cheese still regulated until ‘54. Culinary speaking, the UK was largely a no go zone. Food was often scarce and was considered sustenance, period. It is no secret that a nation’s wealth can be judged by the number and occupancy of its decent restaurants and this was not a time for chef frippery. Yet, classic pairings and simple dishes remain throughout all ages. So, let’s cast a jaundiced eye back to the British table of the early 1950’s and see what can be reworked into something fit for a Queen and palatable to the post Master Chef golden age.

Chilled Cucumber Soup with Gin Jelly
Serves 6

Often chilled cucumber soups are watery graves based more upon a gazpacho technique but lacking any punch. This velvety cooked soup served chilled holds its own incorporating two of Britain’s most famous ingredients.

2 cucumbers, sliced and de-seeded
½ cucumber peeled into ribbons with a potato peeler
4tbsp extra virgin olive oil or rapeseed oil
1 onion, diced
1ltr vegetable stock
150ml double cream
2tbsp wild garlic leaves
1tbsp chives
1tbsp chervil
2 gelatine leaves
150ml gin
mint leaves and edible flowers

1) Heat the oil and add the cucumber and onions. Cook until slightly softened, then add the stock. Cook for two minutes then liquidise with the cream and herbs. Taste, season and chill.
2) Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water for 5 minutes until soft. Warm the gin over a low heat without boiling it and add the gelatine leaves. Stir until dissolved but do not let the mixture boil. Let cool to room temperature.

Coronation Chicken
Serves 6

Well, I couldn’t exactly leave this one out could I?
Coronation chicken can be a lovely dish if attended to with a bit of care. Don’t crucify the chicken during the cooking process, don’t cram it between boring sliced bread, season well and just enough mayo to bind.

4 Good sized chicken breasts
Quality mayonnaise
Creme fraiche
Mild curry powder or paste
½tsp Turmeric
2tbsp Reconstituted sultanas
2 tbsp Toasted flaked almonds
½ Green mango
2tbsp Freshly chopped coriander
Juice of one lime
½ stick finely diced celery
12 cooked asparagus spears

1) Poach the chicken in stock or water until just cooked 8-10 minutes. Cool and slice into good size chunks. Place in a large bowl.
2) Combine with the desired amount of mayonnaise and creme fraiche. Equal parts. Stir in well the curry powder to taste and the turmeric for colour. Add the celery, lime juice and coriander. Season to taste.
3) Heap a pile of watercress on each plate with two asparagus spears. Pile on the chicken and top with the flaked almonds, sultanas and peeled shavings of mango.
4) Serve with toasted pitas or grilled flat bread.

Spam Fritters & Mushy Peas
Serves 6

Right, I’m using a bit of poetic license here with the description. In the restaurant I will fore go the spam for our own ham hock terrine and of course, true mushy peas are yellow-grey of the marrow fat variety. Whenever you get bright green mushy peas with your fish n’ chips, that’s called E102/E133 colourants. Better to be traditional or go for actual petit pois.
And what do I think of actual spam? There is no denying it has a moreish flavour albeit over salted and cloyingly fatty. It reminds me of my Dad. A go to dish whenever Mom was out.

12 slices of spam (feels quite weird to write that!)
2 beaten eggs
Flour to dust
Panko or fine dry white bread crumbs
400gm petit pois
Small handful of mint leaves
200ml Vegetable stock
Sunflower oil for frying

1) Lightly flour, egg wash and breadcrumb the spam slices. Refrigerate.
2) Liquidise the peas with hot stock, the mint and seasoning. Adjust the consistency with more stock if needed. You want a thick mixture, ripe for dolloping.
3) Heat a large fry pan and add a few tbsp of sunflower oil. Fry the fritters until golden.
4) Divide the mushy peas on dinner plates, and top with the fritters. Garnish with sliced gherkins.

Avocado and Orange Cocktail
Serves 6

Apparently all the rage at the time and a good excuse to go camp as a row of tents.
Avocados are such a silky, subtle foil to all things acidic. This really does taste lovely.

3 Ripe, yet firm avocados, peeled into shavings just before serving
8 Oranges, half segmented, half sliced into rounds
1 Ruby grapefruit, segmented
200gm Marie rose sauce
Picked chervil leaves
Edible flowers (optional)
150ml Orange juice
150ml Cointreau
4 gelatine leaves

1) Make the jelly with the orange juice and Cointreau following the same principle as the gin jellies with the cucumber soup. Divide the orange segments between six martini glasses and top up to equal levels with the jelly mix. Refrigerate.
2) Arrange the orange slices along the rim of the glasses, interspersed with the grapefruit segments.
3) A great dollop of marie rose sauce topped with all the avocado shavings. Artfully dot with flower petals and chervil leaves.

Pimm’s Jelly

I’d hazard a guess that this summer will see record breaking consumption of the classic fruit cup. What could be more festive, more apt for the moment than an elegant and fresh Pimm’s cocktail.  Go upmarket and substitute the usual lemonade for bubbly and you have a ‘Pimm’s Royal Cup’.
Just about any decent charity shop will throw up a classic old Victorian jelly mould. The bigger the better for a bit of theatre. Work on these principles:
-Approx 300ml liquid to 4 leaves of gelatine
-Make the jelly mix to your taste. How boozy/sweet do you want it? Adjust it to you and your guests’ palates.
-Jellies should be wobbly. Fear not, they will take an awful lot of side to side without breaking.
-Build the innards of the jelly uniformly against the edge of the mould for a showy aspect. The classic ingredients are- cucumber, strawberry, mint, orange, lemon and apple. Top with borage flowers for complete authenticity and serve with ice cold pouring cream or clotted cream.
-When warming a tipping a large jelly...a quiet prayer usually helps.

My personal Jubilee celebrations highlight.
Grace Jones at 64

An edited version of this piece was published in Devon Life Magazine, June 2012.

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