Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Kitsch hen tips

Unusually, for a being with such confident knife skills, there is one kitchen instrument that strikes terror in the heart of BSG - not to mention that of his intrepid sidekick, moi: the Japanese mandolin. Far from it being a sweet-sounding instrument that might be played at a tea ceremony, it is one rather of death to the fingertips. Not only does it sound like some kind of venomous snake, it is deadly sharp and even has a part called the ‘blade mouth’ – if there ever was a scarier piece of cuisine kit I’ve yet to meet it; at least a meat cleaver states its intention from the off.

So, one fine day, a borage-flower blue dome of spring sky hanging overhead, peaceful and unbroken by even a scratch of aeroplane vapour, I decided to face the fear. We were making celeriac remoulade, which is not only one of my favourite things but I also happened to be making it with the best people imaginable: this was my hen do and, even better, not a fluffy handcuff in sight. In his light and airy establishment, succinctly named The Kitchen, Thierry Laborde, our host and teacher (and self-confessed king of the risotto) was giving us a master class on the canapé. What a perfect way to spend a sunny Saturday afternoon.


There it was, the table top guillotine, its blade glinting in the sun, flashing its razor-sharp smile, daring me to use it.

“Don’t press too ‘ard”, warned Thierry.

There was no danger of that. Even as I moved the considerable piece of celeriac in downward motions, it was clear that the mandolin was a beast that needed an authoritative grip. That was not mine. Quaking with fear, I quickly switched to the far more time-consuming practice of thinly slicing and julienning the warty root with my trusty knife – very satisfying, but rather one to try if you had all afternoon; a grater did the lion’s share of the job, though produced a rather less crunchy end product. I could hear my cooking companion, Zo, sigh with relief as I put the thing down: this was a party after all, there was champagne* to be had and I was probably supposed to be smiling – the mandolin had required complete concentration and I’d probably have ended up in A&E. Thankfully, no harm was done to any digits, and I’m pretty sure there’s an attachment on our wish-list food processor that does away with any need for a second encounter…

Atop our perfect - even if we do say so ourselves - celeriac nest in its very neat pastry case (no, we didn’t have that much time on our hands – these were premade), we sat half a perfectly hard-boiled quail’s egg and a tiny leaf of parsley. Not quite the toasted pitta and dip you barely have time to throw in a bowl after a day at the office but very dainty nonetheless. It was all starting to feel rather Good Housekeeping; that is, until Thierry instructed us on making our fishcakes by rolling them into little balls between our hands when the champagne kicked in and the double entendres really took off.

They must get it all the time…

By the time we got to crab and granny smith apple (delicious!) quenelles on melba-toast boats the class had stormed the lesson and I think the maestro was already daydreaming up his next risotto. If this had been a beauty contest, I’m not sure my offerings would have passed, but they tasted great.

Celeriac remoulade

To make this, all you need to do is grate or finely chop the celeriac into strips (about a quarter would serve two easily as a salad.)

Mix in a bowl with a couple of tablespoons of mayonnaise and some Dijon mustard (wholegrain is delicious) and a good twist of salt and pepper.

Et voila!

If you want to top with a quail’s egg, a la Thierry, here’s a top tip for peeling the little varmints:

After cooling in cold water, leave the cooked eggs in malt vinegar for a few hours – the vinegar is too mild to taint the flavour and the shells will soften and peel off easily. Magic.

*The Kitchen are licensed – bliss!

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