Roast goose with sage and onion potato stuffing

Roast goose
Roast goose

I’ve held off for couple of weeks post-Christmas on this, because I am assuming that today is approximately the day when most of you will be getting sick of your New Year’s resolution to avoid crispy skin, potatoes softened beautifully with goose drippings, and tender forkfuls of breast meat. Everybody else should herewith bookmark this page for Christmas 2011, by which time things festive will no longer cause your gorge to rise.

A goose this large will feed six or more, although you won’t have the great buckets of leftovers that turkeys generate. (All the better, to my mind.) And it turned out superbly; I’m not sure whether this goose or the obscenely juicy brined turkey from Christmas 2008 would win in a fight. Our goose was tender and moist, filled near unto bursting (you can see the straining of the gap where it was sewed shut in the picture) with one of the best stuffings I’ve ever made, all wrapped up in a golden, crispy skin. If you do end up cooking this for a family occasion, you’ll also find yourself the proud possessor of a massive tub of goose fat to pop in the fridge. My Mum suggested turning it into a fatball for the poor starving robins in the snow. I said pshaw, and chilled it in jam jars for future potatoes.

Geese were, of course, the upper-class Christmas comestible of choice in England until being supplanted by the filthy heathen turkey from America, which Dickens did a lot to popularise by putting one on the Cratchit’s table. Medieval swanks would spend a day’s wages on a fat goose (and they are fat, even if not raised for foie – be sure to remove the lumps of poultry fat from the body cavity before you begin cooking, and render them down in a pan over a low heat for the lovely drippings), which they would roast on a spit over a fire, the skin coloured with saffron in butter for a chi-chi golden tone. The goose tradition carried on until Dickens all but killed it with A Christmas Carol. These days, we all have ovens, and you can buy Heston’s gold leaf at Waitrose instead and poke at it gently all over the bird with a soft brush, if your family is the sort that really needs impressing, but I think the skin is perfectly golden enough if you cook it using the method below.

Potato stuffing is the perfect choice for a bird as fatty as a goose. Use a fluffy, floury potato; I chose King Edwards. The potato will soak up the bird’s delicious juices in a way that will astonish you, and takes on flavour from the sage, onion and pancetta it’s mixed with, which flavours also impregnate the flesh of the goose. A couple of sweet eating apples cut into small chunks and stirred into the mixture will collapse on cooking to give the whole stuffing a very gentle background sweetness which is glorious against the rich meat. Buy the best goose you can afford; the way your bird is raised, killed and butchered really does make a difference. We had a beautiful free-range goose, good-smelling even when raw, from Franklin’s Farm, which supplies my parents’ local farmers’ market.

To serve about six people you’ll need:

A goose weighing between 5 and 6kg
1 kg King Edward potatoes
100g pancetta
100g butter
3 onions
2 Granny Smith apples
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
Leaves from 1 stalk fresh rosemary
1 large handful (about 25g) sage leaves, chopped finely
1 teaspoon salt

Sauteeing stuffing ingredients
Sauteeing stuffing ingredients

Your goose should start off at room temperature, so make sure it’s out of the fridge for long enough to lose any chill.

Peel the potatoes, chop them into pieces about 1 inch square, and simmer them until soft (about ten minutes from the time they come to the boil if you start them off in cold water). While the potatoes are cooking, peel and core the apples, and chop them into small pieces. Peel and dice the onion.

Melt the butter in a large, heavy frying pan, and saute the onion, apple and pancetta together with the thyme and bay until the onion is soft and sweet, but not coloured (about 8 minutes – see the picture for the sort of texture you’re aiming for). Remove from the heat to a very large mixing bowl with the buttery juices.

When the potatoes are soft, drain them and add them to the mixing bowl with the rosemary, sage and salt. Stir the stuffing mixture well to make sure all the ingredients are blended.

Remove any poultry fat from inside the bird’s cavity – if you’re lucky there should be at least a couple of fist-sized white chunks in there. You can use scissors to snip it into pieces and dry-fry it over a low heat to render it down for a jar of goose fat for the fridge if you like. It goes without saying that you should remove the packet of giblets too – if you want giblet stock, simmer them without the liver (which does not make good stock) in some water. You can use that liver – my Dad and I have a bit of a tradition of chopping it up and cooking it along with some good curry paste in a little bowl sat in some water, covered with some tin foil, then spreading it on toast for Boxing Day breakfast.

Heat the oven to 225ºC.

Spoon all of the stuffing into the bird, and use stout cotton and a thick needle to sew the gap shut. If you can’t face it, you can also use skewers to secure it, but this will be much less neat. Weigh the stuffed bird and put it on a rack in a large baking tray.

Cook the goose at 225ºC for half an hour, then bring the heat down to 180ºC, taking the opportunity to pour off the fat that will have rendered out of the bird in that first hour – save it for spuds. After the initial 30 minutes at 225ºC, cook the goose at 180ºC for 30 minutes per kg stuffed weight, pouring off the fat regularly.

Check that the juices run clear by poking a skewer behind the thigh. The juices should run clear. Rest the goose for ten minutes before carving.

Crackling pork belly with celeriac and tomato

Pork belly on celeriacWhere other children were visited by fairy godmothers bearing gifts of grace and beauty; the art of detecting peas beneath mattresses; the ability to walk in high heels for more than five yards without getting one stuck in the space between two pieces of pavement; and all that glamorous jazz, mine found that her bag was empty but for the gift of making really terrific crackling. (Seriously. It wins competitions and everything.)

I’m not complaining. It’s better than it could have been; I’ve one friend who swears her only skill is the tidy folding of a broadsheet newspaper once read.

This recipe is reliant on your getting your hands on a really good piece of pork belly, properly reared, and striped thickly with fat. It doesn’t matter whether your piece has attached bones or not, but do try not to use a supermarket slab of meat; the flavour will be much better with a butcher’s belly from a pig raised responsibly, and you’ll probably find the joint will be drier, crackling more effectively. Cooked slowly for several hours, the pork bastes itself from within, leaving you with a gorgeously dense, flavoursome and moist finish.

I’ve used the tomato sauce than I made in a few enormous batches and froze at the end of the summer here, with some additional cream and herbs. If you don’t have any sauce you’ve made and frozen yourself, substitute with a good sun-dried tomato sauce in a jar.

To serve four, you’ll need:

1.5kg pork belly
1 small handful thyme stalks (about 20g, if you’re counting)
1 small handful fresh rosemary
4 bayleaves
100g stupendous tomato sauce, or sun-dried tomato sauce in a jar
3 tablespoons double cream
1 medium celeriac (larger celeriacs can be woody)
1 large handful parsley
2 banana shallots
1 tablespoon butter
Plenty of salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 140ºC (290ºF). Make sure the skin of the pork is scored properly in regular lines penetrating into the fat but not into the meat, and that it is absolutely bone-dry. Rub the pork all over with a couple of teaspoons of salt, making sure that plenty gets into the scored lines on the skin. Season with pepper, and sit the belly in a roasting pan on top of the thyme, bay and rosemary, reserving a bayleaf and a stalk of the thyme and rosemary to use in the sauce later.

Put the roasting pan in the middle of the oven, close the door and ignore the pork for four hours. Towards the end of the cooking time, cut your celeriac in quarters, peel them with a knife (this is far easier than trying to peel a whole celeriac), and grate them on the coarse side of your box grater. Slice the shallots finely and mix them with the grated celeriac in a bowl.

When the pork has had four hours in the oven, the top will have softened but not crackled. Still in the roasting dish, put the pork about four inches beneath a hot grill. The skin will start to bubble and crackle. Keep an eye on things; once crackled, the skin can burn easily. If you find that one side of your joint is crackling and ready before the other, put a piece of tin foil over the area that has crackled to prevent it from burning. Once the crackling is even, remove the dish from the grill and leave it to rest in a warm place while you prepare the sauce and celeriac.

Sauté the celeriac and shallots in the butter for about eight minutes until soft and sweet. Stir through the parsley and season with salt and pepper. While the celeriac is cooking, bring the tomato sauce up to a gentle simmer with the herbs you reserved earlier, then stir through the cream with any juices from the pork.

Pop a pastry cutter onto each plate, and use it as a template for a serving of celeriac. Top off with some of the herby, velvety pork meat, and a generous slab of crackling. Spoon over some of the sauce and serve.

Devilled eggs with bacon and chilli

Devilled eggsA couple of weeks ago, I was footling around in the sun at Ciudad, one of my favourite restaurants in LA, with a Margarita and some devilled eggs. (This goes some way to explain the recent hiatus at Gastronomy Domine; I went away for a week and forgot my laptop, then caught something filthy from one of the insanitary people on the plane on the way home and spent all of last week in bed. To be honest, enforced absence from the internet has been great – I highly recommend it.)

I have some friends who claim they don’t like eggs, and whose idea of picnic hell is a plate of devilled eggs. This recipe, inspired by the two helpings of Ciudad’s spectacular and spectacularly expensive jalapeño and bacon devilled eggs that I ended up face down in, is not for them. If you are a fan of devilled eggs, you’ll be pleased to learn that these keep well, refrigerated, for a couple of days. They’re a great outdoor food – just pack them in the bottom of a plastic box before you go, and make sure you keep it the right way up.

To prepare 12 eggs, you’ll need:

12 eggs
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons creme fraiche
½ pickled habanero chilli – or other chillies to taste
6 spring onions, white and pale green parts only
1 small handful each dill, parsley and chives
½ stalk celery
½ sweet dill pickled cucumber
8 rashers smoked streaky bacon (a sweet, dry cure is best here – try to get a reasonably thick cut too)

Start by boiling the eggs. Perfect hard-boiled eggs are as easy as anything – just cover all the eggs with cold water in a saucepan, and bring it to the boil with the lid on. As soon as the eggs boil, remove them from the heat, keeping the lid on, and leave to one side for 12 minutes. Put the saucepan in the sink and run cold water over the eggs for a few minutes until they are cold, then peel.

While the eggs are boiling, grill the bacon until it starts to crisp at the edges. Put all the ingredients except the dill pickle and bacon in the food processor, and whizz until you have a creamy paste.

Dice the pickle finely by hand. You’re chopping it rather than processing it so that it adds a bit of crunch to the eggs. If you’re in the UK, Mrs Elswood pickles, which are available in most supermarkets in the pickles section and sometimes in the kosher section, are excellent. (Like Betty Crocker and Sara Lee, the Mrs Elswood pictured on the label is a fiction – the name is a portmanteau of Elstree and Borehamwood, where the company is based. They’re still damn good pickles.) Dice the bacon finely with a sharp knife, reserving one rasher. Slice that rasher finely to use as a garnish and reserve. Add the diced pickle and bacon to the whizzed ingredients in a large bowl and taste for seasoning. You may find you don’t need to add any salt.

Halve the peeled eggs and pop their yolks out into the bowl with the other ingredients. Use a fork to squish the yolks into the creamy mixture, and stir vigorously to combine everything. Put the mixture in a piping bag with a medium nozzle and pipe dollops into the empty egg halves. Use a squeeze-down-up motion for the best results – you don’t need to twist the bag or nozzle as you work. If you don’t have a piping bag, just spoon the mixture into the eggs or pop it in a freezer bag with the corner snipped off and use that instead – it won’t look as pretty, but it’ll taste just as good.

Sprinkle some herbs and the reserved bacon over the top, and serve cold.

Glass noodle salad

Glass noodle saladA friend complained the other week that there aren’t enough noodle recipes on this blog. So here, just for you, Andras, is a noodle salad.

The noodles in this salad are glass noodles, made from mung beans (the same beans that beansprouts…sprout from). Don’t be tempted to substitute rice noodles, which have a very different texture. You’re unlikely to find glass noodles at your local supermarket, but any oriental grocer will carry them – they are sometimes marked “bean thread” or “pea thread” noodles. Check the packet – the only ingredient should be beans, or bean flour.

Texture’s all-important in this salad. The moist crunch of the lettuce against the dry crunch of crispy shallots, the slip of the noodles and the dense pieces of chicken and prawn all add up to a world-beating mouthfeel. A Thai-style dressing, with herbs, fish sauce, palm sugar, chillies and limes, gets the tastebuds in every part of your tongue working. We ate this as a main dish; it’s great as a side-dish too. For some reason, this is one of those recipes which demands to be eaten outdoors, so consider making it for a picnic or to serve at a barbecue.

To serve two to three as a main course or six as a side-dish, you’ll need:

8 large, raw prawns
2 chicken breasts, without skins
1 tablespoon tom yum paste
1 iceberg lettuce
100g glass noodles
1 handful (25g) coriander
1 handful (25g) mint
Juice of 4 limes
3 tablespoons fish sauce
2 teaspoons palm sugar (substitute soft brown sugar if you can’t find any)
1 red chilli
3 banana shallots

Stir the tom yum paste into the prawns and leave to marinade while you prepare the noodles (about 10 minutes).

Pour boiling water over the noodles to cover, and leave for 5 minutes until they are soft. Drain in a sieve, rinse in cold running water and transfer to a bowl. Use scissors to snip into the noodles so they are cut into pieces about an inch long. Cover and refrigerate.

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a very hot frying pan, and cook the prawns until pink. Remove to a bowl. In the same pan, which will have retained some of the paste, sauté the chicken until it is brown outside and cooked through. Remove to another bowl. Leave the prawns and chicken to cool while you prepare the crispy shallots and dressing – when you come to make the salad, they’ll be close to room temperature.

Slice two long shallots into very thin rings, and shallow-fry in a couple of centimetres of oil, stirring occasionally, until they are brown and sweet (10-15 minutes). Remove from the oil with a skimmer and drain on kitchen paper. Set aside.

Slice the third shallot in half lengthways, and chop very finely. In a bowl, mix it with the herbs, chopped very finely, the sugar, lime juice, fish sauce and finely chopped chilli. Stir the dressing into the chilled noodles. Chop the chicken into dice the size of the top joint of your little finger, and toss the pieces, along with any juices from the chicken, with the noodles.

Slice the lettuce, straight from the fridge, as thinly as possible, and lay it in the bottom of a large serving bowl. Cover with the noodle mixture, and arrange the prawns on top. Sprinkle the crispy shallots over the dish and serve, making sure that some of every layer makes it onto the plate.

Invalid meatballs

I’m currently in Edinburgh, helping out a friend who’s recently had an operation. Part of my plan for the week has been to get her healing up by cooking things which are tasty and full of good things; we’ve been breakfasting on yoghurt, blueberries and raw almonds; drinking unsweetened cranberry juice diluted with fizzy water; chomping our way through antioxidant-dense sweet potatoes – I don’t think I’ve ever consumed so many vitamins in such a short period before.

I made these meatballs a couple of evenings ago, when the extremely lovely Marsha Klein came round to visit us for dinner and conversation about general anaesthetic. The wounded GSE is, I have noticed, not so keen on vegetables on their own, so I hid a great wodge of spinach (niacin, zinc and vitamin-rich stuff, although the iron content is overstated by Popeye) in the meatballs along with some big handfuls of herbs. A bit of stale bread, soaked in milk, makes these really light and toothsome, and the herbs, lemon and coriander seeds give them a lovely aromatic lift. Alongside some buttered, herby rice; green beans stir-fried with garlic and lemon juice; some Greek butter beans and imam bayaldi from the deli; and a hearty dollop of home-made tzatziki (directions below), these went down an absolute treat. To make enough health-giving meatballs to serve four, you’ll need:

500g minced lamb
2 thick slices stale white bread
50ml milk
4 cloves garlic
1 medium onion
100g raw baby spinach leaves
25g each fresh coriander, parsley and mint
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon paprika
Zest of 1 lemon
1½ teaspoons salt
Several hefty turns of the pepper grinder
Olive oil to fry

6 inches of cucumber, sliced into 1-inch slivers
6 tablespoons Greek yoghurt
20g fresh mint
1 small clove garlic

Tear the bread into little pieces about the size of your fingernail, and soak them in the milk in a small bowl. Dice the onion and garlic finely, chop the herbs and spinach and grind the coriander seeds in a mortar and pestle. Use your hands to squeeze together the lamb, soaked bread, and all the other meatball ingredients except the olive oil until you have distributed everything evenly – keep squeezing as you go, and you’ll find everything sticks together quite satisfyingly. Roll into meatballs about the size of a ping-pong ball, place them on a plate and refrigerate for at least an hour to allow them to firm up. (This will prevent the meatballs from coming apart while cooking, and helps them keep a nice round shape.)

While the meatballs are cooking, chop the cucumber into inch-long sections and julienne (cut into matchsticks) each of these finely. Crush the garlic clove and chop up the mint, then stir the cucumber, garlic and mint into the yoghurt. Set aside.

When you are ready to cook the meatballs, heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan and fry them, turning regularly to make sure they are browned all over, for 15 minutes. Serve with a dollop of tzatziki, and feel free to nix all those health benefits by drinking a large glass of red wine while you eat.

Portobello and prosciutto open sandwich

A quick and dirty supper dish: with the help of a food processor, this one will only take you half an hour to make. I’ve set fat Portobello mushrooms, roasted with a garlic and herb butter and covered with crisp crumbs, on top of sweet slices of brioche, with a few paper-thin slices of prosciutto draped over the top. Easy as anything, and cooking mushrooms like this really brings out their curious meatiness.

I’ve used panko breadcrumbs, which are gorgeously malty and crisp, to add some crunch to the mushrooms while soaking up some of the herby, buttery juices. If you can’t find any, just use some crumbs you’ve whizzed up from stale slices of bread in the food processor.

Look to serve each diner two open sandwiches. For each sandwich, you’ll need:

1 plump Portobello mushroom
1 clove garlic
1 small handful (15g) parsley
1 small handful (15g) chives
1 small handful (15g) oregano
30g salted butter
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon Japanese panko breadcrumbs
1 thick slice brioche (make sure you get a variety without vanilla essence)
2 slices prosciutto
Salt and pepper
Dijon mustard to spread

Preheat the oven to 200°C .

Put the herbs, garlic, butter and lemon juice in the bowl of the food processor and whizz until everything is chopped and blended with the butter. Place the mushrooms, gill side up, in a baking tray, and dollop the herb butter mixture evenly on them. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with the panko crumbs, and roast for 20 minutes.

Toast the brioche and spread each slice with a little Dijon mustard. Lay a roast mushroom on top, drizzling over some of the pan juices, and top with two paper-thin slices of prosciutto. This is oddly delicious with a very cold glass of Pinot Gris.

Bruschetta al pomodoro – tomato bruschetta

Tomatoes and bread have an amazing affinity, from Basque slices of toasted sourdough rubbed with the cut side of a tomato, to British teatime tomatoes on toast. For me, though, a garlicky, herby Italian bruschetta is the very king of bread and tomato preparations.

There is a simple trick in making this sunny, fresh appetiser. You need to marinade the cut tomatoes with the aromatics and a hearty amount of your very best olive oil the night before you mean to eat – but that marinade should contain absolutely no salt. Salting the bruschetta just before serving means that the tomatoes’ texture will remain firm and juicy. The oil will have absorbed a fabulous wallop of tomato flavour (no salt, you see, so the juices of the tomato won’t all run out and separate), the tomatoes will be redolent with fragrant oil, herbs and garlic, and your tastebuds will want to shake your hand.

It’s very important that you select tomatoes with the maximum flavour. If you’ve grown your own, these will be by far the best. Otherwise, buy tomatoes which are ripe and have been kept on the vine after picking. That glorious smell you get in tomato greenhouses is from the green stalk and leaves, and doesn’t seem to make it into the fruit itself. If you buy vine tomatoes, they will be riper, and you can use the stalk in the marinade to inject some of that greenhouse flavour into the finished bruschetta. I’ve used some yellow tomatoes alongside regular red ones because it’s pretty, but you can use any good, ripe tomatoes you can find.

To serve four, you’ll need:

1kg vine tomatoes
2 fat, juicy cloves garlic
1 large handful basil leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
100ml olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 ciabatta
Salt to finish

Chop the tomatoes into small bite-sized pieces, and put them and any juices in a large bowl. Crush the garlic and the herbs, and stir them into the tomatoes with the olive oil and a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper. Add the vines from the tomatoes, mix well, cover with cling film and refrigerate overnight.

When you are ready to make up the bruschetta (don’t do this too far ahead of eating, or they will go soggy) grill slices of slightly stale ciabatta and cool on racks. Fish the stalks out of the marinade and discard. Heap the tomato mixture onto the slices with a tablespoon, sprinkle with fleur de sel or another crystalline salt like Maldon, and serve immediately. There are very unlikely to be any leftovers.

Lamb loin fillet with caper butter sauce

I’m having some trouble writing coherently today because I have one eye (OK – two eyes) on the news – I’m obsessing somewhat about the US election, and I really, really hope the polls are accurate. The BBC is currently showing helicopter footage of a queue of voters in Virginia – it’s so long that a helicopter is the only way they can film it.

Here’s a really fantastic lamb dish to serve to someone you’re trying to impress. Loin fillets are seared in olive oil and roasted briefly, so they’re still lovely and pink in the centre, then served with a butter sauce made dense and salty with shallots, anchovies and capers. The anchovies give amazing savoury depth and richness to the dish and go fabulously with lamb, but when cooked like this they don’t taste fishy – in fact, they melt into the sauce so completely that you will be able to serve this to anchovy-haters with no problems.

To serve two, you’ll need:

2 lamb loin fillets
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 shallots
4 anchovies
2 teaspoons capers (use tiny ones in wine vinegar)
1 tablespoon cream
100g salted butter
1 clove garlic
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
Fresh basil to garnish

Crush the garlic and rub it all over the lamb with the lemon zest, a little salt and plenty of pepper. Put aside for an hour at room temperature. Preheat the oven to 200° C.

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan until it starts to shimmer, and sear the lamb all over in it. The pan must be very hot – you’re aiming to brown the lamb to a lovely mahogany colour. Place the whole, seared fillets in a roasting dish and put in the oven for ten minutes.
When the lamb has had ten minutes in the oven, take it out and rest it in its cooking dish in a warm place for another ten minutes while you make the sauce.

While the lamb is resting, make the sauce. Melt the butter in the frying pan (over a lower heat now) and add the finely chopped shallots. Simmer the shallots in the butter for five minutes, then add the anchovies and cook, stirring, until they have melted into the sauce. Still over a low heat, stir in the cream and capers, then use a balloon whisk to beat the lemon juice into the sauce. Start with half the juice and taste as you add more until you have a sauce which is tart and buttery all at once.

Slice the fillets into medallions and arrange on the plate with a drizzle of the sauce and some basil to garnish.

Floral mint tisane

This is my version of the gorgeous Staff Tisane from Alep and Petit Alep (the restaurants share a building at 199, rue Jean-Talon Est, Montreal (514) 270-6396). I’m eternally grateful to the very nice lady with the stylish glasses at Alep – the more formal of the two restaurants, which is only open in the evenings – who was able to find me a table for 11 people with only three hours’ notice on a Friday.

Alep and its little sister are Syrian-Armenian restaurants, and I challenge you to find better Middle Eastern food anywhere outside…you know, the Middle East. There are shish kebabs made with juicy, pink steak tenderloin. Muhammara (a walnut dip) running with pomegranate molasses. Tabbouleh which is gorgeously, correctly heavy on the parsley. We found some of the best prawns I’ve eaten this year; the food here is spicy, elegant and really, really tasty. Try the Menu Degustation at Alep in the evenings, which is extraordinarily good value at only $28 a head for far, far more than we could finish – dips, salads, spicy little beef sausages, seafood, lamb in a rose petal sauce, those glorious shish kebabs – you’ll leave stuffed and very happy. We went back to Le Petit Alep for lunch on the day we visited Jean Talon Market (they’re just around the corner) for lunch, and discovered that the spicy french fries, served with a bowl of mayonnaise, are the sort of thing you’d sell a grandparent into slavery for.

Alep’s drinks were fabulous. I got thoroughly sozzled on the home-made lemonade and vodka on the first night, then drank several of these tisanes the next day for lunch. I started trying to reproduce the tisane as soon as we got back to England, and I’m very pleased with this version. For every glass (or mug), you’ll need:

1 teaspoon orange flower water
1 teaspoon rose water
5 cardamom pods
3 leafy sprigs of mint
Slices of orange, lemon and lime to decorate

Bash the cardamom seeds lightly in a mortar and pestle to crack them slightly, and put them in a glass with the flower waters and the mint. Pour over freshly boiled water, leave to steep for five minutes and serve.

Paper-baked trout with beurre blanc

Talking food on the phone with my Mum last week, the subject got on to sauces. It turns out that we share a favourite – beurre blanc, a deliciously fatsome emulsion of melted butter suspended in reduced wine infused with herbs and shallot. After putting the phone down, I headed straight for the fridge.

Being fatsome, beurre blanc works best as a sauce for very lean dishes. I steamed trout en papilotte – inside a little bag made from greaseproof paper – in the oven, with more herbs and wine, then spooned the beurre blanc all over it. (I also spooned beurre blanc all over some home-fried potatoes, which are not pictured because only people who do not fear imminent death via clogged arteries should eat beurre blanc spooned all over home-fried potatoes.) It was ludicrously good.

To serve four, you’ll need:

Eight trout fillets
4 bay leaves
4 sprigs tarragon
4 sprigs parsley
4 thin slices of lemon (with skin)
2 shallots
White wine
Salt and pepper

Beurre blanc
225g unsalted butter
1 shallot
1 bay leaf
3 peppercorns
5 tablespoons white wine
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon double cream
Salt and pepper

Make sure the butter is chilled, and preheat the oven to 180° C (350° F).

Cut out four large squares of greaseproof paper and four squares of tinfoil. Lay the pieces of greaseproof on top of the tinfoil squares, and lay a bayleaf, half a sliced shallot, a slice of lemon and a sprig of parsley and tarragon in the middle of each. Place two fillets of trout on top of each pile of herbs and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of wine over the fish and fold the paper and tinfoil over to create a little packet, sealing it tight with the foil. There should be a bit of room for the steam to circulate in each packet, so don’t wrap the fish up too tight. Put all four little packets on a baking sheet and put in the oven for 20 minutes.

As soon as the fish goes in the oven, start making the sauce. Put the wine and vinegar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan with the sliced shallot, the bay leaf and the peppercorns. Bring to a simmer and reduce until there is only 2 tablespoons of liquid left. Sieve the liquid to remove the shallot, bay and peppercorns, and return to the pan off the heat. Get the butter out of the fridge and cut it into cubes about the size of the top joint of your thumb.

Lower the heat, and put the pan back over the low flame. Add a teaspoon of cream to the wine reduction and use a whisk to incorporate it into the liquid. (A note here – adding cream is, strictly speaking, cheating. The cream stabilises the emulsion and will stop your sauce from breaking and splitting. Proper chefs will scoff and tell you that the addition of cream means your sauce is no longer a beurre blanc. Scoff right back at them, but make sure you take your time over it so that by the time they return to their own, cream-free beurre blanc pans, their own sauce will have split.) Whisking vigorously, add the butter to the pan, three cubes at a time. When they are half-melted, add another three, still whisking hard. Repeat until all the butter is incorporated and remove from the heat. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper.

The fish should be ready at around the same time you finish the sauce; if the timer goes before you’ve finished the sauce, don’t worry about it. The fish won’t mind an extra five minutes in the oven.

Some people like to open the little parcels of fish at the table – the burst of fragrant steam from the punctured parcel is a fantastic opening to the meal. Spoon over the beurre blanc and some fresh parsley, and serve plenty of new potatoes or mash to help you soak up all the delicious sauce.