Green and blacks: Mark Hix gets creative with one of his favourite kitchen ingredients – the tiny, tasty and versatile olive
Olives are generally used as snacks, but they have many uses in the kitchen, too.
Twenty years ago, when I worked at Le Caprice, George Bennell knocked on our door and started selling us olives and olive oil and, over the years, I have gained a real insight into good-quality olive oil and the production of olives. George was working as a chef at the time and after he spotted a gap in the market he set up the Fresh Olive Company (fresholive.com) which supplies products to restaurants and hotels. He has dozens of types of olives on offer to suit every palate, for both snacking on and cooking with, and a couple of months ago I hosted a lunch to celebrate George's 20 years as the king of olives.
Grilled chicken fillets with olives
Serves 4 as a starter or snack
You can buy chicken under-fillets easily from supermarkets and butchers and they make great little snacks skewered on to sticks with an olive or two. You could also serve this as a starter with some griddled scallions or young leeks.
8 chicken under-fillets or 8 long strips from a couple of small chicken breasts
16 large green or black olives, stoned
A little vegetable or corn oil for brushing
16 or so spring large spring onions, trimmed
8 bamboo or metal skewers
Preheat a ribbed griddle pan or heavy frying pan. Weave the chicken and olives on to skewers. Lightly season and brush with oil. Grill for 3-4 minutes on each side and keep warm. Grill the spring onions for a minute on each side and arrange on plates with the chicken.
Rabbit with olives
Wild rabbits are generally sold whole. It seems a bit of a shame, however, to cook the saddles as they are extremely tender and once removed need just flash-frying briefly.
Remove the front and back legs, or get your butcher to do it, and keep the saddles for a salad. Once they are removed from the bone, the rabbit fillets take only a few minutes to cook and are really tender and will make a great starter salad.
The piquancy of the olives makes them an ideal match for the gamey rabbit.
40g flour, plus more for dusting
12 rabbit legs, front and back, halved at the joint
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable oil, for frying
1 onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
200ml white wine
750ml chicken stock, or a good-quality chicken stock cube dissolved in that amount of hot water
24 medium-sized green olives, stoned
1tbsp chopped parsley
Lightly dust the rabbit legs with flour and season them with salt and pepper. Heat some vegetable oil in a frying pan and lightly brown the rabbit legs on both sides, then drain on some kitchen paper.
In a heavy-based saucepan, gently cook the onion and garlic in the butter until soft. Add the flour and stir well. Gradually add the wine, stirring well to avoid any lumps forming, then add the chicken stock. Bring to the boil, add the rabbit legs and lightly season with a little more salt and pepper. Simmer gently, covered with a lid, for 1¼ hours, or until the rabbit is tender.
Remove the legs with a slotted spoon and set side then continue to simmer until the sauce has thickened. Put the legs back into the sauce with the olives and chopped parsley and bring back to the boil.
Serve with mashed potato or a mashed root vegetable.
Red mullet on toast with olives
The robust flavour of red mullet works very well with Mediterranean ingredients such as olives and capers.
4 small red mullet fillets, about 80g each, or 2 halved fillets from a larger fish
A couple of knobs of butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 slices of white bloomer-type bread
3tbsp tapenade mixed with a tablespoon of chopped capers
8 green or black olives, roughly chopped
2tbsp olive oil
Melt the butter in a heavy or non-stick frying pan. Season the red mullet fillets and fry them, skin side down first, over a medium heat for a couple of minutes on each side. Toast the bread on both sides. Spread the tapenade mixture on the toast, top with the red mullet and place on warmed serving plates. Mix the chopped olives with the olive oil and spoon over the mullet.
Tapenade and Emmental biscuits
These make good use of ready-made tapenade or you can make it yourself by stoning some black or green olives and blending them in a food processor.
200g puff pastry, rolled as thinly as possible to about 2-3mm and 10cm wide
60-80g green tapenade
60g grated Emmental
8-10 stoned black olives, roughly chopped
Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 5. Lay the puff pastry on a baking tray, spread half with the tapenade and scatter over half of the cheese, then fold the rest of the pastry over. Spread the rest of the tapenade on the top and scatter the black olives and remaining cheese over. Bake for 15 minutes or until lightly coloured, then remove from the oven, transfer to a chopping board and cut into roughly 1cm-wide fingers. Serve warm.
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