Last week I had lunch at St John, Fergus Henderson's restaurant in Smithfield, London. The lunch was given by Fergus to celebrate the San Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants awards. I know that my colleague Terry Durack wrote in this paper that he was less than impressed to see so many of the same names on the list again this year – and I have to say that, yes, it would be nice to see some fresh talent – but I'm here for the food. The celebratory after-party is held annually at St John and is a chance for chefs from top restaurants from across the world to get together after the event to relax, chat and mull over the results of the night before.
I think if I was giving a lunch for 50 of the world's best chefs, I would be in a state of utter panic. In fact, I don't think I would ever dare to attempt it, but Fergus is a much-loved and brilliant cook, whose food is so full of his personality that it could only ever be totally charming.
We started with a skate and bread salad that was minty and fresh, followed by a rich, glossy pigeon and pig's-trotter pie and then, simply, shortbread and a glass of whisky. I love Fergus's very particular type of cooking, which has been much copied but never improved on. Few cooks would have had the restraint to have served something so unpretentious – but no one makes food quite like Fergus. n
Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627
Skate and bread salad
Serves 6-8 (as a starter)
1 leek, roughly chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 skate wing
16 1/2cm cubes of yesterday's white bread, crusts removed
1tbsp of green sauce (see below)
1 bunch of wild rocket
1 handful of pea shoots
8 spring onions, chopped
A splash of extra-virgin olive oil
2tbsp lemon juice
For the green sauce
Half a bunch of curly parsley
Half a bunch of flat-leaf parsley
Half a bunch of mint
A quarter bunch of dill
A few sprigs of tarragon
A bunch of sorrel, picked from the stems
Crushed black pepper
A small tin of anchovies, chopped
A handful of capers, roughly chopped
12 cloves of garlic, chopped
Extra-virgin olive oil
Place the leeks, carrots and peppercorns into a large pan. Lay the skate wing on top and cover with cold water. Place over a medium heat and bring to a boil. As soon as the water boils, turn off the heat and let the skate sit in the water until it cools.
While you're waiting, make the green sauce. Chop the herbs and sorrel finely. Taste and season with the pepper and mix with the anchovies, capers and garlic. Add the olive oil until you reach a loose, but not runny, consistency. Now place the bread cubes in a salad bowl and add the green sauce, so they can absorb it. Put aside.
Carefully remove the skate and lay on a board. Using a fork, gently scrape the flesh from the bones; it should come away easily.
Add the skate, rocket, pea shoots and spring onions to the bread and sauce mixture. Toss together gently and spoon over the olive oil and lemon juice. Season and toss for a final time before serving. '
Pigeon and pig's-trotter pie with suet crust
Pigeon is best, but if you can't find it, you can use any other game bird, or even chicken.
3 pig's trotters
A bundle of fresh herbs (try parsley, thyme and a fresh bay leaf)
1 whole head of garlic
2 fresh bay leaves
2 sticks of celery, chopped
2 red onions, cut in half
2 carrots, peeled
1 bottle of red wine
11/2 litres/21/2 pints chicken stock
A scoop of duck fat or butter
500g/16oz of green streaky bacon, cut into chunks, skin removed, rolled and tied
4 pigeon squabs, split in half, kept on the bone and seasoned with salt and pepper
3 onions, peeled and sliced
1 egg yolk, beaten
For the suet crust
200g/7oz self-raising flour
100g/31/2oz suet, grated
A healthy pinch of salt
The filling for this pie is best made the day before. Place the trotters in a pan with the herbs, garlic, bay leaves and peppercorns, celery, red onions and carrots. Cover with the red wine and stock, bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook for three hours until the trotters are tender, then remove from the pan and strain the stock. While the trotters are warm, pick the flesh and skin from the bones. Put aside.
Heat a frying pan, add the duck fat or butter, fry the bacon chunks, then remove to a deep roasting tray or oven dish. Now add the pigeon halves to the tray and brown them. Sweat the onions and add them, the trotter flesh and stock to the roasting tray, and cover with tin foil. Place in a hot oven for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to medium and cook for 30 minutes. Remove, check the seasoning and allow to cool in the stock. (It can be eaten at this point if you do not have the patience to make a pie.)
When cool, remove the pigeon and pull the meat off the bones, keeping the flesh in fairly large pieces. Return the meat to the other ingredients and chill in the fridge overnight.
To make the pastry, mix the ingredients together, then add cold water cautiously, to achieve a firm dough. Allow this to rest in the fridge for at least two hours.
Now place your mixture in a pie dish. Roll out the pastry, and cover the mixture, pressing down firmly on the sides to seal the edges. Brush with the egg and bake in a medium-hot oven for 40 minutes. When the pastry is golden and the stuffing is bubbling, serve. It is delicious with spring greens, sprouts or mashed potato.
These lovely crisp shortbreads were served simply with a glass of whisky – a very good way to finish a meal.
Makes about 30 (serve 2-3 per person)
750g/26oz plain flour
500g/16oz cold butter
250g/8oz caster sugar
Sift the flour into a large bowl, add the butter and rub together with your fingertips – you are aiming for a breadcrumb consistency. When you reach that stage, add the sugar and rub it in until you have a smooth paste. It will be a little crumbly but that comes from the shortness of the mix. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and let it rest for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/Gas3. Roll out on a lightly floured surface to about 8mm-thick and then cut into rounds with a 3cm pastry cutter. Place on baking trays lined with baking parchment and bake for 10-15 minutes. The shortbread should be very pale, so be careful not to overcook it.
The Forager by Wendy Fogarty
Petersham's food sourcer on the world's 50 best restaurants...
Every year since 2002, the UK-based Restaurant Magazine has celebrated leading restaurants of the world. Here is this year's top 20 (full profiles can be found at www.theworlds50best.com)
1. El Bulli (Spain)
2. The Fat Duck (UK)
3. Pierre Gagnaire (France)
4. Mugaritz (Spain)
5. The French Laundry (USA)
6. Per Se (USA)
7. Bras (France)
8. Arzak (Spain)
9. Tetusya's (Australia)
10. Noma (Denmark)
11. L'Astrance (France)
12. Gambero Rosso (Italy)
13. Restaurant Gordon Ramsay (UK)
14. L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon (France)
15. Le Louis XV (France)
16. St John (UK)
17. Jean Georges (USA)
18. Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée (France)
19. Hakkasan (UK)
20. Le Bernadin (USA)