It may have been the decade that taste forget, but the Seventies still produced some tasty classics, says Mark Hix

Fashion affects everything, whether we like it or not. Even what we eat goes in and out of vogue. One minute you'll see a dish everywhere, the next it's out in the cold - banished because everyone's had enough of it and decided that even though they were happy to eat it a moment ago, now it's too naff for words.

Fashion affects everything, whether we like it or not. Even what we eat goes in and out of vogue. One minute you'll see a dish everywhere, the next it's out in the cold - banished because everyone's had enough of it and decided that even though they were happy to eat it a moment ago, now it's too naff for words.

Menus used to be the same wherever you went: prawn cocktail, steak Diane, cherries Jubilee, and the old buffet favourites, vol au vents and Coronation chicken. For years, even up to the Eighties, the most popular meal was prawn cocktail, steak, chips and peas and ice cream. Profiteroles or fruit salad were also popular for afters. Then everyone got into Mediterranean and modern British, the baby got thrown out with the bathwater and no self-respecting chef would have dreamed of putting prawn cocktail on the menu.

Now, what do you know, the old favourites are making a return. Cutting edge cooks are serving chicken Kiev and flambéeing baked Alaska. In restaurants, the trolley is trundling back into view. And surely the gueridon trolley, the one on which they set fire to your food - remember crepes Suzette? - is just waiting for a comeback. There must be warehouses full of those tarnished relics of the Fifties and Sixties that need a new lease of life.

At catering college, my pal John and I would test each other on Escoffier name dishes. There were such a ridiculous number of garnishes and variations on the theme of fillets of sole it became a joke between us. It didn't get us extra marks for remembering them off by heart, but it got our creative juices flowing. Wherever he is now, I bet John's not cooking fillets de sole Veronique. Then again, the way things are going, he's probably thinking about it.

Back then posh menus were usually in French. To this day, I'm glad I swotted up on the terms because at least I can order food in France. Anyway, now these French dishes are fashionable again, I'm also grateful that I know what they are.

My most prized possession at the moment is a book I found in a secondhand bookshop called Food in Vogue, published in 1976. It takes you through food fads of the Twenties to the Seventies. I even found an old sketch of The Ivy kitchen in the Thirties with the same black and chrome hot plate that was there when Chris Corbin and Jeremy King bought the place. Just as well we sent it to the scrap heap then or someone might decide it's time that clapped-out old equipment came back into fashion too.

Waldorf salad

Serves 4

This famous salad was invented by the maître d'hôtel of the Waldorf-Astoria in New York in the 1890s. Like most classics there's nothing to be gained by trying to jump it up, so don't be tempted to mess with it. Serve the salad as part of a buffet, as one of several salads as a starter selection or with a good chunk of cheese.

3 crisp apples
4 sticks of celery, peeled if stringy and a few leaves of the celery
80g walnuts, lightly toasted
3-4 tbsp homemade or good quality mayonnaise

Cut the apple into four, around the core and then cut into rough 2cm chunks. Cut the celery into similar size chunks and put them into a bowl with the apple and walnuts and celery leaves. Bind with the mayonnaise and serve.

Egg mayonnaise

Hard to believe that a boiled egg covered in mayonnaise used to be offered as a starter in restaurants. But then so did a glass of tomato juice. I'm not suggesting you revive the tomato juice idea, but properly made egg mayonnaise isn't as boring as it sounds. Give it a twist with different eggs - quails', ducks' as well as all sorts of varieties of hens' eggs are available. I even bought turkey eggs the other day.

For modern egg mayonnaise, boil duck or hens' eggs for 5-6 minutes in boiling water and transfer to a pan of cold water with a slotted spoon. Quails' eggs take 2-3 minutes in boiling water. Peel and half them or just leave them whole. Serve them on a mixture of watercress and mustard, or some healthy salad leaves, and simply spoon out some homemade or good quality bought mayonnaise. Dust with paprika or cayenne pepper.

Mushrooms à la Grecque

Serves 4-6 as an hors d'oeuvre

Bet it's a while since you heard anyone mention hors d'oeuvre. Until well into the late Seventies, trolleys groaning with bits and bobs were wheeled round restaurants and you'd pick your starter from there.

A la Grecque was, and still is, a cooking term for vegetables cooked in oil and water with herby flavourings. When I was working in the kitchens of the Grosvenor House hotel, there was always a tray of cauliflower and button mushrooms in the walk-in fridge. I never knew why they were there and where they were f served. Maybe they'd just been sitting there in that pool of oil since the Seventies. Meaty mushrooms, such as ceps or girolles, are best for this as they stay nice and firm in the cooking liquid. If you can't get hold of them then button mushrooms or a mixture of button and other cultivated mushrooms, such as oyster or pied bleu, will do. They can be served with a selection of other starters or as part of a buffet, or taken on a picnic.

600g wild mushrooms, cleaned
3 large shallots, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic peeled and crushed
1tsp chopped fresh oregano or thyme
100ml olive oil
100ml vegetable stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp chopped parsley

Cut the wild mushrooms into even sized pieces, but leave them quite chunky. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan add the mushrooms, shallots, garlic and oregano, season and cook gently for 3-4 minutes with a lid on. Add the vegetable stock and continue to simmer gently without a lid, stirring occasionally for another 3-4 minutes until the stock has evaporated and just the oil is left. You may need to simmer them a little longer as some mushrooms might contain more water. Remove from the heat, stir in the parsley and re-season if necessary. Serve at room temperature.

Chicken Kiev

Serves 4

When was the last time you cut through a crisp, golden crumbed chicken breast and a stream of garlic butter oozed out? Chicken Kiev used to reign supreme on restaurant menus around the country, but now it's almost become an endangered species in restaurants, though you can find it in the freezer compartment of most supermarkets. Properly done it can be dreamy - there's a reason why this dish was once so popular. But if it's prepared without any care you will end up with a hollow dried up bit of chicken and no gush of garlic butter. And that is probably why it went out of fashion. Time then to bring it back and show how good it can be.

4 chicken breasts with the wing bone on, skinned
120g butter, softened
1tbsp finely chopped new season fresh garlic or 4 cloves of ordinary garlic peeled and crushed
2tbsp chopped parsley
3tbsp flour
1 large egg, beaten
80-100g fresh white breadcrumbs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable or corn oil for frying

Lay the chicken breasts on a chopping board with the small loose fillets facing up. Remove these fillets with your fingers and put to one side. Using a very sharp filleting knife or similar, cut up (but not right through) and inside from the centre on either side of the breast to form two flaps you can fold open and then back again, over the filling (see top photograph above).

Mix the softened butter, parsley and garlic together and season. Put the mixture in the middle of the opened up breast, and using the palm of your hand flatten the little fillet that was removed and lay it over the butter. Fold the flaps back over the fillet to reform the breast and make sure it is perfectly sealed. Leave to rest in the fridge for 30-40 minutes.

Have three dishes ready, one with the flour spread out on it, one with the beaten egg and the third with the breadcrumbs. Season the stuffed breasts and coat them in the flour, dusting off any excess, then put them through the egg and finally through the breadcrumbs. Pre-heat about 8cm of vegetable oil in a thick-bottomed saucepan or electric fryer to 160-180°C. Deep fry the chicken for 6-7 minutes until golden. Serve with a vegetable such as creamed or leaf spinach or a mixture of seasonal vegetables.

Cherries Jubilee

Serves 4

This theatrical dish was created by Auguste Escoffier for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897. Our home grown Kentish cherries are in season now, but you can get lots of other plump juicy ones from other parts of the world. Serve simply with vanilla ice cream.

500g sweet red cherries, stoned
150g caster sugar
300ml water
A few strips of lemon peel
1tbsp of arrowroot or cornflour
4-5tbsp cherry brandy or kirsch

Put the water, sugar and lemon peel into a pan, bring to the boil and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Add the cherries and simmer for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they are tender. Remove them from the pan with a slotted spoon and continue to simmer and reduce the syrup to its original level.

Dilute the cornflour with a little water, stir into the simmering syrup and simmer gently for a couple of minutes. Return the cherries to the syrup and keep them warm.

Chill some serving bowls in the fridge or freezer. When you're ready to serve, scoop the ice cream into the iced bowls. Make sure everyone's watching. Then bring the cherries to the boil, warm the alcohol in another pan and set light to it with a match and pour onto the cherry sauce before you spoon that over the ice cream. If the flame goes out just heat some more alcohol and add to the sauce again.

Comments