Mark Hix: Your beach party won't be a wash-out with these classic picnic recipes

Make up for the lack of creature comforts by being a bit more experimental with beach food
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Eating on the beach can present some logistical problems – it's not nice having sand blown in your face and pebbles can make sitting down uncomfortable, too. But you can make up for the lack of creature comforts by being a bit more experimental with beach food. Last year Clare and I took my daughters Ellie and Lydia down to Lulworth Cove in Dorset and we brought a rib of beef, rare breed pork chops and asparagus down with us from London. We found a nice quiet spot on the beach away from the crowds, and we dug a big hole in the pebbles to create a wind-free barbecue. It was great fun building the thing, it kept the girls amused for hours – and the food tasted delicious, too.

Veal and ham pie

Serves 8-10

Traditional pies make the perfect picnic food, and if you make your own large pie, everyone gets a slice with plenty of filling and a little less pastry than with individual pies. If you're not a confident cook, pies can seem tricky, but believe me, they're really not that difficult. Once you've made a pie like this a couple of times, you can adapt the filling according to your preference and what you have to hand, using ingredients such as veal and ham, or layers of mushrooms.

For this pie you'll need to first cook a ham hock or ham joint. To do this, soak the joint overnight in water if necessary, drain, then cover with fresh water in a pan.

Add a few sprigs of thyme, a bay leaf, 1 or 2 medium onions, peeled and quartered, a couple of sticks of celery and a pinch of peppercorns. Bring to the boil and simmer for 2 hours or so until the ham is tender. Check to see if the water needs topping up. Remove the ham and leave to cool. Keep the stock.

450g home-cooked ham (see above), cut into rough 1.5cm chunks
450g veal rump, cut into rough 1.5 cm chunks
4tbsp chopped parsley
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
A few sprigs of thyme, finely chopped
1tbsp olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 gelatine leaves

For the hot-water crust

150ml water
130g lard
375g plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 small egg, beaten

Gently cook the onion in the olive oil with a lid on for 3-4 minutes until soft. Finely chop or mince one-fifth of the veal and one-fifth of the of ham and mix with the chopped onions and parsley and thyme, and season.

Pre-heat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Mix the flour and salt in a bowl and make a well in the centre. Bring the water and lard to the boil in a saucepan, then stir it into the flour with a wooden spoon to form a smooth dough. Leave the dough covered for about 15 minutes or so until it is cooler, less sticky and easier to handle.

You will need a deep flan ring measuring 18-20cm and about 5cm deep or a similar sized removable-bottomed cake tin. Lightly grease the flan ring and line the bottom with a disc of lightly greased silicone or greaseproof paper. Place it on a baking tray, lined with another piece of lightly greased silicone or greaseproof paper slightly larger than the flan ring.

Take two-thirds of the dough and on a lightly floured table roll it into a circle about 1/2cm thick and about 25-26cm across, so it is large enough to line the flan ring and overlap the edge by a centimetre or so. Making sure there are no holes in the pastry, place the dough into the flan ring, carefully press into the corners and allow it to just hang over the edge. Roll the remaining dough into a circle just large enough for the top and cut a 2cm hole in the centre.

Mix the diced ham, diced veal and onion mixture, with the cooked meat in it, in a bowl and season, then pack tightly into the pie and carefully lay the pastry on top. Trim the edges of the pastry with a knife and pinch the base and top pastry edges together with your forefinger and thumb to make a good join. You can decorate the top and edges if you like.

Brush the top of the pie all over with the beaten egg and cook for 45 minutes. If it is colouring too much, cover with foil and turn the oven down. Remove from the oven, leaving the ring on and leave to cool. Once the pie is cold, refrigerate for a couple of hours.

Meanwhile, measure 300ml of the reserved ham stock, soak the gelatine leaves in cold water until they soften and squeeze out the excess water. Heat about 60ml of the stock in a saucepan and stir in the gelatine until it has dissolved, then stir that into the rest of the stock. Leave to cool but do not let it set.

Once the pie is cold, pour about a third of the stock into the round hole in the top of the pastry a little at a time in case there are any more holes. Return the pie to the fridge for 15 minutes. Repeat with the rest of the jelly or until the pie is full. Finally, remove the ring.

The pie will keep for about a week in the fridge. Serve it with Cumberland sauce, piccalilli or your favourite chutney.

Wild salmon with samphire and cucumber salad

Serves 4

2 wild salmon steaks on the bone, weighing about 200-250g each
150g samphire, trimmed of any woody stalks
Half a cucumber
1 shallot, halved, root cut out and thinly sliced
1tsp sugar
1tbsp good quality cider vinegar
1/2tsp mustard seeds, soaked in warm water for 1 hour
1tbsp extra virgin rapeseed oil
1/2tbsp chopped dill
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the court bouillon

1 small onion, peeled and roughly chopped
A few sprigs of thyme
A good pinch of fennel seeds
10 white peppercorns
2 glasses of white wine
1 litre water
1/2tbsp salt

Put all of the ingredients for the court bouillon into a non-reactive pan, bring to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes. Drop in the salmon, simmer for 3-4 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat and leave the salmon to cool in the liquid.

Meanwhile, half the cucumber lengthways and scoop out the seeds with a teaspoon. Slice the cucumbers thinly on the bias or using a mandolin with the shredding attachment cut them lengthways into long thin strips. Lay the cucumber on a tray and scatter with a teaspoon of salt, mix well and leave for 30 minutes. Drain any liquid from the cucumber and pat dry with kitchen paper. Mix the cucumber with the dill, shallot, sugar, vinegar, drained mustard seeds and rapeseed oil, mix well and leave to stand for 30 minutes.

Blanch the samphire in boiling water for 30 seconds, drain, refresh under the cold tap, then mix in a little more rapeseed oil and dill, and season to taste.

To serve, remove the salmon from the court bouillon, then with your hands carefully separate the 2 halves of flesh away from the central bone and remove the small central pin bones with your fingers. Remove and cut away the fatty belly and peel away the skin with your hands. Transport the salmon and salad to the beach separately and serve together.

Duck egg mayonnaise

Serves 4

Egg mayonnaise seems to have disappeared off the planet. In the Sixties and Seventies, it was a lazily prepared common starter on the hors d'oeuvre trolleys – along with pâté and grapefruit. Maybe it's time to give it a bit of a revival; use duck eggs with crisp salad leaves, or a mixture of rocket and watercress, instead of that limp stuff that was available back then. You could also use a mixture of duck and quail eggs if you wanted to add a bit of variety.

4 duck eggs
A mixture of small peppery salad leaves, such as rocket, watercress, land cress, nasturtium leaves, etc, washed and dried
2 spring onions, trimmed and roughly chopped
A good pinch of cayenne pepper

For the herb mayonnaise

1 egg yolk at room temperature
1tsp white wine vinegar
1/2tsp English mustard
1tsp Dijon mustard
Pinch of salt
Freshly ground white pepper
50ml olive oil mixed with 100ml vegetable oil
Squeeze of lemon juice (optional)
1tsp chopped tarragon leaves
1tsp chopped chervil
1tsp chopped chives

First make the mayonnaise: put the egg yolk, vinegar, mustards and salt and pepper into a stainless steel or glass bowl on a damp cloth to stop it slipping. Mix well with a whisk, then gradually trickle the oils into the bowl, whisking it continuously. If the mayonnaise is getting too thick, add a few drops of water and continue whisking the oil. When the oil is incorporated, taste, re-season if necessary and add a little lemon juice. St ir the herbs into the mayonnaise.

Hard-boil the eggs by carefully lowering them into a saucepan of simmering water and cook for 6-7 minutes, then refresh in cold water. Carefully peel the eggs and rinse under the cold tap. Transport the eggs, salad, spring onions and mayonnaise separately in containers, then assemble by arranging the salad and spring onions on a serving dish. Halve the eggs and arrange on top, then spoon over the mayonnaise and dust lightly with the cayenne pepper.

Summer fruit and white chocolate seaside mess

Serves 4

As you probably recognise, this is a version of Eton mess. I would have added a ball of ice cream in the middle to make a kind of knickerbocker glory come sundae out of it, but it's not very practical on the beach, is it?

100-150g ready-made, good-quality meringue(s)
200g summer berries such as raspberries, strawberries (hulled and sliced), blueberries, redcurrants, etc
An additional 80g strawberries
200ml double cream
60g caster sugar
A few drops of vanilla essence
150g white chocolate

Blend 80g of the strawberries in a liquidiser until smooth. With a sharp knife, cut the white chocolate into thin shards.

Whisk together the double cream, caster sugar and vanilla essence until stiff. Break the meringue into small pieces and fold into the cream with the strawberry purée, two-thirds of the chocolate and the summer berries. Don't mix it together too thoroughly; you want to achieve a ripple effect.

Take the mixture in a bowl to the beach and transfer coupés or glasses, scattering the rest of the chocolate on top.