The big celebratory Easter Sunday meal never seems to receive as much attention as the Christmas feast; perhaps it is because we are all a little short of time these days.
Traditionally, Mediterranean countries and cultures celebrated Easter with a feast that began with the slaughtering of a goat or lamb. To give Easter a different twist this year, I have focused on chocolate and spring lamb. There is a continuing growth of interest in good quality chocolate in the UK, and it's reached the point where one producer, Willie Harcourt-Cooze (as seen on Channel 4's Willie's Wonky Chocolate Factory), is now creating 100 per cent cocoa-solid chocolate from his own single-estate Venezuelan beans. It goes down a treat with chocolate aficionados and is likely to convert many more to the cause this Easter.
Venison cutlets with peppered chocolate sauce
I'm starting to play around with chop recipes in preparation for my new restaurant, Hix Oyster and Chop House, in Smithfield, which opens next month. This particular venison-chocolate combination is a bit way out for me, but chocolate does have a place in savoury dishes, especially in Spanish and Mexican cuisine. When you use 100 per cent pure cocoa chocolate, like Willie Harcourt-Cooze's Venezuelan Black (available from Selfridges), in a recipe like this, you really start to understand why chocolate can go so well in savoury dishes. It's more of a seasoning than anything else and it also imparts a mysterious flavour to the dish without adding sweetness.
You will need to ask a good, reliable game dealer to cut you some venison cutlets – a large deer will yield good-sized chops, one of which will be fine for one person; otherwise you will need to serve a couple of chops or cutlets per person.
4 venison chops weighing about 180-200g each or 8 smaller ones
A little vegetable oil for brushing
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the sauce
4 shallots, peeled, halved and finely chopped
2tsp coarsely ground black pepper
A couple of good knobs of butter
1tbsp balsamic or red wine vinegar
150ml red wine
250ml hot beef stock
25g bitter chocolate like the 100 per cent Venezuelan Black, chopped into small pieces
First make the sauce: gently cook the shallots and pepper in the butter for a minute, stirring a couple of times then stir in the flour and gradually add the vinegar, wine and beef stock, stirring constantly to avoid lumps forming. Bring to the boil and simmer very gently for about 25-30 minutes. The sauce should have reduced by at least half and thickened. Whisk in the chocolate until melted, cover and keep warm. Pre-heat a ribbed griddle or heavy frying pan and brush with a little oil. Season the cutlets and cook for about 4-5 minutes on each side depending on their thickness, keeping them nice and pink. Serve with spring greens or the spring bubble and squeak in the lamb chop recipe overleaf, and the sauce on the plate or separately.
Slow-cooked stuffed breast of lamb with wild garlic and fennel sauce
Breast of lamb is one of the most under-used cuts of lamb. Its fattiness puts people off, but stuffed and slowly cooked it makes a tasty, cheap meal. You can use any of the lesser cuts to stuff the breast with, such as minced shin or neck or incorporate offal, as I have done here. Fennel may not seem like an obvious partner for lamb but its subtle aniseed flavour works a treat.
1 breast of lamb weighing about 500g, boned
1 bulb of fennel, halved and finely shredded
1 onion, peeled, halved and finely shredded
3tbsp fresh white breadcrumbs
For the stuffing
1 small onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped
A good knob of butter
200g coarsely minced lamb neck or shin and/or a mix of sweetbreads, liver, heart and kidney
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A couple of handfuls of wild garlic leaves, washed and dried
To make the stuffing, cook the onion in the butter for a couple of minutes until soft, remove from the heat; leave to cool a little. Mix with the minced lamb, then roughly chop one-third of the wild garlic; fold into the mix and season. Lay the lamb on a work surface and lay the stuffing down the centre then roll up tightly and tie with string every 2-3cm.
Pre-heat the oven to 220C/gas mark 7. Heat a roasting pan in the oven for 10 minutes, season the lamb; roast for 25-30 minutes, turning every so often. Turn the oven down to 160C/gas mark 3. Remove the lamb; scatter the fennel and onion in the centre of the roasting tray and place the lamb on top. Return to the oven for 2 hours, baste every so often. Give the fennel and onions the occasional stir; if they are browning too much, cover the lamb with foil. Once cooked, remove the lamb and keep warm in foil. Transfer the fennel and onion to a saucepan with the cooking juices and 3-4tbsp of water. Simmer for 3-4 minutes then chop the rest of the wild garlic leaves and add to the sauce. Coarsely blend half the sauce in a blender or a food processor; return to the pan and simmer for 2-3 minutes. To serve, remove the string from the lamb and cut into 1-2cm slices.
Barnsley lamb chop with spring bubble and squeak
Bubble and squeak isn't just a brilliant way of using up wintry leftovers. I'm more likely to cook the green veg and potatoes from scratch at any time of the year, as this dish is such a great accompaniment to grilled meats. Later in the spring you can also use chopped-up peas and beans. There are leafy greens around – such as spring greens and sea spinach – which make all the difference to a springtime bubble and squeak.
4 Barnsley chops, weighing about 250g each
4 lambs kidneys
4 sprigs of rosemary
For the spring bubble and squeak
125–150g cooked, peeled new potatoes
200g spring greens, cooked, drained and chopped
2 leeks, roughly chopped and washed
A couple of handfuls of wild plants and herbs such as wild garlic, charlock or sea spinach, washed
1tbsp chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2tbsp vegetable oil
3-4 good knobs of butter
Cook the leeks and greens separately in boiling, salted water and drain. If you're using wild garlic, charlock or sea spinach, then just gently cook them in a little of the butter for a few minutes until tender.
Chop the potatoes and greens, then mix with the leeks, the wild herbs if you're using them and the parsley. Season to taste, then mould the mixture into 4 even-sized flat patties. Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan and cook the patties for 3-4 minutes on each side until golden. Keep warm in a low oven.
Meanwhile, heat a ribbed griddle plate, season the chops and cook for about 5-6 minutes on each side, keeping them nice and pink. While the chops are cooking, skewer each kidney with a sprig of rosemary, season and grill for a couple of minutes on each side with the chops. Serve the chops on warmed plates with the bubble and squeak and the kidney on top.
Venezuelan Black Easter cookies
Makes about 20 biscuits
I recently met Ewan Venters, the food and catering director at Selfridges in London, for a glass in the Wonder Bar there, and he loaded my bag with Harcourt-Cooze's delicious new chocolate made from 100 per cent cacao. These Easter biscuits with a difference won't be the cheapest you've ever made but they will make the perfect petit four-like after-dinner nibbles.
180g Venezuelan Black 100 per cent chocolate
150g Lovedean or other good-quality granola
3tbsp clear honey
Cut the chocolate into pieces and melt with the honey in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Remove from the heat and stir in the granola. Line a tray with silicone or grease-proof paper and drop teaspoonful-sized pieces on to the paper, flattening slightly with the back of the spoon. Leave to set in the fridge then remove the paper and serve, or keep in an airtight container in a cool place.
To see Mark Hix's exclusive cookery videos, see http://www.independent.co.uk/hixcooks