Picnic perfection: Britain's top chefs reveal their recipes for al fresco dining success

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It's time to celebrate the great outdoors – but don't let a soggy sandwich blight your hamper...


MARK HIX, CHEF-RESTAURATEUR


I love preparing and serving unusual picnic food – and as my friend Marie Helvin lives near Battersea Park and loves her food, I thought she'd be the ideal picnic partner. You can have a lot of fun with picnics and you can really show off your culinary skills by just pulling great, simple, well-prepared food out of your picnic bag.

Veal meatloaf in pastry

Serves 6

You can vary this by using minced veal or even a mixture of veal and pork. You can also add some cooked mushrooms to the mix if you wish.

1tbsp vegetable or corn oil
1 medium onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped
1tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
300g minced veal
2tbsp chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
250-300g butter puff pastry, rolled to about one-third of a centimetre
1 egg, beaten

Gently cook the onion, thyme and garlic in the vegetable oil for 2-3 minutes until soft, then leave to cool. Mix the onion mixture with the minced veal and parsley and season well. Mould the mixture into a sausage shape about 25cm long. Place down the centre of the pastry and roll the pastry around it.

Trim the pastry so it overlaps by a cm or so and brush the overlapping edge with egg so the join is on the bottom. Place the meatloaf on a baking tray and press the ends down and trim off the excess. You can decorate the pastry with excess strips if you wish or by making lines with the back of a knife. Brush the pastry with egg and leave to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 5. Bake the meatloaf for about 30-40 minutes or until the centre is hot when pierced and tested with a skewer. Serve cold or warm at your picnic.

Prawn and spring vegetable salad

Serves 4

This makes a lovely and colourful salad for a summery picnic.

24-30 cooked and peeled medium to large prawns
80g podded weight of peas, cooked
100g podded weight of broad beans, cooked
80-100g of any other seasonal green vegetable such as green beans, asparagus etc, cooked
A couple of handfuls of pea shoots or watercress
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the dressing

1tbsp white wine or cider vinegar
2tbsp peanut or corn oil
2tbsp olive oil

To make the dressing, whisk all of the ingredients together and season. I would recommend taking the prawns and vegetable to your picnic mixed, with the leaves separate and the dressing in a bottle. You can then arrange the prawns, vegetables and leaves on a serving dish and season and dress it just before serving.

Crudites

Serves 4

Crudites are a nice simple and healthy sharing dish that utilises all sorts of seasonal vegetables raw. The dipping sauce can also vary according to your guests tastes. Mayonnaise is always a good base to add herbs, garlic, lemon etc or you could use something as simple as guacamole or hummus or babaganoush

A selection of colourful and tasty raw vegetables

For the sauce

4-5 tbsp good quality mayonnaise
2-3tbsp harissa

Prepare and wash your vegetables and arrange on a serving dish. Mix the harissa with the mayonnaise and transfer to a small dish and place in the centre of the crudites

Spring fruit and Pomona trifle

Serves 6

150g rhubarb
50g caster sugar
2 sheets (6g) of leaf gelatine
100g strawberries, quartered or sliced
100g raspberries
20-30g sponge fingers broken into small pieces
200ml Pomona or Kingston Black fortified wine or sherry

For the custard

Quarter of a vanilla pod
250ml single cream
4 large egg yolks
40g caster sugar
2tsp cornflour

For the topping:

150ml double cream
40g caster sugar

Pre-heat the oven to 180C/gas mark 5. Chop the rhubarb into rough 1-2cm pieces and place on a baking tray scattered with sugar. Cover with foil and cook for 10-12 minutes, or until the rhubarb is just cooked. Remove the foil and drain into a sieve, set over a bowl to catch the juices. Soak the gelatine in a container of cold water for 2-3 minutes until soft, then squeeze out the excess water.

Reheat the juice from the rhubarb in a small pan, remove from the heat and stir in the gelatine until dissolved, then add the Pomona and 100ml water and mix well. Spoon ¾ of the rhubarb into a large serving bowl or individual glasses or coupes and add the raspberries and strawberries. Divide the sponge fingers between the bowls then pour over the jelly mixture and refrigerate for a couple of hours or so, or until set.

To make the custard, split the vanilla pod lengthways and scrape out the seeds. Put the single cream, vanilla pod and seeds into a small saucepan; bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and infuse for 10 minutes. In a bowl, mix the yolks, sugar and cornflour. Take out the vanilla pod and pour the cream on to the egg mixture; mix well with a whisk. Return to the pan and cook over a low heat for a few minutes, stirring constantly until it thickens. (Don't let it boil!) Remove from the heat and give it a final whisk.

Transfer to a bowl; lay a sheet of clingfilm over the surface to prevent skin forming and leave to cool for 45 minutes. Once the jelly has set, spoon over the custard, then leave to set for an hour or so in the fridge.

To prepare the topping, put the double cream and sugar into a bowl and whisk until fairly firm, then fold in the rest of the cooked rhubarb. Leave in the fridge until the custard has set. To serve, spoon the cream mixture on top of the custard.

KEN HOM, TV CHEF

A perfect picnic for me is colourful, tasty food that is easy to eat but light at the same time.

Cold sesame broccoli

Serves 4-6

450-750g broccoli
1tbsp sesame seeds
1tbsp groundnut or vegetable oil
2tsp sesame oil
2tsp garlic, finely chopped
1 tbsp light soy sauce
2tbsp spring onions, finely chopped

Cut off the broccoli heads; break them into small florets. Peel and slice the stems. Blanch the heads and stems in a pot of boiling salted water for 4-5 minutes; plunge into cold water. Drain the broccoli in a colander and put it into a clean bowl. Roast the sesame seeds in a preheated oven at 190C/gas mark 5, until brown. In a bowl, combine the roasted sesame seeds with the rest of the ingredients; mix well. Pour the mixture into the bowl of broccoli and toss. If you are using this dish the next day, cover the bowl with clingfilm and keep it in the refrigerator until it is needed.

Quick Chinese chicken salad

Serves 4-6

350g chicken breasts, boned and skinned
2tsp salt

For the sauce

1 garlic clove, peeled
1 fresh ginger slice, peeled
2 spring onions, with green tops trimmed
2tsp chilli bean sauce
2tsp dark soy sauce
1tsp sugar
2tsp white rice vinegar
2tsp sesame paste or peanut butter
tsp salt
tsp freshly ground black pepper
2tsp sesame oil
8oz (225g) iceberg lettuce, finely shredded

For the dressing

2tbsp rice wine vinegar

Remove the skin from the chicken breasts and place the breasts in a pot. Put in enough cold water to cover the chicken, add the salt. Bring to a simmer; cook for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat; cover. Let the chicken sit in the hot water for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the sauce mixture together in a blender; set aside. Toss the lettuce with the rice wine vinegar; place on a platter. Remove the chicken; allow to cool. Finely shred the meat; toss with the sauce. Place the chicken with sauce on top of the lettuce; serve.

Hot and Sour Cucumber Salad

Cucumbers are an inexpensive and popular vegetable in China. In summertime in northern China, they are served cold as a starter. They are especially tasty and refreshing when combined with a spicy and sour flavour. Easy to make, they are perfect as a salad for a summer picnic.

Serves 4

450g cucumber
1tsp salt
1tbsp groundnut or vegetable oil
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1tsp chilli oil
2tbsp white rice wine vinegar
1tsp salt
Freshly ground white pepper to taste

Peel the cucumber, halve it and remove the seeds with a teaspoon. Then cut it into 2.5cm cubes, sprinkle with the salt and put the cubes in a colander to drain for 20 minutes. Next rinse the cucumber cubes in cold running water and blot them dry with kitchen paper. Heat a wok or large frying-pan over high heat until it is hot.

Add the oil, and when it is very hot and slightly smoking, turn the heat low, add the garlic slices and stir-fry for 1 minute or until they are brown. Remove them from the wok and drain on kitchen paper. In a large bowl, combine the chilli oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Add the cucumber cubes, garlic and toss well. Allow to sit for 5 minutes. Drain well before serving.

Ken Hom's 'Complete Chinese Cookbook' is published by BBC Books, £25

SOPHIE DORBER, HEAD CHEF, THE ANCHOR, WALBERSWICK

There's nothing better than grabbing a picnic, buckets and spades and the children and heading to the beach. I like to take whole local lobster or a roast Sutton Hoo chicken, with homemade breads, pickles and chutneys.

Blythburgh sausage rolls

Serves 4-6

1tbsp butter
1 onion, peeled and finely sliced
A handful of breadcrumbs
450g minced pork (we use local Blythburgh pork)
Zest of 1 lemon
75g goat's cheese or Blue Stilton
2 roasted red peppers, skins and seeds removed
250g ready-made puff pastry
1 egg
A mixture of thyme, rosemary and oregano

Preheat the oven to 180C/gas 4. Melt the butter in a saucepan; add the onion slices. Cook them for 10 minutes until golden brown, then put them in a mixing bowl with the minced pork, seasoning, lemon zest and breadcrumbs. Mix well, and add small chunks of cheese and strips of red pepper at the last stage, so that there are pieces of pepper and cheese in the sausage roll once cooked.

On a floured work surface, roll the pastry out into a big rectangle, 3mm thick, and cut lengthways into two long, even rectangles. Roll the mixture into sausage shapes; lay along the centre of each rectangle. Mix the egg and milk and brush the pastry with the mixture, then fold one side of the pastry over, wrapping the filling inside. Press down with your fingers to seal the join. Score the top of the sausage roll with a knife nearly through the pastry, brush with the egg, and cook the long rolls whole in a preheated oven for 25 minutes. Cut once cooled.

Piccalilli

This is a great partner for sausage rolls and is adapted from The Constance Spry Cookery Book, reprinted in 1983. The amounts below are for making a batch to last a year.

For the thickened vinegar

100g mustard seed, bruised
15g whole peppercorns
1.7litres vinegar
100g turmeric
110g ginger root
340g flour
110g garlic cloves, bruised

Take a selection of cauliflower, gherkins, pickling onions, green tomatoes and small green beans. Sprinkle with salt, leave for 24 hours and drain. Cover the vegetables with clear vinegar and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Drain away the surplus vinegar. Add the vinegar as thickened above and cook for 3-5 minutes. Place in a jar and cover.

The Anchor, Walberswick, Suffolk (01502 722112)

JOSE PIZARRO, HEAD CHEF, JOSE

My favourite picnics are impromptu ones on sunny days. All you need is good food and friends... and no rain.

Chorizo tortilla

Serves 4-6

1tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove
1 red pepper
1 green pepper, sliced
125g cured spicy chorizo, diced
7tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 medium white Spanish onions, thinly sliced
Fine salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 medium floury potatoes, such as Maris Piper
6 large free-range eggs, beaten

Heat the oil in a frying pan and sauté the garlic, peppers and chorizo for about 8 minutes. Heat 6 tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan. Add the onions; fry for 20 minutes or so. Peel, halve and slice the potatoes. Add to the onions and fry for 30 minutes over a low heat. Remove excess oil. Add the chorizo mixture; season.

While the mixture is still warm, add the beaten eggs and stir. Heat a non-stick frying pan with the remaining olive oil; add the potato mixture. Stir for 1 minute, then smooth the mixture down and let it fry for at least 10 minutes, until there's a crust underneath. Once the tortilla is cooked on the frying pan side, place a flat lid over the pan. Clamp pan and lid together and invert, so that the tortilla is now on the lid. Return the pan to the heat; slide the tortilla back in the pan. Serve when cool.

Tuna empanadillas

Makes 8 pastries

2tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Half a small onion, sliced
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely sliced
1 ripe and juicy tomato, chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 x 250g tin tuna in olive oil
2 large free-range eggs, hard-boiled and chopped small
375g puff pastry
1 egg, beaten

Sauté the onion, garlic and carrot until soft in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the chopped tomato, season, and continue to fry until the juices have evaporated – about 8 minutes. Drain the tuna; fold it into the mixture. Warm it through; add the chopped egg. Roll out the pastry until around 2mm thick and cut out eight 15cm circles.

Spoon an eighth of the tuna mixture into one half of each circle, making sure you leave the edges clear. Fold the other half of the pastry circle over and stick the edges with a little water. Finish off by pressing the edges together with the prongs of a fork. Heat the oven to 220C/gas mark 7. Brush each empanadilla with some beaten egg and place them on an oven tray in the oven for 10-15 minutes. Serve cold.

Grilled mixed vegetable salad

Serves 6

6tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 aubergines
4 red peppers
3 red onions, unpeeled
1 head of garlic, plus 3 cloves for the aubergines
3 ripe tomatoes
Bunch of spring onions
1tbsp sherry vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

You need a barbecue for this dish, with the coals at a nice low temperature. Use 1 tablespoon of the oil to coat the aubergines, peppers, onions and garlic head and place them whole on the grill. When I am doing this on the barbecue, I make a slit in each aubergine lengthways and then peel 3 cloves of garlic and put one inside each aubergine before grilling them. Once cooked, the aubergines have a wonderful subtle garlic flavour. Turn the vegetables every 5 minutes or so, until they are properly cooked – you want them black on the outside and soft in the middle. It will take a good 30 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and spring onions about 10 minutes before you think the other vegetables will be ready. Put all the vegetables into a large bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave to sweat for about 10 minutes. Don’t leave them until they’re cold, they should be just hot enough to handle. Take a bowl of water with which to wash your hands. Peel the onions, and cut them up into wedges. Next remove and discard the garlic from the aubergines, then peel off the skin – you can use your fingers, hence the bowl of water.

Next do the tomatoes, leaving the peppers till last because they need longer sweating to remove the skins. Don’t throw away the juices created from all this peeling – use it as part of the salad. Roughly chop the aubergines, tomatoes and peppers. Now squeeze the garlic flesh out of the skins, and mash it into a purée in a small bowl. Whisk in the vinegar followed by the rest of the oil to make an emulsion. Season to taste. Stir the garlic dressing into the vegetables, and either eat immediately or leave to marinate for a couple of hours.

Fried custard

Serves 4-6

For the custard

1 litre whole milk
Peel of ½ orange
Peel of ½ lemon
1 cinnamon stick
60g plain flour
80g cornflour
140g caster sugar
4 large free-range egg yolks

To coat and fry
100g plain flour
2 free-range eggs, beaten
150ml extra virgin olive oil
100g caster sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, or to taste

Put the milk, both peels and the cinnamon into a non-stick pan and heat the milk until it is very hot, but not boiling. Leave to infuse for about 30 minutes. Draw off the heat and remove the cinnamon stick. Beat the flours, sugar and egg yolks together in a bowl. Gradually add the hot milk, beating continuously.

Once you have a thick sauce, scrape this back into the saucepan and place it over a medium heat to cook for 10 minutes. Stir regularly. You will end up with a very thick custard. Use a spatula to smooth the custard on to a baking tray to a thickness of 2cm. Leave to cool in the fridge. Put the flour and eggs into separate bowls.

Cut the custard into 3cm squares and roll each cube in the flour, dusting off the excess, and then dunk it in the egg. Heat enough oil in a heavy frying pan to submerge the custard cubes. Once the oil starts to shimmer, cook the squares for 1 minute until pale gold, in batches, and drain on kitchen paper. Mix the sugar and cinnamon together and dust them thoroughly.

Jose Pizarro's new tapas bar, Jose, opens on 1 June at 104 Bermondsey Street, London SE1. See josepizarro.com

BRUCE POOLE, HEAD CHEF, CHEZ BRUCE

Chilled wine and good food; a shady spot under a tree far from car noise – this is what makes the perfect picnic.

Crushed new potato salad

Serves about 6

This is a good alternative to the mayonnaise-based potato salad. Try it with grilled or poached salmon.

2 ripe plum tomatoes
50ml olive oil
1 clove of garlic, peeled and minced
6 salted anchovy fillets, roughly chopped
600g new potatoes, such as Jersey Royals, cleaned but not peeled
1 lemon
3 spring onions, washed, peeled and chopped
12 basil leaves, roughly chopped
Freshly ground black pepper (and salt if necessary)

Skin the tomatoes by blanching in boiling water for 10 seconds, then refresh in iced water. Quarter them, remove the pulp and cut the flesh into 5mm dice. Reserve. Warm the olive oil in a small pan with the garlic and anchovies. Bring this up to heat without boiling and set aside off the heat.

Boil the spuds until cooked; drain. Place them in a mixing bowl. Roughly mash, add the olive oil with the melted anchovies and garlic, the zest of the lemon, spring onions, tomato concasse and basil. Combine and add some pepper. A few drops of lemon juice will not hurt either. Serve immediately or keep in a warm place until needed.

Grilled courgette salad

Serves 4 as a light starter or side salad

4 courgettes, topped and tailed
1tsp red wine vinegar
Caster sugar, to taste
1 clove of garlic, peeled and minced
Olive oil
1 small bunch of fresh mint, leaves picked and chopped

Slice the courgettes lengthways on a mandolin to about 2mm each. Place them in a colander; season with salt. Leave for 1 hour; dry on kitchen paper. Heat one or two large non-stick pans over a high heat for 2-3 minutes or get the barbecue going. When the pans (or barbecue) are really hot, cook the courgettes without any oil, without overcrowding the pan. The courgette slices should be completely flat in the pan and not overlapping. Turn the slices with tongs when they have singed and blackened slightly.

When cooked, transfer to a large mixing bowl and continue to cook the remaining courgettes. When the whole lot are cooked, add the vinegar, a generous pinch of caster sugar and the garlic. Combine well with your hands. Add plenty of pepper, a slug of olive oil and the chopped mint. Combine well and serve. This salad does not keep well, as the courgettes will become soggy and mushy with time.

This salad is very good with lamb kebabs or souvlaki.

Grilled pigeon with ricotta, broad bean and mint bruschetta

Serves 4 as a generous starter

4 wood pigeons
1 small bunch of fresh thyme
1 clove of garlic, peeled and minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil
1 lemon
200g broad beans, preferably fresh but frozen aren't at all bad for this dish
2 anchovy fillets
About 10 fresh mint leaves
About 12 fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 large banana shallot, or 2 smaller shallots, finely chopped
10cm x 6cm slices of sourdough bread, or good-quality brown bread
About 1 tbsp good-quality ricotta

Remove the breasts from each bird with the wing bones attached, reserving the legs and carcass for a game stock, or freeze for later use. Put the breasts in a shallow plastic container and scrunch up the fresh thyme over them, stalks and all. Add the garlic, season well with salt and pepper and add a small slug of olive oil and the grated zest of the lemon. With scrupulously clean hands, mix the whole lot up well. Cover with a lid, or clingfilm, and refrigerate for a couple of hours, or overnight.

Take the pigeon out of the fridge at least 1 hour before cooking to allow the meat to return to room temperature. Light the barbecue or heat a cast-iron griddle pan until very hot. Boil the broad beans until tender how long this takes will depend on the size of the beans. When cooked, refresh in some iced water.

When thoroughly chilled, drain off the water and peel the grey skins to reveal the lovely, bright green inner bean. If the beans are beautifully fresh, young and tiny, there is no need to peel them, and even refreshing them in iced water might be considered heresy by some.

Put the peeled beans in a bowl with a flattish base and mash them roughly with a fork. Finely chop the anchovy fillets and the herbs. Add to the beans with the chopped shallot, a trickle of olive oil and a generous squeeze of lemon juice. Check the seasoning the anchovies will probably have done the trick on the salinity front, but add a little more salt if required and some pepper.

Grill the pigeon breasts for just 2 3 minutes on each side they should still be pink in the middle. Rest on a plate in a warm place with a little extra olive oil while you make the bruschetta. Brush the sourdough slices with olive oil and grill. Spread a little ricotta on each grilled piece of bread and pile up the broad-bean mixture on the cheese. Place a pigeon breast on top and serve with any oily, meaty juices from the resting plate. Some crumbled Parmesan or pecorino wouldn't go amiss either.

Petits pots de Provence, radishes and fleur de sel

This is my adaptation of a dish from the great Burgundian chef Georges Blanc. It is definitely one for high summer, when tomatoes and other salad vegetables are at their best. The salad looks good layered, rather like a trifle, and served individually in small, ideally glass, ramekins. Perfect for a posh picnic.

Serves 4 as an elegant starter

4 large ripe plum tomatoes
4 fresh medium eggs
1 heaped tsp Mayonnaise
1 heaped tsp crème fraîche
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
200g stoned black olives, preferably from Provence
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
1tsp fine capers
8 anchovy fillets
Good-quality olive oil
1 large shallot, peeled and finely chopped
About 8 fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 big bunch of fresh, red breakfast radishes, washed and cut with 1cm of the green stalk still attached
sea salt flakes, preferably the softer fleur de sel

Blanch the tomatoes by plunging them into boiling water for 10 seconds, then refresh in iced water or under a cold running tap. The skins should then come off easily. Quarter them, remove the pulp and discard or use elsewhere. Cut the tomato flesh neatly into 5mm dice. Reserve this concasse.

Hardboil the eggs by simmering for 10 minutes and refreshing under a running cold tap. Peel the eggs and chop. Put into a food processor with the mayonnaise and crème fraîche and blend briefly. This can be done by hand, if preferred, by mashing with a fork in a bowl. This will give a lumpier texture, which is different, but nice all the same. Season well with salt and pepper.

To make the tapenade, simply blend the olives with the garlic, capers and anchovies in a food processor, adding a steady trickle of olive oil until the consistency of a thin paste is achieved it should not be too oily and runny, though. Adjust the seasoning. The anchovies will probably make it salty enough but some pepper will be a welcome addition. Put the tomato concasse into a bowl with the shallot and basil. Season lightly (not forgetting the saltiness of the anchovies in the dish), add a moistening of olive oil and mix well.

To assemble the pots, first spoon the tomato concasse into the ramekins. Ensuring each layer is as level as can be, add the tapenade, then the egg mayonnaise and a few dressed leaves, if you like. It is better to have slightly less tapenade than the tomato and egg mixtures. These little pots do not really welcome accommodation in the fridge, as the flavours will deaden significantly think Mediterranean room temperature here.

The egg mayonnaise can be made beforehand, but once the dish is assembled, ideally it needs to be served straight away. If refrigeration is unavoidable, make sure that the pots are returned to room temperature before serving. Place the chilled radishes on a separate white plate accompanied by a little container of the fleur de sel the two go extremely well together.

Aficionados eat the radishes by cutting them in half lengthways and introducing the moist white side directly to the fleur de sel. Alternatively, simply scoop up all three layers of the pot in a (possibly ungainly) spoonful, top with a radish and place the whole lot in your beak. This is the very essence of summer.

Chez Bruce, 2 Bellevue Road, London SW17 (020-8672 0114). 'Bruce's Cookbook' by Bruce Poole (Collins, £25) is out now

JEREMY LEE, HEAD CHEF, BLUEPRINT CAFE

The perfect picnic... good company, a cosy rug, a delightful sunny spot and delicious things to graze on.

Baked marinated chicken and asparagus

Serves 6

A chicken, cleaved in half

For the marinade

A small bunch of flat leaf parsley, thyme and rosemary
A clove of garlic, peeled
The juice of a lemon
Two shallots or one small onion, peeled and chopped
A soup spoon of Dijon mustard
4 soup spoons of olive oil
Sea salt
A heaped teaspoon of milled pepper
24-36 spears asparagus

Put all the ingredients for the marinade in a blender and pulse until smooth. Rub this over the two halves of chicken and cover well. Keep in the fridge for two days if time permits. Heat an oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Have a heavy-bottomed cast-iron roasting pan warming over a gentle heat.

Strew this with sea salt and lay the two halves, skin on to the salt, gently in the pan. Add a drop or two of oil to kick-start the cooking. Place in the oven and bake for 50 minutes. Remove from oven, cover; let cool.

Bring a pan of water to the boil. Add the asparagus with a healthy pinch of salt. Cook quickly; remove and let cool. Tip in any resulting cooking juice from the bottom of the pan over the chicken, push the asparagus into the gaps and then wrap well.

Poached pears

Serves 6

6 pears, conference are rather good for poaching
2 lemons
350ml white wine
500ml cold water
A vanilla pod
4 black peppercorns
4 bay leaves
300g caster sugar

Peel away strips of lemon peel and juice the lemons. Put the juice into a bowl for the peeled pears. In a pot, pour in the water and wine. Add the vanilla pod, the strips of lemon peel, bay leaves, peppercorns and sugar. Set this to boil. Peel the pears and toss in the lemon juice. Add these to the boiled stock and lay a disc of greaseproof paper on the surface. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes to an hour until the pears are translucently tender. Cool and refrigerate. A spoonful of naughty cream and a special biscuit like a palmier accompany well on a picnic.

Marinated herring and potato salad

Serves 6

6 Matjes herrings, filleted
1 small onion
1 small carrot
6 spoonfuls of peanut oil
A bay leaf
6 peppercorns
6-9 large Jersey Mids, or a delicious waxy potato such as a charlotte or pink fir apple

Lay the herrings in a close fitting container or crock. Peel and thinly slice the onion and the carrot. Lay these slices under, amongst and over the herring fillets. Add in the bay leaf and peppercorns. Pour in the oil and seal well. Let sit in a fridge at least overnight if not for a week, should such indulgence permit.

Scrub the potatoes well and cook in salted cold water; simmer until tender. Drain and let cool until easy enough to handle and peel the skin from the potato. Cut the potato into large pieces, halves or thirds and lay the herring, onion and carrot thereon, letting the oil soak into the potato.

Blueprint Café, 28 Shad Thames, London SE1 (020-7378 7031). For more picnic recipes, see independent.co.uk/picnic

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    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

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    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

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    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

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    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

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    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
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    US stars in UK panto

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    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

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    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

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