Ready when you are: Mark Hix creates quick and tasty meals with inexpensive ingredients

Ditch convenience meals, pleads our chef – you don't need to compromise on quality with these recipes...

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Many of you will have been shocked by all the recent revelations about some of the horrors in the ready meals lurking in our deep freezers. But there's really no excuse for settling for these convenience meals when you can easily knock up a fresh, tasty and speedy meal for the whole family. The whole debate about the quality of cheap food in this country just highlights the fact that it's time for a real change in our eating habits, especially as, in my opinion, there is much more, in terms of the convenience food scandal, yet to emerge.

When I root around the supermarket chillers, I'm always surprised at the range of good-quality bargains on offer, many of which are left over from more expensive cuts. I often load up on chicken and duck under-fillets which supermarket butchers cleverly whip out from under the breasts so they can quite rightly get two cuts from one. You occasionally see lamb fillets from under the saddle where the loin chops are cut from, and the same applies to the under-fillets of venison. So this week's column is dedicated to thrifty yet delicious recipes that you can create from ingredients which you can trust.

Duck fillet and blood orange salad

Serves 4

These are often sold as mini-fillets and can be real bargains. What's more, they are completely fat-free.

8 or 12 duck mini-fillets
A little vegetable or corn oil for frying
A couple of good handfuls of salad leaves and herbs like rocket, land cress, watercress, flat parsley, washed and dried
2 blood oranges, peeled and segmented (reserve the juice)

For the dressing

The juice from the blood orange
4tbsp rapeseed oil
1tbsp cider vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

First make the dressing: put the blood orange juice in a small saucepan and simmer until you have about half a tablespoon or so. Transfer to a bowl and whisk in the cider vinegar and rapeseed oil and season to taste.

Put the duck fillets between a couple of sheets of clingfilm or a cut freezer bag and bash them into thin escalopes.

Heat a lightly oiled, heavy frying pan or ribbed griddle.

Season the duck fillets and cook them for only about 20 seconds on each side, then remove from the heat and cut them in half.

To serve, mix the duck, orange segments and leaves with the dressing, season to taste and arrange on serving plates.

Chicken piccatas with polenta, black olives and rosemary

Serves 4

I always find these are a real bargain, especially when you bat them out into little escalopes. I always keep a bit of a stockpile of these and duck under-fillets in the freezer so that I can rustle up a cheap and tasty light supper.

8 chicken under-fillets, lightly bashed out between some clingfilm

100ml extra virgin olive oil
20 black olives
A few sprigs of rosemary
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the polenta

750ml milk
1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 bay leaf
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
A pinch of nutmeg
75g quick-cooking polenta
100ml double cream
75g freshly grated parmesan

First, make the polenta. Bring the milk to the boil in a thick-bottomed pan, then add the garlic, bay leaf, salt and pepper and nutmeg.

Simmer for 5 minutes and then whisk in the polenta.

Cook on a low heat for about 10 minutes, stirring every so often so that it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan.

Add the cream and parmesan and cook for a further 5 minutes. Cover with a lid or clingfilm to keep hot.

Heat half of the olive oil in a pan, remove the leaves from the rosemary, add to the f pan with the olives and remove from the heat. Heat a ribbed griddle pan until it is almost smoking and brush with a little olive oil, season the chicken fillets and grill briefly for 30-40 seconds on each side.

To serve, spoon the polenta on to warmed serving plates, arrange the chicken on top and spoon over the olives, rosemary and olive oil.

Lamb fillets served with wild garlic gremolata

Serves 4

You often see these tiny fillets which come from under the saddle of the lamb in butcher's shops; they also seem to sell them a lot in halal butchers – they are obviously using their cuts very economically, as they should be.

8 or 12 lamb fillets, bashed out between sheets of clingfilm

Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A little vegetable or corn oil for grilling

For the gremolata

The zest of 1 lemon
15 or so wild garlic leaves, finely chopped
4tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Mix all of the ingredients together for the gremolata and season to taste.

Heat a heavy frying pan or ribbed griddle pan and briefly cook the lamb fillets for about 30-40 seconds on each side. Arrange on warmed serving plates and spoon the gremolata over.

Ray escalopes with fennel salad

Serves 4

I do love the texture and flavour of ray, which is often lazily sold as skate, which is unfortunately not a sustainable member of the ray family.

When you are buying ray, it's a good idea to always make a point of asking your fishmonger what species it is and while you're at it, ask him to remove the skin from the fish and fillet it, both of which he should be very capable of doing.

The fillets from two 400-500g ray wings, skinned
Flour for dusting
1 large egg, beaten
40-50g fresh white breadcrumbs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable or corn oil for frying

To serve

A handful of small salad leaves, washed
1 small fennel bulb, quartered and finely sliced

For the dressing

2tbsp rapeseed oil
½tbsp cider vinegar
1tsp Dijon or Tewkesbury mustard

Have three dishes ready, one with the seasoned flour, one with the beaten egg and the third with the breadcrumbs. Pass the ray fillets through the flour, dusting off any excess, then through the egg and finally the breadcrumbs.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large, heavy frying pan and cook the fillets for a couple of minutes on each side, adding a knob of butter to the pan when you turn them over.

Meanwhile, mix the oil and vinegar together for the dressing and toss with the salad leaves and fennel. Arrange on serving plates with the ray escalopes.