Three's a crowd: Mark Hix uses two ingredients that perfectly partner each other to create classic dishes
Saturday 20 November 2010
My philosophy on cooking has always been to have no more than three main ingredients on the plate, otherwise it can be difficult to marry up all of the ingredients' flavours and you end up with a confused creation. But since recently cooking a dinner for the artist John Gerrard, I've been seriously thinking about narrowing my formula down to two ingredients which perfectly partner each other.
If you're cooking at home, this policy also makes sense from a practical point of view; shopping and preparation will be slightly easier – though you will need to make sure that your ingredients are outstanding.
Just remember, a truly memorable eating experience is not always about an explosion of lots of different flavours on the same plate – contrary to what you might believe after watching some of the recent creations on MasterChef. Simplicity is the key and here are some recipes featuring partnerships that are made in heaven.
Smoked haddock and yellow split pea soup
This is a kind of fishy version of the classic London Particular which is made of green split peas and ham and was named after the famous London smog. Smoked haddock is great in broths and soups and I rather like using a ham as you don't need to try too hard to get maximum flavours into the soup. The earthiness of the peas is the perfect match for the smokiness of the fish.
200-250g natural undyed smoked haddock
2ltrs fish stock
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
A couple of good knobs of butter
200g yellow split peas soaked in cold water for a couple of hours
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Put the haddock in a saucepan with the stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes, then remove the fish and put to one side.
In a heavy-based saucepan, gently cook the onion in the butter for 2-3 minutes then add the split peas and stock. Season lightly and simmer for about 30-40 minutes or until the peas are tender and just starting to break up.
Take about a sixth of the soup and blend it in a liquidiser, then pour back into the pot. If the soup is too thick, add some more stock or water.
Meanwhile, remove the skin from the haddock and flake the flesh into pieces. Add to the soup, bring back to the boil and re-season if necessary.
There are some great pears in season and, rather as in a Tarte Tatin, they are best served simply with good-quality butter puff pastry. The pears are pretty moist as they are, so just serve the tart as it is or with ice-cream or thick Jersey cream.
If you are using very ripe pears, then there is no need to poach them, but if they're a little on the firm side, then poach them a little as below, and you can save the poaching liquid to poach fruits another time – or even drink it.
2 large, ripe pears
150g butter puff pastry, rolled to about one-third of a cm thick
1 egg yolk
A little icing sugar for dusting
For the poaching liquid
250g granulated sugar
2-3cm cinnamon stick
A couple of strips of lemon rind
Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. If your pears are on the firm side, peel them, leaving the stalks on, and remove the core with an apple corer or a small, sharp knife.
Put enough water in a saucepan to cover the pears, add the rest of the ingredients and bring to the boil stirring until the sugar has dissolved.
Add the pears and simmer them for about 30 minutes, or until the pears feel tender when you insert the point of a small knife.
Remove the pears from the liquid and leave to cool. Alternatively, leave to cool in the liquid.
Slice the pears vertically about six times, leaving the stalks on.
Lay the puff pastry on a baking tray and place the pears on top about 8cm apart. Push the pears down to flatten them, then cut around them leaving a 1 cm border of pastry all the way around. Brush the border with egg yolk and then dust the pears with a little icing sugar.
Bake the tarts for about 20-25 minutes until the pastry is golden and the pears have coloured a little. Serve with thick cream or ice-cream.
Sprout top and ham hock salad
The slight saltiness of the ham hock is the perfect foil for those iron-laden sprout top leaves which are served blanched and warm in this tasty salad starter. You will have extra ham hock left over that you can use in sandwiches.
1 small ham hock, soaked overnight in cold water
A couple of handfuls of sprout tops, thick stalks trimmed and washed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the dressing
2 shallots, peeled, halved and finely chopped
1tsp English mustard
1tbsp cider vinegar
4tbsp extra virgin rapeseed oil
Put the ham hock in a saucepan, cover with fresh cold water, bring to the boil and simmer gently with a lid on for about 2 hours or until the meat comes away from the bone. Remove from the liquor and leave to cool or leave to cool in the liquor.
To make the dressing: simmer the shallots with the vinegar and a tablespoon of water until reduced by half, then whisk in the mustard and oil and season.
Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and cook the sprout tops for a minute, then drain in a colander.
Flake the ham hock into small pieces; reheat with a little of the cooking liquor. To serve, arrange the sprout tops on serving plates.
Scatter the pieces of ham hock on top and spoon the dressing over.
Pheasant ragoo with grilled polenta
The polenta is the perfect neutral partner for this rich, gamey stew.
For the sauce
1 large onion, peeled, roughly chopped
3 medium cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
1tbsp vegetable oil, plus more for frying
2tbsp flour, plus some extra for dusting
2tsp tomato purée
A good knob of butter
250ml red wine
1.5 litres beef stock
A few sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
6 juniper berries, chopped
10 black peppercorns
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the polenta
1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 bay leaf
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
A pinch of nutmeg
75g quick cooking polenta
75ml double cream
75g freshly grated Parmesan
The day or night before, 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, then whisk in the polenta and 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. Line a small rectangular container with clingfilm and pour in the polenta. Leave to cool, then refrigerate overnight.
Preheat the oven to 220C/gas mark 7. Remove the legs from the pheasants and divide them at the joint, so you separate the drumstick and thigh. Remove the bone from the thigh with the point of a sharp knife, cut the meat of each thigh into four and put to one side. Remove the breasts and cut each into six and put with the thigh meat. Cut the drumsticks into 3 pieces through the bone with the back of a heavy chopping knife or a cleaver. Chop the carcass into small pieces and put the bones into a roasting tray with the drumsticks, onion, carrot, garlic, 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil, tomato purée, herbs, peppercorns, berries and flour. Mix together and roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes, stirring again every so often, until lightly coloured.
Put the tray on the top of the stove on a low heat, add the butter and stir well. Gradually stir in the red wine, stirring well to remove any residue on the bottom of the tray, and then slowly add the hot beef stock. Simmer for one hour, skimming occasionally, then strain the sauce through a fine-meshed sieve.
Season the pieces of pheasant with salt and pepper and dust with a tablespoon of flour. Heat about a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a frying pan and sauté the pheasant for 4 or 5 minutes on a high heat, until lightly coloured; drain on kitchen paper.
Put the pheasant into a heavy-bottomed saucepan with the sauce, bring to the boil and simmer for about 1-1 hours on top of the stove or in a low oven in a casserole dish on 160C/gas mark 3, or until the sauce has reduced to about half and thickened. The pheasant should be just breaking up and soft, but not completely disintegrated. You may need to add some water if the sauce reduces too much.
To serve, cut the polenta into 1-1 cm-thick slices. Preheat a ribbed griddle pan or a heavy-based or non-stick frying pan. Brush the griddle with oil or add a couple of tablespoons to the frying pan. Lightly dust the slices of polenta with flour and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side until nicely coloured and crisp.
Serve the polenta on warmed plates with the ragoo spooned on top.
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