Food: Principal pleasures

Favourite recipes part two, the main courses: from classic duck to crusted cod. Photograph by Jason Lowe
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Salmis of wild duck, serves 4

A salmis is the very essence of traditional cuisine Francaise. You take a strongly flavoured bird - senior grouse lend themselves well to this preparation - roast it in the established manner until well burnished by heat, carefully remove the meat from the carcass, chop and crush up the latter, make a rich sauce from it with wine and spirit, strain the result back over the carved bird and cook again until meltingly tender and deeply savoury. As intelligent a recipe as one could think of. Convenient for the home cook, too. Up to the point of the re-cooking, all the messy stuff and sauce-making can be done well in advance - even the day before.

2-3 tbsp of dripping or oil

1 very large onion, peeled and cut into 4 thick disks

2 mallard, plucked, drawn and dressed, giblets reserved

salt and pepper

6 rashers of streaky bacon

for the salmis

the mallard giblets, chopped

1 carrot, peeled and diced

3 sticks celery, chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

a generous slug of Cognac

1 rounded tbsp flour

I50ml port or sweet Madeira

12 bottle of good red wine

2-3 sprigs thyme

2 bay leaves

several juniper berries, bruised

3 cloves

1 tbsp redcurrant jelly

salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 425F/220C/gas mark 7. Grease the base of a roasting tray with a little dripping and place the four onion discs in the middle of it. Arrange the two mallards on these, smear with a little more dripping and season. Lay the bacon slices on top (these are to flavour the sauce later, rather than to lubricate the roast) and roast in the oven for 15 minutes. Turn the temperature down to 350F/ 180C/gas mark 4 and cook for a further 20 minutes. Remove the bacon and chop into bits. Leave the birds to cool for at least half an hour.

To make the sauce, first fry the giblets in some of the roasting fats of the mallards, using a heavy-based cooking pot. Once these are nicely crusted, add the carrot, celery garlic, mushrooms and the onions from underneath the ducks. Stew everything together gently for 10 minutes. Add the bacon and turn up the heat. Flame with the Cognac and, once burnt off, stir in the flour. Add the remaining eight ingredients and stir together, feeling around with a wooden spoon to lift off any gungy bits from the base of the pot. Bring to a simmer and skim off the resultant scum that settles on the surface.

Carefully carve the legs and breasts from the mallards and put into a wide, shallow pan, preferably in one layer. Set aside. Chop up the duck carcasses with a heavy knife or cleaver and add to the sauce. Top up with a little cold water (even better, some chicken stock you might have handy) just to cover the bones and continue to simmer for a further 30-40 minutes. Taste for flavour, then strain the lot through a colander, suspended over another pan. Leave to drip for a few minutes, then pass the result through a fine sieve over the carved duck. Set the oven temperature to low and continue cooking, basting the meat with the sauce from time to time, until it has thickened to the consistency of a fine, smooth gravy. Eat with boiled potatoes turned in butter and chopped parsley.

Baked cod with herb crust, serves 4

I first cooked fillets of fish baked with a herb crust in the summer of 1974. The fish I then used was sea bass, scaled and filleted about a half hour after it had arrived in the kitchens of Druidstone Hotel, an extraordinary windswept mansion, perched atop dramatic cliffs on the south Pembrokeshire coast. The proprietors, Rod and Jane Bell (who are still there), have, over the years, created the definitive family hotel. It is a dream come true for children, their ebullience encouraged by the very wildness of the place: room to roam, the sandy beach at the foot of the cliff - where the sea bass were hooked - and a high tea as carefully cooked as the dinner for their exhausted parents.

The dish resurfaced many years later on the menu of the restaurant Hilaire, in South Kensington, London, where I was chef in 1983. As an alternative, use freshest cod as suggested in the following recipe. Fat fillets of plaice are a further option, offering the essential moistness of flesh to carry the crust.

for the herb crust

100g fresh breadcrumbs

2 tbsp freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley

1/2 tbsp freshly chopped tarragon leaves

1/2 tbsp freshly chopped chives

1/2 tbsp freshly chopped dill

grated rind of 1 small lemon

salt and pepper

100g butter

1 large clove garlic, bruised

1 tbsp Pernod (optional)

4 fillets of cod, skinned and boned

salt and pepper


beaten egg

First make the herb crust. Put the breadcrumbs in a food processor, then add all the herbs, lemon rind and a little seasoning. Process cautiously, as the moisture in the herbs has a tendency suddenly to turn the fresh breadcrumbs pasty. Once the crumbs have become tightly tinged with green, tip on to a tray to dry out a little. Note: you will not use all the mixture. Secure the remainder tightly in a plastic bag and freeze for another occasion (it is impractical to make a smaller amount).

Pre-heat the oven to 425/220C/gas mark 7. Melt the butter, garlic and Pernod in a small pan (the addition of Pernod adds the warmth of aniseed flavour to the fish). Allow to bubble together for a couple of minutes, remove the garlic clove and set aside. Season one surface of each of the cod fillets, dip them in the flour and, finally, into the breadcrumbs, making sure that the crust is evenly dispersed. Lay out on to a lightly buttered, suitable oven dish, and spoon over the flavoured butter. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the crust is spotted with brown bits. Eat with a squeeze of lemon and mashed potatoes.

Pork tenderloin with cream, mustard and green peppercorns, serves 4

It is rare to see pork fillet on the menus of snazzy restaurants these days. You know the sort of places I mean. For one thing, they don't use plates any more. Everything comes in a giant, shallow soup dish, into which unwatched cutlery will inevitably disappear. This would be fine for the Chinese, they hold on to their chopsticks as a matter of habit; the embarrassed gourmet Brit, however, is alarmed to see his curvy cutlery gently slipping into a pool of "jus thyme". I think people look silly licking the wrong end of cutlery in restaurants, don't you?

It also seems utterly potty that, while there is no shortage of trotters, cheeks, brains, muzzle and ears of pig on the extensive a la carte, table d'hote and menu prix fixe of these restaurants, a single nicely trimmed chop, or a slice of pork tenderloin is completely ignored. The average British chef has never been, how shall we say, exactly au fait with the preparation of extremities. So just what is it that has made these wobbly, weird and gelatinous bits so dear to the trendy chequer- board-trousered-chef?

I blame it all on Pierre Koffmann's trotter: the especially fine extremity he stuffs with morels and chicken mousse, and which first appeared on the menu of his restaurant, Tante Claire, in the early 1980s. Many young chefs who worked for the great man noted that trotters were delicious. Chinese whispers delicious.

So they sallied forth, boning and stuffing. Most have never been seen crossing the threshold of a charcuterie in any small town in France to eat a simple plate of unboned-real-and-nobbly pied de cochon a la vinaigrette, or bread-crumbed a la Sainte Menehould. Mais Non! It must be difficult pig - chops and tenderloins are too easy for the very gifted.

2-3 whole pork tenderloins, trimmed of all sinew and fat (trimmed weight should be no less than about 700-800g)

salt and pepper

50g butter

2 tbsp Cognac

4 tbsp dry vermouth

1 tbsp grain mustard

1 level tbsp tinned green peppercorns, rinsed of their brine and lightly crushed

200ml whipping cream

squeeze of lemon juice to taste

Cut the tenderloin into small thick steaks. Lightly flatten with the palm of your hand and season. Melt the butter in a large frying pan until foaming and fry the little steaks for a few minutes on each side until golden. Turn up the heat a little, add the Cognac and ignite. Once the flames have died down, turn off the heat and put the pork on to a plate and keep warm in a low oven. Pour in the vermouth and turn the heat on once more. Reduce the liquids and meat juices to a syrupy consistency and then stir in the mustard and peppercorns. Allow to bubble away for a moment or two more and pour in the cream. Bring back to the boil and simmer until lightly thickened. Reintroduce the pork now and cook gently for five minutes. Once the sauce nicely coats the meat, it is ready. Add a squeeze of lemon juice, correct the seasoning and serve immediately.

Grilled calf's liver with guacamole, serves 4

It was Robert Carrier who first introduced us to the idea of combining avocado with calf's liver. Terribly daring at the time, considering how expensive and rare the avocado was in the 1960s. In fact, one of my earliest childhood memories is of my mother giving a single, tissue-wrapped pear to my father as one of his Christmas stocking-fillers. He was most excited with his rare green pear - which formed a very different shape in his stocking toe to our boring old tangerines. I'm sure my parents would have eaten it with a nice vinaigrette. Hope it was ripe when they did.

In The Robert Carrier Cookbook (Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1965), Mr Carrier lists the recipe as "Calf's Liver with Avocado `Four Seasons'" (presumably, it originated from the legendary restaurant of the same name within the Seagram building in New York city). The recipe suggests that the avocado is fried, together with the liver. Hmm ... Hot avocado is not nice. Never was. However, a perfectly grilled thick slice of calf's liver - pink within and crusted without - is transformed into something really quite special when covered with thin slices of cold avocado, a slick of best olive oil and a squeeze of lime juice. In the following recipe, I have taken the idea one step further, dishing up the liver with a generous serving of chunky guacamole. This cool and spicy relish - which takes, in essence, the role of guacamole - tastes fantastically good when smeared over slices of the hot liver.

For the guacamole

2 ripe Hass avocados, flesh removed and coarsely chopped

juice of 1 lime

2 large green chillies, not too fiery, seeds removed and finely chopped

8 mint leaves, finely chopped

1 tbsp finely chopped fresh coriander

2 tbsp virgin olive oil

2 spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped

2 ripe tomatoes, de-seeded and finely chopped

1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed to a paste with a little salt

4 slices calf's liver, total weight around 350-400g

salt and pepper

a little olive oil

sprigs of fresh coriander

4 lime wedges

a little extra virgin olive oil

Mix all the ingredients for the guacamole in a bowl until it resembles a coarse paste. Press a small sheet of film over the surface and put in the fridge.

Heat a stove-top ribbed grill (it is not worth using a radiant grill, as this simply results in a steaming slice of hot liver) until very hot. Season the liver, brush with olive oil and place on the grill. Leave to cook for about one minute on each side, with the surfaces looking nicely striped from the grill.

Place on four hot plates and pile some of the guacamole alongside each serving. Garnish with the coriander sprigs, slick with a little of the extra olive oil and put a lime wedge on each plate

Next week: puddings

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