Seriously, though, if you are going to have a swanky dinner party you might want to offer something a bit knock-out and stylish. Or great platters of braised meat or roasted game, big pies, and things such as moussaka or lasagne could be more fitting. If you haven't done the ham thing for Christmas, have it now, or even better, try tongue.
Salted ox tongue, served hot, is one of the most unctuous of meats. Jonathan Meades, in his restaurant column, often refers to it as "fondant". And when tongue is good, that is a perfect description. It also lends itself well to a gathering of folk who wish to eat and drink with gusto. I cooked some recently at home in a dinner for six, simmered together with a hunk of salt beef. The two thick red slices on each plate managed to bring out the right gustatory exclamations: "Mmmm"... "gosh"... "oh, lovely"... and one quiet "cor".
However, of the two slabs of meat, it was the tongue that won all requests for seconds.
For a surprising moment, it seemed as though no one had ever eaten boiled tongue before. But perhaps it was all to do with not expecting to eat it at someone's for dinner.
I will certainly do it again, because it is the easiest of meats to keep hot for ages without spoiling. The Cumberland sauce can also be tended on a low light.
The herb pate is much easier to make than it sounds - a long list of ingredients does not necessarily mean "difficult". It is more of an assembly job, really. It has a bit of tongue in it, too, so if you wish to serve the pate as a first course, omit the tongue and up the quantity of ham or bacon.
Salted ox tongue with Cumberland sauce, serves 8
1 salted ox tongue, brought to the boil in unsalted water and drained
3 large carrots, peeled and cut in half lengthways
6 small onions, peeled and stuck with 4 cloves
6 beautiful sticks of celery, peeled and cut in half
3 bay leaves
2-3 sprigs of thyme
1 jar redcurrant jelly
150ml/ 1/4 pint port
1 large knob of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2 tsp English mustard powder
1 tsp arrowroot
Put the previously blanched tongue in a roomy pot and cover with water to a depth of about 2in. Simmer gently for one hour, removing any scum as it forms on the surface. After this hour, add the vegetables, herbs and peppercorns and simmer for a further hour. To check whether the tongue is cooked, insert a skewer through the thickest part of the meat; if there is no resistance, the tongue is done (Depending on its size, a tongue can sometimes take a further half-hour.) Keep hot, along with the vegetables, in the cooking liquor until ready to serve.
Meanwhile, make the sauce. Thinly pare the rind of both the orange and lemon, cut into very thin strips, blanch quickly in boiling water, drain and rinse under cold running water. Dry on kitchen paper and reserve. Squeeze the juice from the orange and lemon and put into a non-reactive saucepan. Add the port, jelly and ginger, bring to a simmer and allow to cook for 10 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve and then pour back into the same (cleaned) pan. Mix the mustard and arrowroot together with two tablespoons of water until smooth. Add to the port/jelly liquid and whisk together thoroughly. Bring to a simmer and cook for a few minutes until shiny and thickened. Stir in the reserved orange and lemon rind and keep warm.
To serve, take the tongue from its liquor and remove the skin with a small knife (it will peel off easily). Slice the tongue as thick or as thin as you like and lay onto a heated platter with the vegetables gathered around the edge. Pour over the sauce and garnish with a big bunch of watercress. Buttery mashed potatoes are the only thing to eat with this.
Pate aux Herbes, serves 8-10
I remembered this pate from the days of Hintlesham Hall in Suffolk, when it was Robert Carrier's country seat to his acclaimed Islington restaurant in Camden Passage. However, after scouring all - or I thought all - of his many cookery books, I never managed to find the recipe. Then, a couple of years ago, I was eating at the excellent Marsh Goose restaurant in Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire, whose innovative chef, Sonia Kidney, told me (in her delightfully throw-away manner) that she had been putting it on the menu on and off for ages.
She kindly furnished me with the recipe, and I have finally found the original in Carrier's book Food, Wine and Friends (published 1980) from his television series of the same name. Here, he cooked dishes for celebrity friends as diverse as Bianca Jagger, Liv Ullmann and John Cleese.
I have taken the liberty of making a couple of changes. As I would personally find the rosemary in the original recipe too assertive, this has been substituted with tarragon. And in place of the two tablespoons of powdered gelatine, I have instead used four leaves of leaf gelatine, which is now easily available and better quality than powdered - although I have to wonder whether it is actually necessary to use gelatine at all, as the minced pork and four eggs should set the thing with ease.
450g/ 1lb lean pork, minced twice
40g/ 11/2 oz butter
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
450g/ 1lb spinach, stalks removed, washed and dried thoroughly
175g/ 6oz fresh chicken livers
25g/ 1oz butter
100g/ 4oz cooked ham, cut into 1/4 " cubes
100g/ 4oz piece of flat pancetta or good quality streaky bacon, skinned and cut into 1/4" cubes
100g/ 4oz pork back fat, cut into 1/4 " cubes
100g/ 4oz cooked ox tongue, cut into 1/4" cubes
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 tbsp chopped basil
2 tbsp chopped parsley
2 tbsp chopped chervil
1 tbsp chopped tarragon
4 eggs, beaten
salt and pepper
freshly grated nutmeg
150ml/5fl oz double cream
4 sheets of leaf gelatine, soaked in cold water until floppy
very thin strips of pork back fat, or equally thin rashers of pancetta, for lining the pate dish
In a large pot, fry the onion in the butter until soft. Stir in the spinach and cook until wilted and tender. Drain in a colander over another pan to collect any juices. Allow to cool, and then squeeze out all excess liquid with the back of a wooden spoon or ladle. Strain, and then simmer this liquid until it measures no more than about two tablespoonfuls, and leave to cool. Puree the squeezed spinach/onion mixture with the reduced liquid in a food processor until smooth. Add the minced pork to it, but only process to mix rather than puree it further. Tip into a roomy bowl.
Trim the chicken livers of any sinew and green stains and quickly fry in the (25g/1oz) of butter until just coloured but very pink within - bouncy to the touch. Tip onto a plate to cool.
Now mix in the ham, bacon, pork fat and tongue with a wooden spoon, together with the garlic and herbs. Beat in the eggs, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Cut the cooled chicken livers into 1/4 in dice and add these to the mixture, too. Melt the gelatine over a low heat with a tablespoon of water and stir in, along with the cream.
Pre-heat the oven to 325F/170C/gas mark 3. Line a 1 litre/ 2 pint capacity pate dish with the pork back fat or pancetta, leaving a generous overhang around the rim. Fill with the pate mixture and give the dish a few sharp taps on a chopping board to settle the filling and disperse air bubbles. Fold the overhang onto the surface and smooth off with a spatula. Cover with foil, or put on the lid if the dish has one, and place in a deep roasting tin. Fill with hot water to come to at least three-quarters of the way up the outside of the pate. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes and then turn down the heat to 300F/150C/gas mark 2. Cook for a further 35- 40 minutes, or until a skewer, inserted into the middle of the pate, is hot when touched to the lips. This, by the way, is the best method for testing whether pates and terrines are cooked.
Remove from the roasting tin and tip away the water. Return the pate to the empty tin and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Cut a piece of thick cardboard to fit the shape of the pate's surface and wrap in foil twice. Place on top of the pate and weigh it down with two or three tins. Leave like this until completely cold, then store in the fridge.
To serve, run a knife around the edge of the pate and tip out onto a board. Cut in slices and serve with hot buttered toast and cornichons