Harriet Walker: Winter food should be snuggly

 

Share
Related Topics

I very nearly ordered a veal's head in Paris last weekend. I couldn't help it – I've been conditioned by so many trendy new London openings into thinking that eating out should be an experience akin to going to a theme park, with the point of ordering like the slow ascent up the initial climb, and the presentation of the dishes that heady, brief pause before you whoosh into the om-nom-nomming of stuffing your face, as if your mouth were bagged open on the descent by G-force.

When I eat in restaurants, I'm often constrained by the guilt factor of choosing something I can't have at home – hence my almost ordering the veal's head. I very rarely let myself have pasta if I'm eating out, which doesn't make sense because I cook so little that even pasta dishes are beyond my ken if I ever do find myself in a kitchen, where the utensils stare at me like surly school kids.

Nevertheless, this is definitely something I will never make at home, I thought. Not just because I can't cook, but because even contemplating the act of toting a head back from the butcher makes me feel a bit funny, and I can't begin to imagine what my flatmate would make of the whole thing. It was at that point I realised that one should never order something that one can't even imagine carrying home. (This sort of logic is no doubt why kebabs, sausage rolls and Scotch eggs are so perennially popular – they all have an easily transportable, edible casing that a calf's head simply doesn't.)

But all these themed restaurants that keep opening – hot dogs; greasy pleb burgers; posh burgers made to look like greasy pleb burgers; menus that feature only samphire, wet polenta or two of the following in very specific combinations: beef and lobster, chicken and beef, lobster and chicken, a chicken dressed up as a lobster – they make you feel like you need to inhabit a certain personality as you eat, rather than just being a dumpy little person who quite likes eating crackers with salt on top and considers them to be a perfectly agreeable meal.

Like being handed a sombrero upon entering a particular type of tequila-slamming Tex-Mex affair, you put on the garb of the person who is supposed to be eating the poultrified crustacean. Or in my case, you imagine you must be a Parisian gourmande, and you end up nearly having to eat a baby cow's face.

I'm a big fan of eating like yourself, if I'm honest. I can't do it all the time because I'd get scurvy within a month. But sometimes – especially when it's a bit cold and a lot dark – it's worth listening to your id when it tells you to have Super Noodles for tea, washed down with a floppy pizza. Winter menus are all about ordering for your id: warm, stodgy and snuggly. The gastronomic equivalent of a double Slanket and cuddling on the sofa. Winter food props up the heartsore, shrouds those who are sad in a glutinous coating of comfort and of clag.

Clag is very important at this time of year, but is often maligned as filler, boringly beige, as not the right kind of food for foodies. Well, sod the foodies: pass me some batter and I'll eat it raw if I have to.

In the veal-head restaurant, I was pleased to see that the menu relied heavily on clag. It was a proper posh establishment, so it allayed any residual fears I had about the fact I eat as if rationing is still in effect. Most things came in pastry, and the pastry came with a side of mashed potato. When the quenelle de brochet – a dumpling filled with pike – came with a side of mashed potato too, the expression on my mother's face took in everything from confusion to ecstasy.

Back in London, I am faced with a foodie dilemma: I'm due to cook a Christmas-ish dinner for my sisters and their husbands next week. Given that my signature dish is either spaghetti-and-sausages-on-toast (from a tin, with a garnish of grated cheese) or a Thai green curry that owes more to Loyd Grossman than it does to my own efforts, I'm a little anxious about poisoning them. Or making them cry at the very least.

Still, I'm determined to make a go of it. I've just ordered a ham from the local butcher. Actually, what I meant was a gammon, as he pointed out. I was feeling pretty good about it all, until someone else, quite reasonably, told me I'd also have to think about starters and side dishes. And then somehow make sure they were all ready at the same time as the ham… sorry, gammon. With this in mind, I thought I'd just serve up mash (although I'll obviously be calling it fondant potato) in a big trough at the end of the table. Clag-tastic, and not a veal's head in sight.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Geography Teacher

£130 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Ilford: Secondary Geography Teacher Lo...

Do you want to work in Education?

£55 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Are you a dynamic and energeti...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: SEN TAs, LSAs and Support Workers needed...

Private Client Senior Manager - Sheffield

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Pro-Recruitment Group: The Sheffield office of this...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Teachers deserve time off without abuse from pupils on social media

Susan Elkin
 

Virginia Ironside's dilemmas: Working together has affected our friendship

Virginia Ironside
Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter: The man who could have been champion of the world - and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him

The man who could have been champion of the world

Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and the Bob Dylan song that immortalised him
Didn’t she do well?

Didn’t she do well?

Miranda Hart lined up for ‘Generation Game’ revival
The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

The Middle East we must confront in the future will be a Mafiastan ruled by money

In Iraq, mafiosi already run almost the entire oil output of the south of the country
Before they were famous

Before they were famous

Can you guess the celebrity from these British Pathe News clips?
Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is genius

Martin Freeman’s casting in Fargo is a stroke of genius

Series is brimming with characters and stories all its own
How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players