Roast Chicken and Other Stories gets a Valentine love-in thanks to Jay Rayner and we feast on super-easy soup, chicken, rice and white bean leftovers and the wok comes out to cook a lovely egg fried rice stir fry with prawns.
I awoke to a big box by my side of the bed and inside was a lovely Valentine bouquet, a clever one because it included rosemary I can cook with. Another Valentine Day treat was Jay Rayner’s terrific write up of Roast Chicken and Other Stories, Simon Hopkinson’s first book and which I helped him write. Jay had done his homework and set the scene for how the book evolved, starting and ending with Jill Norman, the publisher who commissioned it. Jill was Elizabeth David’s editor and now literary executor and has been responsible for some of the finest cook books published, including many in her own imprint. If you missed Jay’s piece, you can read it on the Guardian’s website. Co-incidentally, we’re having roast chicken tonight, so I slather it with butter (slightly less than Simon’s 75g revised from 100g) and stick with my usual Lemon and White Wine Roast Chicken, otherwise known as ‘wet’ chicken and goodness me, it was as good as always. Last Friday afternoon, after a couple of increasingly distraught messages, I took up photographer Georgia Glynn Smith’s invite for a zoom photography session. She’s absolutely right to berate me (as both my sons and various readers have), my photos are often poor, sometimes downright lousy. Anyway, I hope you’ll notice an improvement. I made a big pot of soup for lunch so there is plenty leftover for a few Lock Down lunches. Roast Aubergine and Red Pepper Soup is another one of my scrounge round the fridge soups, guessing what might work well in a soup although I knew that roast aubergine and red pepper together would give good results. I added a few squashy cherry tomatoes in need of eating up and a spoonful of tahini to fine-tune the flavours but both are optional extras.
On Friday’s trip to my fishmonger (www.coventgardenfishmongers.co.uk), I bought fish for the freezer; two fat fillets of Cornish hake (from Newlyn, a fish market I know extremely well) and a side of their superb naturally smoked haddock. Tonight I decide to make Hake and Chorizo with White Beans. This is a variation on afavourite theme, flavouring white beans or chickpeas with onion and either bacon or chorizo, sometimes tomato and or red pepper and finishing the dish with fillets of soft, silky hake to cook in the steam and juices. It’s a lovely meal and a good combination of cook ahead with a reheat and final last minute flurry.
I have a fridge drawer full of leeks and leftover roast chicken so the obvious conclusion is Chicken and Leek Gratin. Boy it was good, I really recommend remembering this when you have the remains of a roast chicken to consider. I liked it so much, the fork sliding through a thick, cheesy carapace giving onto slippery, sweet, soft leek and torn chicken in a creamy, thyme flavoured sauce, I would buy roast chicken portions specially. It could be made for more, just scale up the ingredients in proportion. We had it with carrots roasted and the same time as the gratin cooked and peas. No potatoes.
If I’m in the mood for it, there is nothing I like more than a day of cooking. Today is one of those days. I’ve been marinating big pieces of stewing steak in red wine for a couple of days, using up the leftovers from several bottles lined up next to the hob. Its destiny – Steak and Kidney Stew with Mushrooms – will be for tomorrow night but there is so much of it that I thought I might turn the leftovers into a pie or two individual pies made in the gorgeous white ceramic pie dishes that arrived full of delicious food from Quo Vadis at Home in the second Lock Down. I also had some minced beef defrosted from the freezer but unsure what to do with it. As I started cooking, it evolved into Ragu with Lemon and Chilli, a variation on Chilli con Carne (A ‘bowl o’ Red’ with Guacomole) when I added the remains of a big jar of white beans. The sudden realisation that today was Ash Wednesday prompted Eggs Masala, otherwise known as egg curry. I can’t recommend it enough, a lovely treat with eggs or when meat is off the menu. It is also a dish that could be expanded or changed slightly as I did by adding a handful of spinach, letting it wilt before the eggs are ‘planted’ sunny side up.
Start the morning making another oven-roast soup, this time tomatoes and shallots, with plans of liquidising it with spinach wilted in the stock I’m making with a cube. Roast Tomato and Spinach Soup looks so beautiful, liquidized into a thick, bright green bowlful. Sadly, the colour fades quite quickly so by morning, leftovers for Lock Down lunches are a sludgy colour. It is not, though, a cause for concern. The flavour is extraordinarily good, fresh and lively on the tongue the roast tomato mingling deliciously well with lightly cooked spinach. It really is lovely. So tonight we have the stew that has been sitting in the fridge for a couple of days, the flavours maturing and enriching. I bring it up to temperature and then reheat it in a low oven. I also make mashed potato way before supper time, so that all I will need to do 10 minutes before we sit down to eat, is reheat it with a dash of milk and another tab of butter. Carrots and peas go well with Steak and Kidney Stew with Mushrooms and there will be leftovers to turn into pie.
Mitch Tonks used to have a restaurant near me in West London but some years ago moved down to the West Country and started Rockfish and Seahorse restaurants (www.therockfish.co.uk and www.seahorserestaurant.co.uk) in Devon and Dorset. He has perfected the home delivery seafood meal, calling it Rockfish Delivered (order by Tuesday for delivery on Friday). The turbot, scallop and smoked salmon box arrives with full instructions on how to enjoy a feast of a meal. It’s simple, everything very good quality and generous, and kicks off with anchoiade (in a jam jar; mayo with salted anchovy, garlic and capers) to snack on as you cook, with your favourite bread. The prep-starter, starter is a 150g pack of maple cured salmon (d-cut, eaten with crushed pink pepper), the real starter two Brixham scallops each plus shells to cook them into be with garlic butter supplied in a jar, panko breadcrumbs and a splash of (your own) white wine. The main course turbot t-bone steaks arrive frozen and once de-frosted is roasted and served with warmed tartare sauce (from a jar) and veg of your choice (we chose M&S frites). Mitch also pops a couple of tins of sardines (fished from Mount’s Bay, diagonally opposite The Fish Store) with advice on how to make them into lunch the next day. This is restaurant standard food that really is very easy, foolproof actually, to cook at home. We thought it good value at £80 for two (but delivery extra).
There is cooked basmati rice boxed up in the fridge leftover from Eggs Masala. It’s ages since I’ve made egg fried rice but it is one of the first thing that pops into my mind when I have basmati leftovers. I particularly love it with prawns and coriander mixed into the eggs but had to look up my own recipe and here it is again, Prawn Egg Fried Rice with Sweet Chilli and Coriander. Once all the ingredients are assembled and rice could be cooked from scratch as I do in the recipe, it takes minutes. Lovely to get the wok out, bought many, many years ago on a Chinatown recce. Once somewhere I went every week.