I was talking to a well-known chef last week – the London wunderkind du jour if you will and we were very drunk and he kept saying that I should open a restaurant in Soho. It’s very easy to get over-excited when you’re whisky-drunk in the presence of a super-talented, incredibly successful, human-dynamo who wants you to open a restaurant and I’d be lying if I said that I hadn’t spent most of the waking minutes since thinking about it.
I can’t of course because I’m 41, have a wife who works full-time and two young children who need to be fed, clothed and you know, in my presence occasionally. It’s important to know that I wouldn’t change any of that for a single second – I’d rather have a happy marriage and see my kids all the time than have a banging review from Marina and a full restaurant.
But I dream; Maybe I could have both? (I can’t have both).
If I could though I’d cook simple.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my food and how it’s changed as I’ve got older and less stupid. The main thing is that every recipe has at least four fewer things in it than it used to and you’d be amazed at how much harder that is.
I thought yesterday about the kind of dish I’d have on my menu (recycled paper, no caps, price in fractions natch) and I thought about lamb and onions. Then I had the revolutionary idea of somehow enhancing the flavour of the lamb and the onions with mint and anchovies. Lamb with onions, anchovy and mint. Visionary. Like snail porridge or meat fruit.
I got in an argument once on Twitter with the chef wunderkind of that particular month and he said with barely disguised contempt ‘Yeah but what have YOU done to change dining’? He didn’t understand that I don’t want to change dining, I’m perfectly happy eating my pate on bread and using bricks to build walls, ta (bit of a niche reference that, but if you know, you know). I sort of took that ‘zinger’ as a badge of honour – I want to cook (and eat) food that tastes of itself and is served on a plate, thank you very much.
And it’s really hard to do that – it’s hard to cook like Fergus Henderson or Stephen Harris because there is nowhere to hide – each of your five or six ingredients must be sourced carefully and then cooked perfectly.
A good place to start is Borough Market (have I mentioned that I’m the new host at the demo kitchen – every thursday and friday from this week until Christmas?)
I bought a rack of lamb, an onion, anchovies, mint, rosemary and butter.
One of the (many) things that annoys me about most cookbooks is when they say ‘cook the onions in a pan……’ You need to cook onions for ages. I chopped up 1 very large onion and I cooked it in a heavy pan with a lid with a lot of butter and 8 anchovy fillets for about 85 minutes – this is why simple cooking is hard – you have to watch and listen and smell and stir and love until the you have a sticky, sweet, savoury mulch that is something more than fried onions. Then you blitz it and push it through a tamis or fine sieve so that you have a silken puree. That’s nearly 2 hours for some onion.
Finely score the lamb fat and cook it in a heavy pan in oil and butter infused with some rosemary. You have to stand at the stove and hold the lamb with your fingers at every possible angle so that it cooks evenly, constantly spooning over the foaming butter. You have to render out as much of the fat as possible without burning it, you have to feel when it’s nearly there and pop it in the oven for five minutes and then let it rest for twenty minutes before you even think about a knife.
You have to take a large bunch of mint and pick off every leaf from the stem, you have to blanch the leaves then plunge into iced water. You have to perfectly balance vinegar, water and sugar so that your sauce is neither too cloying or too sharp – you have to remember that onions and lamb are sweet but that sweetness has been tempered by salty anchovies so maybe another splash of vinegar? Or sugar? And then you have to wait for that liquid to cool down completely so that you don’t kill the vibrant mint green that you have so carefully maintained.
Three things on the plate – Lamb, onions and mint.