After a few helpful beers, a friend and I got to talking about our perfect meal. For me, the more I’ve had to drink the more I gravitate towards slabs of slow cooked meat, in particular ribs. One of the truly great eating experiences is a full rack of Hurricanes’ beef ribs on Bondi Beach in Sydney. It’s not that they’re the best ribs I’ve ever had – they’re definitely good but they’re not the best. It’s not even that they come with beautiful buttered corn on the cobs (or is that corns on the cob?). It’s the whole experience of getting messy and tearing into them until you’re almost ready for a food coma, all the while staring at a beautiful beach on which afterwards you know you’ll sunbathe until you no longer feel like moving will kill you. At which point you’ll bravely decide that the sea looks inviting only to quickly realise you maybe need a bit more of a lie-down on the hot sand. The more beers I’ve had the more that sounds like heaven. However, my friend was resolute. In the particular lilting tones that only a drunk Irishman can possess, he waxed lyrical about proper British food; custard and spotted dick, pies and stews, fish and chips. But two dishes rose above all the rest – the humble scotch egg and the majestic Beef Wellington. So, fair’s fair, I said he should come round one day and I’d cook them for him and a couple of mates, and we’d wash it all down with a Lemon Tart.
When I first arrived in Britain, I was prepared for the worst. I was coming from a land of seafood and tropical fruit, where produce was king and cooking should almost be an unnecessary afterthought. Yet, despite the fact that simply placing a ripe mango on a plate with some beautiful freshly cooked prawns is divine, Sydney chefs have taken up the mantle and created a world class food scene. While growing up in this produce paradise, I had been fed stories of British food. The land of stodge that my mum had left in the seventies. Dayglow orange sauces for duck or food that would be served in Fawlty Towers. A place where post-war rationing had killed the culinary spirit. The reality could not have been further from this perception. The restaurants in London are diverse and in my opinion the best in the world – I’ve had better Spanish tapas at Barrafina than in Madrid or Barcelona. More than that, British food itself has thankfully undergone a revival. It’s peeked its head out from under the collective notion of British dourness and shame and realised it has much to be proud of. Yorkshire puddings, Stilton cheese, Sausages, Cream Tea, Shepherd’s Pie, Lancashire Hotpot, Bread and Butter pudding, Trifle, Black pudding, Pork pies, Cornish pasties, more regional pastries and desserts than you can shake a stick at and, of course, the full English Breakfast. Not even starting to mention Scottish, Irish or Welsh classics that also deserve their time in the sun. I find it heartening that I’ve grown to have a similar fondness for dishes like this as I have for lamingtons, Aussie barbecues or pavlova. Anyway, 550 words is probably enough to write before actually getting to the dishes I cooked so without further ado…
Duck Confit Scotch Eggs
For the full recipe click here
Scotch eggs are about as British as they can be – supposedly invented at Fortnum and Masons and now ubiquitous across these fair isles. My version flirts a little bit with the foreign by introducing duck confit as the surrounding meat, but it actually works brilliantly with an intense mushroom layer instead of meat. In fact, one of the guests at this dinner party was vegetarian and I did exactly that using the mushroom mix from the Beef Wellington. Here’s how to plan and make it ahead:
- The duck confit can be prepared (or bought) over a week in advance. In fact I make large batches of duck confit whenever I do it and freeze them.
- Shredding the duck confit can also be done up to a week in advance.
- Soft boiling the eggs can be done 3-5 days in advance. I use this sous-vide method, but simply soft boiling them for 5 minutes will work very well too
- Shaping the meat around the eggs can be done a couple of days in advance
- Breadcrumbing the eggs can be done the day before
- I like to fry them last minute to serve them warm, but if you’re taking them to a picnic you can fry them about half a day in advance so long as you allow them to cool in the open air and don’t put them in the fridge. They won’t go off in a few hours but they will go soft if you put them in the fridge.
In practice, for this dinner party I confited the duck legs on Wednesday. Soft boiled the eggs on Thursday and then formed and breadcrumbed the scotch eggs Saturday morning. That meant when my guests arrived for Saturday dinner I simply had to pop them in the oil and they were done in a couple of minutes.
For the full recipe click here
Beef Wellington is a truly magnificent centerpiece kind of dish. It’s surprisingly delicious cold the next day so I always make more than I need. I will never, ever call it Boeuf en Croute because for me it’s a quintessentially British dish and it doesn’t sit right to call it anything other than Beef Wellington. It’s also simply ideal to do ahead.
- The mushroom mixture encasing the beef can be made a week ahead (more if freezing). Again I always make more of the as with a little cream it’s delicious as soup or pasta sauce. It’s also a great dip, makes delicious mushroom bon bons if you breadcrumb and fry it and as I mentioned above makes great vegetarian scotch eggs. It even freezes really well.
- The entire Wellington can be assembled a couple of days before. You can also do this in stages. I quite often wrap it in the bacon and mushrooms and the leave in clingfilm in the fridge until I’m ready to wrap in the filo and then puff pastry.
- You can eggwash the Wellington a few hours before
- Cook the Beef Wellington last minute, I tend to put it in the oven shortly after my guests arrive and then serve the starters whilst it’s cooking.
Lemon Meringue Tart
This was one of the first recipes I ever posted on the blog and here it is in full. It’s my favourite dessert by a country mile and although it takes a little time to make it’s very simple. The only challenge is taking it out of the oven at exactly the right time or it will crack as it cools.
- You can make the pastry a day before you blind bake it
- You can blind bake the pastry case 3-5 days before
- You can make the whole lemon tart a couple of days before, the longer you leave it the less crisp the underneath pastry will be but it doesn’t matter to much
- I don’t always put on meringue, but you can place the Swiss Meringue on and blowtorch it about a day in advance.
Hope you get a chance to either make this menu or parts of this menu for guests. I think my Irish friend might have been right – this is probably a meal that might just surpass ribs on Bondi beach.