In the Summer, our beautiful new flat, which we just bought, gets hot and, on the rare days when London decides it’s going to have a heat wave, it can get _really_ hot. Combine that with grilling steak, a small whisky induced hangover and beautiful people coming to visit and it was pretty clear we wanted to sit outside. Thus began the most calamity strewn and yet ultimately brilliant picnic I think I’ve ever had. It started so well, we realised that the five minute walk to the park was the perfect amount of time to rest the grilled skirt steak, the salad was made (more on that later), the wine was chilled (more on that later) and the dessert was ready (more on that later). It took approximately ten paces out the door for the first disaster to strike.Our poor malcoordinated friend dropped the salad onto the street outside our house. He will claim the bag we gave him split in half and, true as that is, we all know that is no excuse. You could almost see the pain in his poor wife’s eyes, in fact she even asked if the three second rule applied on London roads because she really wanted some salad! However, we swiftly decided probably not the best idea in our neighbourhood.
Still one small disaster can’t dent our resolve. So, even though the beautiful day had turned grey and sinister with a large chance of rain, we plowed on in good spirits, ignoring the slightly worried looks from other bemused (and slightly scared) Londoners as they realised one of us was carrying an 8 inch chef’s knife in order to carve the steak. Admittedly, the fact that the steak was wrapped in foil didn’t help as it must have just looked a little like a scene from Psycho. But, as we neared our final destination, our other guest, that same woman who had bemoaned her husbands carrying skills and lamented the salad, dropped the wine, shattering it on the floor. Again, it is a mere trifling detail that the second bag we had provided had also split in half, one only has to remember Captain Jack Sparrow – “…but why is the rum gone?”.
To cap it all off, I can only recommend that people never try and make pavlova without an electric whisk whilst in the throws of a whisky hangover. This may sound like very specific and limited use advice but if it does apply to you, take heed. You’re liable to get a little lazy whipping the egg white and have your pavlova come out just a little on the flat and airless side, like this.
But after all those disasters, the picnic was amazing. If you’ve never tried skirt steak before it’s an absolute must. It’s far cheaper than other cuts and much more flavoursome. I like to marinate it in garlic and olive oil and then simply grill it. Just make sure you slice against the grain when carving it – makes it a lot more tender. To accompany the steak we had some killer mango salsa, some sweetcorn and some olive oil crushed potatoes. For those of you who read my blog often, you may have noticed these potatoes cropping up more and more. In fact they cropped up the other day paired with some lemon sole (which is a must make, I promise).
Now, I love mashed potatoes. I’d go as far as to say it’s my favourite way to eat the humble spud. In my family creamy, buttery mashed potatoes replaces the traditional roast potatoes at Christmas. Blasphemy I know, but we have mash filled with peas and beautiful slow cooked onions (recipe for the onions here). However, wonderful as buttery mash is, it’s not very good in Summer and it’s very heavy. It feels like the kind of food you can only cook occasionally and you always feel guilty piling in the cream and butter. Here I replace all the cream and butter with a little olive and rapeseed oil and it’s delicious, intensely savoury and surprisingly light.
But the really shocking revelation is we’re all cooking mash a little bit wrongly. One of the things I noticed in a couple of restaurants kitchens is they often cook the potatoes in their skins. When I asked why they said that water is the enemy of spuds and the skin protects them. In fact they went so far as to roast the potatoes and scoop out the skin. Now roasting is a step too far for me as it triples the workload but simply boiling the potatoes with their skins still on and then peeling once they come out of the water makes a huge difference and doesn’t take any more work. Basically water has three negative effects on your crushed or mashed potatoes: It makes the potatoes harder to mash evenly as they slide about making lumps more likely, It increases the amount of salt required as it “washes them out”, and it makes the mash loose in consistency rather than either firm or creamy. If you boil them whole and then peel them, you can lightly cursh them with a fork and they will be loose and fluffy with no lumps. Then you simply add a good season with salt and equal parts olive oil and rapeseed oil until the flavour and texture are how you want them. It will be stiffer than regular mash but with a much more intense flavour and without the heaviness. It’s important to use a good mashing potato and not a waxy potato (no Charlotte potatoes). These lovely Mozart potatoes are perfect. Don’t forget as well that you can make these potatoes up to two days in advance and reheat, just add a touch more oil once you’ve reheated gently in a pan. Also, always make more as they’re delicious either cold or in bubble and squeak.
Olive oil crushed potatoes
- 1-1.5 kg potatoes
- Sea salt
- 75 ml good quality olive oil [you may need more or less depending on the texture you want it’s best to add a splash at a time and see how much you need]
- 50 ml rapeseed oil [the rapeseed oil adds a lovely colour and also is more neutral in flavour than the olive oil so should be used once the flavour is right but the consistency/colour isn’t]
- Place the whole, unpeeled potatoes in a pot of water and bring to the boil. Depending on the size of the potatoes the length of cooking time will vary. You can tell they’re done when a skewer pushed into the potato slides out without any resistance. It’s important not to check too often though as each time you break the skin you let in more water. It will take at least 15-20 minutes of boiling time.
- Drain the spuds thoroughly and whilst still hot peel the skin away. I find it is easiest to do this by wrapping them in a clean tea towel and using a small paring knife to peel back the skin.
- Place them in a bowl and crush with a fork. They should break apart and go fluffy, however, you don’t need to completely obliterate them as you would for mash.
- Season well. Potatoes, like all starchy foodstuffs, need more salt than you expect. Add the oil until the desired consistency/colour is reached and check seasoning again. It should taste very savoury and almost peppery from the olive oil. The consistency should be firm but quite smooth and not at all greasy.
Bonus recipe – Mango Salsa
- 1 firm mango, peeled and diced
- Splash of white wine vinegar
- 1/2 a bunch of coriander, stems and leaves finely chopped
- 1 chilli (I prefer a mild chili), deseeded and finely chopped
- 1/2 red onion, finely minced
- Sea salt
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Combine all the ingredients except the vinegar, salt and olive oil in a bowl and fold together with a spoon.
- Add the olive oil to bind together until you get a more cohesive salsa – you don’t need too much – you don’t want it to be oily.
- Taste and season liberally with salt and add a splash of vinegar. Depending on the ripeness of the mango you may need more or less vinegar, you want a faint hint of acidity but it’s in no way a pickle flavour. I find a quick splash is enough. The salsa will last in the fridge for over a day but I find it tastes best straight away.
Tip: To cut the flesh away from the mango I cut both cheeks off and then but them in half lengthwise. Then fold the corners of each half down so it lies flat on the table. Run your knife through the mango flat against the skin, this should cut away all the flesh so you can dice. Then peel the skin from the central stone and trim off as much flesh as you can – around the pip is some of the sweetest parts of the mango and definitely worth including!