Never drink Aquavit. It doesn’t matter how good it tastes or how nice the Norwegian giving it to you is – just don’t do it. It will feel good at the time, you’ll all be having fun and then you’ll wake up the next morning realising your friendly Norwegian was actually a Viking and your head has been plundered. If you must, however, make sure it’s Egge cumin flavoured aquavit and you’re drinking it in the comfort of your home with four of your favourite people. I had the pleasure, and misfortune, to do this recently when I had some old colleagues, and now dear friends, round for a lunch of ham hock terrine, monkfish with farro and vegetables and dessert egg and soldiers. As you can see from above, a fair amount of prep went into this one. But in the end it was more than worth it!
With a wedding coming up, and having bought a new home, sometimes life gets a little hectic. The week leading up to this lunch party was one of those weeks. It just seemed that every day there was a little thing that needed doing and I was quite worried I wasn’t going to have time to prepare properly. But at the same time, everyone has those friends who just seem to be perpetually busy and so when you manage to get them all together you’re not changing the date for anything. I also really didn’t want to miss a minute of it – I’d been really looking forward to it and refused to spend much time at all in the kitchen. As you can see from the photo above (bottom right corner), by the time it came to Saturday morning, most of the prep was done, with the dessert so simple to finish not even the evil Norwegian and his aquavit could stop me.
The menu was meant to be a celebration of individual flavours displayed as an intense version of themselves. Spring is a fantastic time for cooks – produce is plentiful and some ingredients are only available at this time of year.. check out these beautiful wet garlic, they have a wonderfully mild garlic flavour.
I think the best way to celebrate Spring is to make things taste very intensely of themselves. It doesn’t sound like the most exciting part of the dishes, but my favourite bits were the pea and carrot purées. In the case of the carrot purée, it doesn’t really have any ingredients other than carrots, but knowing how to cook them so as not to lose any of the flavour makes all the difference. I recently heard a wonderful quotation which exemplifies my approach to Spring cookery, and perhaps cookery in general: “A man has perfection not when he no longer has anything to add but when he no longer has anything to take away”. With this in mind, the menu for the meal was:
In order to get this done, I had to split the work throughout the week – due to my recent obsession (by recent I mean annual) with the BBC’s Great British Menu, quite a lot of the work got done with a cooking show on in the background. The honest answer to ‘Is there enough cooking in my life?’ is probably yes…but I’m convinced there should be more!
Monday: Just before I went to bed I placed the ham hock in the oven to cook on a low heat. I also confited the onions and wild garlic and left them to cool in the fridge in the duck fat (will keep for ages in the anaerobic environment that the cooled duck fat provides).
Tuesday: In the morning before work I turned off the oven so the ham hock didn’t overcook. When I got home after work I strained the ham hocks, reduced the cooking liquor and made the terrine. I actually placed the terrine in the freezer (absolutely no harm done by freezing this terrine). Keep the ham skin.
Wednesday: I gave myself the night off.
Thursday: I sliced the bread and left in fridge to dry out. I made the vegetable purées and the ham skin crackling (you do this using the same method as the chicken crackling or the panzo y higo). I also made the spiced farro.
Friday: I made the pain perdu mixture, took the terrine out of the freezer and made the lemon tart custard.
Saturday: Before the guests arrived I made the pickles, prepped the asparagus, placed the things that needed warming into pots, plated up the terrine (except for the salad which needs to stay undressed till the last minute). I also seasoned the monkfish (monkfish does better for being lightly salted in advance) and I made the pain perdu except for the addition of caramel.
When I actually came to serving the dishes I didn’t have to do anything except dress the salad for the starter. For the main, I roasted the monkfish and cooked the asparagus, and for the dessert I only made a caramel. I also promise that on none of those days during the week did the work take more than one episode of The Great British Menu, so it really didn’t feel like I’d had to work at all. All hail the dishwasher! Also, most of the elements could actually have been cooked more in advance if necessary and almost all of them can be frozen.