Recently we had some friends round for a Summer lunch – one of those glorious days where conversation flows even more freely than the wine. A lunch that goes from midday until 7pm, having at some point relocated to a nearby park with glasses and bubbly drinks. One of those rare, beautifully sunny London Summer days which is hot but not muggy and where everyone suddenly forgets to be busy aggressive Londoners and becomes chilled out, sun loving people who are somehow kind and accommodating. In other words it was frankly delightful and the last thing I wanted to do was spend the whole time in the kitchen whilst everyone else had fun. On first glance, this meant I’d already made a tactical error – I was serving three courses, all the courses were home-cooked and I was out the night before so not only couldn’t cook then, but there was a distinctly non-zero chance I’d be hungover the day of. The only chance I’d have to do proper in advance cooking was Thursday night for a Saturday lunch. Oh, and one of the courses was fish – the single hardest (read impossible) ingredient to cook in advance – disaster!
In fact, I couldn’t make up my mind whether I was going to write a post about this meal. On the one hand, everyone loved the food and I think the recipes are super great. It also shows what I mean when I say a little bit of planning about what you want to cook goes a really long way to making it super stress free and easy. However, the recipes themselves are either tweaks on other people’s recipes or a little similar to other recipes I’ve written about before so I wasn’t quite sure about posting them. However, on balance I think it’s worth it and I really hope you guys like them too. The menu I ended up cooking was pork cheek bonbons with cabbage, pickled mushrooms and pickled onions followed by crispy lemon sole with potted shrimps and cucumber and a rich, flakey cherry pie. I know it sounds a little complicated but the beauty of this menu is the starter is almost entirely made in advance, the main takes literally five minutes to cook and looks super impressive and the dessert can be baked (and in fact should be) long before anyone arrives. In other words, even slightly hungover and tired I was going to be ok. Both the lemon sole and the cherry pie recipes are slightly tweaked versions of other people’s recipes so I’ll include links and tips about how to cook them in advance below but the pig cheek recipe is a sure fire winner so I’ll post the full recipe down below:
Crispy lemon sole with cucumbers and potted shrimp:
This is a Heston recipe from his book “Heston at Home” (see link for recipe)- I’ve modified it slightly in that I cook it entirely in the pan rather than using the oven at all and I use a combination of fresh brown shrimp and potted shrimp but essentially it’s a similar recipe. It’s actually remarkably quick to make. Although you cna’t prep it too far in advance, here are a few tips I have to ensure you can be part of the fun and not stuck in the kitchen:
- Do all the prep, including attaching the bread to the fish a few hours in advance
- Store all prepped ingredients in the fridge covered in clingfilm. To keep the dill fresh, store it with a damp cool paper towel pressed on top of the chopped dill. It will stay fresh that way for a few hours.
- Get all your pots and pans out and on the hob ready for the food before your guests arrive and have the plates warming gently in a low oven.
Seriously flakey cherry pie:
So the short summary of this recipe is Stella Parks (AKA BraveTart) is the best pastry blogger anywhere on the web. Her writing on SeriousEats.com is up there with only Kenji for sheer unadulterated awesomeness, mixing science, a level of curiosity bordering on scepticism and sheer inventiveness to create something truly awesome. This is her recipe (see link) and the only change I made was that I didn’t have any tapioca starch so I used some xantham gum (which I’m dropping ina lot of things at the moment to thicken them). Read her recipes, cook her food and if you can become her friend and make me jealous. This recipe is perfect for taking a load off and doing things in advance:
- Make the pastry up to a week in advance. I made mine on the Thursday night and chilled it, already rolled out in the case for a couple of days.
- You can pit the cherries a couple of days in advance. I’m a weird person so found it stranegly soothing when I was a little drowsy on the Saturday morning. The sorta mindless rythmic pleasure that cooking can provide.
- You actually want to bake the pie a couple of hours before you eat it as the juices will thicken up a little so it’s super stress free when people are there and hungry.
Pig cheek bonbons with pickled mushroom, onions and cabbage
So if you read this blog even semi-regularly you’ll know I’m somewhat partial to a bonbon. Whether it’s ham hock bonbons, croquettas, intense mushroom bonbons or even confit duck scotch eggs I often find they’re brilliant as either an element on a complicated dish, a starter all on their own or an incredible bar snack. What’s more, they can completely be prepared in advance and you normally get more than one meal out of them. If, like these bonbons, you’re first braising a meat, you can cook a larger quantity and freeze both the extra filling and the incredible broth that’s left over. Then I can whip up quick noodle soup broths or use the excess meat to make the most unbelievably good, pasta sauce. In fact, after cooking these pig cheek bonbons I used the filling for four other dinners including two pastas and a killer fried rice. I tend to fry my bonbons but you can just as easily bake them if you don’t like frying, I would recommend trying to find panko breadcrumbs though – the chunky dried Japanese breadcrumbs make an incredibly crunchy coating.
- 8 pig cheeks, fat trimmed
- 2 carrots, peeled and finely diced
- 1 star anise
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 dried chipotle, seed removed
- 2 large onion, finely diced
- 1/2 cup brandy
- 1 cup red wine
- 500ml good quality beef stock
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup flour
- 100g panko breadcrumbs
- If using an oven, preheat to 150 degrees celsius – if cooking in a pressure cooker then
- In either a large oven ready pan with a tight fitting lid (or a pressure cooker) brown the pig cheeks well over a high heat and remove and set aside.
- Add your diced vegetable base to a couple of glugs of olive oil (in this case onions and carrots) along with a dried chipotle, bay leaves and star anise, seasoning well with salt and pepper. Cook them over a high heat to soften and intensify the flavour. Deglaze the pan first with a splash of brandy and then with some red wine, reducing the wine by half.
- Add some good quality beef stock and the pig cheeks and bring to a simmer. Close the lid and braise in a low oven for 1.5-2 hours. I actually used my pressure cooker which both helps the flavour and cuts the cooking time to only about half an hour. After it’s braised, let cool in the liquid before shredding the meat with the vegetables. Add a little of the cooking liquid to moisten, taste and adjust seasoning and form into balls and chill. Reserve the broth for another use.
- To breadcrumb, arrange tree bowls full of beaten egg, flour and panko respectively. Season both the flour and the breadcrumbs with salt and pepper – this is really important and makes a huge difference. Dip the ball into the flour and coat well, tap off the excess flour and plunge into the egg. Then cover with breadcrumbs and place aside until time to cook.
- To fry, heat oil to 180-200 degrees celsius or until a breadcrump sizzles vigorously when dropped in. Cook the bonbons until golden brown and serve. If baking then heat a layer of oil in a roasting tin in a hot oven (200 degrees celsius). Roll the balls in the oil to coat lightly and then bake until deeply golden brown, flipping halfway through. I like to serve with some pickled onions, pickled mushrooms and cabbage leaves.
TimedEating tips and tricks for cooking ahead:
- You can prepare the pig cheek mixture up to a week ahead and keep in the fridge. It also freezes very well.
- You can bread crumb the bonbons a couple of days in advance and keep covered in the fridge. I did it all on Thursday night so I only had to fry them on the day.
- If cooking pickled mushrooms, they can be stored in the fridge covered with a little oil for weeks.
- The fried bonbons can be stored at room temperature for a couple of hours. Make sure to leave them uncovered out of the fridge or they’ll go soft. I tend to prefer to fry to order but this can be a really easy way to serve quite a few. Cook them in the morning and then heat in a hot oven for a few minutes before serving.
- To warm the pig cheek mixture for another purpose, simply heat gently with a tablespoon of water in a sauce pan until it’s warm. It’s perfect for a pasta sauce with a little butter, pasta cooking water and parmesan cheese.