Meat and fish

Meat and fish

By
Claire Thomson
Contains
19 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
ISBN
9781849499552
Photographer
Mike Lusmore

There are usually additional guests at my table come lunch or supper and I enjoy cooking the sort of food that can feed many. For me that doesn’t necessarily mean a vast quantity of meat. Rather, I relish a sense of frugality, when the meat purchased is bolstered by additional ingredients, stretching the quantity, filling more mouths than if it had just been cooked plain and unadorned. I tend to buy the best quality my budget can afford, championing cheaper cuts, serving smaller portions of meat supported with generous portions of vegetables, pulses or grains. Furnished with an inspiring array of ingredients, look to your cupboards and cold store to fortify the more expensive ingredients you buy. Feeding a crowd of friends and family requires clever cooking, with an eye on flavour as well as economy.

I’m reminded of a holiday in northern Cyprus a few years ago, when I met Yildiz, a Turkish-Cypriot friend of a friend. We arranged to spend the day cooking, and she agreed to teach me a traditional Turkish dish. Together we bundled into my tiny hire car, complete with her teenage daughter and my daughter, then only about 18 months old. We drove to the nearby market on narrow dusty roads lined with wild rosemary bushes. The market was a gorgeous gallimaufry of bright, fresh produce, long, cronky wooden trestle tables weighed down with purple and black aubergines, tomatoes, cabbages, onions, wild oregano, potatoes and garlic.

A spice merchant was selling chilli flakes in tall fragile pyramids, Aleppo and Urfa, sweet-smelling and oily to the touch. To feed her family of six and mine, then three, Yildiz bought just under a kilogram of lamb mince. I sat on a stool in her kitchen, drinking syrupy shots of Turkish coffee, scribbling notes and watching as she made one small bag of mince swell to feed a party of nine. Dipping in and out of her larder, a small room adjacent to the kitchen and open on to the courtyard, out came rice, spice, a string of onions and a cooking pot. As with most savoury recipes, Yildiz began with some onions, cooking them to sweet dissolution. The mince was browned in small batches as the rice cooked. Cabbage leaves were blanched. The components of the dish began to amass and the kitchen smelt outrageously good, of food I could not wait to eat.

I still have my notes from that day, and amid my distracted scrawl (I couldn’t take my eyes off the cooking), I’ve noted how Yildiz added each ingredient, eking out flavour, before adding the next. The significance of the storecupboard is paramount to this recipe. The quantity of mince was not large, but along with the onions, spice, rice and herbs, the synergy of this dish was impressive and utterly delicious. It is a culinary yardstick that I now always try to copy; making more of less. (Yildiz’s recipe, or my transcription of it.)

Like meat, good fresh fish caught sustainably, mostly on day boats, can also be pricey. I have lived by the sea and appreciate the fish I’ve bought from the quayside, so fresh their frames are still tight with rigor mortis. Older fish will lose the rigor, turning limp as the nerves and muscles contract. I live in a city now and prefer to buy fish when I am back near the sea, where the fish shops are many and the fish have not long been out of the water. This moderation makes sense to me, especially when considering some fish stocks are catastrophically low and in need of conservation. As with meat, making more of less is a maxim I live by when cooking with fish.

Linguine con vongole embodies the storecupboard and represents the very best of cooking: buying a favourite ingredient and making use of it alongside other more utilitarian, everyday ingredients to produce something special. The talent in cooking like the Neapolitan grandmother I mentioned back in my introduction – heroic, munificent, even a little bit scary (a bit like some chefs I suppose?) – is to spot an enticing ingredient, know you want to cook with it and have the resources back home in your kitchen to make it the best it can be. The art of a good larder facilitates this. While the clams she cooked on that day are memorable as sweet tiny punctuations to the pasta, I am not so sure that what I didn’t love more was the tangle of chillispiked, parsley-flecked linguine.

It would be odd to write about fish and the role of the storecupboard and not mention salted anchovies. So, I will finish here with the importance these slim, firm juicy fillets have to the kitchen and to cooking. With a complex, transformational flavour and unbeatable culinary versatility, anchovies in their many guises are a crucial ingredient. Draped whole over tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, hard-boiled eggs, steak, pizza, roast meats, they give seasoning and balance. Chopped and mixed through pasta, potatoes baked with cream, tomato sauces or meat cooking juices, they can add a gorgeous boost to the finished flavour of a sauce or dish. Blitzed in herb sauces or butters they give a glorious and unmistakable pungency. Pounded with softened garlic and amalgamated with melted butter and olive oil, bagna cauda, served just warm, is a sauce so astonishing in flavour that trailing raw sticks of vegetables or crusty bread through it is an evening well spent.

Larder basics

tinned anchovies

coconut milk

chicken stock cubes or bouillon

runny honey

piquillo peppers

salted capers

mustard (Dijon and grain)

preserved lemons

dry white wine

Featured Recipes in this Chapter

    No results found
    No more results
      No results found
      No more results
        No results found
        No more results
          No results found
          No more results
            No results found
            No more results
              No results found
              No more results
              Please start typing to begin your search
              We're sorry but we had trouble running your search. Please try again