I have been thinking of late about what it takes to put a meal on the table. So not just the chopping and the stirring but also the planning and the shopping and assembling and then the chopping and the stirring and - finally - the washing up, the clearing away, the cleaning of hob and benches and floors and the making sure that all the dishes and pots and plates are returned to their rightful place. I'm wondering about the balance - what makes it worth it and how much that influences what I choose to make and then whether I make it again.
I have been known to remake something that didn't work the first time in the hope that I will crack it the next time, so it's not always about taste. I have been known to really like something and never make it again as it's simply too much faff, so - again - it's not just about taste. I have been known to make something that is an enormous amount of faff, tastes great, and I mentally file it away to be made for special occasions only. It does get made again, and enjoyed, and mostly I am thinking I'm glad I don't make that every week... So - once again - not only about taste.
The last category is things that I'm expecting to be relatively straightforward that turn out to be an enormous faff which taste amazing and - with knowledge aforethought - I put straight on the menu for next week because I loved eating it so much that all the effort required in the washing up and the chopping and the extra trip to find the right noodles or sauce or particular veg or whatever is as nothing to the pleasure of this food. Which is entirely about taste! There are some dishes that bring so much pleasure, such delight in every mouthful, that whatever it takes makes it worth it.
Such meals are remarkably rare - possibly fortunately! - but are a real joy to come across. We had one such last week, a Japanese inspired prawn and noodle salad that I've been meaning to make for weeks but, for one reason or another, it wasn't coming together. Then Friday I bought some wonderfully sweet prawns from Shellseekers and was sure that dinner would be whipped up in about 20-30 minutes. Ha!
The recipe comes from a recent cookbook purchase, Citrus and Spice, by Sybil Kapoor. It's a seductively lovely book written to match each month of the year and it's very evocative of the movement of flavour with the progress of time through the year. It's one of those books where you think mmmm, that sounds good, or yum must make that about pretty much every recipe. This was the first thing I'd made - there will definitely be more - and because the prawns were already cooked and nothing else was complicated or unknown I just assumed it would be really really quick. What I should have factored in was the book has a foreword by Heston Blumenthal, whose food I adore but, in truth, everything I've ever made from his recipes has taken vast amounts of time - again almost invariably worth it but it is already in my head that this will be slow before I set out. His admiration for the book and the cook is well placed, but it is a hint of what might be involved!
Buckwheat Noodles with Nori
This is included in February but will work all the way through spring and onwards
Sybil Kapoor notes that the nori adds an addictive ozone note to these noodles which will ensure that you feel virtuous and healthy as you slurp them up. She's right.
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh ginger
2 tablespoons sake
2 tablespoons Japanese soy sauce
2 tablespoons mirin
6 small spring onions - I used 2 very large ones
170g Japanese soba (buckwheat) noodles
150g peeled, cooked North Atlantic prawns
1 teaspoon plus 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
2 medium eggs beaten
1/2 tablspoon sunflower oil
7.5g toasted nori sheets - a sheet about 12cm x 8cm
Put the ginger, sake, soy sauce and mirin into a small saucepan. Set over a low heat and slowly bring up to a simmer, then cook for 2 minutes. Leave to cool while you prepare the other ingredients.
Trim the spring onions and finely slice their pale green stems. Place in a large mixing bowl.
Bring a large pan of unsalted water to the boil. Gradually add the noodles, making sure the water doesn't stop boiling. Cook according to the packet instructions until al dente. This is usually about 5-7 minutes. Drain and rinse thoroughly under the cold tap.
Meanwhile, pat the prawns dry on the kitchen paper and mix into the spring onions. Set a non-stick frying pan over a high heat. Whisk a teaspoon of sesame oil into the eggs. Add 1/2 tablespoon of sunflower oil to the pan and, once hot, add the beaten eggs and cook as a very thin omelette. Fry for 2 minutes or until cooked through. Tip the omelette out onto a wooden board and, as soon as it is cool enough to handle, roll it up and slice it finely into long thin shreds. Mix it with the prawns and spring onion.
Hold the sheet of nori with some tongs and wave it across the gas jet on the hob or over an electric plate to just warm it through. Snip the nori into small pieces and add to the prawns with the well-drained noodles. Whisk 2 tablespoons of sesame oil into the soy dressing and mix it into the noodels.
Serve immediately and be prepared for fabulous.
|How much washing up is too much washing up?|
I am so very glad I did make this unknowing - if I'd thought about the time involved without eating it first I might never have done it and my culinary repertoire would be the worst for it. What's your tipping point for making - or not - new things?