There will come a time when a new generation, or just the present generation a decade or two older, will talk disparagingly of the food fads of the 1990s and the decade just ended.
The sundried tomatoes, the deepfried basil leaf as a garnish. The idea that tofu is food.
The sudden mad rush to put pomegranate seeds on … well, everything.
The extra virgin olive oil that had to be so ultra extra super virginal that it had no chance of penetrating the most reticent sprig of lettuce, let alone a randy fig leaf.
The cult of stacking everything high on a plate so that to get to your piece of meat you have to first tumble it down a crumbling mountainside of something crushed, something else nestled and a third unidentifiable thing draped, or squash everything beneath it so that the pyramid becomes a mucky slodge on your plate.
Just as, today, foodies love to poke fun at the nosh of the 1970s, when everything was a cheese and wine party (cubes of ‘sweetmilk’, salty biscuits and cheap wine), a fondue (lots of fun and conviviality, with an intimacy that inspired many a post-fondue bonk) or a restaurant dinner that started with prawns in a Marie-Rose sauce and ended with ice cream and hot chocolate sauce with a triangular wafer stuck in it.
It was Christmas lunch at our local restaurant, Societi, that got me thinking about all this. The starter was just that, although it was presented in a way we would not have recognised in the 1970s. Then, a glass would have been used – a sherry glass or Champagne bowl – but this was presented on a flat plate surrounded by a swirl of Marie-Rose sauce, in a nod to the conventions of the day. So I planned (for the next night) an old-fashioned dinner made of old-fashioned things, and presented all on one level, which has a certain logic to it. I mean, why would you want your roast lamb to be on top of the broccoli which is on top of the mashed potato which is on top of the bloody carrots? With the gravy called a “jus”, which means that in terms of the Culinary Code it has to be drizzled all around the perimeter of the food in sundry splashes and splotches in the way that some abstract artists sling paint at a canvas, let it fall where it will, and call it art? And never, ever enough “jus” to justify them having bothered to put any on the plate at all. I mean, a great sauce is the true, ultimate test of a chef’s palate, but how many have the generosity to give you more than a tablespoon-dribble of it?
The canvas for my old-fashioned starter was a pair of vintage Champagne glasses which we never use because these days everybody expects a flute. There they are in the picture. I had forgotten, I hereby confess, that Marie-Rose sauce is a delicious thing, if you get the balance right. The idea, today, of using ketchup (it’s tomato sauce, Daisy) in anything other than the kids’ hotdogs is just laughable. But put your prejudice in your back pocket and try this, and maybe, like me, you’ll want to give it a second chance. You need, roughly, four parts mayonnaise to one part tomato sauce/ketchup. Mix together, add a squeeze of lemon juice and a timid splash of brandy or whisky, season with paprika, salt and pepper, and mix again. You can add a little cream if you want to make it more luxurious. Buy cooked prawns or shrimps and coat with the sauce, serving them in pretty glasses with a lettuce garnish. We loved it and both felt it deserved to make a comeback.
Lamb and I are old pals, although I fear the relationship may be a tad one-sided. I see lamb as two different meats – pink, rare lamb cooked quickly, or thoroughly cooked lamb done very slowly. Both are great, as long as they come out tender and moist either way, but the method and results are quite different. So decide upfront which outcome you’d like.
This time, I chose to cook a leg of lamb in a 150degree oven for five hours. And rather than slice it thinly, I served it in great chunks, like a steak, because the meat was so fine that it was easy to shred with knife and fork and the meat stood proudly on the plate.
Trim excess fat, make incisions all over and insert halved garlic cloves and rosemary sprigs, drizzle liberally with olive oil and lemon juice, and cook for 15 minutes at 200, turning the heat to 150 or less for four to five hours. Two hours in, I added peeled potatoes to roast in their juices, although I have a better way of roasting poatoes that can wait for another column. I also made my parmesan gem squash, a family favourite (the recipe is searchable at www.sliver.co.za). For the sauce, deglaze the oven pan with red wine, scrape up all the bits over a high heat, strain and serve with the meat.
I bought a packet of crimson raisins the other day and they are fat, sweet and lovely. I used them to make a brown bread and butter pudding. Butter the bread in slices, break into pieces and layer in a deep bowl with raisins and castor sugar. Beat two eggs with enough milk to just cover the middle of the top layer of the bread. Add cream if you like. Pour over evenly, and bake at 180 for about 45 minutes, keeping an eye.
Don’t present it with a swirl of anything, or a jus, or drape or nestle it. Plonk it in a bowl, give them each a dessert spoon, and eat.
First published in The Good Weekend, Weekend Argus, December 2009