Making a good first impression is often the most important moment in a relationship, or even the difference between a relationship and none at all. I remember one of my first dates as a 16-year-old. She was a farm girl from the NorthernCape and I was a fidgety youth who’d been paired with her for her family’s visit to the Douglas agricultural show.
Why? I have no idea why. You’re 16, you’re visiting your sister in some cement making town even the people living there have never heard of, and next thing you’re in the back of a car with a plump farm girl who thinks you’re a big city catch, on your way to a whole lot of humiliation.
I had to spend the night at their farm, and, coming from a small family far from that parched terrain, had no experience of the kind of numbers burly farmers manage to muster. There must have been six kids in the family, plus sundry cousins, tannies and oompies.
We all had to sit at this vast wooden table for breakfast, and before I’d found my equilibrium somebody asked me to pass the sugar, and I picked up the bowl, it fell over, there was sugar all over the table, and everybody laughed copiously at this kid’s expense. You’ll remember what it is like to be an adolescent. Having people embarrass you is worse than acne. You don’t recover from it, you can’t crawl under the floorboards, and you especially don’t want the family to follow up their wholesome mirth at your expense by ragging you about your Englishness in their very Afrikaans environment.
So, it’s all about how you start. And, for that matter, about how you end. Dinner parties can be like that too. I usually concentrate on the main event, the eye-catching, palate-enticing main course, with the starter and dessert merely add-ons at each end.
But last week I turned it all around and decided to knock ‘em dead with a starter of a terrine modelled loosely on a Marco Pierre White recipe (aim high if you want to grow as a cook), then end with a similarly attention-getting dessert, again based on an MPW one.
White’s recipe is for a terrine of sweetbreads and chicken, with Sauce Gribiche. He uses chicken fillets, foie gras, calf’s sweetbreads, trompettes and girolles (two varieties of mushrooms), and baby onions, all wrapped in Parma ham and jellified.
I adopted the same basic technique, but changed several of the ingredients. So mine was (like White’s) wrapped in Parma ham but contained smoked chicken fillets, eryngii mushrooms (they’re the fat, long ones you sometimes see at Woolies), chanterelles refreshed for half an hour in cold water and then squeezed dry, blanched fennel, blanched small red onions (in quarters), and lightly fried whole chicken livers. So the construct was pretty much the same, with the constituent parts swapped for other things.
To make the terrine, first line a terrine dish with clingfilm, and layer slices of Parma ham across the inside, overlapping, to cover the whole dish. Cut the fennel bulb into long strips, blanche and drain. Cut onions into wedges, blanche and drain. Fry cleaned chicken livers until pink inside. Cut the eryngii mushrooms into long strips, ditto with the smoked chicken fillets and the chanterelles (use porcini if you can’t find chanterelles). Make layers of the various ingredients in the terrine, from one end to the other, seasoning each layer as you go. Have a picture in your mind of what it might look like when sliced through. (Make it look pretty, Daisy.)
Preheat the oven to 90 degrees. Fill a bainmarie (a roasting pan will do) two-thirds full with hot water. Place this in the oven and carefully place the terrine in it, covered tightly with foil, so that the water comes two-thirds of the way up the side of the terrine. Cook for an hour and a half.
Hydrate four gelatine leaves in cold water. Remove terrine from oven. Carefully pour off the liquid that has gathered within the terrine (not the water from the bainmarie, Daisy) into a jug. Add the soggy gelative leaves and 50ml sherry to this and stir to liquify the gelatine. Pour this back into the terrine, cover with foil and cool. So the liquid stock that has developed inside the terrine while it was being cooked is now becoming the jelly that will set in the fridge. When it reaches room temperature, refrigerate for 24 hours before use.
Unmould onto a board and carefully slice portions. For the sauce gribiche (a cold egg-based sauce that resembles tartare sauce), chop two hardboiled eggs very finely – separate the whites from the yolks, cutting the white into tiny dice and passing the hard yolks through a sieve. Mix together in a bowl with finely chopped capers and gherkins (roughly the same weight as the two eggs), a tablespoon each of chopped tarragon and parsley, and olive oil. Add the oil a little at a time, stirring until the consistency is pasty, but not runny. Spoon this onto plates, scatter fresh herbs around, and place a slice of the terrine on top.
As for the Marco Pierre White recipe that ended this meal, it’s going to have to wait for next week’s column as both of these recipes take time to explain. But it’s worth the wait, promise. Anyway, it’s first impressions that count the most.