Pan fried calf’s liver

Prepared the French way, calf’s liver is one of my favourite quick and fairly posh dinners. I ask the butcher to cut not too large but rather thick slices, at least 1 inch, preferrably more, 1 1/2 even 2inch is best. I discovered this having the dish at Cafe Boheme (scroll down to the Mains), which has the perfect way of preparing it.

Heat heavy-bottomed pan as hot as you can (I always use Le Creuset gridle) with just enough oil to stop the liver sticking to it too much. Cook for 3-4 minutes depending on how rare you like the meat in the middle. Remember these times apply to thicker slices. After 3 minutes on each side check the meat by making a small incision to see the center and make a decision depending on your preference. Season and serve with horse-radish or mustard potato mash, fried onions in winter and wilted fresh spinach in summer.

Cold calf’s liver is wonderful with bread the next day.

Note: Never salt liver before cooking, it’ll go hard and chewy.

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Duck legs in red wine & cranberries

This is my all time favourite dish, which I made more times I can count. It’s a reliable and delicious meal, which goes best with sweet potato mustard mash.

Cooking duck joints with liquid can result in a fatty dish, but here the skin of the duck stays just above the surface of the liquid where it browns, while a reduced souce is created around the meat. Dried sour cherries or prunes are good in this too.

Ingredients (serves 4)

4 duck legs
1l (1 3/4 pints) red wine
500ml (18fl oz) chicken stock
2 bay leaves
5cm (2in) cinnamon stick
2 medium onions each cut into 8 wedges
1 head garlic, cloves separated but skin on
4 sprigs thyme
125g (4 1/2oz) dried cranberries (original recipe calls for dried sour cherries but I have never been able to find them or looked hard enough)

Reduce the wine and stock, separately, until each comes to 250ml (9fl oz) of liquid. This can take up to 20 mins so add that time to the actual cooking time. I also use a large saucepan for the wine and smaller for the stock – that way they end up reducing approximately at the same time.
Trim the duck of any raggedy bits of skin and season with salt and pepper. Set a frying-pan on the heat (I always use a non-stick square deep frying pan) and, when it’s so hot that the duck will sizzle when it hits the surface, add the duck, skin-side down. Immediately turn the heat down to medium-low. Cook for about five minutes until the skin is golden brown. The fat from under the skin will melt. Turn the duck over and cook until plae gold on the other side.
Remove the duck, pour the fat off and then deglaze the pan with the reduced wine.

Put the legs in a roomy oven dish, skin-side up, add the wine from the frying-pan, the stock, thyme, bay and cinnamon and tuck in the wedges of onion and the garlic. I use a Japanese earthen casserole pot but a large Le Creuset would work too.

Cover and put in an oven preheated to 150C/300F/gas mark 2. Cook for an hour, then add the dried cranberries, making sure they are underneath the liquid. Cover, return to the oven and cook for a further 40 minutes, then remove the lid and turn the heat up to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Cook for a further 15 minutes. The duck should be tender, with dark golden skin, and the liquid reduced. If you find you are slightly short of liquid add a little water and gently heat. Serve with mashed (sweet) potatoes as mentioned above or potatoes fried in duck fat (render the skin that you trimmed from the duck to get the fat for the potatoes).

And now for a ‘trick’ that I discovered by accident. My oven’s thermostat is shot and I made this dish a few times before I discovered that it overheats by 50-60C. I then made the dish again, adjusting for the difference and monitoring the temperaturely carefully. Strangely enough, the duck was preferred cooked at the higher temperature. So for those who trust my taste and that of my dinner companions, the ‘adjusted’ temperature is 200-220C for 40 minutes, then 10-15 minutes without the lid. The duck is browner, crispier and always find that there is enough sauce in the pot.

Great wine to accompany the meal is any medium to full-bodied red wine, French in particular. Especially nice is one of my favourites, Chapoutier Côtes du Rhône. Bon appetit!

Braised topside with anchovy and onion

This is one of my favourite slow cooked dishes, another example of French regional cooking, adapted from Elizabeth David’s An Omelette and a Glass of Wine via Sunday Telegraph’s magazine.

Ingredients:

250g (9oz) unsalted butter (I NEVER use this much. OK, the dish does need a lot of butter so I use about half the amount as required by the recipe, then let the dish cool down, fridge it for a while and then scoop out the butter that becomes very visible. In my experience this hasn’t affected the flavour but considerably reduced the fat content)
6 onions, peeled and cut into thick half moons
1.5kg (3lb 5oz) beff topside cut into portion-sized steaks
2 bay leaves (I always add more)
2 garlic cloves peeled and crushed (again my hand slips and I add more :P)
1 tbs red-wine vinegar
6 tbsp olive oil (I include in this amount the oil from anchovies)
5 anchovy fillets chopped
2 dried red chillies ideally bird’s-eye
1 very large handful fresh flat leaf parsley

Take a heavy casserole with a lid, and rub the inside all over with three quarters of the butter. It isn’t just a greasing agent – it’s really a part of the dish. Scatter in some of the onion. Season the beef and layer some of it over the onions. Continue to layer the beef and the onion. Throw in the bay leaves. Smear a sheet of greaseproof paper with the remaining butter and place, butter-side down, on top of the meat and onion.

Preheat the oven to 140C/275F/gas mark 1. Place the lid on the pot and heat over a flame until it starts to sizzle. Transfer to the oven and leave for two hours or so, until the meat is very tender.
Place the other ingredients in a food processor and blitz to make a paste. As I don’t have one, I use mortar & pestle and get a very satisfying amount of gooey paste that smells absolutely delicious. Stir the paste into the meat and juices. Replace the lid and leave to infuse for 30 minutes off the heat. Gently reheat for about 25 minutes over a low flame and serve with mash potatoes and something green.

Cream of fennel soup

This, together with the white bean & smoked bacon soup, has to be my favourite. Another worthwhile recipe from The Sunday Times magazine. It’s sophisticated, smooth with complex flavours, the result of combination of fennel, Pernod and nutmeg.

Serves 6
75g butter (I use about 50g max)
1 medium leek, white part only, chopped
3 large fennel bulbs, trimmed of stalks (you want about 750g trimmed weight), chopped, and fronds reserved (these really make a difference when serving)
1 medium, floury potato, peeled and cut into small chunks
4 tbsp Pernod
1 litre chicken stock
150ml double cream
Salt and pepper
Nutmeg

Melt the butter in a large saucepan (again I use my 26cm Le Creuset casserole dish). Add the leek and fennel and sweat gently for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until starting to soften. Add the potato, stir, then pour in the Pernod and cook for a minute to bubble off the alcohol. Add the stock and bring to a simmer.

Cook until the potato is done — about 15 minutes. Add the cream and bring to the boil again, then turn off the heat and liquidise. To do this I use a handheld blender which works really well, turning the soup into lovely smooth texture. Season with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls, dusting the top of each one with nutmeg and scattering with some of the reserved fennel fronds.