Saturday, August 26, 2006

The most elaborate and sparkly meal ever!

I'm sure we did the Queen proud! The execution of the Queen's 80th birthday Great British menu was as complicated as I thought it might be. Even the shopping was more complicated. The fishmonger who promised us turbot couldn't get any so we substituted for monkfish. He couldn't get any cockles in the shell or clams so we abandoned the whole shellfish idea and went for shiitake mushrooms. My fantastic London butchers Porterford recommended venison cutlets and I collected these and the stock bones and oxtail heat-sealed for the train journey to Cambridge. D had ordered the stunning peat smoked salmon online and it had been flown over from the Outer Hebrides. We made copious notes and tackled the rest of the food shopping and then all we had to do is prepare it all.

We started early as there was copious amounts of mis en place, there was much roasting of bones, reducing of stock, monteing of sauces, dicing vegetables, grating potato, rubbing in pastry, zesting of lemons and mixing of batter. There were four sauces to make, at least five vegetables to peel, scrape, dice, mash and we seemed to require every single pan, bowl, plate and colander in D's kitchen and a few from Bee's also. The dishwasher was put on double duty and every surface was used for a bowl, plate of measuring jug of something. The large table was draped in crisp black linen and scattered with diamonds. The napkins had jeweled ornaments tied around each (which ended up being tied round T) and the silver candelabras were finished with silver candles (apparently there is a worldwide shortage of black ones) and the little 'black and diamond' menus were written for everyone and tucked in the napkins. The stage was set! Somehow we found time to dress up and I was able to wear my magnificent tiara - whooo!

And amazingly out of all the (verging on) chaos a spectacular meal emerged. Starter was peat-smoked salmon served with blinis (though I prefer 'potato pancakes'), watercress, mâche and Irish soda bread. The fish course - somewhat altered from the original was monkfish with oxtail and shiitake mushrooms with a rich oxtail sauce and a Gary Rhodes inspired cappuccino (which just means heavily Bamixed!) mushroom sauce spooned on top. I think the 'fish' course with the inclusion of the oxtail had raised the most eyebrows when the menu was discussed before the event. But I can report that it was really tasty and would have been even tastier with the turbot but the ‘meaty’ fish matched very well with the rich oxtail. The main course was venison cutlets on top of a potato rösti and sautéed cabbage served with little cubes of carrots, parsnips and celeriac. The rösti were not quite as we wanted, they were prepared quite early with the required goose fat and went a little grey. The taste ended up being really good but as the cooks D and I were convinced they’d have been better if they weren’t so grey! The venison cutlets were so quick to cook and so tender and succulent. We’ll definitely have them again! We had visited one of the best shops in the world yesterday, which was in fact the Cambridge Cheese shop and selected some fabulous British cheeses for the cheese shaped board. We selected Flower Marie which I’d always wanted to try it after a piece by Stefan Gates years ago on Full on Food and had declared it to be the best British cheese, Cambridge Gumburner – a tangy Cheddar matured in the building next door to the cheese shop, Devon Blue (for the blue aficionados) and Stinking Bishop (never as smelly as it sounds!)

And the crowning glory of the meal was definitely the custard tart. Despite D swearing her way through the prep of the typically crumbly sweet pasty (with the inspired addition of lemon zest) and the extreme amount of time it needed to cook. The original Marcus Wareing recipe said that it would require 30-40 minutes to bake, actually it was an extremely nail biting hour and a half. Though it was all worth it in the end – it was truly, truly sublime!

The Queen would have been very impressed – we certainly were! I’m not sure we’ll tackle quite such an ambitious menu again – if you think for the Queen’s meal each course was prepared by an accomplished (Michelin starred in most cases) chef with all their brigade. We had D and me and a lot of sparkle!

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