#439 Bavarois of Smoked Salmon

‘Why’, you may think ‘has this relatively straight-forward recipe taken me so long to get around to?’ The answer is very simple and is two-fold: it doesn’t sound that nice and it’s quite expensive to make. However, in this time of lockdown, I realised that I could buy all the ingredients for it quite easily from a local fishmonger whilst out doing my appropriately socially-distanced weekly shop, and so as a bit of procrastination I made it. The recipe is essentially smoked salmon with crème fraiche and salmon roe. It sounds very 1970s, though it may not be as old as that.

The Walnut Tree Inn (thewalnuttreeinn.com)

The recipe comes from Franco Taruschino who, at the time English Food was published, was chef at the Walnut Tree Inn at Llandewi Skirrid near Abergavenny. The place is described by Jane as “one of the nicest places to visit in the British Isles.” Today the kitchen’s head chef is the Michelin-starred Shaun Hill, another favourite of Jane’s who appears several times in English Food as well as her other tomes. In fact, he was one of the guests on the episode of the BBC’s Food Programme about Jane Grigson that Yours Truly also appeared in. Link to part 1 here and part 2 here.

This recipe serves ten, but it can be easily adapted to serve more or fewer people, which is lucky for me in these days of lockdown, as there was obviously no way I was going to be serving that many. The recipe below uses 1 ½ pounds of smoked salmon for 10 servings. I could only get hold of small packs and managed to get a third of what was required, enough to line 4 small ramekins. Anyway, multiply up or divide down as appropriate for you:

Swirl out your ramekins with water and line them with strips of salmon, making sure there is a little overhanging. Take any trimmings and place in a blender with 8 fluid ounces of crème fraiche (or half and half double and soured cream). Season with ½ teaspoon of Cayenne pepper and the juice of half a lemon. This stage was a disaster for me – because shelves were pretty bare, I could only get low fat crème fraiche (a very First World problem, I do realise) and so the whole thing was reduce to a thin liquid; blending had done away with the artificial structure given to it in the form of pectin or whatever. I attempted to remedy this by adding a couple of leaves of gelatine dissolved in a little boiling water to it, which I just got away with.

Fold through this mixture, 8 teaspoons of salted red salmon roe (or indeed any roe). Spoon into the lined ramekins, lay over the overhanging salmon, cover with cling film and place in the fridge to set (in my case overnight because of the gelatine).

Meanwhile, get on with the tomato sauce. Finely chop enough shallot to yield 2 tablespoons and fry it until golden in a little olive oil, then add 2 pounds of tomatoes that have been skinned, seeded and chopped*. Fry until the tomatoes turn pulpy, then season with salt, pepper and a teaspoon of red wine vinegar. Pass through a sieve to make a smooth sauce – you can use a hand blender first if your tomatoes do not seem pulpy enough to pass through one. Check for seasoning, remembering it will need to be slightly over-seasoned as it is served chilled. Place this in the fridge to cool down.

When ready to serve, place a couple of tablespoons of the sauce in centre of ten serving plates and gingerly release each bavarois from its ramekin onto your hand. A small palette knife came in very handy here, and it wasn’t too tricky: just don’t get hasty and shake the ramekin unless you want disaster to strike; the best things (and sometimes the worst, it seems) come to those who wait.

Place a bavarois in the centre of each circle, and scatter over some finely chopped chives to garnish.

#439 Bavarois of Smoked Salmon. This recipe seems so outdated now. I suppose it is no surprise that it is the contemporary recipes that have aged more quickly that the traditional or historical ones. Anyway, this was less horrible as expected and it all got eaten, but for the poor return it was a lot of faff and expense. Give me some good cold-smoked fish, some butter, brown bread and a wedge of lemon or blob of horseradish sauce any day of the week. Not one of her worst, but not good enough to even be average either: 3/10

*to do this, cut a cross on the underside of each tomato, place in a jug or bowl and pour over boiling water to cover. Leave for 2 minutes, then fish out with a slotted spoon. The skin will come away from the flesh relatively easy if you use a good paring knife to aid you. Once removed, they can be halved and the watery centres and seeds scooped out and discarded (or popped into the vegetable trimmings stock bag in the freezer).

#438 Plain Roast Primitive Lamb with Gravy

This is a recipe I have been waiting over a decade to make, but patience is a virtue and I have finally been able to cook it; after years of searching farmers’ markets and emailing farmers’ websites, I finally found someone who farms primitive sheep breeds. Here’s what happened.

If you don’t follow the other blog, you might not realise that I have been making a podcast about Lent and for the final episode, I wanted to cook some lamb as it would be in keeping with the Lenten theme. So, I got it into my head that it had to be from a primitive breed of sheep. After a surprisingly short internet search and some inquiring emails, I found Helen Arthan, a farmer of rare breed sheep and cattle, and she kindly agreed to take part in the podcast, so off I went to her beautiful farm in the Cheshire countryside.

There are several primitive breeds of sheep still being farmed, and Helen kept one of the oldest – Hebridean sheep – which descend from Viking stocks. Rather than tell you about these beautiful and characterful animals here, I am going to send you in the direction of the podcast episode to hear about it yourself instead; so here it is.

There are two recipes that use primitive lamb in English Food, there’s this one where it is roasted and served with a simple gravy and the other is the same but served with a blueberry sauce. I had my heart set on the latter, but then thought I should cook it plain and simple the first time, so I could really appreciate the flavour of the meat. Luckily for me, Helen gave me two legs, so I shall be posting the other recipe soon. It’s just like buses isn’t it? You wait ten years for primitive lamb legs and then two come along at once.

I cooked up the hogget for my friends Kate and Pete who both helped me out in the first two episodes of the podcast and are long-time Grigson blog supporters. It seemed only right I should make it for them.

In Jane’s recipe, she roasts two lamb legs together because they are rather small. However, Helen gave me hogget – a slightly older and therefore larger animal – which is similar in weight to a regular lamb leg. In fact, one stocky hogget leg weighed more than Jane said two lamb legs would weigh.

I’m going to give two methods for cooking the meat: the lamb version that Jane gives for roasting two small lamb gigots (legs) weighing a total of 6 or 7 pounds, and another that I use for one large leg that is more typical in size, like you would get from a regular butcher.

Before you start, set the oven to 230°C and prepare the leg or legs – this stage is the same for either method.  Take a clove of garlic for each leg, peel and slice as thinly as possible. Then, using a small pointed knife, stab the legs, placing a slice of garlic in each one. If garlic isn’t your thing, you could just sit a sprig of rosemary on it. There’s nothing stopping you doing both of course.

Rub in plenty of coarse sea salt and black pepper, sit the leg or legs on a trivet sat inside a roasting pan. Allow to sit for 30 minutes before roasting.

If cooking two small legs: place in the oven and cook for 15 minutes, then turn the heat down to 180°C and cook for 20 minutes more. Remove the lamb legs and check they are done by inserting a skewer or a temperature probe. The temperature should feel warm, around 55°C. Allow the meat to rest.

If cooking one larger hogget (or regular lamb) leg: weigh it before placing in the oven and calculate the cooking time. 12 minutes per pound/450 grams is what you want if you want rare meat, and 14 minutes per pound/450 grams if you want just pink, medium meat. Place in the oven and roast for 15 minutes, then turn the heat down to 160°C for the remainder of the cooking time. Remove the meat and allow to rest.

To make the gravy: skim off the fat from the pan juices; you don’t have to be too fastidious. Put the pan over a hob and scatter two teaspoons of plain flour or cornflour and stir in using a wooden spoon or small whisk, making sure you get the crusty bits from the bottom. You don’t have to add the flour if you prefer a thin gravy. Pour in a glass of wine – either red or white wine go well with lamb. If using red add half a pint of lamb (or beef) stock, if using white add the same amount of chicken stock. Allow to cook for a couple of minutes before straining into a gravy jug.

Serve the lamb with #306 Mint Sauce or #422 Peppered Redcurrant Jelly, says Jane. I decided on the former (because her recipe is excellent) as well as some roast potatoes, roast parsnips and some purple sprouting broccoli. For more guidance as to what is traditionally served with roast lamb, follow this link.

#438 Plain Roast Primitive Lamb with Gravy. This was sublime…the meat was so tender and well-flavoured, though not strong in lamby flavour as one might expect. The meat was so tender and was delicately flavoured from the garlic. I’m very glad I decided to cook it with just a gravy made from its own juices and some stock – I really got to appreciate the hogget without any blueberry distraction. As per usual when a dish is this good and I’m with friends, I completely forget to take decent photographs! I will make sure I do when I make the blueberry version. I cannot recommend highly enough, if you ever see some, buy it. 10/10.