#424 Chilled Mange Tout Creams

Here’s a straight-forward recipe from the book that I have never gotten around to cooking, mainly because it sounded like it might be a bit boring. These days, however, I reckon I can spot a good subtle recipe, and thought I should give it a go. It’s one that requires careful seasoning as the only ingredient with flavour is the mange tout peas; not the strongest of flavours and served chilled too! You’ve got to use the salt, pepper, sugar and lemon juice in this recipe with a little abandon to pull this one off.

The first edition of English Food was written in the 1970s and this recipe is very much a thing of its time. Jane calls these creams, but they are basically a savoury mousse, the only other savoury mousse I have made from the book was the disastrous #313 Jellied Eel Mousse with Watercress SauceI cooked back in St. Louis in 2011.
A colour plate of the range of pea cultivars, including mangetout just below centre (New Oxford Book of Food Plants)
In the ‘70s the mange tout was quite an exciting new vegetable, though they were old hat to gardeners. A mange tout (or snow pea, as it is called in the USA) is a regular pea that has been bred so that the pod is much less tough than usual, so that the normally flavoursome but inedible pod can be eaten. The pea has been loved by gardeners because of the diversity of variants that can be easily produced, and it is worth mentioning a particularly important pea gardener, Gregor Mendel, the father of modern genetics.
Gregor Mendel
The monk bred mange tout peas and noticed, simply by looking at traits – and the proportions of the traits – passed down from parent plants to their progeny. He looked at traits such as dwarfism, seed colour and seed texture. He concluded that factors (i.e. genes) were passed down from parents, these factors came in different versions, called alleles. For example, seed texture came in two forms, smooth and wrinkled. One seemed to be dominant over the other, so which two versions of the gene an individual had determined how it looked (its phenotype). For more on this click here.

Scientists in the 1920s combined his findings with Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, to come up with the Modern Synthesis, providing us with a framework for thinking about genes, selection and evolution.

Ok, enough science waffle, back to the cooking…

You’ll need a pound of topped and tailed mange tout for this recipe. Keep aside a quarter of the peas and put the rest in a saucepan containing half a pint of boiling water along with two teaspoons of finely chopped spring onion green (later the recipe requires gelatine, if using powdered gelatine, keep a few tablespoons of the cooking liquid aside for dissolving it in). 


When the peas are tender, liquidise the whole lot and push through a fine sieve, pushing the pulp through with a ladle.

Dissolve one 11g sachet of powdered gelatine in the remainder of the hot liquid and stir into the puree. If using leaf gelatine, use the appropriate number of leaves according to the pack; factoring in that there will be eight fluid ounces of cream added later.

Season well with salt, sugar, pepper and lemon juice – it’s best to slightly over season here as the flavours will be less pronounced once chilled. Pop it in the fridge and chill until it has the consistency of egg white. Take it out and fold in eight fluid ounces of double or whipping cream, whipped until floppy. 


Next, fold in two egg whites that have been beaten until stiff. For maximum lightness, use a metal spoon for this task.

Jane says to pour the mixture into sixteen moulds, but I poured it into eight moulds, to make easier for service. Cover, pop in the fridge, and the mousse set overnight. It should keep four or five days, so you can make this well in advance.

Blanch the remaining mange tout in boiling water for two minutes, drain and plunge into iced water.

To turn the moulds out, dip them in boiling water and invert into plates, or use a blowtorch. Decorate with the blanched mange tout in an appropriately artistic fashion. Serve with Melba toast.

#424 Chilled Mange Tout Creams. These were great – light and refreshing and perfect this time of year – I put them on the menu as Mange Tout Mousse, seeing as that is what I made. They didn’t sell! I think the word moussemaybe made them sound like they were on the naff side of retro; should have kept Jane’s name for them. All that said, I would say to give them a go. It has made me think that mousses need a bit of a comeback. I give it a solid 7.5/10.

NB: You could use lots of different vegetables for this dish if you don’t like peas. Just make sure you only blanch the vegetables to the point of just becoming tender, you want them as fresh-tasting as possible. Asparagus, carrot and red pepper spring to mind.

#313 Jellied Eel Mousse with Watercress Sauce

This is one of the recipes that when I started this project, really made me shudder. However, as I have cooked a couple of eel recipes, I have discovered that I quite like the slippery critter and it no longer seemed such a challenge. Plus all of the weird recipes thus far have turned out pretty good and I have lost all squeamishness; I have a philosophy that in rich countries people eat things because they taste good, not because they need to simply survive.

This recipe is an update of the famous London dish – jellied eels. I have never tried them before and thought it rather a shame that the classic recipe isn’t in the book. Jellied eel is particularly associated with the East End of London though it was eaten throughout the city and appeared sometime in the eighteenth century. At that time, the Thames was crawling with eels and therefore many, many recipes were created. When eel consumption reached a peak during the Victorian era, the Thames had become pretty disgusting with pollution and there were not many eels around, so they had be imported from Ireland. These days, most Irish eels are exported to Holland.

If you wanted to buy jellied eels in London, you would have had to go to an Eel Pie and Mash House. There not many around – they declined in number from over a hundred after the Second World War to just a handful today. The most famous – and London’s oldest – extant Eel and Pie House is Manze’s in Peckham. I have never been to one of these places, but I shall try my best to frequent Manze’s next time I pop down to London. I doubt if they will ever regain popularity, even though eels have now returned to the River Thames.

Inside Menzie’s (photo from The Guardian)

This is an ‘updated’ recipe from chef Guy Mouilleron, who apparently thought of an eel slithering through a bank of watercress and thought the two might might together. The recipe is outdated; fish mousses are certainly a thing of the 1970s and 1980s; when English Food was first published.

Eels are quite difficult to get hold of, but the massive Asian supermarket in St Louis has farmed live ones – luckily I didn’t have to do away with them as I had to for the first time I cooked an eel dish. There is one more eel dish to do in the book, so I suppose I shall be trying that one soon.

To make the mousse, you need to prepare your eels. You’ll need around 2 ½ pounds of eel altogether. If you can get the fishmonger to skin and fillet them for you, all’s the better. I didn’t have such a luxury, but found it quite easy now that I have had certain amount of experience with eel preparation. First of all, give them a wash and wipe away any slime that may remain on the skin. To skin an eel, you first need to cut through the skin all around its neck, behind the gills. Next, either nail the head to a wooden chopping board or grasp the head with a tea-towel. Now you need to pull on the cut skin and peel the skin off like a stocking. It is quite difficult to get a purchase, so sprinkle the neck liberally with salt to create some much-needed friction. Once skinned, it is pretty easy going after that; gut it, cutting from the head-end to an inch or so past the vent so that the kidneys as well as the other internal organs can be removed. Filleting was a bit tricky – but really it was just like filleting any fish really. Use a sharp knife and cut from the head end to the tail end, pressing down on the fish with your other hand, which creates pressure and makes the cut much easier to make.

Cut away about a third of the messy parts and use trimmings to make the mousse itself.
To do this, you need to liquidise them in a blender along with three egg whites. You will produce a rather bad-looking blob of grey matter.
Place it in a bowl that is sitting in iced water. Whip ¾ of a pint of double cream until it is thick, but not stiff, and fold it into the eel mixture slowly. Season the purée and the neat eel pieces with salt, pepper and nutmeg.
All is prepared now for the construction of the mousse: you need to use a terrine for this, or failing that, a small loaf tin. If you want to turn out the mousse onto a serving dish, it is best to line it with cling film (don’t worry, it won’t melt). Now spread a third of the mixture over the bottom of the terrine and then add half of the eel fillets, then more mixture and so on, until all is used up.

Cover the terrine or tin with a double-layer of foil and then steam it for 1 ¼ hours. I used a fish kettle for this, but if you don’t have something appropriate, you can pop it in a roasting tin containing boiling water and bake it at 160-180C (325-350F). When cold, put it in the fridge overnight.

The next day, make the sauce. You need a good-sized bunch of watercress. From the bunch, pick and reserve enough leaves to make around a tablespoon when chopped. The rest, liquidise in the blender, using the smallest amount of water possible. Pass the watercress slurry through a sieve and add ¼ pint of double cream and whisk it until it thickens. Season and stir through the reserved, chopped leaves. Serve a slice of the mousse with a generous spoonful of the sauce.

#313 Jellied Eel Mousse with Watercress Sauce. My God, what a sight that one was! It looked like a massive chunk of cat food and the sauce was so garish. The taste of the mousse wasn’t too bad, but the texture seemed so wrong. If it had been eaten warm as a creamy stew, it probably would have been delicious. The mild fish and the grassy watercress did not go together in my opinion. A big shame because was waiting to be surprised by its loveliness. I think I would have been happier with some proper jellied eels. Keep the fish mousse where it belongs: in the past! 2/10