After a summer of eating primarily with my fingers – the occasional appearance of fork and spoon notwithstanding (as an American I really don’t do knives) – I fancy a bit of, well, fancy. A spot of elegance. Something I can’t be tempted to scoop up with a flatbread or teeter atop a crisp bread. But, if you know me you know I don’t do fancy, or neat, or any of those other adjectives one may associate with ‘normal’ food bloggers and food writers. In fact, rather than try and change I rather cling to my messiness. Fine dining is why I will go to a restaurant, not what I aspire to at home. I am essentially a home cook who happens to also cook for others, and write about it too.
For me elegant eating doesn’t have to involve spending hours in the kitchen, or mega-bucks on just-so ingredients. It certainly doesn’t involve tortuous presentation, although I greatly admire those who can pull this off. Elegant eating is more the context – cloth napkins, a simply laid table in the garden or dining room, a jug of chilled water or a nice bottle of wine, and food served on plates. The latter is a must in my book. And speaking of books, no books, newspapers, phones, iPads or headphones allowed either. Tough, or what?
This food can be baked potatoes lovingly prepared and served with seasonal salads and fillings, or of course something properly fancy like my double salmon and beetroot stacks with cardamom-lemon creme fraiche, or an ooh-ahh beef Wellington. But more often than not my nod to elegance is cooking a piece of fish. There is just something about fresh fish that lends itself to elegant dining. Maybe it is because you can do very little to it for it to be delicious. And quick too – a classy fast food. Perhaps it is just me but fish, if it were a person, would be someone understatedly elegant and naturally beautiful, like Helen Mirren, rather than one of the flashier, sequinned, Bumpit-wearing celebs. Well, maybe I can see a monkfish as a Bumpit-wearing celeb…
What food or recipe do you like to make when you want a touch of elegance? Do you think it is as much about the context as the food itself? Or is food the key element for you and to heck with cutlery and napkins?
If you are confident you can do the sauce in a separate saucepan at the same time as the fish, but otherwise turn up the heat and add the butter and chopped spring onion to the skillet and fry for a minute. Add the capers, Old Bay, or paprika, salt and mace, and the lemon juice, sizzling for one minute before finally adding the herbs and brown shrimps to warm through. Pour the hot sauce over the warm fish and serve with steamed new potatoes and something green like broccoli or a sharp salad. Simple and utterly delicious.