We all have problems of some kind. You know, from “Don’t tell anyone but I have a third nipple” to wearing pants that would fit better on a twelve year-old (hipster men, seriously – stop shopping in the little girl’s section for your jeans, I know you’re all skinny and stuff but it makes you look like you’re being dressed by someone who’s playing a practical joke on you).
I reckon (like a lot of people) that one of the most frustrating things is that I’m better at stuff when no one’s looking. I know for a fact that I’m awesome at pool, training cats and disco-inspired 80s dance moves – just not whenever anyone happens to be around to see me do it. This is also how I once lost a lot of money in Bloemfontein – but that’s a different story, the climax of which involves me drinking something that was on fire through a straw and then proclaiming I was going to Mauritius to have a shit.
It’s annoying, but it’s something that amateur sportsmen, wannabe game show contestants, shower-singers and of course – home cooks discover every single day. And, not to put too fine a point on it, it sucks. There’s definitely some magic ass-pixie that delights in making us fumble the thing we’ve done perfectly a million times the second hungry people arrive with an expectation.
The major difference between those of us who try and those who do it for a living under the harsh glare of the public/television/paying customer gaze, is that they can do it to that incredible standard no matter the circumstances, almost every single time – and then even they sometimes have off days. Just ask that poor bastard Ard Matthews (a quick aside – a. Dude, why oh why did you put a D at the end of your name? – you are not a rapper or a character on Ben10, b. you definitely need to rethink your taste in hats c. consider this as some sort of cosmic retribution for that I Love You Madly song…). Shame, that guy really will now have “Fucked Up The National Anthem On Live TV” behind his name for a long time – but that’s the risk you take. Which is also why the people who do it well are usually paid a lot of money and given lucrative deals to endorse rubber wristbands and shampoo. At the end of the day what ultimately separates us from them is that no one really believes us when we plaintively moan that it was so much better the other day and if only everyone had been around that time. And it hurts, because a lot of the time that’s actually the truth.
This is of course what practice is for.
Cooking in front of and for people is something I’ve spent a lot of time doing over the years – with varying degrees of success. Sometimes it’s been a disaster (having to scramble to make up a main course for 20 people after 4kgs of Ostrich was found out to be unpleasantly off is not something I’d like to do ever again), and sometimes it’s been bloody brilliant, and people haven’t gone on a London-style riot while demanding I compensate them for the loss of their sense of smell.
The key of course is simple:
- Always make sure that there is wine, and lots of it.
- Never let people see you bleed or burn
- Don’t have a small kitchen. They may have been practical in the 70s when people lived off whatever you could spear on the end of a cocktail stick, but these days it’s a pain in the ass and most likely going to fuck it up.
- Don’t fuck it up.
This last week I think has been firmly in the place of the ‘bloody brilliant’ column – two very different dinners, two very different groups of people – but both wonderful. So, thanks to everyone who came out to eat.
Trout with Prosciutto, Tabasco and Lemon (for 4)
I’ve just bought Rick Stein’s new book Spain – and so far it’s been brilliant. This is a recipe I’ve adapted from those pages – and if I were to be completely honest, I didn’t do that much to it other than swap out the Serrano Ham for prosciutto (mostly because it’s easier to find), dialed up the lemon and then added Tabasco for what I felt was a bit of a needed kick in the pants.
4 fresh whole trout (cleaned and gutted)
a handful of flour
8 slices of prosciutto
a handful of parsley (finely chopped)
a large chunk of butter
2 large cloves of garlic (finely chopped)
What to do
Carefully fry the whole slices of Prosciutto in a hot, lightly oiled pan and then remove them to drain on some paper towel. Keep four of the slices of prosciutto and finely chop the rest and set aside.
Insert a slice of crispy prosciutto into the belly cavity of each of the fish, squeeze in 1 lemon’s worth of juice between the four trout (keep the used-up lemon), and season with a sprinkle of salt, pepper and a couple of drops of Tabasco each.
At this point, pre-heat the oven to 200ºC.
Dust the fish on both sides with flour and then carefully lay them in a hot, oiled pan to fry for about 5 minutes on each side until they’ve started to brown and crisp up. Then take the pan off the heat, remove the fish and put them into a baking tray covered with tinfoil. Cut up your used lemon into wedges, arrange around the trout and pop it in the oven for 15 minutes or so. Then, in the pan that was used to fry the fish, melt the butter, add the garlic, chopped prosciutto, squeeze in the remaining lemon’s juice, add the chopped parsley and half a teaspoon of Tabasco sauce. Stir over a low heat until all combined, softened and silky.
Remove the fish from the oven, spoon over the sauce and get it to the table.
I served this with a very simple combination of ciabatta bread rubbed with olive oil, toasted and then combined with the wild rocket I had left over from the bacon sandwiches from the last post and chopped olives.