Wednesday 22 February 2017

Self Service

Published 16/08/2010 | 10:42

Dressed salmon, always a little special
Dressed salmon, always a little special

The informality of a buffet meal is wonderful. Your guests can help themselves. Your job -- preparing the dishes -- has been done.

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A stress-free way of entertaining, it allows you to mingle and enjoy the company of your guests secure in the knowledge that you have prepared a feast for them.

As with all parties, it is vital to plan well. Choose dishes with which you are comfortable, ones that are easy for guests to serve themselves, and with flavours that combine well and have a nice display of colours. Crusty bread, dips and nibbles are handy fillers. I always do two main course dishes -- usually fish and chicken -- and lots of salads. Prepare the dishes in such a way that they don't require both a knife and fork, and are easy to eat standing up or in crowded situations. Salmon is good, as is a chicken dish such as coronation chicken. Avoid most lettuces in buffet salads except as a garnish, for the simple reason that I want a salad which requires minimal chopping on the eater's part.

Dressed Salmon

Always a little special. Unless you have a fish kettle in which you can poach the whole salmon, a good alternative is to bake it in the oven, wrapped in foil to hold in all the juices. Once cooked and cooled, the skin can be carefully scraped off. The whole salmon may look very plump and attractive, but it's a bother to serve with all the bones still holding it together. For ease of service it is advisable to remove the bones. Handiest of all is to separate the salmon fillets and arrange them on a platter. If you like, decorate the top of the salmon with wafer-thin slices of cucumber. Give a festive finish by decorating the platter with cherry tomatoes, capers, cooked and shelled prawns, or whatever you fancy. Serves 10-12.

You will need:

1 whole salmon, about 2.75-3kg (5 1/2-7lb)

75g (3oz) butter

2 slices lemon

Sprigs parsley

Fennel, or sprigs of dill

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Squeeze lemon juice

To decorate, you will need:

Cucumber, sliced wafer-thin (optional)

Cherry tomatoes

Olives

Capers

Thin lemon wedges

Preheat the oven to 180 C, 350 F, Gas 4.

It is most likely that the whole salmon will not fit in the oven, so it is best to cut off the head with a sharp carving knife, cutting as close to the head as possible. There is no need to trim off the fins as they are removed more easily after cooking. Rinse out the body cavity, scraping away any bits of black, congealed blood -- stubborn bits can be eliminated by putting table salt directly on to the black areas and rubbing firmly with one's finger, then rinsing off.

Butter the centre of a generous piece of foil and place the salmon on top. Put a few bits of butter inside the body cavity with the slices of lemon and some sprigs of parsley, some dill or fennel, whichever you are using, and season with some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Spread the rest of the butter generously over the top, sprinkle with some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, drizzle with lemon juice and scatter over the remainder of the herbs. Fold the foil over the salmon, making a sealed but loose-fitting parcel to allow for steam inside. Bake in the oven, allowing about 15 minutes of cooking time for every 450g (1lb) of fish, plus an extra 15 minutes. When cooked, the fin is easy to pull out and the flesh will lift easily off the backbone with a knife. If the fish is not ready, seal up the parcel again and return it to the oven.

When the salmon is cooked, pour the juices off the tin and keep them, see the note below. Allow the salmon to cool.

I like to put a layer of baking parchment or foil over the base of the serving tray before sitting the food on it.

Cover the fish with a large piece of clingfilm and gently flip it over on to the clingfilm. Carefully scrape the skin off the side that is now exposed. Loosen the top fillet from the bottom one by inserting a knife along the backbone. Remove and trim away the fins. Using two fish slices, lift off the top fillets, slit them in two along the natural divide and arrange, skinned-side upwards, on the serving dish. Gently flip back the remaining second side and scrape off the skin. Arrange those fillets on the serving tray. Decorate the salmon with cucumber slices, if you are using them. Then decorate the tray with cherry tomatoes, olives, capers and thin wedges of lemon.

Note: Some of the cold juices can be added to the mayonnaise to serve with the salmon. If the flavour of the juices is a bit weak, cook them first in a saucepan to condense the flavour. When they have cooled, add them to the mayonnaise.

Mayonnaise

Home-made mayonnaise is very simple to make, and it really adds a touch of class to salmon. The trick when making it is to add the oil very slowly and steadily until it starts to thicken. Makes about 600ml.

You will need:

4 large egg yolks

2 teaspoons white wine vinegar

2 teaspoons English mustard

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

600ml light olive oil or half olive oil and half sunflower oil

1-2 teaspoons cold water

Put the egg yolks, the white wine vinegar, the English mustard, and some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper into the food processor. Whizz until the mixture is very thick and creamy. With the motor running, slowly trickle the light olive oil, or the half olive oil and half sunflower oil, whichever you are using, in a steady stream through the funnel. Blend in the cold water to help stabilise the emulsion. Check the seasoning. Put the mayonnaise in a jar, cover and refrigerate for up to three days.

Coronation Chicken

This recipe, created in 1953 for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, still tastes good fifty-seven years on, and makes an attractive buffet dish. This is the original recipe by Rosemary Hume, except for the fresh fruits, which would not have been widely available post-war.

Poached, cold chickens are mixed in a mayonnaise sauce flavoured with curry, wine, tomato puree and bay leaf. The ingredients may seem a little strange, but the resulting sauce works very well. Serves 8-10.

You will need:

2 chickens, preferably organic

2 carrots, peeled and roughly sliced

1 onion, peeled and quartered

1 stick celery

1 bay leaf

1 sprig thyme

1 sprig parsley

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 chicken stock cube (optional)

For the sauce, you will need:

50g (2oz) chopped onion

1 tablespoon sunflower oil

2 teaspoons mild or medium curry powder

1 heaped teaspoon tomato puree

100ml (3 1/2oz) red wine

60ml (2fl oz) water

1 bay leaf

1 slice lemon

Dash lemon juice

6 dried apricots or 2 tablespoons apricot jam

Salt, freshly ground black pepper and sugar

450ml (3/4pt) mayonnaise

3-4 tablespoons lightly whipped cream

To serve, you will need:

Paprika

1 sprig parsley, finely chopped

2-3 fresh mangoes, halved, peeled and cut in narrow wedges, stone removed

2-3 fresh, sweet peaches, cut in narrow wedges, stone removed

2-3 ripe pears, peel if necessary, cut in narrow wedges, discard cores

Poach the chickens in a saucepan with only barely enough water to cover them. Add the roughly sliced carrots, the quartered onion, the stick of celery, the bay leaf, and the sprigs of thyme and parsley. Season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add the crumbled chicken stock cube, if you are using it. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 1-1? hours until the chicken is cooked. Take off the heat and allow to cool in the cooking liquid. Keep the liquid to make a soup. When it's cold, strip the chicken, tearing it into bite-size pieces. Put them into a bowl.

To make the sauce, put the chopped onion into a saucepan with the sunflower oil and cook gently to soften the onion without browning it. Add the mild or medium curry powder, whichever you are using, the tomato puree, the red wine, the water, the bay leaf, the slice of lemon and the dash of lemon juice. Simmer uncovered for about 5-10 minutes, or until the liquid has reduced by about a half to two-thirds, then strain and leave to cool. If you're using the dried apricots, put them into a saucepan with barely enough water to cover them and simmer until very tender. Liquidise, adding an extra drop of water. Season lightly with some salt, freshly ground black pepper and sugar. For convenience, you can omit the dried apricots and use apricot jam instead.

Add the liquidised dried apricots or the apricot jam, whichever you are using, to the cooled, strained liquid.

Put the mayonnaise into a bowl and add half of the cooled, strained liquid. Mix well, taste and then add as much of the remaining liquid to the mayonnaise as you like. Stir in the lightly whipped cream. Finally, add the mixture to the chicken, tossing to coat the pieces evenly. Pile on a platter and sprinkle with paprika and some finely chopped parsley. Mix the fresh mangoes, peaches and pears in a bowl and spoon the thin wedges around the chicken. Serve any extra in the bowl. Accompany with salads and rice.

Quick sauce for Coronation Chicken

For a simpler version, try this quick sauce, which is Jamie Oliver's variation on the classic dish. This sauce is enough to dress one chicken. Serves about 4-6.

You will need:

4-5 tablespoons mayonnaise

2-3 tablespoons creme fraiche

1 tablespoon mango chutney

1 teaspoon curry paste

2-3 pinches cinnamon

Freshly ground black pepper

2-3 tablespoons flaked almonds, toasted

Mix everything together and you can then add this sauce to chicken pieces, prepared as above.

Little Gem Salad

Little gem lettuce has chunky leaves that can be broken into pieces. Keep the pieces small, especially if your guests are eating with a fork only -- there is nothing more off-putting than a piece of lettuce whipping you in the eye as you raise it to your mouth! Serves 10-12.

For the dressing, you will need:

100ml (3 1/2fl oz) sunflower oil

50ml (2fl oz) nice, fruity, extra-virgin olive oil

Juice 1 lime

Juice 1/2 orange

1 garlic clove, crushed

2 tablespoons parsley or coriander, chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

50-75g (2-3oz) feta cheese, crumbled

For the salad, you will need:

3-4 heads little gem lettuce, washed, dried and broken into small pieces

1 avocado, peeled and cut into small dice

4-6 spring onions, chopped

Put all the dressing ingredients into a food processor and buzz. Add more salt and freshly ground black pepper if required. Before serving, put the prepared little gem lettuce leaves, the diced avocado and the chopped spring onions into a salad bowl, add sufficient dressing to coat the salad and toss well. Any extra dressing will keep covered in the fridge for three days.

Beetroot Salad with grapefruit and goat's cheese

Both beetroot and grapefruit are enjoying a revival. Both are delicious combined with cheese and nuts. I love Gordon Ramsay's recipe for beetroot salad with grapefruit and goat's cheese. Serves 4.

You will need:

900g raw beetroot

Rock or sea salt

Handful thyme sprigs

1 large ruby grapefruit

Few lemon-thyme sprigs, leaves stripped

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons hazelnut oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pinch caster sugar

115g goat's cheese, crumbled

Handful hazelnuts, toasted and lightly crushed

Preheat the oven to 180 C, Gas 4. Wash the raw beetroot, then trim the tops and roots, and pat dry with some kitchen paper. Scatter a thin layer of rock or sea salt, whichever you are using, over a large piece of foil. Sprinkle with the thyme sprigs, then arrange the beetroot in the middle. Bring up the edges of the foil and fold them together to seal the parcel.

Place on the baking tray and bake for 35-45 minutes or until the beetroot are tender when they are pierced with a small knife. Large beetroot may need an extra 15-20 minutes.

Unwrap the parcel, transfer the beetroot to a plate and leave it to cool slightly. Wearing a pair of rubber gloves to avoid staining your hands, using a small knife, peel the beetroot while they are still warm. Cut into wedges and divide between individual serving plates.

To segment the ruby grapefruit, slice off the top and bottom to expose the flesh. Stand on a board and cut along the curve of the fruit to remove the peel and the white pith. Now, holding the fruit over a sieve set on top of a bowl, cut along the membranes to release each segment. Finally, squeeze the core to extract the juices, before discarding it. Divide the grapefruit segments between the plates. To make the dressing, add the stripped lemon-thyme leaves to the reserved grapefruit juice and whisk in the olive and hazelnut oils. Season well with some salt and freshly ground black pepper, adding a pinch of caster sugar if the dressing is too tart.

Scatter the crumbled goat's cheese and the toasted and lightly crushed hazelnuts over each serving and drizzle with the dressing. Serve immediately.

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