Make yourself irresistible, says Rachel Allen, with a Valentine's menu of oysters, pepper steak and chocolate mousse.
Food brings people together. It brings families and friends together and on Valentine's Day it brings lovers together. Whether you're intending to practise a little seduction or just some relationship maintenance, there can be few more guaranteed recipes for success than cooking a delicious meal for that special someone. Although, if you don't normally cook, it may just get your lover wondering what you've done wrong! So proceed with caution.
Oysters are the classic food for lovers. An aphrodisiac? Who knows, but they're certainly seductively delicious. I've given that unmistakeable taste of the sea a little zing with some ginger and lime butter. They're just the right starter to really get you in the mood . . . for the rest of the meal.
I know I'm not alone in my affection for steak. Some days I just want a steak and nothing else will do. Valentine's Day is usually one of those days. Steak au poivre is one of my favourite ways to serve it. It's a traditional French bistro method with the pepper as a prominent flavour. Where normally we grind peppercorns into a fine powder, here they are left in larger chunks so you notice the flavour and texture, as well as the heat. The sauce is wonderfully rich and takes only as much time to make as it does to rest the steak.
Then, to finish, a gorgeous chocolate mousse. The soft yet thick chocolate is indulged by a delightfully decadent salted caramel sauce. It is the perfect end to this Valentine's Day meal and it's almost certain to make you as irresistible as the food.
Oysters with ginger and lime butter
You will need:
6 pacific oysters, opened
75g (2 1/2oz) butter
1 teaspoon grated ginger
Juice of 1/2 lime
Preheat the oven to 100 C, 212 F, Gas ?. Remove the oysters from their shells and collect the juices in a bowl. Discard the flat top shells. Place the bottom, rounded shells in the oven to warm them.
Add the butter to a saucepan and place on a medium heat. When the butter has melted, add the grated ginger and simmer for half a minute. Add the oysters and pour in their juices through a sieve to make sure there are no pieces of shell. Simmer the oysters in the butter for one minute, then add in the lime juice. Taste for seasoning.
Spoon one oyster with ginger and lime butter into each shell. Serve with a wedge of lime on the side.
Steak au poivre
You will need:
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 sirloin, rump or fillet steaks, 150-200g (5-7oz) each
2 tablespoons olive oil
25ml (1fl oz) brandy
75ml (2 1/2 fl oz) beef stock
75ml (2 1/2 fl oz) double or regular cream
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Mashed potato, to serve
Use a pestle and mortar to coarsely crush the whole black peppercorns, leaving quite large chunks. Alternatively, place the peppercorns in a plastic bag and use a rolling pin to coarsely crush them. Tip into a sieve with a bowl underneath and shake out the powdered black pepper. You can use the finer pepper grounds for seasoning something else but they would make the steaks too hot if combined with the larger pieces of black pepper.
Put a frying pan (cast-iron if possible) on a high heat, allowing it to get very hot. Mix the larger pieces of black pepper with the sea salt, and spread this seasoning mixture out on a plate. Dip each steak into it so that the meat is completely coated in salt and pepper.
The pan should be very hot by now, so pour in the olive oil. Add the steaks (cook them in batches if necessary) and cook for 2-4 minutes on each side, depending how rare or well done you like them. Then remove the steaks to warmed plates and allow them to rest.
While the steaks are resting, make the sauce. With the pan still on a high heat, pour in the brandy -- take care as you pour it in as it may flame. Boil for 30 seconds, then add the beef stock, the double or regular cream, whichever you are using, and the Dijon mustard. Whisk to combine and boil for 2-3 minutes or until it thickens slightly.
Taste the sauce for seasoning then spoon it over the steaks and serve immediately, along with the mashed potato to soak up the sauce.
Fills about 10 small glasses.
You will need:
120g (4 1/2oz) good-quality dark chocolate
120ml (4 1/2 fl oz) cream
1-2 tablespoons rum, brandy, Grand Marnier (optional)
1 teaspoon grated orange rind (optional)
2 eggs, separated
Finely chop the dark chocolate. In a saucepan, bring the cream up to the boil, turn off the heat, add the chocolate to the cream and stir it until the chocolate melts. Add the alcohol, if you are using it, and the grated orange rind, if you are using it, and whisk in the egg yolks.
In a separate, clean, dry bowl, whisk the egg whites until just stiff, then stir a quarter of the egg white into the cream and egg mixture. Gently fold in the rest of the whisked egg whites, being careful not to knock all the air out. Spoon into little glasses or cups and leave for an hour or two in the fridge to set. Serve with the salty caramel sauce.
Salted caramel sauce
Makes about 300ml (10 1/2fl oz).
You will need:
225g (8oz) sugar
75ml (2 1/2fl oz) water
110g (4oz) butter
175ml (6fl oz) cream
A pinch of sea salt flakes (such as Maldon)
Dissolve the sugar in the water in a saucepan over a medium heat. Stir in the butter, raise the heat a little, and bubble, stirring occasionally until the mixture turns a light toffee colour -- this may take about 15-20 minutes.
Turn off the heat and stir in half of the cream. When the bubbles die down, stir in the rest of the cream and a pinch of the sea salt flakes.
This can be served with the chocolate mousse, above, or drizzled over vanilla ice cream.
The sauce can be stored in the fridge for up to two weeks and reheated when necessary.
Rachel's clothes, Brown Thomas
Make-up by Seana Long using Kohl; hair by Jennifer Lil Buckley, both Brown Sugar