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RECIPE: Whole Roast Fish for Two with Mushroom-Truffle Pesto and Crispy Roasted Wild Mushrooms
My husband and I have a favorite restaurant in London that absolutely no one knows about. Except the locals and regulars we see when we are there. But our ‘set’, so to speak, has never heard of it. We ferry over very special ones when we feel like sharing.
Why do we love it? Its completely unpretentious location? Well, frankly, I wouldn’t mind if that improved. The otherworldly amaretto sours (yes, I said amaretto sours) made with the fresh juice of an entire lemon? That’s definitely part of it. But actually, it is what I already mentioned: sharing.
The menu changes daily, and there’s only about three or four appetizers, mains, and desserts to choose from—all seasonal and fabulous—on the printed paper menu. But the secret is to look up to the chalkboard on the wall. I never let us arrive after 8, or we risk the dreaded chalk line through one of the specials—the menu equivalent of the chalk outline of a murder. You can see what was there, but now it’s gone. Shudder.
The thing that makes it so special is, all the chalkboard items are made to share.
Our favorite is the slow-cooked lamb shoulder for five, which comes in a cast iron pot, still bubbling, and a second cast-iron tray full of Boulangère potatoes. There are two big spoons, and that’s it. You serve yourself. Firsts, seconds, more often than not thirds and fourths, friends trading pieces of lamb, and scraping at the corner of the potato dish. There’s the sea bass acqua pazza or steak-frites for two to the three with Béarnaise. I know it seems conflicting, to want to go out so that you can eat the way you do at home, but I just love it. It feels more convivial than any other meal I’ve ever had.
And that was the inspiration behind this fish. Even stranger to make a meal to imitate a restaurant that imitates the home, but there you have it. A bream or a bass, big enough for two, stuffed with a simple mushroom-truffle pesto and topped with crispy broiled wild mushrooms. The great thing about cooking a whole fish is that you can’t serve it in anything other than the pan in which it was cooked. So, it has that feel of our secret place. Bring it to the table, and Mr. English and I just paw at it with our forks, taking pieces, and losing track of how many servings it’s been, insisting the other take more. And I love the curious juxtaposition of fish with such an earthy ingredient as a mushroom. It makes for a terrific contrast of texture and flavor. There’s something cementing about a meal that is made for two and made to be shared. I like the directive. Eat and be together now.
I’m just doing what the fish tells me to do.
Just a note to say you can also make the mushroom-truffle pesto and serve it on toasts, or toss it with warm fresh fettuccine. Yum.
Whole Roast Fish for Two with Mushroom-Truffle Pesto and Crispy Roasted Wild Mushrooms
serves 2 to 3
- 14 ounces chestnut or cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon butter
- Salt and pepper
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 jarred black truffles
- 1/4 cup sunflower oil, plus extra for drizzling, plus 1 tablespoon
- 1/2 cup basil
- 1/2 cup parsley
- 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts, plus more for garnish
- 1 whole 2-pound sea bass or sea bream, gills, guts, scales, and fins removed
- 7 ounces mixed wild mushrooms
In a wide sauté pan, melt the butter over high heat and add the mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring often, until the mushrooms have released all of their liquid and the pan has just gone dry. Add the garlic, and sauté another minute until fragrant. Set aside to cool completely.
In a food processor, add the cooled mushroom and garlic mixture, the truffles, the oil, the basil, the parsley, and the pine nuts. Blitz until almost smooth—you want it delicate, but still with a bit of texture.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Season the fish inside and out with salt and pepper. Using a very sharp knife, cut three or four slits at angle through the flesh on each side of the fish to the bone. Stuff these slits with the mushroom pesto, and then spoon the rest into cavity. Rub the outside with just a drizzle of oil. Place in a parchment-lined baking dish, and cook until the fish is just done, about 35 minutes.
While the fish is resting, turn the oven up to 475 degrees F. Toss the wild mushrooms with 1 tablespoon of oil, salt, and pepper. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and roast until crisp, about 5 minutes. Spoon the roasted mushrooms and a few extra pine nuts over the fish, and serve. Drizzle with truffle oil if you’re feeling decadent.print this recipe
RECIPE: Provençal Sweet-and-Sour Lavender, Lemon, and Honey Spatchcocked Roast Chicken
I think there is something superlatively romantic about a roast chicken. It may not have the sex appeal of an oyster, but it has romance. How many a wife has put a roast chicken down in front of her husband (or vice versa) at the end of a cold day? And I always remember that scene at the end of The Great Gatsby when Daisy and Tom sit plotting over a plate of cold chicken—that’s when I knew she loved him. There is a domestic edge to roast chicken love, that I prefer to haute cuisine. The halcyon comfort of marriage rather than the coquettish strategies of a first date.
Mr. English and I always spent the 14th in—the 13th or 15th are when we go out. Valentine’s Day itself is often spent in pajamas, under blankets, eating something indulgent and watching reruns. I like this romantic roast chicken for this year—for one, it feels right to make something whole that two people can share. Whether that’s a chicken, a whole fish, a Chateaubriand—I just think it’s about taking down boundaries and eating together. Then, of course, this chicken is roasted in flowers—very Valentine’s. It’s a kind of Provençal sweet and sour. The chicken is slathered in a butter studded with lavender blossoms and thyme leaves, lemon zest and juice, olive oil, and light sweet honey. Because I cut the backbone out, the chicken is crisp and juicy in one pan in 45 minutes, but the skin is this complex mess of Provencal flavors.
The chicken makes its own pan juices, but I roast lemon wedges alongside. I serve it on toasted rustic brown pain au levain slices to soak up the gravy. A glass of rosé, maybe some green salad, and voila. True love.
P.S. I have to say that I think the most romantic thing about this meal is the fact that all you have to do is cut the backbone out of a chicken and slather some butter on it with your fingers. And I line the pan with foil and parchment. What I’m trying to say, in true married women spirit, is that there is basically no cooking and no cleaning, so there are no chores to squabble over.
NB: I wrote this for Valentine’s but it ran a bit late. Check out the story on Serious Eats. You’ll have it for next year!
Provençal Sweet-and-Sour Lavender, Lemon, and Honey Spatchcocked Roast Chicken
serves 2 to 4
- 1 3- to 4-lb chicken
- Sea salt
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- 1 lemon
- 1 1/2 tablespoons dried edible lavender
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon thyme honey, lavender honey, or acacia honey
- 1 tablespoons butter, left out of the fridge for 5 to 10 minutes so that it’s cold, but not rock solid
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F with the rack in the center. Cut the backbone out of the chicken with kitchen shears. Lay the the chicken breast-side-up in an enameled baking dish. Press down on the breast bone to break, so that the chicken lies flat. Season generously, front and back, with salt and pepper.
In a bowl, mix together the zest of 1 lemon, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice (about half a lemon; reserve the other half lemon for later in the recipe), the lavender, the thyme, and the olive oil. Stir to combine. Add the butter, and using either a fork or an immersion blender to mash the mixture together, smash until the mixture is for the most part homogenous.
Slather the lemon, lavender, and honey butter all over the top of the chicken, and any extra, spread lightly on the under side. Roast for 45 minutes, until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 165 degrees F and the skin is golden and scorched. 10 to 15 minutes before the chicken is done, add the wedges from the remaining half lemon into the pan.
Let the chicken rest for 10 minutes on a board, and then cut it in half. Serve it with warm toasted slices of pain au levain, with the pan juices poured on top and the roasted lemon wedges scattered around the plate.print this recipe
RECIPE: Fresh Whole Wheat Tagliatelle with Turkey Bolognese-Ragout
The weather is the dinner dictator in my life. My body reacts to the temperatures, and I cook what my body wants. Lately, London has been fickle. After weeks, maybe months, it seemed like years, of rain, the sun is starting a coy flirtation. But it’s still cold, and I’m in this kind of purgatory—craving winter foods but knowing spring and the requirement for something lighter is coming. So I took a winter favorite, spaghetti bolognese, and gave it a spring-summer makeover.
I am lucky—the local supermarket in London sells fresh whole wheat tagliatelle. I say, get whatever fresh whole wheat pasta shape is available to you. It takes three minutes to cook, and is a no brainer. The nutty texture is such a welcome counterpoint to the rich sauce—it’s worth seeking out.
For the ragout, I start with ground dark meat turkey and a barrel of vegetables: carrots, onions, and garlic. Mr. English has wisely educated me that he will not eat turkey simply because it is healthy; he will eat it only if I remember to put flavor into it. Noted. That’s what the vegetables, along with the thyme and bay, are for. He has assured me that in this instance, I have succeeded.
Once these are softened and cooked together, I add tomato paste and cherry tomatoes, along with vegetable broth. Then I just let it cook down for as long as I have, between one and two hours. Yes, it’s a long time. It’s my Italian grandmother meal, and I make it on Sunday. It freezes well. But it is so worth it. The sauce is not a wet Bolognese, but almost a turkey and tomato stew, full of the sweetness of the carrots and onions and garlic, cooked down to almost a paste, and the savoriness of the herbs. You can eat chunks of turkey in that stewy way, perched above the tangle of noodles. And on top, a flurry of shredded sharp Pecorino, because it needs that hit of salt.
I have already made it twice in the last couple of weeks. First, for Sunday night dinner when our friend Mary came over from around the corner for our weekly gossip. And again, when maman was in town and I invited over my in-laws. Both times I served it with a salad that is more a shopping list than a recipe: pea shoots, blanched peas, lemon zest, lemon juice, toasted pine nuts, fresh torn mint leaves, ricotta, pecorino shavings, olive oil, salt, and pepper. It’s just a triumph. I feel like I stumbled onto something that might be valuable. Gosh, I wish I had some in the freezer!
Fresh Whole Wheat Tagliatelle with Turkey Bolognese-Ragout
serves 3 to 4
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely diced
3 small or 2 large carrots, cut into thin half moons
Salt and pepper
4 medium cloves garlic, sliced
1 pound ground dark meat turkey
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoons chopped thyme
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 cups cherry tomatoes
2 cups vegetable stock
1 pound fresh whole wheat tagliatelle, or other pasta
Head the oil in a wide sauté pan. Add the onion and carrots, season with salt and pepper, and sweat for ten minutes. You don’t want the vegetables to take on any color. Add the garlic, and sweat another 2 minutes, or just until fragrant.
Push the vegetables to the outer edges of the pan, and add the turkey to the center. Season with salt and pepper. Use a wooden spatula to break up the meat, stirring often, until all the meat has changed color, about five minutes. Add the tomato paste, and stir into the meat and vegetables, cooking out for 30 seconds. Add the thyme and parsley, cherry tomatoes, and stock. Cover, and simmer for around 90 minutes, until the pan is mostly dry and the sauce is very thick.
To serve, boil the pasta until just cooked in salted water. Drain. Toss with the turkey ragout, drizzle with olive oil, and top with freshly chopped parsley and shredded Pecorino cheese.print this recipe
RECIPE: Maille Honey Mustard Double Salmon en Papillote
I am stuck in the dreary February doldrums. In London, everyday it rains. Sometimes in great smacking sheets, sometimes in impertinent little drops, but all the times our cup runneth so over that the sight of it is making my mind prune. The rivers run wild, the ground is officially drunk, and it often seems like the sun will never come out tomorrow.
It’s times like this when being inside of hyperimportance. I was charmed to be invited to the London outpost of Maille mustard. They could never have recruited a more fervent disciple. My stepfather sits down to every lunch with a jar of Maille mustard and a jar of Maille cornichons (usually that we’ve wrapped in bubble wrap and spirited away from France) and states wholeheartedly the jingle “il n’y a que Maille qui m’aille.” I have been buying their cassis Dijon for years as a base for vinaigrette. I was already a convert.
The store is a mix of elegance and French country. The pale rustic wood shelves are neatly lined with flavor after flavor of Dijon or whole grain mustards. Great taps pull some of the fancier and more basic flavors from what I can only assume is a mustard keg. Upstairs in an airy, bright mustard tasting bar, enlivened by antique moutardiers. The mind boggles at the applications for some of the more exotic mustards. Coconut and Colombo Spices. Apricots and Curry. Gingerbread and Chestnut Honey. But I found they were used in sauces, dressings—even cocktails.
I gravitated more to simple and heritage flavors. For saffron and crème fraîche I envisioned a mustard bouillabaisse. For the Provençale, a mustard-based aïoli. For the walnut, a thick, true vinaigrette using the walnut oil so often used on salads in France—that’s good! And the black olive I bought and have been using straight out of the jar as a dip for multigrain pretzels. I also loved the Sundried Tomato and Piment d’Esplette.
My favorite two, aside from classic Dijon and wholegrain that I always, always have (you can buy beautiful mustard pots at Maille, and they refill these with these two basic necessities from the upstairs tap), I was taken with the honey Dijon and the Honey Balsamic. The Honey Dijon a creamy smooth tan, and the Honey Balsamic nearly black—stunning, unusual, and frankly breathtaking.
There is something cozy about stormy weather when you’re stuck inside somewhere warm and beautiful, but it’s another thing entirely when you arrive home work with your hair plastered against your cheek, pruned toes, and a chill in your bones. I’m less inclined to cook, to make something complicated, because I’m just worn out. But at the same time, I’m craving something hearty. I was so happy, the other night, to pull out my Maille mustards and get to work on some mood-lifting, stomach-filling alchemy.
In a little bowl, I mixed together crème fraîche with some Maille Honey Dijon and Maille wholegrain mustard. One for the sweet heat, the other for the texture and slightly winier flavor. Into a little papillote it goes with salmon. In the oven, the juices from the salmon loosen the thick mustard mixture and it runs into a sauce. Honey mustard salmon, hot and steaming, served with some good pain au levain and some butter greens (I had beautiful English purple greens—purple sprouting broccoli and flower sprouts). I made it just for the two of us, me and Mr. English, and we sat happily, wetly, coldly down only fifteen minutes later to a perfect dinner. It was devoured.
Visit Maille in London. Thank you, Maille, for the wonderful experience. More Maille to come, both on this blog and in the US.
Maille Honey Mustard Double Salmon en Papillote
- 1/4 cup crème fraîche
- 2 tablespoons Maille honey Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon Maille wholegrain mustard
- 1 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 6-ounce fillets of boneless salmon
- Salt and pepper
- Freshly snipped chives
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. In a bowl, mix together the crème fraîche, two mustards, and olive oil. Set aside.
Cook the salmon en papillote, or in a parcel. Tear off a sheet of aluminum foil large enough to comfortable envelope the salmon, and line it with a sheet of parchment just smaller than the foil itself. Place one piece of salmon on the parchment on the foil, and season with salt and pepper. Pour one quarter of the honey mustard mixture on fish. Fold the parchment around the fish, and then fold the side edges of the foil in, then fold the top and bottom edges over each other to make a sealed packed. Repeat with the remaining salmon and honey mustard sauce. Place on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 12 minutes. Open the parcels, and scatter in a sprinkling of chives. Serve with buttered greens.print this recipe