One of my favourite things (as always, concerning food) is to sit down to a spread of a meal, especially at Christmas, help myself to all the dishes, load my plate, drown it in some gravy or sauce and enjoy the meal and company. It produces something close to euphoria. Then, after the last mouthful and everyone reclines in a food-induced tupor, reality suddenly hits and it’s time to ‘clear up’. With a mere two words the full sunny glow of that delicious meal evaporates.
At home, ‘clearing up’ is a family occasion. Everyone takes part; my mum is in charge washing the dishes with energetic vigour, I clean the surfaces, Fiona dries, and my dad dithers before sweeping the floor and maybe drying up too. He likes to see what he can get away with.
In order not to mar the entire eating experience, I usually return to the kitchen within half an hour of ‘clearing up’ to make dessert, well aware the equipment and dishes I use will be left for the dishwasher the next morning. There is a smidgen of satisfaction of not cleaning up after myself.
The resolution, therefore, is not to make so much mess in the first place! Easier said than done, I assure you. A simple cottage pie requires a deep frying pan for the mince, a pan for the potatoes, chopping boards (for chopping surprisingly enough), the oven dish, probably a steamer for any vegetables to have on the side, and a bowl of baked beans. It is a travesty I tell you. What we need are more one-pot dinners. Or even better, meals cooked in greaseproof paper.
I came across ‘en papillote’ while at Leiths and was awakened to its simple brilliance. It basically means cooking in a packet. No other method of baking can produce such moisture in its food, whether meat, fish or potatoes. Bite into a new potato baked en papillote with oil, rosemary and garlic and your teeth slip through buttery flesh, soft with a crisp bite of skin.
To prepare a greaseproof or baking parchment packet, rip off a long sheet and fold it in half like a book. Start cutting above the centre of the crease, through the two layers like the curve of a love heart, around the whole circumference and across the base, leave half of the fold intact. Opening out it will look rather like a bum, as someone at Leiths so accurately described it.
On one side, or on one bum cheek, lay your ingredients – for example new potatoes, garlic cloves, fronds of rosemary, drizzle generously with oil and season. Fold over the other half of the paper and tightly twist and wrap the edges together like a pasty. This is then put in the oven on a baking tray. The steam will collect and keep your food moist and tender.
Calum and I had seabass en papillote for dinner the other night. After a slight delay due to a surprise gutting and gill removal, I stuffed the fish with finely chopped ginger, chilli, lime zest and juice and a couple cloves of squashed garlic. They marinated merrily in the fridge, releasing the most mouth-watering smell whenever I opened the door for a snack or the milk.
For the expense of no dishes to wash we decided to dirty a tray for the sweet potato chips. Absolutely no washing up seemed unnatural.
Other one pot dishes include chicken tray bake: crispy-skinned chicken legs stuffed in an oven dish with new potatoes, olives, garlic, lemon, basil and red pepper. All the ingredients become oozingly soft and drippy, the soft garlic cloves can be squeezed out of their papery skins creating a Spanish-style sauce for the golden chicken to be dipped. Or substitute the chicken for salmon roasted with tomatoes and asparagus, maybe with a couple of handfuls of samphire thrown in towards the end. Or sausages with juicy caramelised apple and red onion slices with chunks of sweet potato drizzled with balsamic vinegar. And now I’m getting carried away.