Many chefs are bringing new life into retro dishes from their past. Food blogger Danny aka Food Urchin wanted to re-create a dish from his Dad’s past for a special Father’s Day treat. Discover the dishes he found when flicking through dusty old cook books from his Dad’s first dinner parties. He also shares the recipe he decided upon - a delicious Navarin of lamb - a light frugal stew that’s full of flavour.
When it comes to food, my dear old Dad is a bit of an enigma. He absolutely loves to cook and eat; there is no doubt about that. Yet a lot of the time, he does take rather a very sniffy approach towards things; especially regarding certain vegetables and different types of cuisine. For instance, he likes raw carrot but he won’t eat them cooked. God forbid that you should ever throw a chantenay into a broth or serve up as a side dish with lemon and thyme, for fear of a disgusted eyebrow, arched in scrutiny. You get the same reaction with salads too. Dad doesn’t do rabbit food. He doesn’t do spicy either really. Although on occasion, he has spent the odd hour or three in the kitchen preparing a curry from scratch, to serve up at parties and to never to pass his lips.
In restaurants, his choices can be very pedestrian. If there is a mixed grill on the menu, then bang, he is a happy man. But in the past, he has been known to order something out of the ordinary, to collective whoops of “Oooh, get you.” The day he ordered scallops and lentils with a tomato and herbs de Provence dressing, as a starter in Rick Steins’ Café, is etched down in the family history books forever. We all knew he adored seafood but no-one had ever seen him eat a pulse before.
It’s all pretty strange really because like I say, he does love his food and he really enjoys cooking. An enduring memory I have from childhood is Dad lying on the floor in the living room, planning a menu for his next dinner party, surrounded by tomes of white binders that housed his beloved Carrier’s Kitchen magazines. For the uninitiated, Robert Carrier was celebrity food writer and television chef who was big in the 70’s and 80’s. I’d say that he probably grated the establishment with his theatrical style and popularity but he certainly made great strides with regards to encouraging people to pick up the pans and spoons at home.
And I remember sneaking down at the weekends, when my parents used to have friends over for the evening and grabbing a seat at the table and eating all this strange and unusual food. Well the leftovers at least. Scraps which usually consisted of meat, sometimes fish, all heavily sauced and rich, given Carrier’s penchant for French cuisine. Exactly what dishes my Dad used to cook back then, I don’t recall but to my young taste buds, it was all heavenly
I asked my Dad the other day what recipes he used to cook from those magazines, as I had an idea for this forthcoming Father’s Day to recreate something special for him. Sadly, he couldn’t remember either (I think a lot of wine was consumed at these parties). Sadder still was the fact that these once precious books had been long carted out of the loft and sold at some car boot sale, years ago. But then he found a couple of dog-eared copies stashed away in a bookshelf, along with Carrier’s Great Dishes of the World; an international cookbook that again, is predominately French. So I took them away for a read.
Looking through them was quite a giggle actually. Food photography has certainly come a long way since then. A simple, crisp, well-lit picture of a plate was not enough so it seems. To convey the wonders of lobster, a dark, visual tapestry with lots of decoration was obviously the order of the day, even if the crustacean in question looks like a plastic prop.
And some of the recipes do come across as very retro and kitsch now. One day I am going to serve up ‘Eggs in a Cage’ at a supper club with an elaborate introduction on the menu, that will go along the lines of - “Bound by runner beans, suffocated by carrots and imprisoned by ham, set free this eggy custard with your fork. Let it fly, fly into your mouth, like the bird it once wished it could be.” Or something similarly camp.
But overall, the content of the magazines was still relevant, interesting and informative, perhaps even more so in comparison to the food magazines of today. After all, what mainstream publication would dare run a double-page spread on the subject of rice these days and with no recipes?
In the end, I plumped for testing out Carrier’s version of a classic for Father’s Day which is Navarin of Lamb; a light, frugal stew that is full of flavour. Which I am sure will get the thumbs up on Sunday, because a) it contains meat and potatoes and b) no carrots. My Dad’s favourite sort of meal.
He might even pipe up and say “Oh, I’ve cooked this loads of times before, delicious dish. But next time Dan, leave out the asparagus eh?”
Because I know he can’t stand the stuff.
Navarin of Lamb
1.1kg of boned shoulder or breast of lamb
1 Spanish onion
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
4 small turnips
1 bouquet garni
450ml chicken stock
60ml tomato puree, diluted in a little water
12 small button onions
100g green bacon, diced
12 small potatoes
100 fresh peas, shelled
30ml finely chopped parsley
Preheat oven to moderate (180C/350F/gas 4)
Cut lamb shoulder or breast of lamb into 4cm cubes
Melt 30ml each of butter and lard in a thick-bottomed casserole and brown cubes with the quartered onion. Pour off some of the fat and blend in the flour, stirring over a low heat until slightly thickened. Sprinkle with a generous pinch of sugar to give a deeper colour to the sauce and season with salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste. Add the finely chopped garlic, quartered turnips and bouquet garni. Stir in 300ml of chicken stock and tomato puree diluted with a little water, and simmer, covered, in the preheated oven for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, melt 30ml butter in a thick-bottomed frying pan; add remaining sugar and the chicken stock and glaze the button onions. Blanch and sauté the diced green bacon.
Remove the lamb from the casserole and strain sauce through a sieve, removing any skin or small bones. Allow the sauce to cool, skim fat from the surface and strain into a clean casserole. Add the lamb to the casserole with the glazed button onions, sautéed bacon, potatoes and fresh peas. Bring to the boil then return to the oven and simmer covered, for 30 to 40 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked and the lamb is tender. Sprinkle with finely chopped parsley just before serving. Along with some steamed asparagus, that’s if your Dad doesn’t mind.
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