My retro trip continues! This weekend it was the turn of that total guilty pleasure starter, prawn cocktail, with the scales tipped most definitely in the favour of pleasure 🙂 I’m a big fan of M&S’s ready made but making your own Marie Rose sauce is so easy that it really is a sin not to just whip it up yourself. That and you can go for the biggest, fattest prawns you can find!
And if you like it as much as Hubby does, it makes for a great salad lunch with some avocados and cherry tomatoes tossed in too.
King Prawn Cocktail
A delicious retro classic, with an easy peasy homemade Marie Rose sauce.
1 lemon – juice half, and quarter the other half for serving
Dash of Tabasco
200g cooked prawns – king or tiger
Lettuce – iceberg if you’re sticking with the classic, or baby gem
Sprinkle of paprika
In a bowl large enough to hold your prawns and allow for some movement, mix the mayonnaise, salad cream and ketchup. Add lemon juice to taste and mix well. Next, add a dash or two of tabasco – you don’t want to be able to taste its distinctive flavour, just apreciate the piquancy it brings to the party – and mix again.
Tip your prawns into the bowl and stir until they’re all coated. I like to pop the bowl back in the fridge for a half hour to chill everything, but it’s not a must.
When you’re ready to serve, grab a few leaves of iceberg and roll them up like a cigar before slicing into ribbons. Half fill your serving bowls with lettuce (if you’re going for that full retro feel then it has to be a large wine glass!) before topping with the prawns. Or, make a wee cradle out of two or three baby gem lettuce leaves on a small plate and spoon the prawns into it.
Sprinkle with a little paprika and serve with a quarter of lemon.
Is it wrong that I love retro food quite as much as I do? I’ll happily feed friends my beef stroganoff and without a side of irony, or talk Hubby into picking up an M&S prawn cocktail on his way home (if Heston can eat them, so can I!). If there’s a Black Forest Gateau option for dessert then I can be usually persuaded to indulge my rare sweet tooth. And I’ve got my eye out for steak diane on a menu because it’s been forever since I’ve had one of those.
So it will come as no surprise that I have an irrational fondness for vol-au-vents. If there’s a plate of them on a buffet table I will make a beeline for them. And Christmas isn’t Christmas if I haven’t had at least one pack of M&S’s party food vol-au-vents.
I finally made them myself over Jubilee weekend, having scoured the interwebs for an appealing filling recipe I found this on Gourmet Traveller’s site, and thought the celebratory tone the champagne gives it would be perfect for a family get together. And they went down a treat! So much so that I didn’t eat nearly enough of them and promised Hubby I’d make them again “just for us”, which I finally did this weekend 🙂 I also seem to be having a love affair with tarragon at the moment so this killed two cravings with one dish!
The original recipe seems to be for small canape sized vol-au-vents, however, life is too short to make my own so I cheated and bought some ready to bake ones from Jus-Rol. They’re quite a bit bigger than bite sized, at least two-bite sized, so I’ve adapted my recipe accordingly.
Champagne Chicken Vol-Au-Vents
More retro indulgence! Puff pastry nibbles for parties or seriously posh TV snackage.
1/2 small leek (40gm), white part only, thinly sliced
1 lemon, finely grated rind and juice
2 tbsp double cream
1 small chicken breast (about 250gm)
250 ml Champagne or sparkling white wine
125 ml water
In a small saucepan, small enough to fit the chicken snugly and cover with the poaching liquor, combine the champagne, water, leek, lemon rind and tarrogon sprigs. Bring to the boil over a medium heat, then add the chicken and return to the boil for 10 minutes (keep an eye on the pot as it will try to bubble over).
After the 10 minutes, remove the pan from the heat, cover, and leave to cool completely while the chicken poaches through.
Once the poaching liquor has cooled down, remove the chicken and finely shred it (fingers or two small forks are perfect) and refrigerate it until needed.
Strain the poaching liquor only into a clean sauccepan (you can throw away the tarrogon sprigs and leeks) and bring to the boil again over a medium heat. Cook the poaching liquor down until it’s reduced to 50ml which should take 15 to 20 minutes. Keep an eye on it as it can cook down quickly – I kept pouring it into a measuring jug to check how much was left, then pouring it back into the pan and then back into the measuring jug, until I had my 50ml. Leave to cool completely.
While the liquor is cooling, preheat the oven to 200C. Brush the vol-au-vent cases with a little milk or egg and cook per the package instructions.
While the cases are cooking, combine the chicken, reduced cooking liquor, cream and sliced tarrogon in a bowl. Season to taste with lemon juice and sea salt.
When the pastry cases are ready, divide the chicken filling among them and then return to the overn for 2-3 minutes, until the chicken is warmed through. Scatter with something green and decorative, and serve immediately with the remainder of your bottle of champagne!
I have a couple of signature dishes, things I’ve been making ever since I learnt to cook and have fed my friends for years. If I could only pick one though, this would be it. There’s just something about the rich and silky sauce that just warms my heart (and my tummy!). And not just the strog that I cook. My favourite ever strog was from the Hong Kong Football Club away back when I was sulky teenager in the 70’s, and then Jimmy’s Kitchen (also in Hong Kong). The two dishes were so similar that I’m still convinced Jimmy’s knicked the HKFC’s chef!
There must a dozen variations, and then some, on how to cook this though. I remember having a pretty lengthy discussion with a friend at school about whether it should or shouldn’t have paprika, and whether the sauce should be beige or orange (it was an all girl’s school, so it wasn’t like we had any boys to talk about…). A recent article over at lovefood.com looks at even more ways to make this, as well as its history, and how it’s not Russian but French.
This is also my ex-flatmate’s favourite, who I used to catch eating the leftovers cold, off the serving ladle, straight out of the pot! I took it as a compliment, and still cook it for him when he visits 🙂
As to why it’s my favourite… did I mention the rich and silky sauce, or “jup”, a Chinese catch-all word for all things saucey and gravy that you will ALWAYS hear my family asking for more of, including Hubby (I suspect that may have been the first Chinese word he picked up from us!) And the fat little bites of succulent mushroom. And the melt in the mouth tender strips of steak. And… and… do you really need any more reasons than that?
And now for a wee health warning… This dish shines because it’s cooked in butter. Full fat, tasty, butter. You can use cooking oil instead, but prepare to be totally underwhelmed if you do because oil is not a satisfying substitute for butter. I’m just saying.
As a note on the serving size, I’ve noted that this feeds four, and it happily will. Three, if you’re feeding hungry people. Or, if my ex-flatmate is involved… two. At a push.
My absolute signature dish, savoury and satisfying on so many levels.
Slice up the onion, I think chunkier onion slices work best with this sauce so don’t fret if they’re not cheftasticly thin. Same goes for the mushrooms, wipe them clean and then slice them so that you get four thick slices per shroom.
Slice the rump steak up, but unlike the veg, slice thinly.
Then mix together the flour, mustard powder and a generous grinding of black pepper in a bowl and roll the steak pieces in it until they are all well coated. Set aside for 15-30 minutes.
In a large frying pan, or wok, melt some butter over a medium heat and then fry the onion until its translucent.
Add the mushrooms, and a sprinkle of salt, and cook for another couple of minutes.
Then remove the onions and mushrooms to a plate, and return the wok to the heat with some more butter.
When the butter starts to bubble, shake the excess flour/mustard from the steak before adding and turn up the heat. Don’t worry if some of the loose flour/mustard goes in as it will help thicken the sauce, you just don’t want all of the flour/mustard leftovers in there.
The steak will initially stick together, in which case a meat fork or chopsticks are really helpful to shoogle the steak up and separate the pieces. Treat this like a stir fry and brown the steak off quickly to keep it tender.
When the steak is browned off (I like to stop while it's still pink in the middle) turn the heat down to medium and add the tomato puree, stirring it in so that it coats all the steak pieces. Give it a minute or two before adding the vegetables back in. Put the kettle on at this point, and when its boiled pour half a pint’s worth over a stock cube, and then pour it into the pan to cover the steak and veg mix. Stir well before turning the heat back up.
When the liquid starts to bubble up, turn the heat down again so that the sauce is gently simmering. Taste, and season with salt if required, and then leave it to simmer away for 10 minutes.
After the 10 minutes is up, add the lemon juice, stir through and then take the pan off the heat. Stir in the sour cream (or creme fraiche) before dishing up generously over boiled rice.
Sprinkle with parsley if you’re poshing it up 😉 and then tuck in!