I am trying hard not to be big-headed about this, but I have been making a TV series called The Greatest Dishes In The World. When I say "I", that is not strictly true, because one person does not a TV series make. There was my co-"talent" (well, that's what the director called us), Charles Campion, champion of fine food causes at the Evening Standard's ES magazine, and Naomi Cleever, who packed away an awe-inspiring amount of food in spite of being as slender as a reed, not to mention cameramen, sound engineers, runners, riders and an executive producer.
The premise of the series was simple: get in a clutch of supremely talented chefs to cook a sequence of classic first, fish, poultry, game and meat courses and puddings, while we, the "talent", stood around gassing away. Then we sat down to eat said dishes, gassed some more and argued about which was the greatest.
It was tough, demanding, gruelling work. OK, it wasn't. It was terrifically good fun, interesting and informative. If the resulting programmes capture half the pleasure that I had, then at the very least they will be cheery to watch. Such was the skill of the chefs involved, I can't really suggest trying to cook what they managed to make look so effortless. However, I picked up a good many tips along the way, and have adapted some of the ideas for home cooks of my rather basic level of competence.
All recipes serve four.
A variant of the recipe cooked for us by Angela Hartnett of the Connaught, London, which she based on a classic dish featuring pike and frogs' legs from the Auberge de l'Ill in Alsace. Much to everyone's surprise, including, I think, Hartnett's, it turned out to be a starry, starry dish - subtle, sophisticated, with a distinctive, delicate flavour. She made her mousseline out of scallops, rather than pike. I did the same, but instead of diced frogs' legs, I used the scallops' corals. Well, frogs' legs are a bit scarce in Stroud.
¼ lemon, juiced
250ml whipping cream
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/gas mark 3. Trim the corals off the scallops. Put the white scallop meat in a blender, along with the lemon juice. Process for a minute, to form a paste. Chill for 15 minutes, then add the cream and whizz again. Season, then chill for at least 30 minutes. Chop the corals into little bits, then stir into the purée.
Butter four ramekins or moulds, and divide the scallop purée between them. Place on a baking tray, pour in boiling water until it comes about halfway up the sides of the ramekins, then cover the whole tray with foil and bake for 15-20 minutes. Turn out and serve with sauce au riesling (that is, reduce 350ml fish stock to 115ml, add 300ml riesling, reduce down to 150ml, add 284ml double cream, reduce again to 150ml, then stir in a tablespoon or two of finely chopped parsley and/or chervil).
Spring onion and parsley purée
Martin Blunos, once of Lettonie in Bath, now of the Lygon Arms in Worcestershire, created a tremendous dish out of elvers, lemon sole and this purée. The price of elvers puts them beyond most people's reach - and, to be honest, with the exception of Blunos's version, they tend to taste and feel like piscine angel-hair pasta. Lemon sole is a humbler fish altogether. The use of the common or garden parsley and spring onions as accompaniment is inspired. So I'd forget about the elvers if I were you. This breezy, brilliant green sauce will go with most steamed fish.
6 bunches large spring onions
1 bunch curly leaf parsley
Salt and pepper
Slice up the white of the onions, plus some of the pale green stem. Bring a pot of well-salted water to the boil. Toss in the onions and cook for eight to 10 minutes. Pick off the parsley leaves, add to the onion pot and boil for two minutes. Drain at once into a sieve, and place over the pan to dry in the steam coming off its base.
Once cooled, whizz in a food processor until well puréed (if you're fastidious, pass the purée through a sieve to remove any stringy bits). Return the purée to the pan and cook over a very gentle heat to evaporate more of the moisture. The purée should not be too stiff or too sloppy. Thanks to the parsley, it should also be brilliant green. When it has the consistency you like, whisk in the butter and season. Serve with your fish of choice.
Cabbage, chestnut, bacon, croutons and chicken livers
I will never forget the game pie cooked by Philip Howard of the Square in London. It was a single-storey, circular job, bronzed and shiny and surrounded by a moat of cabbage, chestnuts, bacon, croutons and game livers. When we cut into it, a stout-dark gravy flowed out slowly, like magma, bearing with it chunks of rabbit, venison, pigeon and heaven knows what. It was an absolute stormer, and a reminder, if one were needed, that I'll never be a game pie maker. I'm not in the same class. The cabbage was just as brilliant, in its way, and rather more achievable. The stroke of genius was the croutons, which add a lively, dry snap. I suggest chicken livers instead of game. It makes for a fab supper, especially with a fried egg on top.
1 large Savoy cabbage, finely sliced, core and ribs removed
250g smoked back bacon, cut into 4cm-long ribbons
250g chestnuts (ready cooked and peeled), roughly chopped
3 tbsp olive oil
200g white bread, cut into 1cm squares
1 medium onion, finely chopped
400g chicken livers
2 tbsp white wine
Salt and pepper
Put the cabbage into a pot of boiling water for eight minutes, then drain and refresh under cold water.
Melt 200g of the butter in a saucepan, add the bacon and fry gently until the fat runs out. Add the cabbage and cook, covered, very gently for 15 minutes. Add the chestnuts and cook for five minutes more.
Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over a moderate heat, throw in the bread and fry until golden brown. Drain on kitchen towel and keep warm. Heat the remaining butter in the same pan, then fry the onion until soft, add the livers and fry quickly for three to four minutes. Add the wine, let it seethe and evaporate, then remove from the heat. Season well.
To serve, place a dollop of the cabbage/bacon/chestnut combo on each plate, scatter the livers on top and then toss the croutons over everything.
Anton Edelman, formerly lord of the kitchens at the Savoy, now proprietor of Allium, is a classicist down to his fingertips, so it was right and proper that he should make this grand, old-fashioned pud, created by Escoffier for that nightingale among opera divas, Dame Nellie Melba (also the inspiration for Melba toast, incidentally). It is simple and stylish, depending on perfectly ripe peaches (preferably white ones), perfectly ripe raspberries and tip-top vanilla ice cream. You can gussy this up in all sorts of ways - the original was served in an ice swan - but simplest is easiest.
175g caster sugar
1 tbsp kirsch
500ml vanilla ice cream
Bring a pot of water to the boil. Pop in the peaches, blanch for 10 seconds, then remove and peel. Cut in half and remove the stones.
Bring 200ml water to the boil with 100g of the sugar. Add the kirsch and the peach halves, and poach for five minutes over a very gentle heat. Remove from the heat and leave to cool in the syrup.
Purée the raspberries in the blender, then strain through a sieve into a saucepan. Add the remaining sugar, and heat very gently until the sugar has dissolved - around five minutes. Set aside to cool.
Plop a tablespoonful of ice cream on each plate, arrange two peach halves artfully on top, coat with the raspberry purée and serve
· The Greatest Dishes In The World starts at 8pm on Sky One on June 10.