We play ‘Desert Island Dinners’ in our family. It’s a bit like its Radio 4 namesake, but rather than being hypothetically marooned on a desert island with a gramophone and your nine favourite discs, we choose our favourite dishes (writes James Waller-Davies).
It’s not as easy as it sounds. You might think everyone dashes for the lobster, foie gras, fillet steak, young August grouse, suckling pig and caviar heaped to outrageously decadent heights, we don’t – food, just like music, is very much a fancy of mood, place and time. Sometimes a bag of hot salted and vinegared chips eaten in the teeth of the North Sea wind is the best thing in the world.
Which brings me to Lincolnshire. When it comes to home cooking, if you had to be washed up anywhere, then this is the best food count. Underpinning it all are the farmers, producing the freshest vegetables in the country and some of the best beef and pork too. Then there’s the markets, the family-run butchers, bakers, fishmongers, delicatessens, farm shops and even roadside stalls, there is simply nowhere better.
Then add in the huge variety of wild game and wildfowl, the foraging opportunities out in the countryside, and soils and climate that make for successful gardening even for the novice, and Lincolnshire pulls even further away. We have, quite literally, got it all on a plate.
But all good meals come to an end and this is my last column. I have eaten and written my way through four years and 100 recipes. I’ve tried to be true to the local ingredients and followed the seasons but have also acknowledged some of the wider influences on British cooking. Over ten per cent of the recipes featured game, which is testament to Lincolnshire’s unique shooting heritage.
I’ve had one last go at my Lincolnshire ‘desert island dinners’, selecting my ‘6 of the best’ from the last four years. Choosing took a while, but in the end these are what I will remember most of my Lincolnshire table.
Cod with black pudding
Ingredients (Serves 4)
200g cod portion per person
100g black pudding
200ml dry cider
2 teaspoons capers
1 teaspoon chopped sage
Rub the cod lightly with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Break the black
pudding into rough one inch lumps and place on an oiled baking tray with the cod.
Bake in a pre-heated oven at 200°C for about 12 minutes. Adjust cooking according
to thickness of your cod. Rest the cod for 3 minutes before serving.
In a wide-bottomed pan, reduce the cider until it is a quarter of its original volume,
then add the butter and stir to a smooth sauce. Add the capers and sage, season
and bring to a light bubble.
Tip: If you like fish skin crackling – and cod skin crackling is especially good – cut the
skin into strips, dry in a warm oven for 10 minutes. This can be done in advance. To
finish the crackling, drop skin into hot corn oil and deep fry for about 10 seconds. It
will puff up and be deliciously crunchy.
Ingredients (serves 4)
Large bunch of fresh samphire
80-100g linguini per person
200g cooked cockles (cooked weight)
6 mussels per person
4 cloves garlic, chopped
30ml olive oil
Rinse the samphire well in cold water, then steam or boil for 3 minutes. When cool
enough to handle, gently remove the tough inner ‘skeleton’, leaving the rest of the
samphire intact. Set aside.
In a large pan of salted boiling water, cook the linguini as you like it – ‘al dente’ if you
like it slightly underdone, or softer as you prefer. Drain when ready.
Whilst the pasta is boiling, pop the mussels on top for a minute to cook. When they
are opened, they are ready. Remove and set aside, leaving them in their shells.
In a large, wide pan (a wok is perfect), soften the butter in the olive oil and gentle
soften the garlic. Add a good twist of black pepper.
Add the linguini, turning over in the flavoured oil and butter. Then add the samphire,
cockles and mussels, and turn gently. Squeeze the lemon over the pasta, add
seasoning, and give one last turn. Serve.
Partridge in bacon and mushroom cream
Ingredients (serves 4)
4 rashers streaky bacon
300ml double cream
1 glass dry white wine
Pinch of chopped sage
Pre-heat oven to 200C. Stretch the bacon with the back of a knife and cut each in
half. Place a knob of seasoned butter in the cavity of each bird and cover with the
bacon. Roast for 10 minutes, then remove the bacon to the side, baste the birds and
return to the oven for a further 8 minutes. Remove and allow to rest.
While the birds are resting, fry the chopped mushrooms in the meat juices until soft,
add the chopped bacon, the sage and the wine. Reduce wine by half and then add
the cream. Season and cook for 2 minutes.
Carve the birds, sauce and serve.
Pigeon with prunes
Ingredients (serves 4)
4 wood pigeon
200g smoked bacon bits
450ml game stock
200ml red wine
2 cloves garlic
Soak the prunes for 30 minutes in 600ml water. Keep the prune water.
Fry the pigeons all over to add colour and set aside. Finely chop the onion, grate the
garlic, dice the carrots and fry all together with the bacon bits until slightly coloured
Place the pigeon in a heavy bottom casserole, add the onion, bacon, garlic and
carrots, along with the prunes. Pour over the stock, prune water and red wine.
Season and add bay leaf.
Cook, with lid on, in the oven at 170C for 2 hours. Pigeon breast should be tender
and beginning to fall off the bone. Cook for longer if needed. Thicken with a beurre
manié and check seasoning. Serve with season vegetables.
Ingredients (serves 4 – 6)
500g chopped rhubarb
400ml double cream
5 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon ginger powder
Put the chopped rhubarb in a pan with the sugar and the ginger. Add a couple of
tablespoons of water and cook with a lid on until soften. Give a good mix with a
wooden spoon to puree. Leave to cool.
Whip the cream to a stiff peak. Place an inch of the cold rhubarb mixture in the
bottom of a glass or serving dish and add a dash of vodka – or other alcohol.
Carefully and quickly fold the remainder of the rhubarb into the cream until well
Chill in the fridge for an hour and serve immediately. Serve on its own, with nothing
more than the expectation of a long, hot summer.
Blackberry and apple pie
Tips for a perfect pie:
Use your picked blackberries as soon as possible. As a wild berry, they carry a
variety of natural yeasts and fungi – all totally harmless – but they do cause
blackberries to mould very quickly, even if kept in the fridge.
Use Bramley apples. This classic English apple is over 200 years old. Its flavour is
fantastic and its cooked texture is perfect for pies, though it does have an underlying
sourness. Much better to balance the sourness to your taste with more sugar, than to
use a dessert apple with less flavour.
Use butter for your pastry. A 250g pack of quality unsalted butter costs about £1.50,
which is more than enough for a 12” pie. This is not so extravagant and your pie will
taste something special.
Egg wash your pie three times. Give a first glaze before baking, then add a further
two after it starts to brown at 15 minute intervals. With the final glaze, sprinkle the top
with granulated sugar. Your pastry with be golden, with a perfect crispness.
Use a slightly deeper dish than you might initially think. Your pie will sink a little as it
cooks. If you want a really fruit-filled pie, use a deep flan dish.
Always put pastry top and bottom. A pie with just a top is only half a pie! One of the
real joys of a good pie is the different textures of the soft, gooey underside and the