You can’t possibly have missed all the news stories over the last week about how fat you all are; even if waddling to the newsagents to buy a paper has been too much of a struggle then presumably you’ll at least have seen it come up on the news, assuming you haven’t eaten the remote control. Obviously there are all sorts of factors and issues going on here – you’ve got the fact that Britons work the longest hours in Europe, meaning that many parents feel they don’t have time to prepare meals from scratch. There’s the increasing number of out-of-town supermarkets to which many people don’t have easy access. There’s the North-South divide, the gap between rich and poor, educational issues, the sale of school sports fields to property developers; and poor quality school dinners. There’s the fear of crime causing parents to keep their children indoors, aggressive marketing of processed foods, the relatively high cost of good quality fresh ingredients, and of course there’s also the fact that for a variety of reasons many young people simply aren’t learning how to cook.
Well Channel 4’s new show Cooking It aims to change all that. The blurb for the series says that “renowned cookery teacher Jun Tanaka” is aiming to change Britain from being a place where “most people don’t know a coulis from a cauliflower”, by each week “taking a self-professed kitchen klutz and trying to turn them from Culinary Catastrophe into a Cheffing Marvel!”. For anyone concerned with Britains’ eating habits – or anyone who enjoys the overuse of aliteration – this, surely, can only be a good thing. This week Jun taught his self-professed kitchen klutzes how to make sea bass stuffed with griddled vegetable couscous and served with a cherry tomato salad – slightly ambitious perhaps, so instead let’s look at his recipe for a basic starter of home-smoked duck salad with baby beetroot, Parmesan and walnuts
Making this is simplicity itself. First cook the beetroot by placing them in a piece of foil with garlic, thyme and olive oil. Bake for an hour, place in a bowl covered in clingfilm for 20 minutes until cool, then peel and quarter. Place some of the quarters in a bowl and toss with sliced red onion, red wine vinegar and honey. Then with the rest make a puree by frying briefly in butter, then adding 1 tbsp ruby port and water, bringing to the boil and reducing. Add cream and more wine vinegar then blend in a food processor until smooth before transferring the puree to a squeezy bottle with a nozzle. The salad is even easier – simply boil 25g of fine green beans until tender, then plunge into ice cold water and leave for 10 minutes then slice lengthways. Toss these with washed and drained red chard or sorrel – whichever you prefer – sliced red chicory leaves and vinaigrette and set aside.
For the smoked duck you’ll need a fresh duck breast, plus oak chips or Earl Grey tea leaves, with which you cover the base of your hob-top steamer to a depth of about 2 cm. Season the duck breast, place in the steamer, cover and smoke for 5 minutes. Then heat a heavy-based pan and cook the duck for 2 minutes on each side until crisp. Place the pan in the oven and cook for a further 4-5 minutes until cooked but still pink. Then take two of your best oval plates and using the nozzle squeeze the beetroot puree onto each in a zigzag. Line the plates with glazed beetroot quarters, walnut halves and half the green beans. Place half the duck breast on each plate, then add the salad leaves and shavings of fresh Parmesan. Serve.
And to think that there are still parents out there who are too lazy, who care so little about their kids, to bother to make something like this. Shame on them.