They say the way to man’s heart is through his stomach and nothing could be truer when it comes to Spownall.
We flirted over my bbq chicken piri-piri, he proposed over my garlic prawns and a couple of years on, he seems to love me the most just before dinnertime.
I’ve enjoyed parading my culinary repertoire for a man who brings with him no favourite foods of childhood nor any missed dishes from another girlfriend. I’ve absolutely nothing to live up to – almost every plate I dish up comes back clean. I prefer to accept this as confirmation of my unlimited talents rather than the alternate view that the man has no taste and will actually eat anything.
After all, he cannot actually cook himself. I mean really. I don’t cook entirely because I’m a happy little bride in apron and fluffy shoes. Spownall can’t boil an egg. Well he can, but he uses the kettle. He has cooked for me once or twice on my birthday or when I’m sick, but he hates cooking. Really loathes it, so only when needs must.
Naturally he has become spoilt already. There has been one dish he has left uneaten, a very tomatoey arroz de marisco. And it’s my fault! The summer we met I had an abundant crop of tomatoes and so we ate tomatoes with everything… and ever since (that lust-filled madness mellowed) he’s not so keen on them. How could we disagree on something so intrinsic? Pasta, too, surely comes under “shared values” and Spownall says he can’t eat pasta every night! AND HE DOESN’T LIKE LASAGNE. We may as well get divorced now to avoid those years of lasagne-driven resentment. Maybe counselling would help. Hypnotherapy?
What does the man like? What rises to the top of the 693 meals we have shared? What does he ask for on his birthday?
Bunless Burgers. I created this dish in pursuit of carb-less mid week thrills and with the addition of bun it has become Spownall’s number one. He’s even learning to make them himself.
The secret is the mincemeat. Get the butcher to mince you up some rump steak (or veal if you don’t need to check with your bank manager first) rather than just using what they’ve prepared earlier. God knows what’s in it. Pork, probably.
Finely chopped onion, motherload of garlic, capers, dash of worcestershire & tomato sauce, freshly ground pepper and sometimes I add thyme, marjoram & parsley. Bundle it all up but don’t make your paddies more than an inch thick. No flour, but if the mix is too wet you can add a little stale wholemeal breadcrumbs.
To cook these puppies don’t make the pan too hot, just medium hot. Once they are nicely browned on the outside (10 mins), and you’ve flattened them down a bit then take them out and rest them, wrapped in foil, for at least another 10. Resting is very important to making them medium rare, not bloody, and it makes nice juices. which you’ll use to dribble over the stacked burger.
Meanwhile whip together some mayo with a squeeze of lemon and stack up lettuce, tomato, gherkins, beetroot and give them a dressing… Next comes the burger, with cheese, fried onions, fried egg, bacon and some special fresh tomato sauce if that’s your fancy. Scoff.
You can take a Spownall out of England but you can’t take the England out of him completely. His next favourite is probably fish and chips. He can eat what he likes but chips are not a good look on me. Nor is the beer batter reserved for special occasions. There’s nothing to this dish that any islander worth their salt shouldn’t already know, and one should not underestimate one’s ability to mix flour egg and beer. So easy Spownall could do it.
There is perhaps some skill in knowing what fish works best. But I’m still getting to know Portuguese fish, because in minha terra it’s a whole different kettle. Haven’t yet seen Mahi Mahi or Blue Eyed Cod at the market yet, anyway.
I quite like Bacalhau for fish and chips, but Spownall prefers a simple Pescada. Tamboril is alright too and Perca is great… really anything white, filleted and a good 2 cm chunk of it works the best. Please dive into the comments section and tell me what you like. I like to experiment.
I do whip up a pretty good tartare sauce. Mayo, lemon, cornichons, capers, red capsicum, parsley, chives or a tiny bit of shallot and bombs away. Sometimes I add coriander or dill for a thrill.
Australia is actually in Asia and thus Asian curries are essential to our survival as a race. Spownall had no choice really but to accept Thai curries as a weekly staple – in red, yellow or green. Thai green chicken curry is his favourite of these – isn’t it everyone’s – but I’ve discovered a recipe that bends a yellow curry to the far west – adding the very Indian ingredients of turmeric and yoghurt to the lemongrass/lime elements of a Thai curry paste. It is absolutely yummy. Maybe it’s a Burmese or Bangladeshi style of curry…
Here’s what I do – cooking East Asian food here is a test of improvisation. Onion, garlic ginger and Thai curry paste in vegetable oil. Fry that up. Add the meat – chicken or pork or prawns. Add a cup of diluted chicken stock. Throw in veggies; carrot, beans, red capsicum, zucchini, whatever. Half a tin of coconut milk, 2 yoghurts. Cook it for at least half an hour, gently. I do the rice in the microwave and I only use thai or basmati. Wash it well first – the Chinese say 8 times. I use an espresso cup to measure the rice – two shots normally but three if we’re hungry. No more than 1cm or a finger joint of water above the rice and into the microwave with a plate for a lid for 5 mins. Then 7 mins on half power and 3 minutes resting. I like Thai style sticky rice, so the water is completely absorbed and it’s on the dry side.
I still suspect that Spownall prefers the Indian feasts that I put on sporadically for friends – expats of all sorts love it and it thrills the pants off our Porty friends too.This is my typical spread. Prawn Kurma, Bombay Aloo, either Tandoori Chicken or Chicken Dahi, and a Chole or Dahl. Then I run amok with side dishes – mango chutney, Raitas cucumber-yoghurt and banana-coconut and koshimbir (tomato & onion).
Just like to point out at this point, just in case anyone is picturing all this being performed in one of these luxury fitted kitchens, that we are still renovating and I have have no kitchen as such. I have a electric frypan and a microwave. Oh yes. Bench space of a quarter square metre. It’s not ideal. I don’t really understand people who don’t cook. All you need to do is follow a recipe, and the internet is your library. Apart from the basic “authority” sites there are some exceptional food blogs out there to inspire you. Have a look at She Simmers (Thai) or Elvira’s Bistrot (Portuguese) for inspiration.
Back to Spownall. Having established that he’s not crazy about pasta, there are a couple of my spaghetti stalwarts he really likes. In very 80′s fashion he loves a bacon and mushroom fettuccine, but far more surprisingly he really likes a dish I learnt from my first proper waitressing job in a classic suburban Italian restaurant in 1988. It’s possibly the most decadent – and cheap – thing we eat.
Tagliatelle con Fegatini di Pollo
Finely chop an onion and garlic and gently fry in olive oil. With 300g chicken livers, wash well and slice off the best, clean red flesh. Give the rest to the cat. Add the chopped livers to the pan and brown. Test a glass of white wine first before throwing half a glass into the pan. Reduce it a bit. Add 200ml or so of cream with one egg yolk blended into it.
Meanwhile you’ve been boiling the tagliatelle in plenty of water to al dente. (I’m amazed how many people don’t actually know how to cook pasta, especially in Portugal, so here’s a little lecture). Ignore the 12 minutes it says on the packet – start tasting the pasta at 6 minutes and then every minute after that. You are watching how the pasta looks, not the taste. It’s done when there is still a small solid centre. In the mouth it still retains some strength. If it’s completely soft then you’ve overdone it and you can send it off the neighbours dog and start again. Apart from not being al dente, the most common mistake is not using enough water and not keeping the water at a rolling boil.
OK alright now back to the recipe. The egg and cream has only just started to bubble in the pan, you lift the tagliatelle from the boiling water with tongs, let it drip for a moment and then straight into the pan. At this point I’m hoping you haven’t made too much pasta. My rule for measuring long pasta is the amount you can fit into the circle made by your thumb and forefinger – that’s a good amount for a teenage boy, or me when I was 20. For this dish it’s enough for two.
Give it a gentle stir to coat the pasta with the sauce and reduce any extra liquid. Serve it up with parsley, parmesan and black pepper, or I sometimes go crazy with some baby spinach or fresh grelos and even a rasher of bacon. Great with a chianti, or a Douro red, or the rest of the white you used in the dish.
It’s very good for his iron count or very bad for his cholesterol, but either way it goes straight to Spownall’s heart.