The proof of the pudding is in the eating. – English proverb
There are different souvenirs in one’s life, some are linked to childhood, others to love, passion, and travels. For my active imagination, food memories act as an introduction to each chapter in my life. They are the backdrop to my world, flavouring it with taste, colour and texture. If you are what you eat, then I am certainly a mix between French, Chinese and British food. My love for a confit de canard with a glass of red St-Estèphe, xiao long bao (Shanghainese steamed pork dumplings) with pu-erh tea, a good pork pie, scotch eggs and a half a pint of Guinness (I’m a lightweight) are equal and unconditional.
As I grew up in Hong Kong during the colonial days, I was heavily influenced by British food and culture. I cherish those years, filled with iconic images of queen Elizabeth’s portraits at the post office, the old police uniforms, the Gurkha army playing the Scottish pipes on the Queen’s pier and the occasional visit of the Prince of Wales. We had tea at the Mandarin Hotel, scones with clotted cream and rose petal jam, or at the old Repulse Bay hotel (not the one they re-built), just like in Ang Lee’s Lust and Caution. I loved the mixture of old-school British traditions mixed with Chinese flair – it was the story of my life. Some of my favourite moments where spent at the Shanghainese tailors, waiting for hours for my French maman, having her traditional chong sam dresses made for future banquets. I’d browse through the beautiful silk embroidered fabrics, snack on egg tarts and sip soya milk out of a bottle. It can be strange at times to feel part of a vanished era, but it’s all there, vivid in my mind, set in a vintage filter. Not that Hong Kong is that different today, but it will certainly never be the same.
Conversations at home were dominated by food, as my family is certainly a food-obssessed one. My life was and is meals. Later on I lived in London, studying and enjoying life as a Londoner. My fondness for British food grew bigger and bigger, as I discovered more delicacies throughout the years. Steak and kidney pies, Cornish pasties, minced pies, toast and marmite, Cadbury Flake chocolate, treacle pudding, just don’t get me started. Last Saturday, I just had to have roast beef, juicy gravy and Yorkshire pudding. It’s the inner ‘Brit-girl’ in me. That and a bread and butter pudding to finish it off. Could a Saturday lunch get any better?
Recipes: (serves 4 to 6)
Crunchy cabbage, radishes and shallots salad:
1/2 green cabbage
3 shallots (sliced)
2 handfuls of radishes (finely sliced)
A handful of chopped parsley
2 tsp mustard
5 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp red wine vinegar
Olive oil for frying
Crème fraîche (1 tsp or more per serving)
Salt & pepper (for seasoning)
Slice cabbage coarsely, slice shallots and finely slice the radishes. Set aside. Prepare a quick vinaigrette: Mix mustard, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper and mix well. Fry the shallots in olive oil until golden and nearly crispy, drain on paper towel and set aside. In the same pan, keep the oil and fry the cabbage for a 3 minutes on a high heat – you want to keep it crunchy. To assemble: Mix cabbage and radishes. Place on a plate, sprinkle shallots, drizzle vinaigrette, add a spoon of crème fraîche, sprinkle a generous amount of parsley. Season with salt and pepper.
Roast beef and red wine gravy:
1-1.2 kg/ 2-2.5 pounds beef filet
A few sprigs of fresh thyme
5 cloves of garlic (3 whole, 2 sliced)
1 coarsely chopped onion
1 chopped carrot
1 branch celery
Coarse sea salt & pepper for seasoning
Preheat oven to 200°C/ 400°F
Rub beef with olive oil, salt and pepper. Make about 10 small incisions with a sharp knife and insert fine slices of garlic. Tuck in the thyme sprig son top of the beef – under the string. Place onion, carrots and celery in a roasting pan along with the beef. Place in oven and bake for 15 minutes, lower heat to 180°C/ 350°C and cook for a further 30 minutes (less or more depending on how you like your cuisson/cooking). For me, 45 minutes in total is perfect, brown outside, rosé inside. Place the roast beef on a plate and set aside for 15 minutes.
Keep the roasting pan with all the beef drippings (you can save some for the Yorkshire pudding). Put it directly on the stove on a low heat, add 200 ml red wine and stir. Let the sauce reduce for a few minutes, then add 500 ml beef (or vegetable) stock. Further reduce for 5 more minutes. Add one tsp of flour and mix well until gravy is thick and juicy. Drain sauce and serve immediately.
Roast thyme potatoes:
Preheat oven 180°C/350°F
20 small potatoes, roasting types (I count 5-6 small potatoes per person)
Sprigs of fresh thyme (or dried thyme)
Coarse sea salt
60 ml/ 1/4 cup olive oil
Rinse potatoes, slice them in half or quarters depending on size. Place in roasting pan, drizzle with olive oil, sprigs of thyme and coarse sea salt. Mix well and bake for 35-45 minutes (give the potatoes a good stir halfway).
Yorkshire pudding: (makes approx 12)
250 g/ 2 cups plain white flour
250 ml/ 1 cup whole milk (cold)
2 tbsp cold water
1/2 tsp fine salt
2 tbsp olive oil or beef dripping
Preheat the oven to 200°C/ 400°F
In a large bowl, whisk together the sifted flour, cold milk and water. Add the eggs and whisk till blended. Whisk in the flour gradually until batter is smooth. Place a bit of olive oil or beef dripping in each tin and place in oven for 5 minutes or until sizzling hot. Take out from the oven and pour batter in each tin , approx 3/4 high. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until well-risen and golden. Serve immediately
Bread & butter pudding:
6 slices stale bread (any good old bread will do, I used rustic pain de campagne country bread)
80 g/ 1/3 cup butter
65 g/ 1/3 cup granulated sugar
240 ml/ 1 cup milk
60 ml/ 1/4 cup cream
50 g/ 1/3 cup dried dark raisins (to be soaked in rum)
60 ml/ 1/4 cup rum
A pinch of nutmeg
A pinch of salt
1 tbsp of dark muscovado sugar to sprinkle on top of pudding
To serve: Cream, to be poured on top
Preheat oven 180°C/ 350°F
In a small bowl, soak raisins in rum. Butter slices of bread very generously on each side. Drain raisins and reserve rum. Place a layer of bread, sprinkle with raisins, add another layer, sprinkle with raisins again. Pour the remaining rum all over the bread. In a bowl, mix milk, cream and eggs, add granulated sugar, salt and nutmeg. Pour all over bread, and leave to soak for 10 minutes. Add the remaining butter all over the top. Sprinkle with dark muscovado sugar. Place in oven and bake for 30 minutes. Serve hot, with lots of cream poured on top.