‘Audubon’ gives some handy tips for summer bunfights
Becoming a master of the cold collation is an invaluable skill for anybody who needs to feed, a sanctuary-full after a summer-evening devotion or festival. The advantages of this tactic are many: everything can be prepared in advance and either removed from the fridge just before vesting (if your liturgy is short and your dining room cool) or on return to the house (if your liturgy is long and your dining room warm). And, as it will all be perfectly good for several days, you can either reprise the leftovers throughout the week or send impecunious curates, young and old, home with a doggy-bag. There is also the not inconsiderable advantage that your already warm and stuffy kitchen with the windows that have been painted shut since the last bout of quinquennial works will remain as cool as is possible, with the oven firmly off.
The possibilities for this type of meal are many, but there are a few general principles. It is too easy for cold buffets such as this to be simply a bewildering array of salads and quiche; we are not trying to recreate a ‘bring-and-share’ horror. Hence there must be structure to the affair. To begin with, there must always be a least one cold joint of meat. Whether topside of beef, a leg of lamb, a whole chicken, or a ham, this provides a focus and centrepiece. If for some reason your ‘do’ is on Friday that has not been raised in rank, or you know some people who don’t eat meat, a whole poached salmon is a good alternative. It does, however, require a fish kettle.
Then serve one salad-type dish with each joint (or fish) and give some thought to their connection. For example, with cold roast beef you could have a tomato salad with spring onions, parsley, and a simple vinaigrette. With cold roast chicken: the rest of a Cæsar salad. With a ham: celery, apples, and pine nuts, bound with a light mayonnaise. With poached salmon: fennel, celery, and orange slices dressed with lemon juice, olive oil, and dill. You can then add one further salad with a solid carbohydrate base, such as a pasta, potato, quinoa (the pronunciation of which will give you something to talk about that isn’t church), cous-cous, or rice. Each will need a little dressing of some sort to keep things moist.
Stale baguette which has been buttered some hours previously is as disheartening as soggy quiche – so don’t force it upon the people who have so kindly come to support you. If you do serve bread, choose rolls, as they won’t go stale nearly so quickly. They also form a convenient way of transporting large hunks of meat from plate to mouth whilst drinking and/or gesticulating with the other hand (I can’t think why nobody has thought of that before). Provide butter on the side, making sure that it has been out of the fridge long enough so that it can be spread.
Like the cold buffet, butter could also do with some rehabilitation. In our health-fad obsessed culture, this essential ingredient is often maligned as a thickener of arteries that should be replaced immediately with churned vegetable oil and food colouring. There really is no point. Food replacements are a necessity of war or poverty, and should otherwise be avoided.
Apart from being the incomparable accompaniment to toast (although sourdough toast with a good fruity olive oil is a serious contender) butter really is invaluable in the kitchen, and in many cases utterly irreplaceable. Without butter you simply cannot get that pleasing browning on the omelette. But as well as being a good fat for frying at medium temperatures, butter really comes into its own at the end of cooking. Take for example, mashed potato. Adding butter whilst mashing is something most will be familiar with, and it imparts a beautiful creamy richness (enhanced further, it must be said, by cream). But nor should it be overlooked when finishing the cooking of meat.
When the weather is sweltering, steak and chips may not be your idea of a treat. And, whilst a cold collation is excellent for situations where short order service is needed, we need not always go for low-temperature food in high-temperature weather. It is of course the case that many of the cuisines of the warmest parts of the world are themselves hot: not just in temperature but also in chilli-heat. It is said by some that the sweat brought on by a fiery dish in fact cools you down. It is certainly the case that the chilli pepper releases feel-good endorphins, and the slight burning in the mouth can be a distraction from the heat that surrounds you.
Whilst usually I am a great proponent of butter, when it comes to dishes with a bit of spice, I often tend towards the use of oils as the fat for cooking. Instead of the usual vegetable oil, try coconut (especially good with curries that include coconut milk or cream as a sauce, for obvious reasons) or rice bran (very high smoke point and so good for high-temperature stir-frying). Supermarkets have come a long way since a jar of Sharwood’s sauce was the only help available to the cook unwilling to make their own spice mix; there are now many ‘meal-kit’ type products available which have dry spices, wet spice pastes, or a mixture of the two. Try them – but always add a packet of fresh chillies to the shopping basket, for garnish or to increase the heat. And if you go over the top, a glass of milk is the best remedy.