We all need some dishes in our repertoire that are, quite simply, child’s play—dishes with no shopping list, no recipe, that can almost be thrown together with your eyes closed. In this new series, Jenny Chandler gives directions and cooking tips for fabulous seasonal meals that a 10-year-old could throw together
When it comes to simple standbys, stir fries must be at the top of most our lists; chopping up a few random vegetables and throwing them into a wok with the classic trio of allium (preferably spring onion or shallot), ginger and garlic, followed by a splash of soy or fish sauce is invariably a super-quick recipe for success. Asian flavours do, with their zippy freshness, offer a welcome antidote to all the heavier winter fare that begins to grace our tables in November so it’s well worth having an extra couple of winning dishes up your sleeve.
Blackened salmon is a favourite in our household and an absolute cinch to make; a child could certainly put together the marinade, though the grilling element of the dish would probably require some adult supervision. Tea-spiced pears make a great seasonal pudding, continuing the eastern theme.
Salmon is ubiquitous in our shops and supermarkets, but I’d always head straight to the Market fishmongers, where you can guarantee that the fish will be well sourced and wonderfully fresh every time. The idea is to buy your salmon in one piece (allowing around 170g per person if the fish is the main player or halving the quantity for a delicious garnish for a stir fry or noodle soup), individual portions tend to dry out under the grill. I usually avoid the thinner tail-end too.
About an hour before you plan to eat, mix together the zest and juice of 1 orange, 1 tbsp grated fresh ginger, 4 tbsp soy sauce and 4 tbsp runny honey. Now make a foil case in which to cook the fish (a double layer of foil will give you a fairly robust tray), the salmon wants to fit fairly snuggly so that it sits in a pool of the marinade as it grills). Place the salmon, skin side up, in its foil case on a grill tray, pour over the marinade and set aside for around an hour, if you have it.
Heat up the grill to its highest setting and turn over the fish. Grill the salmon as close to the element as possible—the idea is to blacken the surface, without overcooking the fish. It’s cooked when the fish flakes readily if you press the surface with a fork and the flesh has lost its translucency at the thickest point (you can always use a knife to take a peek if you’re unsure).
Serve the salmon, which will flake into chunks rather than slices, alongside steamed green veg and white rice, with a stir fry, noodles, or as a cold salad with winter leaves such as radicchio or even shredded brussels sprouts. Just be sure to pour the marinade over the finished dish—it makes a fabulous sauce.
When it comes to pears it’s nigh-on impossible to buy them in their perfect state of ripeness and then, so often, I forget to keep an eye on the fruit bowl and discover that they’re soft and past their best. Poaching is a great way to deal with a slightly under-ripe pear and you can vary the spices to personal taste (or to what you can find in the cupboard).
Make a pot of weak tea—jasmine or green tea would be perfect. Pour the tea into a small saucepan along with about 4 star anise, a cinnamon stick, 1 clove (or the syrup takes on a medicinal character), 6 slices of fresh ginger and around 200g of sugar. Bring the pan up to the boil.
Now peel the pears, (I tend to cook at least half a dozen, as any leftovers will keep for a day or 2 in the fridge), keeping the stems on and carefully removing the core from the bottom of the fruit using a paring knife or corer. Turn the spiced tea down to a simmer and place your pears, standing together as snugly as possible in the saucepan, adding a little more water if necessary. Simmer the pears for about 20 to 30 mins, until a knife slips easily into the flesh and then leave to cool in the syrup.
The pears can be kept in the spiced tea in the fridge for 2 or 3 days. When serving the pears, the syrup is particularly good if you boil it down until well reduced and glossy. I’m happy to tuck into the pears as they are but you could add a scoop of ice cream or sorbet.