I’ve been watching Joliver’s Big Vegetable Show, in which he keeps on insisting, correctly, that vegetables are amazing but never calls it vegetarian cooking so as not to alienate his audience of men who watch this so as to be able to cook for women they want to impress, but still talk a lot in their lad Whatsapp groups about loving steak, despite steak being one of the worst orders you can make in a restaurant.
It works this way: up to about £15 = bad steak. £40 or over = good steak but whoa there, Rockefeller, is it really worth the blow to your self-worth incurred by the chiding “You’re on course to go over your monthly budget” interventions of the Monzo app? Anywhere in the middle = Christ knows, you might get lucky, but even if you do all you’re getting is a nicely seasoned bit of beef, which isn’t that amazing whichever way you slice it. So essentially: don’t order steak. In restaurants, order something else because the menu will be full of more interesting things anyway. At home, cook inexpensive ones if you want but be prepared to be slightly disappointed.
While we’re at it, a prime example of this occurred for me a couple of weeks ago at Tramshed in Shoreditch, where I ordered a steak and it was the worst I’ve ever had: cooked rare as I ordered it, but a thin, chewy piece of meat to begin with, and grimly insistent through its knife-resistant sinew on hitting me in the pocket to the tune of £24. I only ordered it because it was that or a chicken burger, and I’m trying to branch out a bit and resist my instinct to order burgers in restaurants just because they’re generally not disappointing. I didn’t complain, of course, because this isn’t bloody Spain, and all you’re doing is making the waitress’s evening awkward when it’s not her fault and she’s got enough on her plate as it is. Still, they had a Damien Hirst pickled cow on display so it’s probably fine to charge £24 for an awful dish on top of which you’re still expected to buy sides?
Anyway, Joliver was cooking this cauliflower. He was roasting the whole thing in a casserole with a load of other crap, and I want to try it, but my casserole isn’t big enough to fit everything in. Then I buy some orange-sticker chicken thighs for £1.48 in the Co-Op so need to use them up or freeze them. I spend a long time looking through recipe books at things which semi-appeal, including curry, when I had one the other night, and some sort of stir-fry, for which I can’t be bothered to hack up the thighs, before deciding on a course of action: I will just sort of generally busk it and see what happens.
Like me you’ll have items in your fridge that have been there for some time. Protected from the elements, say through pickling, they’re in no danger of causing you any trouble. They don’t get in anyone’s way and make generally agreeable neighbours. If they were suddenly arrested in the wake of a spate of killings, the eggs would be interviewed by ITV News and say “You didn’t see him much. He just kept himself to himself. He didn’t seem like the sort of Dijon mustard jar to do something like this.”
My most long-term fridge resident, to the extent that it must have lived in three different flats with me, is a jar of Tesco Finest garlic chutney. Like anyone else, I was big on the chutney scene in the mid-2010s, but my enthusiasm waned once it got commercial and this jar is the casualty. There simply aren’t that many scenarios these days in which I eat chutney. I pick up the jar from its spot at the back left on the middle shelf. March 2015, says the label. I open and smell it. It’s fine.
Can you marinate chicken in chutney? I fail to see why not. I get the thighs in a bowl and smother them with it, plus a bit of red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. I head off to the library for a couple of hours and let it sit in the fridge, chutneyed and ashamed.
I’ve seen this Joliver cauliflower thing about four times but have failed to write down the recipe, and I now want to incorporate bits of it here. I could trek ALL the way to the living room, find it on the Sky box and watch it again, or I could maintain the improvisational spirit and recreate what I can from memory. So I get the little casserole and give it some olive oil, some lemon rind, and the rest of the incredibly sharp green olives I got for 65p in Aldi a couple of weeks ago for a Moroccan chicken thing. Then I brown the thighs for a bit.
Once they’re done in batches, I want the cauliflower to soak up some of the chicken fat so I slice that up, vowing that one day I’ll own a pot big enough to fit one intact, and give it some sliced-up broccoli stalks too. God knows what else I put in there. Some spring greens I think, though they change the label when it’s not spring so they’re just called “greens”, which feels like a system they could perhaps revisit. I oven it for twenty minutes or so with the lid off, then add half a mug of water and a bit of cornflour, and give it another twenty with it on. I’m fairly certain I have invented a recipe, thus finally providing an actual reason for this website to exist.