I have smoked salmon, a Christmas gift. It was delivered a couple of hours before I went to a friend’s for Christmas (tier 4 to tier 2 but a support bubble; I looked it up and it said it was OK, and I wasn’t shot by armed police at the station despite my running this scenario through my head for three days before I left), thus narrowly avoiding its alternative fate of sitting in the entrance hall for four days making my neighbours wonder why there are so many cats hanging round the front door.
Now back at home I go for a lot of walks, eat the leftovers I’ve brought back with me and wonder what to do with the salmon. I have recently downloaded the recipes app Whisk, whose interface I like and which makes me want to cook one of the hundreds of recipes I previously had in a list app but never got as far as looking at again once I’d saved the link. Whisk is one of those apps that makes you want to actually do the thing it facilitates because the app itself is pleasing, like how a notification from Monzo telling me I’ve spent £13.26 at the 24-hour shop is quite satisfying because it automatically sorts the payment under Groceries. This isn’t an advert for Whisk. If they’d paid me to promote it they’d be sorely disappointed unless they were really hoping to target two people in China who seem to find the homepage through Baidu most days, have a quick scroll then decide it’s not for them and leave without clicking anything. As a paid partnership strategy you’d imagine Whisk would have bigger fish to chowder.
Some notes on Christmas dinner: I recommend visiting a friend on the day and cooking it with an oven and kitchen that is markedly bigger and better than your own. Even if you’re not invited, maybe do it and eat it before they wake up, without their knowledge, then leave before everyone comes downstairs and starts opening their presents and wondering why there’s so much more washing up than they remember from the night before. If anyone ever tells you they don’t like turkey because it’s dry, remind them that this is an insane position that can only be reconciled by accepting that they’ve only ever had turkey that has been badly cooked. No meat is inherently dry. I had a 2.2kg turkey crown to play with, so I put softened butter and thyme under the breast skin and two rashers of bacon on top. This introduces a fair bit of fat to mitigate against drying out, but you then baste it every half-hour anyway and let it rest for about thirty minutes once cooked.
Once the turkey’s in you might think you’ve got a good hour before the crunch time when everything starts needing doing at once, and in principle you have, but you might as well spend it doing stuff that will make the last hour less of a rush. Get the potatoes parboiled and fluffed up, get the veg in trays with its fat and its seasoning, and get anything else done that requires any thought. I used the time to make bread sauce because we’d failed to find a packet of it, and it was a surprise highlight of the meal. Of the year, come to that, right up there with when McCartney III dropped on Spotify at midnight on 18 December and I immediately put on headphones and walked around the deserted streets of Streatham listening to it for the first time.
When the turkey had rested enough, the potatoes and other veg (carrots, sprouts, pigs in blankets in the same tray) weren’t quite done on schedule, but this was fine because timing. I’d got everything ready enough that it could all sit around happily and be reheated on the stove for two minutes if need be, and the turkey in particular benefited from an extra 20 minutes’ rest in the plate-warming oven anyway, so I could cheerfully drink beer and prosecco without checking anything was burning.
Anyway, chowder’s why you paid your entrance fee. I look back on 2020 and it boils down to this:
- 1 January–13 March: weyyyyyy this is a laugh, have you heard about this virus thing, nah shouldn’t think it’s a problem
- 14 March onwards: sit in a room
- Between around June and December: the potato waffle gradually supplants the hash brown as my preferred companion to eggs
- Twelve to fifteen isolated occasions throughout the year: actually talk to a human in person, mainly about the potato waffle thing
- September/October: loads of people at work get made redundant in a way so poorly and unethically handled that it renders my employers’ claims to care about their staff’s wellbeing laughably insincere and destroys my hitherto sincerely held faith in them as people and professionals
- October onwards: continue to sit in a room with day-to-day source of social contact now largely dismantled by the above events (the work thing, not the potato waffle thing)
- 18 December: McCartney III
- 25 December: bread sauce
- 28 December: chowder
Because this chowder: oh, mate. I have to figure out something to do with the salmon, and I also have some shrimp in the freezer I don’t have a home for. So I find this recipe online and add it to Whisk. Then I look at it in Whisk for a bit and think about how much I like Whisk. Then I cook it.
I almost don’t, because while the recipe’s not complex, it does involve a lot of stuff. Lots of chopping different things and whatnot. There’s half an hour or so beforehand where I’m not sure I can be bothered. Then I forcibly make myself start chopping an onion and that’s that: I’m in. The chowder has me now.
Once I get to the stage that the stock’s been in for 20 minutes or so and I can start tasting it and adjusting the seasoning, even before I’ve put any of the fish in, it’s clear this is one of the best things I’ve cooked in some time. How has this happened? I’ve had nine months at home with nothing to do but cook and, three days before the end of this wretched year, I’ve hit upon one of the best recipes my small blue Le Creuset has ever housed. Maybe fish is the big discovery of the year. Maybe this was nature’s plan, to show us our folly by bringing a plague on us and making us eat less red meat. Maybe it’s all part of the 5G conspiracy and Bill Gates is going to inject miniature trout into our upper arms, and in 2021 we’ll all grow gills and then he’ll release Windows 11 and you’ll only be able to operate it with fins. Fish, I predict, will this year revolutionise my cookery and open up a whole world of possibility and experimentation.
*flash-forward to April 2021* I had a jacket potato with a tin of sardines.