Simon Hopkinson’s ‘Week In Week Out‘ is a strong contender for the title of ‘my favourite cookbook ever’. He makes use of so many beloved ingredients, with recipes that make my heart skip a beat and my thighs quiver in fear every time I look at them. A book for the calorie counter it ain’t. Nor the vegetarian. The squeamish can also forget it, as Simon is a huge advocate of nose to tail eating. All these qualities combine to form a sumptuously photographed, mouth-wateringly carnivorous (there’s also a lot of fish) and very British cook book.
The book begins with this salad, showcasing one of my favourite smoked beasties – the eel. I love that rich, oily texture, which works well with crisp, streaky bacon and a sinful beurre blanc. This is the first time I’ve attempted this sauce at home and I was surprised at how easy it was although again, not for the faint hearted.
As I’ve been growing in confidence with wine tasting recently, I wanted to have a go at matching some wine with the eel. I chose a wine (an Austrian Grüner Veltliner), based on a vague memory of a Twitter conversation with Dan from Bibendum. I also asked the man in the shop, just to keep all bases covered and he agreed enthusiastically so I went ahead and bought it.
It turned out that Grüner was an excellent match for the eel – quite a bit of acidity to cut through the richness of the salad, notes of peach and grapefruit with a peppery finish. I also thought I detected a bit of floweryness (that’s an acceptable wine description, surely?) on the nose. There, I said it. My first blogged attempt at wine tasting. Now I nervously anticipate your comments.
I may lack confidence with the wine, but I will boldly say that you should make this salad. It is smoky, soft, crispy and buttery and immensely good for you (mostly psychologically). And, dare I say it, your experience may be further enhanced should you pair it with a glass of Grüner Veltliner.
Rowley Leigh’s Smoked Eel and Bacon Salad (serves 4)
(from ‘Week in Week Out’ by Simon Hopkinson)
1 small salad frisee (the inside, yellow bits). I used curly endive
A squeeze of lemon juice and a tiny splash of light olive oil to dress the above
Salt and pepper
200g smoked eel fillets, sliced very lengthways as thinly as possible
8 rashers of smoked, streaky bacon, grilled until crisp
1 heaped tablespoon finely chopped chives
For the beurre blanc
2 shallots, very finely chopped
4 tablespoons white wine vinegar
4 tablespoons white wine
4 tablespoons water
250g very cold, fine quality unsalted butter, cut into small chunks
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
– Make the beurre blanc: using a small stainless steel or enamelled pan, combine shallots, vinegar, wine and water. Reduce over a very moderate heat until almost no liquid is left. Then, reduce the heat to as low as possible and add the butter one chunk at a time (using a small whisk), until it is all incorporated. It should look like light, slightly jellied custard. Season and keep somewhere warm (but not actually on the heat).
– Separate frisee into thin leaves and dress with the lemon juice, oil and seasoning. Arrange evenly on the plate as a base for the salad.
– Arrange the eel strips on top, the bacon bits around the edge and then spoon the beurre blanc ‘in and around’. Garnish with the chopped chives.