Sunday, 19 February 2012


I cook a lot of 'ethnic' food, as anyone who has looked at my blog will realise. But deep in my heart I love traditional European cooking and when I feel like making something special I will look towards Europe. This recipe is Italian in its roots and in its execution. I am not keen on pasta, or risotto, but I have been fortunate to experience other aspects of Italian cooking, both in the UK and in Italy.

This dish is simply delicious. I serve it with potatoes that are smaller than roast but larger than diced, and have been roasted with olive oil, rosemary and garlic slivers, and a pile of spinach that has been wilted with lots of grated lemon. I think it is a lovely dish - I hope you do too....

4 chicken breasts
16 slices of parma ham 


250g washed and drained spinach
50g butter
50g plain flour
250 ml milk
25g parmesan
Grated nutmeg
Black pepper

 Wild Mushroom Sauce 

30g dried wild mushrooms
Knob of butter
2 shallots finely
1 clove garlic crushed
150ml white wine
150ml dry vermouth
250ml chicken stock
100ml double cream

 First step is to make the spinach béchamel filling for the chicken breasts. Basically it’s a thick cheese sauce with chopped spinach. I favour the all in one in the microwave method so I select a large wide bottomed jug, melt the butter in it, stir in the flour them stir in the milk. Pop it back in the microwave for a couple of minutes, give it a good whisk, then back in for another couple of minutes, By this time the sauce should have relaxed but, if not so, add a tablespoon of water and put back in the microwave for another minute. Then add the grated parmesan, a good grating of nutmeg and some black pepper. Cook for another couple of minutes.

Meanwhile, put the washed spinach in a wide frying pan, put on a moderate heat and let the spinach wilt. There is no need to add water, oil, butter or salt. Once the spinach has wilted strain and chop finely.  Stir into the béchamel sauce and check for seasoning – you want this to have a pronounced nutmeg cheese flavour do don’t be shy! Leave the mixture to get cold.

Take four slices of Parma ham and arrange on your board one below the other, giving a squareish rectangle. Place the chicken breast diagonally onto the Parma ‘good’ side down.  Ignoring the fillet, make a slit along the side of the thickest part of the breast and then open it out. Put a quarter of the filling onto the flattened out breast then fold over the chicken, then wrap the whole breast up in the Parma ham. Take a square of cling film and roll the chicken breast up in it. Take hold of both ends and ‘spin’ so that you end up with a tightly bound sausage within cling film. Repeat with the other chicken breasts and place in the fridge.

For the sauce, sauté the shallots and garlic in the butter on a low heat until soft and golden. Add the white wine and simmer until almost completely reduced. Add the vermouth and simmer until almost reduced. Meanwhile, re-hydrate the wild mushrooms with boiling water. Add 250ml of the soaking liquid to the sauce along with the mushrooms and reduce by half. Add the chicken stock, bring to the boil then add the cream. Reduce until you have a medium thick sauce.

45 minutes before serving fill a deep sauté pan with water and bring to the boil. Add the cling film wrapped chicken breasts and poach for 10 minutes per side. Meanwhile prepare a frying pan with olive oil. Once the breasts are poached peel off the cling film, heat the olive oil in the frying pan and gently fry off the breast, making sure the Parma ham is properly fried.

I serve this with cubes of potatoes roasted in olive oil with garlic cloves and rosemary, and spinach seasoned with lemon zest.

Sunday, 12 February 2012


My dear friend Sashimi Girl and I have been pursuing burgers,  not in the single minded way of some but we have sampled a few. We've done Meatwagon at The Rye, the Rivington Grill, Byron and a few others, and we felt it was time to visit Hawksmoor. We pitched up for our reservation at 1.30, intending to make an afternoon of it. The cocktail list at Hawksmoor is exemplary, imaginative yet respecting the principle that a cocktail should be strong and not filled up with fruit juice and umbrellas.  My particular favourite was the Silver Bullet - Gin, Kummel and Lemon Juice.  As the menu says 'This isn't for everyone - it depends whether you like Kummel, a spiced liqueur flavoured with caraway, cumin and fennel - but it's perfect for clearing fog at any time of day and has the odd distinction of being Prince Phuilip's favourite cocktail' - well I never thought I would have anything in common with the Duke but this was delicious, a great appetite stimulant - I had two....

So, onto the food. I started with Devon crab with toast which was all I could want it be, and Sashimi Girl had potted beef which disappeared pretty quickly. Then the main event....

We had tried to order our burgers on the rare side of medium but were told this wasn't possible because of health regulations. I had heard about this, and accepted it, but we were very happy to receive two beautifully pink burgers. I had mine without cheese and Sashimi Girl had stilton...we had also ordered a side of bone marrow which arrived beautifully prepared.

One bite and I was lost - the most flavoursome, juicy, beefy tasting burger I have ever had. I was truly astounded by the succulence, the tenderness, the way it melted in my mouth.  This is my benchmark burger to date...I look forward to finding a better one but I think the beef mix that Hawksmoor have, with those little nuggets of bone marrow, mkaes for a burger with a multi-dimensional flavour.  We devoured our burgers, ate as many of the excellent triple cooked chips that came with them as we could, then ordered another round of cocktails...the best way to spend a chilly afternoon.

We continue our quest.....AdCod next....