When I was about six, I lived in a house where the kitchen had wooden saloon doors which swung out into the dining room. As I spent most Saturday afternoons watching cowboy films, I thought this was brilliant. It also allowed for a perfect ‘ta-daaaah!’ moment when I brought something out to the table. It’s hardly surprising I learned to love cooking early.
In that little kitchen, I performed my first experiments, mostly drawn from the pages of a free Be-Ro recipe booklet – rock cakes, fairy cakes, Victoria Sponge – the sugary, buttery, floury triumvirate of the 70s tea.
The first savoury dish I ever remember making was tuna fish pâté. I don’t recall there being any cookbooks in that house, other than the free pamphlet sort, so the recipe probably came from the back of the tuna tin.
It went something like this: Drain the tin of tuna then pound it together with half its weight in softened butter and season with black pepper and a little lemon juice (from a squeezy Jif plastic lemon, of course). Spoon into a bowl and arrange on a plate with some Jacob’s crackers. Leap through the saloon doors and serve to your flame-haired mum and flame-haired neighbour Bernice, who are probably drinking sherry and listening to Glen Campbell. They will try very hard to look pleased and not get too many buttery stains on their suede trouser suits as Glen trills, ‘And I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time…’ for the third time that afternoon.
I was thinking about my early kitchen experiments the other day when The Handpicked Collection sent me some oak-smoked kippers. I do a little consultancy work for them and they wanted me to try a few of the things from their new Foodstore Collection. I adore kippers for breakfast with a poached egg, but I also thought it might be time to revisit another 70s dinner party classic, kipper pâté. (Taaa-daaah! Door swing.)
Now if you, like me, love kippers but are sometimes put off cooking them because of the lingering smell, here are my top tips. For recipes like this one, ‘cook’ the fish in boiling water in a jug which dramatically reduces the whiffy-ness.
Of course, for breakfast kippers, you’ll want to brush them with melted butter, grind some black pepper on them and grill them. This is much more smelly but infinitely more delicious if you want to eat the kippers as they are. In this case, remove all of the fishy remnants, the bones and heads, from the house as soon as possible. Do not read the paper, do not finish the crossword, do not check your emails. Bag up all of the bits and put them in the outside bin. Dump the grill pan in a bowl of soapy water. Put a small pan of water on the stove with some chopped up lemon or orange, a cinnamon stick, some cloves, star anise – raid the spice drawer for anything which smells delicious, essentially – and let it bubble away for a bit. You might also consider making a cake. This is the best case scenario. You’ve had kippers for breakfast, your house smells delicious and you have cake for later. Or right now. As a reward for all of that hasty housekeeping.
1 pair of kippers, about 600g (which will produce about 350g flaked fish)
300g unsalted butter, cut into cubes and softened
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
Juice of half a lemon
A bay leaf
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Place the kippers heads down in a large jug and fill up with water from the kettle so that they are completely submerged, bar the tails. Leave them for 10 minutes and discard the water. (Fill the jug with soapy water.)
When the kippers have cooled down a little, remove the heads and bones. It will take a little while to pick out as many of the tiny bones as you can, but that’s what Radio 4 plays are made for.
Put the flaked fish into a food processor with 200g of the butter, the cayenne pepper and lemon juice and pulse until fairly smooth. Taste and season with salt and pepper (you may not need much, or any, salt as the kippers are already quite salty). Spoon into a pot or jar.
Melt the remaining butter in a small pan and let it cool slightly. Carefully pour into a small jug, trying your hardest to leave as much of the cloudy milk solids in the bottom of the pan as possible. Place the bay leaf in the middle of the pâté and pour the butter over the top. Cover and refrigerate until the butter is set. It’s even better the next day and will keep for about 4-5 days in the fridge if covered tightly with cling film or foil. Serve with hot toast. Or Jacob’s crackers. Taaa-daaah.