At this time of year it’s nice to enjoy a few indulgences
At this time of year it’s nice to enjoy a few indulgences, those special treats to make Christmas really stand out from the everyday and humdrum. When it comes to food and drink, there are some great foodstuffs out there, lovingly created by expert producers.
A GOOD DELICATESSEN
I like to visit my delicatessen to see what they’ve got in stock for Christmas as, at this time of year they really push the boat out. If you don’t have a good deli on hand, then the joy of the Internet is that it’s now so easy to search and order online.
Forman’s wild smoked Scottish salmon, with its gamey flavour and distinctive dry texture is a firm favourite of mine – definitely one to treat yourself to.
Caviar, made from sturgeon roe, is probably the most famous food luxury there is. A much more affordable option I like is salmon roe. With its bright red colour and salty flavour, it makes an attractive garnish for canapés such as cream cheese on mini blinis, halved hard-boiled quail’s eggs or prawn cocktail on rye bread discs.
Spanish Iberico Ham
Another treat I’d recommend is Spanish Iberico ham. Made from a special breed of black-footed pigs that forage on acorns, this has a salty-sweetness to it which is absolutely delicious.
Baxter’s Potted Shrimps
A great British delicacy is Baxter’s Potted Shrimps: Tiny pots of sweet-fleshed brown shrimps preserved in spiced butter. To serve, simply bring them to room temperature then spread on freshly-made toast. Baxter’s have been producing potted shrimps caught in Morecambe Bay since 1799. I’ve visited them for myself and saw how carefully the staff there make their potted shrimps, using locally caught shrimps; they are certainly proud of what they make.
The Best Olive Oil
A good bottle of extra-virgin olive oil is always a pleasure to have in the kitchen. Just like fine wines, there are different flavours of olive oil according to which olive varieties have been used, when the olives are harvested and where it is made. Tuscan olive oils, for example, are famously peppery, while Spanish olive oils are often sweet and fruity. Delicatessens often offer a chance to sample olive oils before you buy them; tasting them is the best way of finding an olive oil that you enjoy.
Fresh truffles are a rare and expensive luxury, with the best restaurants in the world competing for supplies. A more economical way of adding that distinctive truffle flavour to dishes is to invest in a little bottle of truffle oil. Just a few drops added before serving give that lovely truffle lift to dishes such as fresh pasta with wild mushroom sauce, my Michelin-style Mashed Potatoes or a mushroom risotto.
With their brown, cracked caps, shiitake are easy to identify. Fresh shiitake are great in Oriental dishes, such as stir-fries. Dried shiitake, found in supermarkets or Chinese food shops, have a great meaty taste and are excellent in Chinese-style braised dishes.
With their unmistakeable, powerful fragrance and flavour, truffles are the most luxurious and expensive fungi. A good quality truffle oil is a simple way of adding a touch of their distinctive flavour to pasta dishes, risottos and sauces. Just add a few drops, as you don’t want to overdo it.