Sunday, January 30, 2011

Mostly Xenophobic, with Fish ...

I recently changed my shopping habits (sad, isn't it, that I think that might be of interest to anyone other than myself) and started going to Leclerc. Always a pain exploring a new supermarket, rather like getting a new wife: you get sort of conditioned to the layout in one, and when you change nothing's in the right place, even though most things seem to work as before. At Leclerc, for instance, the condoms and KY jelly are jostled up next to the corn plasters - which I suppose could be considered reasonable. I mean, depending on how hard you go at it. Not that I was actually looking to buy any of those items, I just happened to notice en route to the dairy aisle. And anyway, KY jelly has many other uses, as I can recall from my misspent youth in the drama club.

Yes, I will leave you guessing.

Of course, it being the season for it, there are lots of foreigners around for the skiing and as there's no snow up there they have to amuse themselves doing touristy things in supermarkets (like the British family I saw the other day - all fair hair and skin burnt a uniform glowing red - apparently set on buying the year's production of Beaufort) whilst excitedly warbing their glottal squawky language and trying to pay for 20€ worth of groceries with a 500€ note ... I'd actually congratulated myself on sneakily maoeuvring myself into the just-opened checkout line, just behind these hearty Scandinavian-type tourists with only five articles in their trolley.

Which I suppose just goes to show that sometimes you're better off not getting out of bed because there's no way you can get ahead of the game, you can't stay even and you can't even pull out. So I waited at the head of that queue for ten minutes while the cashier went off with the 500€ note to her boss, who took it to her boss, who took it to the security people with the UV lamp ... the tourists looked confused, give 'em that. I imagine no-one had explained to them that in France, there are some people who will stoop so low as to forge money, and the high-denomination notes are the most attractive to forge, and so no-one will accept them any more despite their being legal tender. (Well, not the false ones, obviously, but I think you get my point.)

Met up with our friend Bryan after the market at Cardinals for a quick drink: found him, as usual, discreetly ogling the waitresses. (I must admit that the little blonde is rather nice, but definitely out of both my league and my age bracket. Which does not deter Bryan, who is made of sterner stuff.)

He's decided to take us as rôle models when it comes to doing up apartments: the original plan was to start working on his place straight away, but that's since changed to staying in the place for at least a year without lifting a finger. Time which, in theory, is used in careful observation of how the available space is actually used, and planning any work in consequence. I rather fear it'll be spent boozing and trying to remember if there remains a waitress in Chambéry with whom he has not tried (and possibly succeeded) to sleep, which would be depressing if things like that bothered me.

Now would probably be as good a time as any to bring to your attention an article that I couldn't help but notice on sale in the tabac when I went in to get some cigars the other day: the discreetly named "Suce-moi" edible G-string, apparently made from zillions of lollies strung onto licorice straps. Or something.

OK, so where's subtlety disappeared to? Damn near swallowed my cigar doing a double-take. I imagine they have bras as well, doubtless with two giant lifesavers for where the nipples are supposed to go. Really tasteful.

For some time now I have, given the number of childish readers of this here literary masterpiece, thought seriously of starting a sort of Kiddies Corner, just to keep the little sods peacefully occupied whilst you all go off and get roaring drunk. Unfortunately, to date the only idea I've come up with for the inaugural issue is "How to Build a Fission Reactor".

Although Amazon is very good, and could no doubt supply - in total discretion - the tonnes of lead and graphite required, there are certain logistical problems involved - not least getting a squash court built under the house so as to be able to get started with your very own "Fermi" runaway chain reaction.

Plutonium you could probably get by mail order from Libya, but do remember to order in large numbers of small quantities: otherwise the postie may well reach critical mass before getting to the house with your eagerly-awaited package, and that would be no fun if he took out the neighbouring suburb, would it? As it is, even only getting in 50mg a week, he'll probably start looking unhealthily tanned before too long, and may well develop suppurating facial ulcers. Which is gross. Perhaps I should give up on the idea of trying to entertain the children, it may not really suit me.

Speaking of gross, you really should see the traffic around these parts as the entire population of Belgium (or so it seems) leaves their miserable little shithole country to come here and ski (thanks to EU subsidies they - and Russian mobsters oligarchs upstanding members of the community- are the only ones that can afford to do so). At least the Dutch are still stuck at home, although that won't last for long.

As is so often the case around here, filet de sole à la Gironde involves wine. But as usual, not so much that there's none left to drink while you're busy waiting for it to cook, nor yet so little that you feel ashamed when you open another bottle. Which is exactly the way things should be.

I've a confession to make: I did not head off to the fishmonger and get fresh sole fillets plucked that very day from the channel - not at 20€ the kilo I'm not. The frozen ones from Carrefour, whilst obviously not as good, are really quite acceptable, and the fish, being dead, is in no fit state to complain about the humiliation.

On the other hand, if you don't happen to have any sole lying around the place or perhaps to hand in the fishpond, any firm white-fleshed fish fillets will do quite nicely, thank you. But not rabbit, please. Not at all the same thing.

Whatever, I always start by opening the bottle of white and making sure it's fit for purpose. Once Sophie's decided that it'll probably do (for she can be picky about such things), put the bottle off to one side (you will need to keep about 150ml for the actual recipe, you know) and thickly butter a gratin dish large enough to hold the fish fillets in one layer. (Now would probably be a good time to mention that this is for 6 fillets, about 500gms.) Flour that, and then sprinkle 2 tbsp of breadcrumbs over the bottom: have another gulp and get back to the task at hand.

So, slice 200gm of mushrooms thinly, finely chop two shallots (proper shallots, that is, not spring onions: or use a bog-standard onion if you must), parsley (to get 2 tbsp) and chives (1 tbsp). Mix the whole damn lot together in a bowl, then fry up 3 tbsp of breadcrumbs in 15gm of butter until golden and appetising.

Now it's time to put the lot together: sprinkle half the chopped herbs and mushrooms in the gratin dish, season and spread the fish fillets out over them. The rest of the herbs go on top, and you can now carefully pour 150ml of wine, ditto chicken stock, carefully down the side of the dish (so as not to disturb the herbs, of course). Sprinkle the buttered breadcrumbs mixed with around 50gm of decent grated cheese over all that, and stick it into the oven at 180° for around 25 minutes.

If there is any wine left, drink it now: if not, go get that other bottle. (By the way, I'm not a wine Nazi. I have no problems drinking a decent Bordeaux with fish. Nor should you. A Burgundy would, I admit, give me pause.)

By the end of this time it should be nicely browned on top, the liquid will be bubbling and it should smell delicious. If it's not browned and bubbling you can at least stick it under the grill until it is: if it smells absolutely foul then I'm afraid there's not much advice I can give other than suggesting  that sticking the pig's rectum in there, even finely chopped, was perhaps not, under the circumstances, the best of ideas.

Right, more wine and "Primeval" for me. Mind how you go.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Ooh, the pain ...

After 16 years of doing business with us, our accountant finally invited the pair of us out to lunch! At La Maniguette yet, in rue Juiverie. It used to be (many years ago, I must admit) La Tête du Lard, and offered copious quantities of Savoyard specialities: there it was that Margo and Phillippe split a mountainous tartiflette one hot August night, rolling (for anything more rapid was definitely not an option) - gently steaming - out into the humid evening. Which was, in my opinion, rather a foolish thing to do, given that tartiflette is, as I think I've explained before, nowt more than potatoes, onions and bits of bacon cooked slowly in the oven with cream, and a halved reblochon on top so that it melts through the whole mess as it cooks.

These days it's definitely more cuisine raffinée, with the emphasis on jus and artistically-arranged vegetables with morilles and things like that, but it's very well done, the desserts are excellent and you don't heave yourself out of the place feeling absolutely bloated at the end of the meal. Which is pleasant.

Whatever, rather to my surprise Chekhar took us in there, asked us to choose whatever took our fancy from the menu and the wine list, and didn't even disappear to the toilet when it came time to pay the bill. He's not exactly a scintillating conversationalist, and I fear he'll always be an accountant, but I have to admit that as the years go by I appreciate the guy more and more. I'll end up liking him one of these days; this is grave.

Before I forget, thanks to Sue for sending over a massive envelope with copies of missing years from the archives. I'll get around to scanning them (or, given that they were originally printed with a clunky old dot-matrix printer and underwent photocopying, retyping them) and posting them, purely for the sake of completeness, as time permits. In other words, it would be unwise to hold your collective breath while you wait.

Now that the primeveres have come out in the lawn and the wee birdies are doing noisily disgusting things in the eaves we've got a sudden cold snap. Like, I think the high today was perhaps -1°, and if you happened to have the misfortune to have to go out in the bise, our vicious northerly, you'd be forgiven for thinking it was more like -15°.

Which makes me glad that I managed to order a new washing machine. It's always nice to head off up the road to see our Aussie friend Sue, who generously let us use hers in the interim (the first time she even brought it all back on Sunday morning, neatly folded - unironed though, which was a bit of a let-down), but you don't really want to do it more often than you absolutely have to in weather like this. Basically, you stay inside unless there's a bloody good reason to go out.

Having nothing better to do on Thursday afternoon, I spent what felt like a small eternity on the phone with the buyer from the SNCF. I'd made Jean-Pierre an offer for an extension to the little fibre-optic/Ethernet bridge we developed for them, and he started pushing the purchasing office to get the order through, so the buyer had to try and justify his existence by getting me to lower the price. Christ, you'd have thought we were in an Arab souk. I swear that at one point he told me that I should just lower the price "symbolically" so that he could sleep happily, his wife and children would be delighted because he wouldn't beat them, and I would be serene in the knowledge of having performed a good deed.

And over what? At the end, he was asking me just to knock 200€ off the price, to take it down to a round 7000€. WTF? This is just petty cash! And because I have principles (where money's concerned, anyway), and because I personally find it insulting to be asked to lower an already-low but honest price, as if I were trying to gouge them, I stuck to my guns. It's not as though there's a lot the guy can do anyway: the order's been approved and it's not as though competitive bidding is an option in this particular case. Still, it annoys me.

El Reg has excelled itself recently. Their double-entendre squad came up with this one: Man killed by own cock. I admit that on the face of it it's a bit gross, but go take a look anyway.

One of these days I shall have to write a cookbook come travelogue. I know it's been done many times before, but this is not necessarily a Bad Thing: it means there must be a market out there. Provisional working title at the moment is "Bimler's Bastards: Hurried Meals for the Harried Cook, or Haute Cuisine for Alcoholics". I'm slowly building a selection of suitably rude or scatological recipe titles, starting off with bastard Béarnaise and bastard puff pastry ... of course they should all involve alcohol, at least peripherally, and preferably an amusing/erudite anecdote or two. This is called "padding", and is apparently prevalent in the publishing trade.

If any of you have any favourites - or even ideas for an obscene dish - do let me know. You won't regret it when I'm a celebrity chef.

Which brings me on to the topic of Meals I Won't Cook for Margo, which is basically anything involving fruit.  (Oh, there are other things as well - tripe, for instance, or cauliflower - but that's normal, for they are foul.) This is a bit narrow-minded, if you ask me, but she absolutely will not eat meat when fruit is involved: prefer to vomit unobtrusively on the table. On the bright side, this means there's more left over for the rest of us ... like with Norman Chook, perhaps better known as Poulet Vallée d'Auge. This is rather good, and drinking cider rather than wine will make a nice change for you. Although there's no law - to my knowledge - that says you can't drink both.

First of all, you should peel, core and slice a nice apple into rings, and then fry those in butter until golden. Sprinkle it with sugar while you're doing this: it'll thank you for it, and on top of it the caramelised bits will add a really lovely taste to everything else (which you will cook, of course, in the same frying pan). Right, fish the apple slices out and stick them on a plate somewhere - do not forget them, please, because you will need them later on. Now stick the chicken pieces in and let them brown all over. (Did I mention you needed chicken for this? Sorry, an oversight. Three good-sized bits of leg+thigh should do the job for three or four people, may need more if you have adolescents.)

While that's going on, have a glass of wine - or cider, if you insist - and while you're at it, chop another apple into small slivers: chuck that in with the chicken and while that's browning nicely chop 150gm or so of mushrooms and put them into a saucepan with about 250ml of dry cider and let that simmer.

After ten minutes it's about time to get serious, so have another glass before you flambé the chook with a glassful of Calvados. If you've none of that to hand, use whisky. Whatever. When the flames die down and you've checked that you still have a full complement of eyebrows, nostril hair or whatever, strain the cider in (keep the mushrooms, not finished with them yet), cover the pan and let it simmer gently for 30 minutes or so.

This is good, because it gives you time to get a salad ready and have yet another glass. What the hell, open another bottle. You deserve it. Anyway, when the chicken's done fish the bits out and keep them warm in the oven, and start seriously reducing the sauce: when it's gone down by half turn the heat right down and stir in 100ml of cream and the mushrooms and simmer that until it thickens. At which point you should pour it over the chicken, and arrange the fried apple slices on top.

Serve with salad, heaps of buttered noodles, and even more white wine. And the rest of the cider for the kids, why not?

You've probably guessed by now that this is what Sophie and I had for lunch on Saturday, and you'd be quite right. I did make one mistake, as we were eating - nothing so disastrous as picking my nose with the snail fork, rest assured - I explained braised lettuce to Lucas. Now nothing will do but I must make filet de boeuf Richelieu. Should that happen, it'll be a proper dinner for six, and all of us will be there armed with bread to scarf the sauce.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Amateur proctology ...

Okay, so what does this suggest to you? Personally I looked at it for at least ten minutes and the best I could come up with was that it was some sort of warning that if you bend over, clasp your ankles and throw up whilst wearing a baby backpack just here, you're likely to have some sort of perverted robot or a stick-figure dog come and give your haemorrhoids and lower digestive tract a detailled inspection, but somehow I think that's unlikely to be the correct explanation*.

And could someone explain to me why it is that rainy Sundays are always so bloody depressing? And it's not just the fact that you know that tomorrow it's Monday, and you have to go back to the daily grind, and it'll probably be fine ... there's something particularly gloomy about a gray, wet finish to the weekend. Especially when it comes after a beautifully bright sunny Saturday.

I only ask because just at the moment it's persisting down outside and has been for what seems like an eternity (although to be quite honest it's only been five hours) and I am getting awfully bored with it. The dog's no good at Monopoly - neither am I really, tend to get petty and spiteful when I lose - so that rather rules out board games: I recently rebored the gaskets on the septic tank so there's no point in doing that again for a while and the grass has stopped growing (it's winter, you know) so I can't even feign excitement watching that happen.

I suppose I could always go frighten some small children, but Emily tends to be quite protective about hers, (funny that, does she not trust me to not scar them for life?) and anyway it's too wet to go outside. Bugger.

Perhaps food will cheer me up. Let's see, tandoori chicken and curried vegetables - hum, what have we lurking around the place? Potatoes, pumpkin, broccoli, - bugger, no more kumara - poivron, onion and sweetcorn: sounds good to me. Stir-fried whilst the chicken reaches apotheosis, with a good dose of decent curry powder ... what's not to like? And followed by a warm, buttery pastis aux poires - I feel better already.

Right now, time to watch "Primeval": yes I know it's hopelessly escapist non-scientific rubbish, but the ash-blonde bird is so hot. Also, some of the dinosaurs have quite witty lines. At least, I'm sure they went down really well back in the Cretaceous.

You can probably tell: the weather's got a lot better. Could almost be excused for thinking that Spring is - just maybe - not too far around the corner. Headed off to the market as usual and to my surprise the place was more or less deserted. I eventually found the reason for that when I took it into my head to go out to Kiabi to get myself a new jacket, what with the Spring sales having started  (I mean, for €9 you couldn"t even buy the buttons and thread, let alone the fabric)... absolutely everybody else had had exactly the same brilliant idea, so what felt like the entire population of Chambéry was squeezed into 500m² of discount clothing store. I kind of wondered for a moment if we weren't going to reach critical mass and start imploding into some rather odd neutron star, but luckily a few people managed to leave so we escaped that dire fate.

Then off to Cardinal's for a solitary glass of white. It's bad enough having to drink alone, but this occasion was made doubly sad if only because I am still unable to say that I've had Sex on the Beach with Bryan. Or Sophie, or whoever - or anyone at all. (A gritty business, I imagine, one I think I can easily pass on.) Although it does seem a rather far-fetched name for a mixture of vodka, melon, grenadine, pineapple and cranberry. And I must admit that cocktails are not really my thing, apart from a dry martini which hardly counts, being too simple.

And after that, because I do appreciate the applause, off to cook for Sophie: the baked salmon en papilotte with beurre blanc I mentioned earlier. It's so touching how she's still amazed, even after all this time, that I can actually cook.

Although given that her kitchen is actively user-hostile unless all you want to do is defrost something, perhaps I should not be too surprised. Whatever , it went down a treat: as usual, Lucas wielded a baguette to ensure that not one drop of the sauce went to waste. Cooking for teenagers can be so rewarding.

I'm pretty sure I mentioned that Margo was headed off to Valence to pick up this enormous bloody sewing machine? Anyway, she did - rented an enormous van from one of the local supermarkets and bravely (and very cautiously) set off at midday Saturday. So that evening I was flopped as usual in my favourite armchair, trying to catch up with the world on The Economist website and downloading Primeval, and heard the roar of a truck coming up the road - "Goody", I thought, "that'll be Margo."

Then came a noise which sounded like the front of the house being ripped off, which was not too far from the reality, unfortunately. She'd rather forgotten that the truck was just a little bit higher than the Suzuki, and coming too close to the house managed to snag one of the little balconies out front. So all the railings tumbled down, one of them unfortunately removing the wing mirror from the truck: still, it could have gone through the windscreen.

And looking on the bright side, it made it so much easier to get the machine up there on the first floor, once the windows opened more or less directly onto the street.

* Yeah, so Margo took one look and said "no skateboarding". I don't think that should count.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Welcome to 2011, the drinks are on me ...

God alone knows which blathering idiot first decided that it would be a good idea to kick off the new year in the middle of bloody winter. Personally, I can't think of a more depressing time to start anything. And just to rub it in, we've had three days of unremittingly cold, gray, dismal weather. Roll on Spring, I say.

And just to start the year off with a dribble, the washing machine has decided to go senile on us. First of all the belt connecting the motor to the drum decided to come off, which is, I admit, not the most difficult of things to fix, and then it decided to start pissing water everywhere. So I've just spent some quality time with a tube of mastic trying to bog up a long rusty slit at the back of the drum, just to keep it going for another few days until I can get a new one. Bloody typical.

Friday I really couldn't be arsed working or anything, and anyway Margo was going in to Chambéry to get the windscreen on the little Suzuki replaced: usual story, a little chip from a stone and then, with the cold, you wake up one morning and find there's a bloody great crack running from side to side. Luckily insurance covers all that; the damn thing costs about €450. So I whipped past the office to make a token appearance (Renaud was off skiing) and then headed down to get a bit of shopping done.

Me, and apparently everyone else in the known universe: people worried, no doubt, that with only 50kg or so in the pantry they might be a bit short in the foie gras/saumon fumé department.

Whilst wandering aimlessly about the carpark at Leclerc waiting for Margo to turn up I did spot something which rather piqued my curiosity: a big 2x3m box with a truck pulled up by it, and people in the truck apparently pouring what looked like milk into the box. This kind of intrigued me, so I waited for them to go away (I suppose I could have just asked what was going on, but that would be cheating) and took a closer look.

They probably were indeed pouring milk into it, for the box advertised itself as a "dispenseur du lait cru" ie an unpasteurised milk vending machine. You can turn up with your own bottle(s), or for a fee the machine will throw one at you, and then for 1€ the litre it will fill your bottle with creamy white goodness, fresh from the morning's milking.

Personally I detest the stuff, my psyche having been permanently scarred by drinking milk fresh from the cow when I was once a wee lad: hot, steaming, thick and with bits of grass and what looked like rats' buttocks floating in it. But it seems odd that there's such a market for the stuff in the city. Hitherto I've come across it once or twice at one of the laiteries at the market, but I'd hardly expected to stumble across an industrial-scale vending operation in Chambéry.

Then later that afternoon, after a beer with Bryan I went off back to Mumblefuck to drop Jerry off: he'd organised New Year's Eve with Amelia. (Amelia is a friend. An honorary cousin. And despite Karen's best efforts, likely to stay that way. So stop  being salacious.) So we got to have a quiet evening in: a nice meal, a couple of the older bottles rudely dragged from their slumber in the cellar, and idling around until the fireworks went off at midnight. (And no, I am not speaking metaphorically here. The neighbours let off fireworks - and young James got to put his fingers on the trigger on one of those gas-powered airhorns.)

OK, I know you're suffering from temperatures up in the high 20s, but over here we is having -10° and worse at night, and as the dog is getting no younger we decided to make her sleep inside at nights. Because although her cellar is technically warmer than the outside, that's still too damn cold for comfort, and doubtless no good at all for her arthritis. Or rheumatism, whatever. Reluctantly she does so: on the plus side (from her point of view, anyway) we have to leave the pantry door ajar so that the cat can get to her dirtbox which means that the dog can also, despite it being absolutely verboten to enter the kitchen and she knows it, get in there too and scarf any leftover food from the cat's bowl. Not to mention any Kitty Treats™ she might find in the dirtbox. Dogs can be quite disgusting.

Which is, I suppose, just tough titty on the cat, but I really did think the dog was rather abusing the situation when I came down one morning to find that she'd clambered up into my bloody armchair and was happily asleep in it. I remonstrated, she gave me a Look (one of those ones that says "Oh, it's you! You're up early, aren't you? I'm not actually here") and pretended to be still asleep: I wound up upending the chair to decant her onto the floor. Then another five minutes removing dog hair so I can curl up with my coffee ...

Whilst I think of it, has anyone else noticed that they just don't make keyboards the way they used to? (Reflection perhaps due in part to the fact that, when cleaning out the Cupboard Below The Stairs so that we could send an expedition in to get to the Christmas decorations, we came across - amongst other things like the original Windows 3.11 installation diskettes - an old keyboard with the 5-pin DIN connector. It's currently on the balcony with a large number of boxes full of other junk, awaiting the next trip to the tip.) I have a Microsoft comfort curve  keyboard (or whatever they call it - used to have one of the hump-backed ergonomic ones which was a joy to use, but it didn't resist the effects of a glass of red wine) and the letters are starting to wear off the keys. Luckily, although I'm no touch typist, my fingers do know where the keys are, but still ... shall have to get out the Letraset and clear nail varnish, I suppose.

There's a quiet week ahead: Margo's gone off to give four days of classes on fabric dying in Switzerland and Jerry goes back to the lycée tomorrow morning, which leaves just me, the dog and the cat. Which means that when I come home in the evenings I'm going to get my knees whipped by an energetic tail and my face slobbered by a none-too-clean dog's tongue, and the cat will be trying to get her little bit of love as well. All this, and trying to get an intimate dinner for one ready: what bliss!

It appears that I no longer know how to cook for one person. If, indeed, I ever did. (Rather as, when Margo gently reminds me as I'm driving that I no longer have the reflexes of a 20-year old, I like to reply that in fact I never did. This tends to make her nervous.) I seem incapable of making little quiches and am unable to eat more than half a (baby) chicken: probably a good thing then that I didn't decide to make soupe à l'oignon or diots au vin blanc because they are huge and I'd have to make more space in the fridge for the leftovers than physically exists in there. (Memo to self: a hyperdimensional fridge would be a Good Idea. Go get one.) At least I'm unlikely to die of starvation in the immediate future. Maybe I will go and make some onion soup anyway.

And as it happens, dinner tonight is in fact onion soup, quiche, and salad - the lot followed - if I can find the room - by a bit of buche left over from Christmas that's currently hogging vast tracts of real estate in the fridge. At one blow I can get rid of one lot of leftovers and make room for the next arrivals. Seems a bit of a pointless exercise really, when you think about it. I should just leave the damn things in there and let them breed, and do a bit of culling when it's dinner-time. Would save a lot of bother and expense.

Speaking of things breeding, I just found a coffee mug that Margo must have left out before she left. Not a pretty sight.

Lunched with Sophie the other day (now there's a good example of a poor innocent noun being raped into a verb before it can say "philologist") and for the first time noticed that she commits one of the cardinal sins of French table etiquette: uses a knife to cut her salad. I was hugely deceived: it's a bit like accidentally scratching granny's paintwork and finding Klaus Barbie underneath. Just goes to show one never can tell what evil lurks in the hearts of men: this will be a lesson to me.

Whatever, as you can tell, the market is back to normal and the fishmonger is once again plying his trade. Which brings me to the treat of the day, which would be really nice made with turbot but as I'm not going to pay 20€ the kg for an overblown flatfish, and you probably can't get turbot anyway, you'll be pleased to learn that it works really well with salmon.

The first part is simple: take your fish, and remove its vital organs. In their place stick a couple of healthy sprigs of thyme - or rosemary, if you prefer. I could go for rosemary. Then place it on well-buttered tinfoil (this doesn't work. I always wind up ripping the stuff when I try to smear the butter over it: these days I just stick generous cubes of butter everywhere and hope for the best. Not yet let me down), pour a glass of white over it and wrap it all up hermetically. Now into the oven with it, for about 40 minutes.

While this is going on consider the state of the wine, for you'll need another glass for the sauce: go on, open another bottle. You know you want to.

So anyway, at this point stick a chopped shallot, a half-dozen peppercorns, 1 tbsp of white wine vinegar, a goodly glass of white and - the important bit - a star anis into a saucepan and start it all simmering. Let it do this thing for fifteen minutes or so, while you drink and get a salad ready. After which you should add about 100ml of stock, 2 tbsp of cream, and some saffron: turn up the heat and reduce this by half.

And when that's done, strain the whole lot through a sieve and over a very low flame whisk in about 120gm of butter and, if you feel that way, a pinch of cayenne. Keep it warm until the fish is ready, and serve to applause.