I watched a sporting match at the weekend that failed to live up to its name. It was not the expectation, nor in fact the event itself, in which lay the failure: it was in the naming…..it was not a match, it was a mismatch. One of the two sides, strive as their players manfully did, were restricted to showing how good was the other. Being a neutral observer the predictable outcome had no effect on me save for arousing in my mind the likeness between this mismatch and its disconcerting similarity to innumerable dishes of food that have, over the years, been put before me and indeed those that, on more occasions than I would care to admit, I have put before others, and which suffered from the same shortcoming: a mismatch, in these incidents of ingredients, flavours and conception. We, as was the Curate, are compelled to employ a euphemistic reply to suggest that there is something good in an irredeemably bad dish….or, as was the original case, egg. An egg is good or it is bad, there is no middle ground. A dish that is too salty will remain so despite our protestations of it reminding us of swimming in the warm sea last summer.
I clearly remember, though I have tried without success over the years to expunge this memory, an occasion when I reduced a classically simple dinner, consisting of a gigot and a gratin of potatoes, to a gut wrenching endurance test. Mismatches were the rocks on which the dinner foundered. It was at the time when I had first discovered Edouard de Pomiane and was enthused with his writings and recipes, in one of which he had described cooking a gigot over hot coals with a silver foil reflector at the side. It was summertime, so the idea of cooking outside in the early evening pushed all the right buttons and in due course the skin of the gigot had attained that mouthwatering glssoy, dark brown hue that predicts perfection. The accompanying gratin was attaining a similar hue in the oven whilst the dark thunderclouds of disaster were still noticeable by their absence. There are one or two details of the cooking procedures with which I have not yet acquainted you and of which, at the time, I was equally oblivious. The time taken for the gigot to reach perfection, in the estimation of M.de Pomiane, was the duration of his conversation with a neighbour over the garden fence. No exact details were given of the conversation, nor of its length, and I, a debutant with a gigot al fresco, did not have the wit to probe it with a knife. Instead, I had decided to make a Pomianesque decision of when it was ready, and that decision was to be made earlier rather than later….overcooked lamb being my fear. As to the gratin……my nose had been in another book which had cast its influence over me, and in which I had come across the aptly named Janssen’s Temptation, a Swedish version of a potato gratin which uses anchovies as the salting agent. This excellent dish had stayed in my mind and I had decided to replace the dauphinois with this new concept. As I layered the potatoes, cream and anchovies my mind still retained fragments of the original Dauphinois plan, so I generously sprinkled salt on top of each layer of tinned anchovy fillets that lay between the cream smeared, paper thin potatoes. The end result was memorable, in that being served burnt skinned, yet bleeding raw lamb with a dish of potatoes that challenged the Dead Sea for salinity would be forever engraved on the memories of our guests whilst the two dining chairs, breaking nearly simultaneously, and casting them onto the floor at the speed of a failing elevator was the icing on the cake, though what that icing would consist of beggars belief if such a fucking awful event can be called cake.
It would have been so much better to have served them a perfect fried egg; eaten, with good bread, directly from the pan….preferably not whilst sitting on a chair.