16 JUNE 1990, Page 42

Imperative cooking: a rare recipe

THIS column rarely gives recipes: there are quite enough available already to anyone who has a few of the better cookery books and those who are too lazy to consult such books are unlikely to take much notice of anything printed here. Anyway, what is needed today is true educated interest and pleasure in food, not rehearsals of lists. However, recent events prompt me to offer a couple. The wireless asked me to put together a June breakfast using the best ingredients of farms and sea and they happened to do so at a time when the recent batch of food scares — beef, shellfish — was at its most publicised. Obviously resistance to the food-fascists was called for.

First, a raw beef dish. I thought earnest- ly about steak tartare. It has the advantage of not only using raw beef but raw egg- yolks. However, I settled instead on slices of raw beef in lemon and olive oil: not Carpaccio — that is a modern affair in which good beef is smothered in mayon- naise, mustard, brandy, cream and the kitchen sink. No, just beef marinaded in oil and lemon for a while. It is good after an hour but even better after four or five. The wireless man, Mr Pool, who comes from Australia, insisted on using fillet steak BBC money and all that — and it was splendid. But I did some blade on the side, which came out rather well at a quarter of the price. I suggest a competition breakfast in which several different cuts are offered blind. And a few stems of lightly cooked thin green asparagus to dip in the juice. With the raw beef a tumbler of V and TJ.

After that a more elaborate main course for the breakfast. Buy several pounds of fish — I used John Dory and black bream — and some live crabs. You want to finish up with about five times more fish flesh I'm worried about the brain drain — all our best minds are going to Europe.' than crab meat. You might also buy a few dozen oysters — yes, I do know how June is spelt: I should go back to your bowl of roughage and skimmed milk if I were you.

Eat most of the oysters while you are preparing the fish. Wash the crabs, scrub- bing off any mud, because you'll need the water in which they are boiled. Throw them into boiling water and cook — for small crabs, 12-15 minutes. Mash some spuds (Maris Piper do well). Swallow a few more oysters to keep you going. Take the crabs out and poach the fish in the crab liquid. Bone and skin the fish and throw the bones, heads and skin back in to simmer on. Mash the filleted fish up with the potatoes (two parts fish to one part potatoes) and a couple of eggs. Open the crabs and get out the meat, both dark and white. Put the empty shells and bits minus the dead men's fingers — into a tough, plastic bag and bash it with a mallet. Then put them back into the stock. Form the fishcakes — of course you need black pepper and salt, we can't start from scratch with every recipe — then bury in the middle of each a dollop of white crab meat or a dollop of brown crab meat or, wait for it, an oyster. Then dust them in flour and fry them in olive oil. Filter off some fish stock — you will have a lot — and amalgamate with butter and flour and parsley into a fairly runny sauce. It is vulgar, or worse, nouvelle, to serve the cakes surrounded by a green sea of sauce. Just let people help themselves — and with a ladle not a teaspoon. Then watch for the pleasure as they find the oyster, hot but not really cooked.

The fishcakes should be two to three time the size of commercial ones. I find chaps can eat three or four of these with quarter of a pint of sauce each. After all, the beef slices were very thin. If you really are serious about the details of quantities, you will use these measures and work back to find the necessary amounts of raw ingredients. But I warn you, and this is one reason the cakes are so good, it's a lot of fish and a lot of crab.

If children are present, other surprises can be hidden in the cakes. Depending on the quality of the children, you can in- corporate extensions of the oyster idea such as clams or fresh bird's-eye chillies.

Digby Anderson