Food 2020 – Banquist #008, Thomas Frake

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Saturday 26th September, 2020 – Banquist #008, Thomas Frake

So after a series of “just lob it in the oven at 180°C” meals, I decided it was time to try out the September offering from Banquist. You may note, if you click on the link to their website, that they do say they “teach you how to cook world class food with the world’s best chefs”. If you are tempted, do pay particular attention to that, because unlike a lot of the other boxes, you will be doing a lot of work yourself. If you’re not a confident an capable cook, I would advise you to steer clear. If you’re happy with your own level of talent, go for it. They do provide full instructions, and there is also a video talking you through the process, so if you’re happy with that as well, you will be fine.

The September experience was with this year’s UK Masterchef: The Professionals winner, Thomas Frake, and on paper at least it was definitely a winner.

The Menu

Monkfish tail scampi, dill tartare, and pickled fennel

Hogget lamb rack, broadbeans 3 ways, mint salsa verde, and pink fir hassleback (sic) with garlic & parsley butter

Choux pastry filled with Earl Grey crème diplomat, served with hot malt butterscotch sauce

It sounded good so after discussion with Lynne, I decided to put my order in. The box is delivered on the Friday for the weekend you choose, and it arrived in good order, apart from our delivery driver’s inability to understand the distinction between the SIDE door of the house and the BACK door (I’m thinking about a notice that just says “THIS IS NOT THE BACK DOOR – KEEP GOING” and an arrow). I figured it would be best to open it and squirrel things away in the fridge as soon as possible.

Along with the ingredients (and a bottle of matched wine) was a very nicely printed set of instructions on good quality paper, and a menu card to put on the table. I stashed everything away and ignored it until Saturday morning.

On Saturday morning I firstly sat and read through the instructions (all 29 steps) twice to be sure I’d understood them and that I had all the extras I might need. The list was relatively simple (and incomplete as it didn’t mention a baking tray of some sort, but it didn’t really matter as I do have a very well-equipped kitchen): salt and pepper, a food processor and/or a potato masher, knife, frying pan, saucepan, grater, vegetable oil, butter, olive oil.

The instructions told me I would need the following prep and cooking time: 110 mins. (Prep: 1 hour / Starter: 10 mins / Main: 35 mins / Dessert: 5 mins). While the instructions were spot on in the main, I’m going to dispute this because I spent considerably more time than that on prep alone, and the main cooking time seems to overlook the suggestion that after 35 minutes, you put the meat in for a further 20 minutes, and there were other things that needed to be done then. However, I got started by identifying the pickling liquid (nothing apart from the meat and fish – and a bottle of sparkling mineral water – was actually labelled, so there were labels on the things that were instantly identifiable and none on things that weren’t… not sure in what world that is logical).

The instuctions told me to pour the pickling liquid into a saucepan, and bring to a simmer, while thinly slicing the fennel. I got that done fairly rapidly, then poured the liquid over the vegetables, chopped up the dill (which was in a bag with the parsley) and threw that in as well, then put the whole thing in the fridge. It was going to get a lot more than the hour specified.

The next job was to make a crust for the meat. This meant combining panko breadcrumbs, most of the parsley, the zest of half the lemon, a pinch of salt, and a drizzle of olive oil in a food processor or simply chopping everything fine. I went for he food processor option. I’m pretty sure it would have taken even longer if I hadn’t. What I had at the end of it was a vibrant green paste that tasted amazing.

The next job was to blanch the peas and broadbeans to make the broad beans three wasy. Again, this could have been quicker, if the beans and peas had been separate. Because after blanching and cooling them, I then needed to shell the beans, which meant I had to pick them out from the peas. The shells were set aside to be deep-fried at a later stage and then 3/4 of the beans and peas were blended with olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. It was suggested that I might want to use a potato masher. I chose not to and pushed it all through the food processor. It then had to be sieved, which was nowhere near as difficult as it sounded from the instructions (I don’t think I really did need any “serious elbow grease”).

I ignored the next step which was to heat the oil for the scampi because obviously I wasn’t planning on us eating the meal until the evening. Instead, I grabbed my nicely curved wooden spoon to begin preparing the Hasselback (or hassleback as they kept annoyingly spelling it!) potatoes. I rubbed them with oil and salt and left them to their own devices in a baking tray.

Meanwhile, a little forward thinking suggested there was more that I could do to save efforts later in the day. I cut up the monkfish and rolled it in the flour mix and set it aside in the fridge for when I needed it, and made the batter to use with it. I could see no reason not to simply put that in the fridge and give it a vigorous stir just before using it. I also decided I would toss the broad bean shells in flour and stash them away till later. They were dry enough that it wouldn’t be detrimental to the food.

Finally,I seasoned the meat generously with salt and pepper and seared it in a frying pan to colour it. I then smeared the supplied Dijon mustard all over and coated it with the crust mix. There was a lot of of and I wasn’t sparing but I still had quite a lot left. I have plans for that though…

That still left me with 15 steps to get through come dinner time, though some of them were relatively effortless, like Step 18 which simply said “enjoy with a glass of Innocent Bystander”, the wine that was supplied as part of the package. Of that, more later.

To get the starters sorted I needed to put a pan of oil on to heat so I could deep fry the scampi. Obviously this took some time to come up to the requisite 180°C, and certainly meant that I needed more than 10 minutes from start to finish. More like 20 I would say, the oil taking around half of that to heat to the correct level. I gave the batter a fierce beating with a fork then rolled the monkfish pieces in it and dropped around 4 or 5 pieces into the oil at a time. They browned quickly, and while they were cooking I drained the pickled fennel in a sieve (they said to do it on paper towels but the sieve worked just fine), and plated it along with the dill tartare sauce which was supplied ready made. Was it good? It certainly was, the fish still tender and the batter just crisp enough. It was probably thicker in the original recipe but I prefer a lighter, almost tempura like batter personally so I made it somewhat thinner. Here’s the finished, plated dish.

I ignored the injunction to put the poptatoes in while the fish was being finished off because we like to linger over dinner. Instead I put them in after I’d stacked the starter plates in the dishwasher and we kept on enjoying the wine while the potatoes cooked. After 35 minutes I rubbed the garlic parsley butter over the potatoes, and then added to meat to the roasting pan as well and put the whole lot back in the over. This is presumably where they figured the whole “Masterrchef” experience could be stepped up a notch, because the instructions said “return to the oven for 15-20 mins depending on how you like your meat cooked”. Well, I like my meat relatively rare but 15 minutes left in uncooked most of the way through. Cue panic. Or not. The frying pan that I’d used earlier to brown the meat was still hanging about, as it can’t go in the dishwasher, so I applied high heat to it, carved the rack into 6 cutlets or chops and flung them in the pan for around 30 seconds each side. Perfect!

While the meat rested, I fried the broad bean shells in the deep fat, a process that took seconds, and applied heat to the bean and pea puree. None of this took long and we soon had the main course on the table, but it definitely took around 55 minutes, not the 35 suggested. It was worth all the effort though, with so much flavour in the vegetables, and the meat just tender and perfect. I took my apron off and settled down to enjoy it. The broad beans shells added texture, the garlic butter infused everything with heat, and it was a thoroughly enjoyable dinner. We couldn’t managed the dessert so left that for the following day and instead finished the wine.

Thi was a 2018 Yarra Valley Innocent Bystander, Pinot Noir from Australia. It was described as an “exceptional 2018 vintage (which) is a ripe and somewhat reductive Pinot. It eventually opens with time in glass, revealing red fruit wrapped in lots of oak spice. The fruit on the palate sits a bit heavily and tannins are lean and astringent, emphasizing the oak particularly at the finish. Serve chilled with the scampi, and then allow to breathe before tucking into the hogget.”  It certainly worked very well with both courses.

The dessert was really, really simple to put together. All I had to do was make a hole in the bottom of each of the two choux buns and pipe the Earl Grey crème diplomat into them. The only problem I has was making the incision large enough but once I’d done that it was a doddle and this stage really did only take five minutes. The butterscotch needed warming and I did manage to let it overflow messily in the microwave by giving it what might have been 30 seconds too long, but I was able to scrape most of it back into the container and still be able to use it. I did forget top add the suggested pinch of salt, which might have lifted it further, but it was still delicious, if sticky…

So a very successful, though not exactly effortless, meal that I reckon, if we add in the 20 minutes spent polishing the hob and the 40 minutes of extra washing up/dishwasher stacking and emptying, probably took twice as long as that optimistic 110 minutes, but was probably worth it!

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