Cooking for a crowd

 

Entertaining a big group doesn’t have to mean a giant pot of stew or curry. Here’s a crowd-pleaser that’s fresh and flavoursome, writes DOMINI KEMP

IT’S AROUND THIS time of year that people seem prepared to cook for a gathering again. Maybe it’s because the trauma of Christmas is long gone, or the brighter weather makes us feel sociable, instead of hermit-like.

Either way, it can sometimes be hard to think of something that works for large gatherings and isn’t some sort of brown stew or chicken curry. Nothing wrong with either of the above, but when the weather perks up, there’s definitely something less appealing about a big pot of lamb hot-pot.

Sometimes we find ourselves catering for large group, but wanting to do something that appears small and unique, rather than having to dole out lunch or dinner with a ladle. This exact quandary led me to come up with this salmon dish which although it is served with jasmine rice, is very accommodating in that the individual salmon parcels look like something Fraulein Maria would consider one of her favourite things.

It also has the added advantage of not making your house stink of fish long after you’ve cooked it, which I find is one of the biggest drawbacks to cooking fish at home. And I apologise for calling these parcels “fragrant”. It sounds more than a little poncey. But there’s something about basil that really does make everything quite fragrant, so I feel the adjective is just about permissible.

The rice dish works well, even when re-heated the next day, which is no mean feat as I find rice a real bore to cook. I’m told the solution to inability to cook rice is a rice steamer and that they are one of the best gadgets you can buy. But frankly I’m not mad on gadgets or gizmos that are only fit for one task (the weighing scales being the obvious exception), so I have little use for ice-cream makers or spice grinders.

But whenever I cook rice, I long for a better way. Well at least with this recipe I’ve managed to prevent complete and utter bland gloopiness, and although not light and fluffy (like an Uncle Ben’s advertisement), it at least has a nice sticky quality and fantastic flavour.

The condiment sauce is really a serving suggestion and you really do need to doctor it according to your tastes. I made it and kept tasting it, and couldn’t really decide whether it really was killer hot or if I was just being a wuss. Either way, it was delicious and was used as a condiment with every dinner for the next few days.

FRAGRANT SALMON PARCELS

These can be wrapped up and left for a few hours before baking. They don’t take long, but I would bring them to room temperature before cooking, so leave them out of the fridge for 30 minutes before plonking in the oven.

4 x 200g skinned pieces of salmon

4-8 basil leaves

4 small bunches of coriander

1 lime, sliced

Splash olive oil

1 lime, juiced

Salt and pepper

Put each salmon fillet onto a larger rectangle of parchment paper. The salmon pieces I had were all long and skinny, so I was able to sandwich or fold them over, stuffed with a couple of basil leaves, some coriander and a slice of lime. Splash with a few generous drops of olive oil, a bit more lime juice and season well.

Wrap them up and secure loosely with string. These will be grand for a few hours left in the fridge. When you are ready to cook, take them out of the fridge and allow them to get to room temperature before placing them in a roasting tin.

Splash the parcels randomly with some water (about three to four tablespoons) and bake at about 190 degrees/gas mark five for about 10-15 minutes. I was happy with mine after about ten minutes, mainly because I liked the fact that they were not fully cooked in the middle. But this is up to you, so open one up, pull it slightly apart and you’ll know quite quickly how well done they are. Remember, if they are nearly done, they will keep on cooking in their parcels. Either way, they remain moist, so even if you cook them to Timbuktu, they will still be delicious.

Let people open up their parcels and empty the contents into a bowl or on to a plate, with the rice and the hot and fiery salsa.

JASMINE RICE WITH SPRING ONIONS AND NIGELLA SEEDS

This seems a little dull, but was really nice to eat.

Good splash olive oil

2 bunches spring onions, finely chopped

2 tsp nigella seeds

3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced

300g jasmine rice

600ml boiled water with a stock cube

Bunch coriander, roughly chopped

Heat up the olive oil in a heavy-based saucepan and gently cook the spring onions along with the nigella seeds and garlic.

Rinse the rice well in a sieve and then add it to the saucepan and cook for a few minutes to heat through, and also to coat the rice in the oil and flavours.

Add the hot stock and bring up to the boil. Stir occasionally and then keep a lid on it and turn the heat down low. Mine cooked in about 15 minutes. But keep an eye on it; give it the occasional stir and then check the seasoning. This also re-heats very well if you add a bit of water and maybe a splash more olive oil

HOT AND FIERY SALSA

a few red chillies

3 cloves garlic

big bunches or handfuls of mint, coriander and basil

juice of 2 limes

50ml fish sauce

50ml soy sauce

50ml sweet red chilli sauce

1 grated fennel bulb

ginger, minced, to taste

In a food processor, process the chillies (with the seeds removed), garlic, mint, coriander and basil, lime juice, fish sauce, soy sauce and sweet red chilli sauce. Add some water if too thick.

Taste, then add the grated fennel, which bulks it out and gives it another flavour, along with some minced ginger. Adjust the seasoning to suit your tolerance for heat and saltiness.