Paul Flynn: Three satisfyingly simple dishes that anyone can cook

For novice cooks, the most important thing is not to be afraid. Turn down the heat and keep calm

Cheat’s Caesar salad. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Cheat’s Caesar salad. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

Having a cookery school has taught me that most people want simple, tasty food that doesn’t take hours to make. That’s what I concentrate on: simple techniques that even the most novice cook can master. The most important thing is not to be afraid. Turn down the heat and keep calm. 

There are things you can always do to improve your cooking. If something tastes tart, you can counter it with honey, apple or redcurrant jelly, maple or golden syrup instead of sugar. They add depth of flavour as well as sweetness. If it’s too sweet, add a little citrus or vinegar. Balance is the key. Learn to trust your tastebuds – they are a gift, especially these days. Remember, black is never good in cooking, unless it’s a truffle. 

This week’s hake dish was whipped up with some fridge leftovers, as I couldn’t bear to drive into town that dark, rainy evening. I already had the fish and a few other bits. Sometimes this is how recipes happen – there is no masterplan. I’m leaving the fillet whole. I love the rustic haphazardness of it. The sauce will bake into the fish and split a little. It’s no beauty but tastes exotically lovely.

The caldo verde brings back happy memories of a trip to Lisbon with some of my old friends – the “old” getting more literal by the day. At the end of a very long day, we would gather in a teeming square with young Lisboans to eat steaming bowls of this soup. I can still hear the clackety clack of their excited chatter. It was a world away from post-club drunken bumbling in the chipper in Ireland. We were amazed at the civility of it all.

This Caesar dressing is a great tip. There’s not an anchovy in sight for those who are wary. Once you add lemon juice to cream, it thickens up enough to coat the leaves, so you can have your Caesar dressing made in minutes. It’s important to make the dressing just before you are ready to serve or it will thicken too much.

Recipe: Baked hake, cauliflower, almond, harissa and orange dressing

Baked hake, roasted cauliflower, harissa buttermilk dressing. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
Baked hake, roasted cauliflower, harissa buttermilk dressing. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Recipe: Caldo verde

Caldo verde. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
Caldo verde. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Recipe: Cheat’s Caesar salad

Cheat’s Caesar salad. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
Cheat’s Caesar salad. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
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