It has been the week of Easter on our calendar, although it will be early May before our Greek neighbours roast the traditional lamb on a spit! In Australia, the religious elements of Easter are observed by a declining number of residents. The standing of the mainstream Christianity is at a low ebb, especially the Catholic church. So, for most of us, Easter is a secular occasion, devoted to picnics, sport, family reunions, house and garden projects or one last warm-weather vacation.
And shopping: department store ‘mid-season’ sales; countless kilograms of chocolate, some of which has been on display since 26 December; Easter or ‘hot cross’ buns, of which a growing number are infused with yet more chocolate; prawns, our national festive food of choice; and, even for many who never go to church, fish on Good Friday.
At Easter time in our home, we foreswear the temptations of chocolate and sugary buns, and we never eat fish on the Friday. I experienced a reverse epiphany when I was 12 years old, and decades of being browbeaten by family members into attending church have left Maggie with a light streak of hostility. So, at her insistence, aided and abetted by my irreverence, it is our custom to have a meal of roast beef on Good Friday. This year it was ribeye on the bone, with plenty of marbling – moist and tasty.
On Saturday, content with our observance of tradition, we returned to the task of utilising our copy of Mastering the art of French cooking – this falls under the heading of ‘house and garden projects’ – and prepared a dish that has been on my wish-list for a couple of months: Tarragon Chicken.
I have written before about the damage done to my culinary proclivities by my first failed attempt to prepare an edible meal of tarragon chicken. And of my more recent conversion to growing and using fresh tarragon at home in a variety of dishes. Indeed, Maggie and I were already acquainted with the compatibility of chicken and tarragon – we used to prepare a paste from butter, garlic, pepper, tarragon and prosciutto and push it between the skin and breasts of a chicken before it was roasted. But this recipe, from Julia Child and her collaborators, was positioned in my mind, for better or worse, as something of a culinary Everest. Okay, perhaps I exaggerate, un petit peu.
Well, I am happy to say that we were thrilled with the result. The recipe worked well, we were comfortable to make some minor modifications along the way, the experience felt like an adventure and the result was elegant, flavoursome and beautifully sauced. As only French food can be.
(As we make our first attempt at some of the recipes from Mastering … we are not stopping to take photos of the preparation or method, such is the need to give our full attention to executing the recipe. So, until the encore …)
Then, on the Monday of the Easter weekend, a holiday in Australia, we prepared food for a table of six, with long-standing friends of Maggie’s joining us for lunch. The main course was some pieces of boneless lamb leg, which we roasted in our Weber Q about an hour after we had massaged the meat with a paste of grated garlic, chopped rosemary leaves, olive oil and pepper.
The side dishes included a couple of the usual suspects and a room-temperature salad, comprising: small skin-on pieces of roasted pumpkin, tossed in baharat an hour before being slowly roasted with some olive oil; green beans, blanched for just under three minutes and cut in half; pieces of bocconcini, tossed with the warm pumpkin to soften them; and a light dressing of homemade vinaigrette.
The three colours of this salad match those of the national flag of the Republic of Ireland, which was commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Easter rising against British rule. For me, descended from a poor Irish woman, Eliza Bridget McManus, this was a happy coincidence. Sláinte mhaith!