For the love of the crispy bits
On Saturday evening, Plus One and I went to have dinner with a bunch of friends at one of their places. Now, while I hesitate to use the words "pot luck " and, likewise, "barbecue" (as we cooked inside when we couldn't get the gas barbie working), that's (sort of) what it was.
At these kind of "bring something" kind of occasions, I usually try to make something just a bit different. It's not that I'm trying to show off, it's just that I genuinely want to try something I haven't done before - and if I'm going to fail, I like to fail with largesse.
I devised a kind of grilled fruit dish, with haloumi, and mint, and chili, and grilled lemon. The inspiration was the excellent bite I had at last week's lunch at Riverstone Café on a tasting plate - fresh apricots, goat cheese, a balsamic reduction. What I wound up with was actually nothing like it, but shared its flavour combination of tart fruit and salty cheese.
After grilling the fruit (beautiful new season apricots and pears, from Cuba Fruit, natch), I set to grilling the haloumi. I actually sorta ballsed it up a bit - it was too slack to dust the slices of cheese with flour and the pan was too hot and then too cold and the cheese wound up a bit messy-goopy.
But, as I was scraping it up from the griddle pan, our host, my good friend DL said something to me that I thought was kind of profound. He said conspiratorially: "They're the best bits - the crispy bits. Sort of like life, really..."
Which sounds a bit daft in hindsight. But also kind of spiritual and profound. Actually, I'm not entirely sure I get it at all as a simile. But I totally get it as a food thing.
The crispy bits. They're always the best. Whether they are crispy bits from the bottom of a roast chicken, or from a bag of hot chips with slightly too much salt and vinegar, or a little edge bit off a pork belly slow cooking in the oven, or the boiled-over fruity goop bits of an apple crumble - the crispy bits are almost always extra delicious.
They are like super condensed bursts of flavour. They are salty and tangy and sweet. Technically, I guess, they are actually kind of mistakes - if something was cooked perfectly, they might not exist. But I'm glad they do.
Here is what I made:
The Omnivore's grilled summer fruit with haloumi
You will need;
6 x apricots, stoned and quartered
3 x pears, cored and sliced into thick-ish slices (if you leave the core in it will look more "rustic")
2 x quartered lemons
A packet (or two) of haloumi
A handful of mint leaves
A red chili
Some runny honey
A little vegetable oil
Method: Lightly coat the fruit in oil and fry it in a pan (if you have a griddle pan, they will get grill-lines on them and look cool), or on a barbecue. Grill the lemons too - while I don't always go for that "cooked" lemon taste, on this it's great.
Lay the cooked fruit out on a platter and fry slices of haloumi in the pan or BBQ. Drape them over the top of the fruit (and don't forget to salvage all the crispy bits!)
Finish the platter with some thin slices of chili (optional, I guess, but they look awesome and don't be such a sook), the torn-up mint and a drizzle of runny, clear honey.
It makes an appealing change from the more regular tomato/lettuce salads, it looks glorious and it tastes amazing - give it a bash!
As we tucked into a pretty spectacular spread (snapper, scotch fillet, grilled aubergines, loads of salad, my buddy J Des' extraordinary potato dauphinoise - never fear, I will get his recipe...) I pondered the crispy bits scenario as life metaphor. And you know what - I think I do get it. Like the things that go a bit wrong, but somehow have more appeal than the things that go precisely to plan, sometimes these accident end up producing something special. The musician-producer Brian Eno has a maxim that is one of his "oblique strategies" - honour thy mistake as a hidden intention. And you know what? From now on I intend to do just that. And to savour "the crispy bits".
What are your favourite "crispy bits"? Other examples of accidents that produce something sublime? And do you think you'll give my grilled fruit and cheese dish a go?!
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