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Austerity menu for summer

15 June 2011
Austerity menu for summer

In the third of our seasonal features looking at tried-and-tested menu items that deliver a low food cost and a high profit, Michael Raffael looks at the summer months for inspiration

He has the scent of barbecues in his nostrils, she is trying to fit into a new bikini - as a chef, your goal is to tap into their latent sense of well-being. The trick is to pack the menu with subliminal verbal messages. Suggest colour and accessible Easyjet destinations, imply sunshine and balmy nights dining on terraces overlooking the beach.

Turn the picture on its head. How many holiday restaurants abroad exploit tourists? Ninety per cent, maybe. Who cares if the food stinks providing there's retsina on the table and a plate to smash?

If tourist traps abroad can sell a mirage of their cuisines to travellers, our restaurants back home can. The salade niçoise has to be a sight better than many that are offered in Le Vieux Nice. Risi e bisi dished up on the Grand Canal won't be good enough for Bracknell.


Starters

Salade nicoise
No French beans, no potatoes, canned tuna optional: the salad is a mix of young leaves (both herbs and lettuces), raw Mediterranean vegetables, olives, hard-boiled eggs and anchovy fillets. And one more "no" - no vinaigrette, just extra virgin olive oil in the dressing.
Cost from 60p as a starter

White crabmeat pink grapefruit
This was once a favourite of nouvelle cuisine star Roger Vergé and deserves a recall. It's one of those surprising "happy marriages" of ingredients that slip in and out of fashion. Make it up like a prawn cocktail, but go easy on the sauce. Cut the mayonnaise with a little fromage blanc and spike the ketchup with a few drops of Tabasco or Worcester sauce.
Cost about 90p

Soupe de poisson, croutons and rouille
Classic bistro/brasserie recipe. Don't use bones or flesh from oily fish, neither in the stock nor in the soup itself. Pollack, whiting and gurnards are ideal. Pounding saffron in a mortar with a splash of boiling water helps to extract its flavour. If you've boiled your own crabs for the white meat, add some of the brown meat for extra body.
Cost from 75p

Crudites (with dips)
Radishes, fennel, celery, carrot, spring onions, cucumber, asparagus tips, peppers, sugar snap peas, cherry tomatoes - whatever is freshest. And for dips, pick from aïoli, hummus, Stilton or anchoiade (anchovy/olive oil/garlic). Fresh chopped herbs, lightened cream cheese and a touch of wine vinegar is the Lyonnais speciality "cervelle de canut" [silk worker's brain].
Cost from 75p


Mains

Keftethakia
Keftethes, lamb rissoles, are a staple of Greek tavernas. These are the downsized version, and neater. Keep them the diameter of a 50p coin. Season the mixture with herbs and spices. Rosemary Barron's suggestion in Flavours of Greece: cumin and coriander works well. So does fresh mint and chopped tomato. Serve with lemon.
Cost £2.50, based on boned lamb at £9 per kg

Crepinettes
In France this is the generic name for flat pork sausages wrapped in caul. They differ from British sausages in that they contain neither binder nor added water. Season them to taste. Add cooked spinach or fresh tomato concassée. Mince shoulder or hand of rare-breed pork so you can sell the dish as, say, barbecued Middle White crépinettes or sautéd Saddleback crépinettes with wild mushrooms.
Cost £2.25, based on rare-breed pork belly/hand at £8 per kg

Grilled lemon chicken
Start with the premise that you are going to buy a free-range chicken, not necessarily an organic one. Bone it out to obtain four pieces of breast and four of leg meat. Bat these out so the pieces are of similar thickness. Marinate them with lemon, oregano and grated onion. Serve grilled with gremolata: garlic, parsley, grated lemon zest and Maldon salt.
Cost £2.70, based on free-range chicken at £4.40 per kg

Salmon brochettes
Marinate salmon cubes in a yakitori dressing: 3 parts Kikkoman soy sauce, 3 parts mirin, 2 parts sake, 1 part light soft brown sugar. Thread them on bamboo skewers. Baste with any left-over marinade while cooking on a grill or griddle.
Cost £2.70, based on salmon fillet at about £10 per kg


Desserts

Summer pudding
It's only as good as the quality of the soft fruit that goes in it, of course, but the recipe can be spoiled by using a cheap sandwich loaf. Slices lining the pudding become slimy when saturated. "Diet" bread absorbs juice like a sponge but keeps its texture. A small proportion of poached blackcurrants deepens the colour and adds a slight red wine taste.
Cost from £1.40 plus cream

Cranachan
There are only five ingredients in this Scottish favourite: toasted oatmeal, crushed raspberries, honey, whipped double cream and malt whisky. To give it extra impact on the menu, highlight an ingredient, Blairgowrie raspberries or The Macallan whisky, for instance. Any extra cost will be worth it.
Cost about £1.70, based on malt whisky at £5 per 100ml

Clafoutis
The homespun clafoutis is no more than a batter pudding baked with cherries. Sour, bright-red Montmorency cherries are ideal. Some professionals stone them, but they lose a little of their juiciness. Some pour the batter into a pastry case before baking; it isn't necessary. Some enrich a recipe that will work for pancakes or waffles with cream. That's missing the point. Rustic should be rustic.
Cost 70p, based on cherries at £7 per kg

Chocolate brownie, pecan ice-cream
First there were brownies, then double chocolate brownies and Antony Worrall Thompson did a triple chocolate brownie for the BBC. For a new angle, take the pecans from your favourite recipe and add them to the accompanying ice-cream instead, maybe with a hint of real maple syrup.
Cost £1.20 - price will fluctuate according to couverture quality


"I can't take it off the menu"

Vanilla crème brûlée, £8.50 It has been on the menu from the start and customers keep coming back for it because we made a strong point of it not being sweet. It contains very little sugar and is highly caramelised at the top so it gives a lovely bitter flavour. It is also very indulgent so the customers feel a little bit naughty.
Tom Kerridge, the Hand and Flowers, Marlo

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