Yesterday, we had intended to go out for dinner, but M came back from shopping and announced cheerily – “We’re not going out tonight…”
“Oooh, what interesting stuff did you find?”
“Surprise…,” he said. And I was advised to stay out of the kitchen.
And this was M’s surprise Valentine’s dinner – fresh oysters, grilled prawn, and grilled dorade. Seafood is undoubtedly my favourite of all foods, and there is nowhere in Bonn to enjoy the kind of dinner that M had created. I love my seafood as simple as possible so as to focus on their exquisite flavour, texture, and colour. Preferably raw if absolutely fresh, or plain grilled with a sprinkling of salt (shioyaki).
The oyster was lovely with its briney juice, perked up with a squeeze of lemon juice and thin rings of sweet fresh onion. The prawn had been brushed with olive oil and a thin sprinkling of smokey paprika just around the coral. And the dorade (gilt-head bream), one of our preferred fishes, was also similarly brushed with olive oil and surrounded by sliced onions to bake until just done (no more than 20 minutes), so that its meaty flesh was superbly moist. Any longer, and its texture and taste are ruined.
Upholding the mar i muntanya (Catalan, ‘sea and mountain’) or umi no sachi, yama no sachi theme (Japanese, ‘joys of the sea, joys of the mountain’) was mushroom takikomi gohan sprinkled with dried red cranberries as a nod to Valentine’s.
Takikomi gohan is Japan’s answer to paella or risotto – perhaps I ought to call it Arroz a la Japonesa? It is rice cooked with dashi (bonito and kelp stock) and additionally flavoured by whatever is in season. Unlike paella with its diverse ingredients and olive oil, or thick-soupy risotto with butter, classic takikomi gohan showcases just the one ingredient, usually at its peak of perfection. Mushrooms or shelled chestnuts in autumn and winter, new wild spring greens, such as croziers of edible ferns, freshly dug tender bamboo shoots –- the possibilities are infinite. In that sense, M’s takikomi was not classic as it combined the diversity of ingredients of paella, but without the resulting heaviness from olive oil. It was a vegetarian paella with restraint. The mushrooms were full of flavour and the cranberries shone like garnets. The saffron added a mysterious scent and subtle colour.
For dessert, M made a chocolate soufflé — with fresh blueberries and lashings of double cream. It was meant to be paired with Belgian chocolate ice cream, which I declined: it would’ve been gilding the lily. And to drink? We had lovely crisp dry Cava throughout.
Hana yori dango indeed. An ancient Japanese saying: food rather than flowers!
Thanks for preparing such an exquisite dinner, dearest M! A most memorable Valentine’s Day feast, indeed!
Today I am grateful for another brilliantly sunny day. On such a perfect early spring day, it was heavenly to be outdoors — cold at 5ºC but in the sun it was gorgeous. I spent a couple of happy hours pruning the roses, and cleared some dead leaves in the front garden. Meanwhile M prepared shakshuka for brunch. Fab!