Last weekend we
went to the opera, and it was one of the most surreal experiences of my life. I've never been to the opera in the UK before, because it's so incredibly expensive, and exclusive - but I didn't realise just how exclusive until we got to the deepest, darkest Cotswolds
where the concert was to take place.
It's basically a converted chicken shed, with the old Covent Garden stalls and chairs, left over from the recent refurbishment, a small stage, a few boxes and a 30-piece orchestra pit. But it stands smack bang in the middle of somebody's front lawn, and that somebody has definitely got more money than sense. This guy essentially built an opera house in his front yard because he wanted to, and for the last 8 years has been importing performers for it each summer and inviting all of his unbelievably posh friends to partake in the pleasure (for a hundred quid a head).
Don't get me wrong, the music was excellent, and the people were rather nice - but the whole thing nevertheless felt like Carry On Reigning. There were bow ties - lots of bow ties - and cummerbunds, incredibly expensive cheap-looking leather pumps, horsy laughs and people calling each other "darling". There were gazebos erected on the lawn and plentiful champagne, and a wonderful but utterly doolally old lady who, having told me all about how her dad had worked for MI5, proceeded to confide in me that "all her friends are Jews".
And there was a picnic. In the middle of the opera. Basically how it works is that the intermission is an hour and a half long, and you go and have your dinner during that time. Luckily for me I've been to summer balls and hunt balls before and had some kind of an inkling as to how this set do things, so I didn't experience too much inadequacy and was also able to prepare a picnic posh enough to stand out among the rest. The recipe below is not terribly original - there are similar things already noded - but it's easy and it looks fantastic and tastes great, so here goes.
Serves two generously - multiplying this recipe is easy, just use 1 salmon fillet and 1/2 a cucumber per person
This recipe can be - and in fact is better when - made a day or so in advance
For the salmon:
- 2 salmon fillets
- A few sprigs of thyme
- A handful fresh parsley, chopped
- 1 shallot, chopped
- A little salt and pepper
- Enough hot fish (or vegetable, or even chicken, at a pinch) stock to not-quite cover the salmon - the exact quantity depends on the size of your pan
- Place all of the ingredients in a thick-bottomed cooking pot. Simmer gently for 8-9 minutes - it's crucially important not to overcook the fish, it's much much better to undercook it a little.
- Carefully remove the fish pieces onto a plate, discarding the other ingredients. Cover with a sheet of aluminium foil and let cool completely, after which refrigerate.
For the cucumber salad:
This is very similar to Hungarian Cucumber Salad, and if you like the look of the other recipe better, I'm sure it would work just as well
- 1 large European cucumber
- 1 medium onion
- 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
- This is a rare example of a vegetable recipe where size really matters. After washing the cucumber and peeling it in strips (so it's striped lengthwise), slice it as thinly as you possibly can. If you have a mandolin, this is the time to use it.
- Slice the onion into half-slices, also very thinly. Then place it in a small pot with some water and bring to the boil. Parboil for 1-2 minutes. Drain and allow to cool.
- Combine the cucumber, onion and all the other ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Check the seasoning, adjust and then cover in cling film and refrigerate for at least a couple of hours.
Place the salmon slices diagonally on a large flat platter or dinner plate, with about of inch of space between them. Carefully cover the rest of the plate with cucumber, making sure each pink salmon fillet is completely surrounded by vibrant green salad. Serve immediately, or cover in cling film and transport to your picnic venue of choice - and may your picnics be at least as otherworldly as mine!