Even if your normal entertaining style is casual, there will probably be times when you will want (or need) to impress your guests. This doesn't necessarily mean using expensive ingredients and pouring fine wines, but serving the dishes in courses, rather than family-style, makes a meal more formal. Here are recipes for two indulgent starters, plus one for something to serve with pre-dinner drinks.
Angelhair pasta with amaebi and tobiko caviar (pictured)
This is a light, quick and easy starter that's surprisingly flavourful despite having just a few ingredients. If you want to be really flash, substitute sturgeon caviar for the flying fish roe.
You can buy peeled amaebi (sweet shrimp) in the sushi section of supermarkets such as Great and City'super, which also carry shiso shoots and flowers.
200 grams angelhair or capellini pasta
200 grams amaebi
About 30ml extra-virgin olive oil
60 grams tobiko caviar
Finely grated zest of one lemon
Fine sea salt
Shiso shoots or flowers, to garnish
Fill a large pot with water then add enough salt to make it as salty as seawater. Bring the water to the boil, add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain the pasta, rinse with cold water then drain again.
Set aside six amaebi to use as a garnish. Cut the remaining shrimp into 5mm pieces.
If the pasta has stuck together, rinse it again with cold water, then drain it and shake off the excess liquid. Put the pasta in a mixing bowl and add the olive oil. Use your hands to mix the ingredients, adding more oil if necessary so it very lightly coats the pasta strands.
Mix in the amaebi, caviar and lemon zest. Taste the ingredients and add salt, if needed. Divide the pasta between six plates and garnish with the shiso and reserved amaebi. Serve immediately.
Blini with crème fraiche, caviar and chives
If you have deep pockets, serve the blini with sturgeon caviar; if not, use salmon caviar.
60 grams plain (all-purpose) flour
60 grams buckwheat flour
7 grams instant yeast
15 grams sugar, divided
2 large eggs, separated
60ml warm water (45 degrees Celsius)
40 grams unsalted butter, melted
¼ tsp fine sea salt
Cooking oil, for the skillet
About 100 grams crème fraiche
Caviar of choice, as needed
6 chives, snipped with scissors into 5mm lengths
Pour the milk into a saucepan and set it over a medium flame. Heat the milk until a skin forms on the surface and tiny bubbles appear around the perimeter. Remove the pan from the heat and cool the milk to 45 degrees. Remove the skin from the surface.
In a bowl, mix the two flours with the yeast and five grams of sugar. Whisk the egg yolks with the water, milk and butter, then pour this mixture into the bowl with the other ingredients. Whisk until smooth, then cover with cling-film and leave at room temperature until bubbly.
In a clean, dry bowl whisk the egg whites with the salt until foamy. Add the remaining sugar then whisk until the egg white forms soft peaks. Gently fold this into the batter.
Very lightly oil a skillet set over a medium-low flame. Gently stir the batter to recombine the ingredients, then spoon it into 5cm circles onto the hot skillet. Bubbles will appear on the surface, then pop; when they pop and leave holes, the blini are ready to flip. Turn them over then cook the other side, adjusting the heat as needed so they don't cook too quickly. Stack the blini on a clean, dry dishcloth and cover with another cloth to keep them warm.
Top each blini with a dollop of crème fraiche, then add caviar and snipped chives.
Chicken liver pate
I buy ghee in tins from shops that sell Indian ingredients; it's much cheaper than buying it in tiny packs from upscale supermarkets.
Serve the pate on water crackers, with pre-dinner drinks. Keep a pepper grinder on hand in case your guests need it.
300 grams chicken livers
50ml milk, or as needed
About 60 grams ghee, divided
1 shallot, finely minced
1 garlic clove, finely minced
10ml cognac or brandy
100 grams unsalted butter, cut into 1cm chunks, chilled
Fine sea salt
Put the chicken livers in a small bowl and add enough milk to cover, then refrigerate for an hour. Drain the livers. Use a sharp paring knife to remove the fat and blood from the livers and trim off as much connective tissue as possible.
Heat 30 grams of ghee in a skillet set over a low flame. Add the shallot and garlic and cook until soft. Turn the heat to high and carefully add the cognac or brandy (it might ignite). Simmer until the alcohol reduces to a syrupy consistency. Stir in the livers and sprinkle with salt. Cook until the livers are about 75 per cent done (they'll still be a little pink), stirring almost constantly. Immediately transfer the ingredients to a food processor and purée until smooth. With the food processor motor running, add the butter one or two chunks at a time. After adding all the butter, taste the pate and add more salt, if needed. If you want a very smooth pate, scrape the mixture through a fine-meshed tamis.
Put the pate into a clean ramekin, smooth the surface and refrigerate for an hour. Heat about 30 grams of ghee so it's melted but not hot. Pour this over the pate to completely cover the surface. Refrigerate until the ghee solidifies. Cover the ramekin with cling-film, then with aluminium foil. The pate will keep in the fridge for up to a week.
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