Parents descend to celebrate the proud achievements of their children who, in turn, stroll the ancient streets with the assurance of those who know and love a place so well.
Their relaxed grins mask the sure knowledge that time in the cloistered walls of university life, surrounded by friends, is ending. Before entering the world beyond, there is one more big night out to remember.
The restaurant has been booked out for months for this week. In the life cycle of the business this is the most hectic week of them all. I love seeing the place packed with new faces, cheery with the air of celebration. I suspect for the students, at any rate, this is possibly the first square meal for some time. Pasta, Pot Noodles and revision go hand in hand, I seem to recall.
At the end of the week, it is our turn at home to do our own celebrating, partly to mark what will hopefully be the smooth passing of a busy week and partly to indulge in quintessential summer fare. It’s what June was made for.
For me this means the rich oiliness of poached salmon with earthy Jersey Royals, all anointed with the queen of sauces, hollandaise.
Rich as this all may be, I still expect pudding. What could be more summery than the fluffy crunch of pavlova, cream and sweet strawberries? Worth a first-class degree ...
Poached salmon, Jersey Royal potatoes in parsley and proper hollandaise sauce
Recipes serve four (not necessarily graduates) For the salmon:
Four portions of boneless skinless salmon, about 160g each
A carrot cut in half and sliced thinly
Half an onion sliced thinly
A stick of celery sliced thinly
A lemon sliced in rounds
Sprig of thyme, some parsley stalks and/or tarragon stalks according to what you have to hand
Teaspoon of salt
Glass of white wine
1 teaspoon of black peppercorns
Water to cover
For the potatoes:
500g Jersey Royal potatoes scrubbed lightly to remove any dirt but skins still intact
1 clove of garlic, peeled and finely minced
To finish: a rounded dessert spoon of chopped parsley and 30g of unsalted butter, melted
For the hollandaise sauce:
3 egg yolks (you can keep the whites for the pavlova below)
250g butter, melted but not hot
2 shallots sliced
Sprig of thyme
200ml white wine vinegar
A lemon for juicing
Dash of cayenne pepper and salt
1. For the salmon: place all the vegetables, lemon, wine, herbs and salt in a large sauce pan and fill with water then bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow to cool then pass through a sieve into a clean pan, big enough to hold all the fish portions easily. Do all this the day before if you wish. Bring the pan back to boil then reduce the heat so the surface of the water is not moving or trembling.
2. Meanwhile, place the vinegar in a small pan and add the shallot, peppercorns and thyme, reduce until all but evaporated then remove from the heat. Pass through a sieve into a small bowl for now and set aside. Place the potatoes in a suitable pan, add salt and cover with water, bring to the boil then simmer until tender, remove from the heat, drain and set aside in the same pot, add the chopped garlic and the butter and leave to stand, covered with a lid.
3. For the hollandaise, place the egg yolks in a mixing bowl and whisk them over the pan of salmon poaching liquid so the yolks are warmed gently as you whisk. Whisk until the yolks have doubled in volume, do not overheat or they will cook and scramble. Roll up a damp towel or cloth and place on the counter and set the bowl of whisked yolk on it so it is held steady. Drizzle in the warm butter, whisking all the time, only adding a little at a time so it is emulsified. Stop before you reach the milky solids at the bottom. Finally add the juice of half a lemon, the vinegar reduction and a pinch of salt and cayenne, taste and adjust accordingly. Cover with cling film and keep warm.
4. To finish and serve: place the salmon into the hot poaching liquid, do not let the water simmer, the liquid only needs to be hot, around 70 to 80 deg C. Poach like this for seven to 10 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish. To test, lift one piece out onto a plate and use the tip of a small knife to part the base of the fish so you can see just inside, the flesh should be opaque and just cooked, still ‘pink’ inside. Return to the pan if more time is needed or remove the other pieces of salmon onto the plate if they are ready. Season lightly with sea salt and a squeeze of lemon juice.
5. Add the chopped parsley to the potato pan and swirl the potatoes around in the garlic, herbs and butter, then divide between warmed serving plates. Place the fish beside the potatoes and serve at once perhaps with green beans or a green salad, with the hollandaise sauce in a warmed sauce boat on the side for everyone to serve themselves.
Strawberry, white chocolate and lime pavlova
For the meringue:
3 egg whites
180g caster sugar
Small pinch of salt
100g white chocolate, melted in a bowl over warm water
A punnet of strawberries, wiped with a damp cloth and hulled
Juice and zest of one lime
300ml double cream
1. Place the egg whites and sugar into a clean stainless steel bowl and whisk until they start to increase in volume. As they do, gradually incorporate the sugar little by little so that it is all added by the time the egg whites are firm and glossy. Spoon the egg white onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper. You can do one big base if you wish or smaller individual ones. Bake in the oven at 100 to 110C (gas mark 1/2) until crisp, brittle but white, for about 70–80 minutes. Cool then store in an airtight box.
2. Place the zest and juice of lime in a bowl and pour over the cream, then whisk until firm but still floppy. It should not form stiff points. You can store this in the fridge, covered, for a couple of hours, before finishing. As close as possible to the point of serving, spread the cream over the meringue then press the strawberries into the cream. Drizzle the warm melted white chocolate over the berries then serve at once.