Every so often, if I lack inspiration, if I’m feeling tired and world weary ,or I just can’t be bothered, I send out a text to the rest of the household reading ‘FFYS’: Fend for yourself. This tells them that tonight they will just have to make do without my services as galley slave. It’s every man (and one woman) for themselves. Rather than treating this like a chore they all quite enjoy these nights. I do too – it means we can each assemble something quick and simple that we know the others wouldn’t suffer.
For my best beloved it can mean any number of tomato-based pasta dishes that aren’t really my sort of thing. Occasionally, if she’s feeling a little sulky about the whole FFYS business, she will cook herself an egg in various gloomy, unimaginative ways. This is an elaborate and admirably committed attempt at guilt-tripping me into cooking; she is, you see (allegedly), mildly allergic to eggs.
The baby-brother-in-law, a 21 year old EMO-like creature (who for reasons too tragic and convoluted to describe here lives under our stairs in self-imposed squalor), is shaping up to be a fairly decent cook in his own right. He is however a little more experimental in his tastes than me. He has so far married butter chicken with pasta, pizza, nachos and hamburgers, and has lately been muttering about fritters. Chances are on a FFYS night he’ll execute (admittedly with some finesse) one of these abominations.
Occasionally brother and sister will join forces to create something they both enjoy- very often the ubiquitous BLAT. Not something I’m mad on really but each to their own and all that…
For me, as the ever-considerate cook of our happy little household, FFYS nights are a celebration of being able to cook selfishly, without a thought for la famiglia and their various disparate tastes. These nights don’t seem to come around much anymore, but when they do, one of the following is likely to feature:
Made with those very good super-thin pre-made bases. Yes I make my own bases sometimes, but it just aint gonna happen on a week night. I like to keep my pizzi very simple; basically a Margarita with a little salami or prosciutto. To make my sauce, which is the very foundation of a good pizza, I drain and squeeze the juice from a can of tomatoes, and blend them with a few tablespoon of olive oil, a teaspoon of salt, a few dried chilies and a sprig or two of oregano (preferably the peppery Greek or wild form). Keep your toppings sparse and your oven incendiary.
Must be eaten with copious quantities of wine.
My fondness for raw beef is not shared by the rest of the house-hold, or in fact anybody else I know, so it’s strictly an FFYS venture. I buy a small piece of very good beef fillet, partially freeze it and then slice it paper thin with a razor-sharp knife. A splash of balsamico, some luscious green EVO (or better still white truffle oil), a little raw garlic, Parmigiano, and a scattering of wild rocket turns a pound of sticky flesh into a plate full of indecent pleasure. Scoop up with super crunchy crostini. Guaranteed to deeply offend vegetarians.
American hot dogs
I know. How déclassé am I? Well, we’re all entitled to a few dirty little secrets and, as it happens, this one can make a damn fine meal. Sure they’re of highly questionable nutritional value, and it’s debatable whether any actual meat is involved in the franks, but I like them all the same.
I use bog-standard hot dog buns and franks, because hot dogs are one of those things that shouldn’t be too real. It’s the embellishments that make all the difference. First off, I fry the sausages in a hot, oiled pan until their skins split and start to blacken. This imparts a little bit of life into the otherwise unfathomable flavour of the franks
I put down a generous layer of caramelized onions under the sausages (having first toasted the bun) and rich, thick, whole grain mustard and cheese béchamel overtop. So what if the kilojoule count is punching through the stratosphere? They’re a doddle to make and oh so good. Health be damned.
Mince on toast
This one is about as kiwi as you can get, and I’ve only tweaked it just the tinniest bit from its sloppy, suburban roots. I fry prime beef mince in a very hot pan with just a little garlic and plenty of seasoning (especially white pepper). It should be very well browned, to the point of being slightly crispy and without a drop of liquid remaining; I don’t go in for that ‘wet bowel motion’ look with my mince.
To accompany this I make a quick salsa by melting about a tablespoon of butter *and a little oil in a hot pan, adding about 2 cups of roughly chopped tomatoes and a few good glugs of Tabasco-style sauce. This is simmered just to the point where the tomatoes are starting to collapse.
Serve the mince on crunchy toasted whole grain bread with plenty of salsa on the side.
The magic of this meal is in its simplicity. It’s really nothing more than an assembly of very good ingredients and that is nearly always my favourite type of cooking.
*Butter may be an unlikely addition to a tomato based sauce, but it works a scary kind of magic.
Steak au galette de pomme de terre
Ok, so it’s really just a nice bit of steak with a hash brown but, as with the previous dish, it’s all about the produce. My best beloved, while not remotely vegetarian, doesn’t like what she describes as ‘hunks of flesh’ (steak). Another volume in the library that is her food neuroses. I, on the other hand, love the stuff. The bloodier the better and preferably crazed with moist marbling and trimmed with exquisite silken fat. Oh my.
My local butcher does the most extraordinarily thick ‘New York cut’ sirloins. These are quite simply(assuming you don’t shun your predatory urges) the ultimate FFYS indulgence. You don’t mess with meat like this. Season it generously (once again, I favour white pepper over black), oil the meat rather than the pan and make sure aforementioned pan is melting-hot. That’s it. No marinade, no pummelling with a mallet. Just leave it be. How far you cook your steak is up to you, but I will just tell you that everything you may have heard about chefs spitting on your food when you order well-done steak is probably true. There is no greater insult to the dearly departed steer (or by association the chef), and you deserve all you get in the way of inedible grey meat and chef’s nasal clearings. Don’t be thinking of reaching for the bottle of Tommy S either; push your arteries a little further with good dollop of fresh herb butter. An animal died for this so make it count.
I use waxy potatoes for hash browns because they have the best ‘mouth feel’ for this style of cooking. Otherwise it’s the usual hash brown treatment- grate them, squeeze them and fry until crisp. To offset the richness of the meat and potato, I like a small rocket salad on the side, dressed with plenty of EVO and lemon juice.
FFYS nights are a win/win situation for all involved. Everyone gets to eat what they want, and cook gets a night off from considering the needs and time frames of others. If this isn’t a tradition in your household, give it whirl. Every cook deserves to be a little selfish from time to time.