A dinner nearly ruined by Crap Crab Bolognese but saved by Gin and Tonic


Jamie Oliver's crab bolognese sauce

Yesterday afternoon I got a message from my upstairs neighbour saying she could kill a G&T in the evening. I sensed there was maybe quite a work week going on. My week’s been a bit colourful as well, so why the hell not. We agreed she’d bring the booze and I’d cook us something nice.

First I thought I’d do duck legs – I had four big fat juicy ones and with proper amount of side dishes that would have fed the two of us and husband nicely. I could have done my lovely Puy lentil and purple sprouting broccoli side. But alas, I decided on a Jamie Oliver recipe.

I do love Jamie, I like his easy going way of cooking and presenting. And he means well with all his “let me save the poor and the fat of the world” for which he mostly gets his ass whooped. Remember the time he came back home in tears from his American fat-fighting crusade. Or the “Let them eat stale bread” scandal here at home when he was saving the poor and suggested they take heed from the Sicilian street cleaner, who buys 25 mussels, 10 cherry tomatoes and a packet of pasta for 60p and makes an amazing dish out of it. Maybe in the Sicilian street cleaning circles that happens all the time, but I’m not sure how realistic it is in Peckham or Barking.

This week I saw Jamie do a fantastic looking crab meat pasta in his 15 minute meals. They are now also showing Jamie’s Naked Chef episodes in the honour of his 40th birthday and they’re really really bad (just a pun because Jamie says “really really good” about 20 times in a 15 minute meal episode after sticking his pinkie in the food to taste it). I like his more current programs a lot, but the Naked Chef episodes are just a bit painful to watch. They are so badly shot. I just want to scream ZOOM OUT to the cameraman. It is head-ache inducing, Blair Witch Project kind of shaky and bouncy. A style that for some inexplicable reason was considered cool at the time. It is not! Like sideburns, not cool! I’m still traumatised by Noddy Holder’s ginger ones I saw on the cover of one of my big brother's LPs in the late 70s.

Thank God for Gin and Tonic
The young peachy cheeked (I'm talking about his face) Jamie seems slightly nervous and dashes around the kitchen worrying about burning his food which he does a lot and then pretends he caught it just in time and that it’s supposed to look like that. In the new programs he still burns stuff a lot, but he has come up with the concept of gnarly food, which he pulls out of the bag when he’s burned his chops again.

I also think there are too many people in the Naked Chef. I don’t need to see all the random buddies of his bursting in through the doors and windows with stubby carrots and bad hair. And most annoyingly there is a weird woman asking inane questions off camera. Occasionally you see her hand bottom of the screen grabbing some of the food. WHO IS SHE??

If she’s the cameraman you just want to tell her to shut up, steady the blimmin' camera and ZOOM OUT!

Like to any question (apart from what to do when you have put too many fennel seeds in your food) Google gives the answer. She’s apparently some big shot Food TV director, so that's me neatly back in my box.

I got beautiful crab meat from Waitrose, a pack of white and a pack of brown plus two big bunches of fresh basil. The rest of the ingredients I had at home. The way you do the dish is you make a paste blitzing together fennel seeds (careful there), fennel stalks, chili, basil, garlic, anjovies, spring onions and carrot. So I did this, I didn’t have a fennel so put in some dill instead and maybe my fennel seed teaspoon was quite heaped. So when I tasted the paste that was all I could taste. I did add a couple of extra anjovies, because I thought apart from the fennel, it tasted bland. At this point I should have just chucked the paste and googled a better recipe for my lovely crab meat. But I soldiered on. In Finland we have a word for this kind of not giving up, persistence thingy. We call it Sisu. Other people call it Stupidity.

I think Jamie’s got really interesting ideas, but the food can sometimes be a bit bland. I once made a pesto following his recipe from one of his programs exactly. He made the pesto, stuck his pinkie in it and made a pirouette woop wooping how full of taste it was, BOOM! I did exactly the same pesto, tasted mine with a spoon in a civilized manner and it didn't taste of anything. Maybe my palate is just really underdeveloped compared to his. It probably is.

Back to the sauce. I finished it according to instructions apart from adding the white crab meat, which I was only going to do just before we were ready to eat. At this point the sauce tasted really bland but very aniseedy. I added some seasoning, and googled if there was a way to counteract fennel. Like when you put too much white pepper you can cancel it with lemon. But no – there was nothing. Add too much fennel and you’re fucked.

So now finally I should have chucked the sauce and done something with the lemon sole I had in the fridge. I don’t know why I didn’t. Stubbornness. Inability to admit defeat. Lack of care for my fellow humans who had to eat that shit? I have no explanation.

So then my neighbour arrived, announcing her arrival by throwing the gin bottle down the stairs. Luckily the bottle survived, but next time maybe less hand cream when planning to come down the stairs with bottles.

We fixed ourselves lovely G&Ts and had a little download of news. I had made Baba Ghanoush, which was really nice and pitta crisps with Za’atar. I will share the recipes later – it's a handy, simple little nibbley thing for any occasion.

Baba Ghanoush eggplant dip and Za'atar pitta crisps

Then I cooked some whole wheat spaghetti and heated the goddamn sauce adding the white crab meat. It tasted even worse than before. Neighbour sort of agreed that it maybe wasn't great, but thought it could be saved with Crème Fraiche, which we tried. We also added some lemon juice and water to thin it and hopefully dilute the fennel. And it kind of worked, it made it better, still not great, but instead of bad, now it was kinda ok, just quite weird.

My sides were nice at least. I had made an “Italian Guacamole” – a salad of chopped avocado, tomatoes, spring onions and basil, a rocket and parmesan salad and garlic bread.

Italian Guacamole – a salad of chopped avocado, tomatoes, spring onions and basil

With the pasta the sauce was kind of ok - in an unusual way. We ate quite a lot of it in the end. Husband said it was good, but he was dressing the truth up with a bit of kindness. Anyway everyone was fed and full in the end and we had a fun evening finishing the Gin.

The recipe is here. Another blogger has made it and is not complaining, so maybe it is to some people's taste. I won’t go anywhere near it again.

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  1. I have fished for tarpon at Boca Grande Pass and in the Florida Keys which are both world-class freshwater tarpon fishing locations. I highly recommend everyone to visit there if you want to catch the best tarpons.

  2. I made the mistake of making this sauce from his 15min book today as well. It was truly disgusting (even without the fennel). I also added a couple of extra anchovies and the whole thing tasted like spoiled fish. This was a real miss compared to Jamie's usual stuff.