Ask Peter: Favourite picnic recipes
I’d like to have a few goodies up my sleeve for summer picnics other than bacon and egg pie, or salad, ham and filled rolls. Do you have some favourites you could share that can be done the day of, rather than night before - we’re a bit last minute when it comes to deciding we’re hitting the road. And some standbys for something sweet with a cuppa that I could whip up, last minute?
Picnics can be the best or the worst places to eat. A lovely balmy day without sandflies buzzing around, sand in the salad, wild winds and rain can be terrific fun, but I’ve been on too many with all these things to think that a late spring picnic is 100 per cent foolproof. I’m writing this from New York where it has been unseasonably warm and sunny.
Meanwhile, as I type, New Zealand is being buffeted by 140kmh winds and rain and you’re supposed to be warming up. The closest I got to a picnic on this visit to New York was a warm roast beef and Swiss cheese sandwich in Central Park, waiting for James Levine to conduct at Carnegie Hall, and I have to say it was a terrific sandwich (and an even better concert).
The shop I bought it from sold a huge variety of hot and cold food for New Yorkers who don’t have an actual kitchen in their apartments — apart from a microwave.
And it struck me New York is a picnicker's paradise as you can buy pretty much anything.
On sale were honey-glazed pork ribs, soy roast chicken legs and breasts, pasta salads, green salads, kale salads (be warned that kale is headed your way aplenty — it’s in everything here from fresh green juices to salads and lasagnes), hero sandwiches, bagels, sushi, hummus and eggplant parmigiana — and this all in one shop. With neighbourhoods as culturally mixed as you find on Manhattan, I guess the shopkeepers need to cover all the bases.
So, travel story aside, you can pretty much take anything you possibly want to on a picnic. The key would be the container you take it in as much as anything else.
A raw fish salad Is a great picnic treat (so long as it’s kept icy-cold and in a sealed plastic tub) and something quite unexpected. Buy the freshest fish possible, skin and bones removed, and cut into medium chunks — the smaller the pieces the quicker it cures and the tougher it can become if left too long in the boot of the car. For every 500g of fish squeeze 1½ lemons (or 2 juicy limes) and add a dash or two of chilli sauce, then add finely chopped or grated fresh ginger and leave it alone. In another tub take lots of shredded parsley, mint and coriander (use the coriander stalks thinly sliced). In another tub take some halved cherry tomatoes and thinly sliced strips of red capsicum. The fish needs at least an hour to marinate and is good for up to five hours. Once you unroll your picnic blanket, mix the herbs and tomatoes into the fish, season with salt and pepper and you’re ready to eat. You can also add some coconut milk to the mix to give it a Pacific twist.
For something sweet, try a “sort of tiramisu’’. In the bottom of a container place a layer of sponge fingers, or a dry sort of cake (an old-fashioned madeira cake works well). Drizzle on ½ cup very strong coffee (espresso is ideal). Beat equal parts of mascarpone and cream with a little sugar or honey and lay this on. Scatter with raspberries or halved strawberries, then sit another layer of biscuits or cake on, and brush with some more coffee to moisten the top without making it soggy — it will absorb moisture from the creams. Press some baking paper or cling film firmly on top, then pop in the freezer for an hour and a half. Pop it into your chilly bin and it’ll be ready to eat with your cuppa.
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes on our site.