Regular readers will know I have much love for retro and unfashionable food. I warmly recall hastily scoffed Findus Crispy Pancakes after-school, hot, greasy pasties on holidays in Cornwall and cold rice salad eaten curled up in Dad’s armchair, glued to Ready Steady Cook. These are, of course, comfort foods for me but I think they have merits in the taste department too and I often find myself defending the likes of the steak slice and cod in parsley sauce. They are basic yet satisfying dishes which seem to warm me until I glow like the Ready Brek Man. They hark back to times when my tastebuds were simpler to please and a sausage roll with a takeaway packet of ketchup followed by a snail bun from the school canteen really was the highlight of my day. Still sounds pretty rad, to be honest.
In a slightly different category of retro foods, you’ll find the vol-au-vent. These were not consumed at home but appeared at family events by which I mean weddings or funerals. Here one would encounter what I (and I think, probably, most people) call the ‘brown buffet.’ A trestle table is laid with platters of triangular sandwiches (ham, cheese, chicken, prawn mayo, tuna, that kind of thing), those tiny wrinkly sausages, tiny wrinkly sausage rolls, mini (wrinkly) quiches, pork pies etc. And so we come to vols-au-vent.
I’ve always adored vols-au-vent because what you have is pastry + creamy savoury filling which is an objectively good combination. The most common flavours were 1) creamy chicken and 2) creamy mushroom but I occasionally encountered a slightly leftfield creation involving fish or perhaps even a brown, steak-appropriate sauce. In recent years, the vol-au-vent made a comeback and I’ve had some decadent snackette versions in restaurants filled with soft, pudgy garlic snails (yes, yes and thrice yes!) or lip-coating braised oxtail.
You’re probably not too surprised to see crab filling mine (again, regulars will smile or groan) which I’ve combined with creme fraiche, lemon and curry powder, for extra throwback points. They’re so easy to make too: cut pastry, bake pastry, cut pastry again, combine filling and dollop into pastry. The perfect party snack (there’s no denying the festive bellyache season is nearly upon us) or just a way to show off at your next brown food buffet.
Curried Crab Vols-au-vent Recipe
Makes around 15
500g ready-made puff pastry
1 egg, beaten
1 dressed crab (this will give you white and brown meat)
1 heaped tablespoon creme fraiche
A squeeze of lemon juice
1/2 – 1 teaspoon medium hot curry powder (these vary wildly so it’s best to add a little then taste)
1/2 teaspoon paprika
You’ll need two pastry cutters (or in my case, two glasses) which are a few cms different in size. So one cutter (glass) had an 8cm rim and the other had a 4cm rim.
Preheat the oven to 190C
Roll out the pastry to a thickness of approx 5mm. Cut circles using the larger cutter then, use the smaller cutter to partially cut smaller circles in the centre of each large circle – don’t cut all the way through the pastry. You can reroll the remaining pastry but it won’t rise as well so try to be economical in the way you cut the circles.
Place the circles on two large baking trays and brush with the beaten egg. Bake for 15 minutes, or until risen and golden. When cool enough to handle, cut the centre circle out, leaving the base intact.
Combine the crab, creme fraiche, lemon juice, curry powder and paprika. Taste and adjust the amount of lemon juice, seasoning or curry powder as necessary. Divide between the pastry cases and top with a sprinkle of the chives.