Sometimes I have a conversation with people at the gym, which starts when they say something like, “why don’t you try x diet?” or “why don’t you cut carbs?” or “why don’t you reduce your intake of this?” and all the time I say, “I can’t” and they look at me like I’m making an excuse. It’s very hard to explain what I do, my love of food and the emotional significance of it, to people who are able to eliminate food groups, or drastically reduce calories. I can’t communicate how it goes against the very fibre of my being (literally) to restrict my intake of food in that way.
What I do is about more than describing what I eat, it is about how it makes me feel. It is the comfort of steam rising from a stew plopping gently on the hob, the dumplings warm and heavy on top. It’s about the sticky bun with builder’s tea when you’re frantic about the state of the world, or the slippery flick of buttered spaghetti, eaten in bed, with a hangover. It’s not even just about the joy of fat and carbs either – in January I crave bright, green vegetal things which bring freshness and vitality to a sad sack month.
I’ve often heard the phrase ‘don’t be an emotional eater’, meaning don’t comfort or reward yourself with food, and I think, ‘is there any other way?’ What is it like to look at ingredients and see calories instead of flavours? To stab letters into an app that passes judgement on what you’re about to consume, reducing it to numbers? Numbers are the worst. There is the very real problem of obesity, of course, and everything that comes with it, but that is why I bust my ass at the gym five times a week. To see food purely as fuel is such an alien concept.
This is not an anti-clean eating rant, although goodness knows I have plenty of those within me, it’s just an observation now that I’m in contact with people from another world – lovely, intelligent, fun people but with attitudes to food that are light years away from my own. I think of these conversations every time I make something I know they wouldn’t touch with a spiralizer, which brings me nicely onto this recipe for prawn toast. I live with a prawn toast obsessive – never an opportunity missed to order one of those white paper bags from the takeaway, his eager paw rustling in and out until all that’s left is grease spots.
The homemade version is obviously much nicer, and we played with the mixture a bit, ramping up the prawn flavour with some shrimp paste (so good), adding garlic, spring onions and soy. It’s fantastic with scrambled egg for a really OTT brunch, and the chilli oil is crucial for counteracting all that richness. That’s right, guys, extra fat on top.
Prawn Toast with Scrambled Eggs and Chilli Oil
This makes 4 rounds and so serves 4 people (4 pieces is enough with the eggs).
2 cloves garlic
4 spring onions
1/2 teaspoon shrimp paste (I used a Thai one)
1 dash light soy
4 slices cheap white bread
Oil, for frying (veg or groundnut)
Chilli oil, to serve
For the eggs
6 eggs (I used Burford Browns, hence the amazing colour)
Large chunk of butter (LARGE)
To make the prawn toast, put everything in a blender except the bread and process to a paste. Heat a frying pan and fry a tiny bit of the mixture to check for seasoning – add salt if you like. To assemble, divide the mixture between four pieces of bread, spreading in a thick layer on top. Cut the crusts off. Divide each into four triangles.
Spread sesame seeds on a plate and use them to coat the top of the toast. I found it easiest to sprinkle these on rather than dunk.
Heat oil to a depth of a couple of cm in a heavy based pan and fry each piece until golden (a couple of mins each side should do it). Set aside on a plate covered with kitchen paper. You could keep them warm in a low oven if you like.
To make the eggs, whisk them in a bowl and season. Melt the butter in a pan and add the eggs, moving them around gently until they are nearly cooked. Take them off the heat before you think they are fully done. Don’t over stir.
Serve alongside prawn toast, chilli oil on top.