On Saturday, I completed my first ever triathlon in the beautiful setting of Blenheim Palace. Although I chose the shortest distance (Super Sprint: 400m swim, 10k bike, 3k run), I was proud of the achievement because a month ago, I could hardly swim one length, let alone two, without stopping and gasping for breath. All it took was two very good lessons with a personal trainer who taught himself to swim by analysing others (ralph-hydes.com).
A few hours after completing the triathlon, I had the privilege of meeting and cooking with some of Great Britain's Olympic triathlon medal prospects, the Brownlee brothers, Alistair and Jonathan and Helen Jenkins and her husband and trainer, Marc, who himself competed in the triathlon in the Olympic Games in Athens.
Helen and Marc helped me cook a Japanese noodle dish that I had come up with, while the Brownlee brothers joined fellow Yorkshireman Tom Rennolds, who is my friend and fellow finalist from MasterChef.
I wanted my dish to be quick to prepare, light and fresh with a good balance of carbohydrates, vegetables and protein.
Ingredients (serves 2-3)
1/2 red onion
1 stick celery
1 spring onion
200g broad beans, shelled
1/4 red onion, finely sliced
1 spring onion, finely sliced
5-6 French breakfast radishes, finely sliced
Handful of celery leaves
1 tbsp Sesame oil
2 tbsp Soy sauce (reduced salt, preferably)
2 tbsp Mirin
200g soba (buckwheat) noodles
1. Remove any string from the quail. Slice off the breasts and reserve. You can also remove the legs if you wish, but I used them to make a quail broth. You can always grill them later, after they have been poached in the broth.
2. Place the quail carcasses into water and bring to the boil. As the water is boiling, roughly chop the red onion, carrot, spring onion and celery. Plave them in the water with the quail. I leave the skin on the onion as it helps give the broth a deep reddy-brown colour. Once the water is boiling, reduce to a low simmer - you want the flavours of the quail and vegetables to infuse into the water gently. If it boils too vigorously, the fatwand impurities will emulsify into the water, resulting in a cloudy stock. You want a fresh, light consomme.
3. Marinade the quail breasts in the sesame oil, soy sauce and mirin. It's best and easiest in a plastic freezer bag.
4. Boil the soba noodles according to the instructions on the packet. Err on the side of al dente, as you'll serve them in the hot quail broth later. Rinse and drain the noodles, then portion them into bowls. We'll reheat them later by pouring over the hot quail broth.
5. Prepare the vegetables. I like to serve them all raw, as it helps with the lightness of the dish while adding texture as some of the vegetables will wilt more than others in the broth. I prefer to shell the broadbeans - it is a little fiddly, but Marc and Heen both found it therapeutic! The beans inside have a much brighter green that looks better in the finished soup and the whitish shells are slightly bitter. Scatter the shelled broadbeans on top of the noodles, along with a handful of watercress, spinach, red onion, spring onion and radishes.
6. Once the quail broth has been brewing for 15-20 minutes, drain the stock into a new pan. You can remove the legs at this point if you wish - they will be poached and will just need to be tossed into the marinade and grilled. The stock should be a light golden colour, mainly from the carrot and red onion, but it will taste oand smell of quail. Season it with soy sauce instead of salt, to make it a richer, darker colour. Add a tablespoon of mirin for an extra bit of sweet acidity and perfume it by adding the zest of 1/2 an orange (use a peeler).
7. Remove the quail meat from the marinade and grill quickly over a high heat for 1-2 minutes on each side. Be careful not to overcook it as quail can become dry quickly.
8. Pour the quail broth over the noodles (without the orange peel), then place the grilled quail meat on top, with a large pinch of sesame seeds.