Salmon, Slow-Cooked Beef and Neufchatel Cheese: A Fine Romance

Recipes for a romantic Valentine's supper

Despite the assurances of some (understandably) best-selling cookery books, the word 'effortless' has no place in the vocabulary of anyone who cares what they eat, but minimising effort is another matter, especially on the most romantic day of the year.

This menu for two leaves plenty of time for canoodling. The starter is marinated the night before and cooks in under 10 minutes.

A slow cooker will prove its worth for the beef, which can be started in the morning and left to braise slowly all day, with the added bonus of glorious aromas when you return from doing other things. Serve with potatoes and seasonal greens.

An authentic heart-shaped cheese rounds things off appropriately and is especially good with a slice of walnut and raisin bread.

Starter: Night in the Gardens of Spain

Salmon

Grilled wild Atlantic salmon marinated in citrus, coriander & cumin

Give Pacific wild salmon the Atlantic kiss of life with this recipe, inspired by the last of the Seville oranges, brilliant for marinades.

Place a 200g skin-on tail-fillet of wild salmon skin side down in a glass bowl. Add the juice of a Seville orange, or lemon and the finely-chopped stems of a small bunch of fresh coriander, keeping some leaves back for garnish.

In a saucepan, toast a pinch each of whole dried cumin and coriander seeds until they release their fragrance. Add 100ml medium sherry, a tablespoon each of chilli-flavoured oil and top-quality sherry vinegar and a dash of anchovy essence. Boil down to half the volume and leave to cool before straining over the fish. Leave overnight.

Cometh the hour, preheat the grill. Put the fish, skin side up in the tray, without the grid, and pour the marinade around. Brush the skin with a little oil and grill for 6-8 minutes. Peel off the blackened skin, cut the fillet in half lengthwise and serve garnished with a mixture of salad leaves, including the reserved coriander.

Wine recommendation:

Try this with a brisk Iberian white like The Society’s Exhibition Albariño.


Main Course: Love Me Tender

Slow-cooked, topside of beef

Slow-cooked, topside of beef

More than enough for two, with sublime leftovers. This can be simmered conventionally for two hours on a hob, but use a slow cooker for preference. Models and heat settings vary, but in principle, the beef and vegetables benefit from browning at high heat before 6-7 hours' slow cooking.

In a frying pan, heat a tablespoon of oil and soften an onion, carrot, two sticks of celery and a small fennel bulb, all finely diced. Transfer to the base of the cooker.

Add a little more oil and brown a well-seasoned piece of lean beef topside, about 750g, on all sides. Lift it out of the pan and lay it on the vegetables in the cooker.

Deglaze the pan with 500ml red wine, scraping up any beefy residues. Let it bubble for a few minutes while you tie together some sprigs of fresh parsley and thyme and a couple of bay leaves.

Tuck under the meat and pour over the wine. Replace the lid and leave for at least six hours, until tender.

Lift carefully from the cooker and transfer the vegetables and liquor to a blender (put the meat back in the slow cooker to keep warm) to make a smooth, tasty sauce.

Carving will be difficult so let the meat collapse into chunks, or serve more elegantly in warmed individual casserole dishes, napped with the sauce and garnished with little potatoes and seasonal greens.

Wine recommendation:

Serve with a heart-warming red like this southern Rhône from the romantically named Domaine de Saint Amant estate - Beaumes de Venise Grangeneuve, Domaine de Saint Amant 2013.


Cheese course - Heart's Delight

Neufchâtel cheese

Neufchâtel: say 'cheese' to the one you love

Far from being a Valentine's Day gimmick, Neufchâtel cheese has been made in Normandy since the 16th century, and is protected by an appellation contrôlée.

A heart-shaped cow's milk cheese of the Chaource family, it's velvety in texture, mild and subtly floral in taste. Once ripe, it should be eaten up, at its ethereal best, with a thin slice of walnut and raisin bread.

Wine recommendation:

A richer chenin like demi-sec Vouvray works works brilliantly with soft, buttery cheeses.

Janet Wynne Evans

Updated February 2016

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