Food and wine pairing is achingly fashionable at the moment. I’m afraid my knowledge about which wine to pair with what food doesn’t extend beyond when to drink Chablis and why Cabernet Sauvignon doesn’t work with rhubarb crumble. I am, however, very good at food and performance pairing. In case you haven’t come across it, food and performance pairing is the art of what to eat after a trip to the theatre. To give you an idea:
The Cherry Orchard - bitter cherry clafoutis and a litre of vodka.
Death of a Salesman - hotdog with a friend who feels a failure.
Waiting for Godot — a picnic of chicken and raw carrots while waiting for an acquaintance who never turns up.
Titus Andronicus - nothing for a week.
I now know what to eat after a Wagner opera. Having just seen Wagner for the first time in the form of the English National Opera’s production of The Flying Dutchman, I’m proudly in the post-Wagnerian phase of my life. Orla Boylan’s interpretation of tragic Senta — intense, introverted and slightly obsessive — is mesmerising. She’s a magnificent soprano who combines touching sensitivity with a deep, visceral power.
At dinner after the performance, there was something on the restaurant menu that seemed perfect to follow such high and intense drama — crab. Not a prissy crab, dressed and piled softly back into the shell from whence it had come and piped with mayonnaise stripes. But an armour-plated Wagnerian crab that looked as though it had just clattered into the restaurant, clambered onto the table and said “Ok — I dare you.” With crackers and probes, snippers and forks, it was a war of attrition to see who would win — the crab or me.
Orla is the best soprano to have at the dinner table. Not only does she sing so beautifully that you want to weep, as a teenager she had a holiday job boiling, cracking and dressing the crabs that her dad caught in pots. After the soaring performance of The Flying Dutchman, there was the impressive drama of watching Orla do battle with the crab, hoiking out morsels of meat that the rest of us failed to find.
I watched The Flying Dutchman with a very clever friend who grows things almost as well as Orla sings things. My friend’s magnificent garden is crammed with herbs that would make even a fish-finger fan want to cook.
Aniseed-flavoured sweet cicely overflows in flouncy, lacy heaps, along with drifts of lovage, clouds of wild flowers, perky rhubarb and things I’ve never heard of.
So, in honour of the magnificent Orla Boylan — as well as The Flying Dutchman and my friend’s glorious garden — here is Wagnerian Crab Salad with Sweet Cicely and Wild Flowers along with a glass of Sweet Cicely and Cucumber Cocktail. The crab isn’t the macho monster that I did battle with after the opera. But just as you can’t watch a Wagner opera every day of the week, you can’t fight a crab every day either.
SWEET CICELY AND CUCUMBER COCKTAIL WITH A LOVAGE STRAW
- 1 part Limoncino
- 1 part gin
- 5 parts lemonade
- Juice of half a lime
- Quarter of a cucumber, peeled
- Ice cubes
- A handful of sweet cicely tender stems, to taste
- Sweet cicely leaves to decorate
- Lovage stalks, trimmed to make straws
Combine all the ingredients, apart from the decorative leaves and lovage stalks, in a food processor. Puree to a liquid and pour into a glass. You can strain the liquid if you prefer. The stems of lovage are hollow and make perfect straws. They add the most delicious flavour of perfumed celery to any drink. Garnish the cocktail with sweet cicely leaves and add a lovage straw.
WAGNERIAN CRAB SALAD WITH SWEET CICELY, WILD FLOWERS AND AVOCADO
- 100g white crab meat
- 1 avocado
- 1 dessert spoon creme fraiche
- A few chives plus the flowers
- A few sweet cicely stems and leaves, chopped finely
- Zest of 1 lemon plus a squirt of lemon juice
- Viola flowers or any other edible flowers
Slice the avocado and divide between two plates. Combine the crab, creme fraiche, lemon juice and zest, seasoning, chopped chives and sweet cicely stems. Pile on top of the avocado and decorate with chive flowers and sweet cicely flowers.
Eat and drink the above after any Wagner opera. They go together perfectly.