Even Eurovision isn’t immune to pandemics. My annual, improvised, and unconventional tribute to the world’s longest-running song contest turns to fantasy.
2020 IS A YEAR THAT DIDN’T HAPPEN. It’s still not happening now. Yes, some are clinging on to FOMO and other wildly antique concepts, but those will have to wait for a resurgence in 2021. Because 2020 is just the year that never was. Nothing has happened. Everything has stopped. While you can’t enjoy the usual, it’s the ideal time to do the unusual.
May 2019. The UK ends its 22-year drought and claims the Eurovision Song Contest crown with a record points haul (maximum de points). Michael Rice is knighted for a performance that came 26 places higher than the harshest critics expected. His song, Bigger than Us, tops the charts for a record 25 weeks and becomes the official anthem for Britain gloriously exiting the European Union seven months later (with no deal, no transition, but sovereignty over it’s pop music).
Sorry, I was daydreaming. Any other year, this would be the weekend I pay culinary dues to the event that transcends borders. Since 1956, the ESC – and it’s pointedly unfortunate initialism – has united a growing number of countries for one weekend of old school variety every year. It’s proved as immune to irony and quality in equal measure, but when it hits – ABBA, c’mon – it really hits. That’s why it’s worthy of ‘celebration’, commas as inverted as you like. Its 60-odd years have weathered political disputes and conflict, but coronavirus was one thing they couldn’t.
So Rotterdam 2020 will become Rotterdam 2021. While qualifying songs flitter to the charts with varying success, every one of this year’s artists has been invited back to represent their countries next year (not all have accepted, yet). As with many other things, we’ll pretend this never happened and hit the reset.
But that can’t keep my annual Euro-Host Feast down. With the Netherlands pushed back to next year, the oven was open for fantasy. And what better than a fantasy backed by this year’s improvised motto!
“Love Shine a Light”
Familiar lyrics from the UK’s winning 1997 entry. Or, as politically put during the prop-up show 2020: Europe Shine a Light, “It was with this song that the United Kingdom won for the last time”. Charming. But probably true. The fantasy feast was clear: The UK hosting Eurovision for the first time since 1998. Hang out the bunting, grab your tabloid, keep an eye on your neighbour. Other than that…
No need for gimmicks. the rules remain the same.
Last year’s complicated and phenomenally time-consuming tribute to Israeli street food gives way to a Blighty classic this year. On a dry spring day, the simple rules remained the same:
- A feast of food as authentic to the host country as possible.
- Something I’ve not attempted to make before.
- It’s just fun, right?
So what else could it be?
British Fish n’ Chips
Sounds simple, right, well, the lockdown hasn’t eased at supermarkets, and quite rightly so. I’ve been fearful of a British win for some times, as unlikely as it seems. No authentic food from these Isles could be that easy, and so it proved, starting with the essential condiments…
A subtle nod to the host country that isn’t quite this year. Mayonnaise is my preferences with chips, and this is a fresh, peppery twist. The punchy mix begins with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and white wine vinegar mixed with 100ml olive oil with double the groundnut oil. Yes, you best like oil.
Two egg yolks are whisked with a heaped teaspoon of Dijon mustard and seasoning, the oil mix slowly added. You can marvel as the mayo thickens, although you shouldn’t get attached to that unusual orange tint. A couple of cloves of garlic are added, depending on taste, and then 75g of watercress. Chilled, it’s good to use for a day.
Onions, ginger, garlic and chilli are fried until soft, then joined by dark brown sugar, ginger, red wine vinegar and two tablespoons of tomato puree. Most importantly 800g of tomatoes, finely chopped or blended (worth it for the fascinating pink). Left to boil with seasoning for half an hour, it should be sticky and full. When cooled, it should be blended until smooth, sieved and fridged for the main event. This recipe packs a nice punch, and chilli paste can be added to taste. Keep the future in mind – the remarkable properties of tomatoes mean it’ll last up to three months.
Batter comes first. 50g of plain flour and cornflour are combined with baking powder (or soda) and turmeric in a large bowl, but that isn’t the fun part. A couple of spoons should be saved for the fish, before slowly pouring and mixing 75ml each of the secret ingredients: lager and sparkling water. Stirred until smooth it should be left to rest for 30 minutes while the chips are tackled.
About 450g of chipped potatoes needed to be boiled for three minutes (just softening) then tipped onto a baking tray, tossed in oil and plain flour and roasted until golden (half an hour). My flour and oil paste was a bit thick, but I’d recommend that.
The fish – sustainable haddock and cod were my choice – should be halved and patted dry before being coated in the flour and turmeric mix left from the batter. Shaking off the flour, the fish strips should be dipped in the batter then carefully lower into a litre of hot oil for up to eight minutes (depending on thickness, until the battered fish is golden). Drained, salted, they complete the plate alongside the piping chips.
Add British paraphernalia to your taste.
- Taste: 8/10
- Getting it right: 8/10 (my war with batter continues, but I’m winning)
- Make it again? 10/10 (audience and judges)
My usual ‘cauldron cooking’ style generated the obligatory mess this year – a a challenging fantasy, that could only be compounded by the UK actually winning again… Hmm. Now the 365-day countdown to Rotterdam begins again.