Let’s Eat by Tom Parker Bowles, EPUB, 1250014336

  • Print Length: 272 Pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
  • Publication Date: October 2, 2012
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1250014336
  • ISBN-13: 978-1250014337
  • File Format: EPUB

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Tom Parker Bowles is an award-winning food writer as well as a dedicated home cook. He writes a weekly column for the Mail on Sunday and is Food Editor of Esquire. He is also author of Full English (2009), which won The Guild of Food Writers’ Award for Work on British Food, as well as The Year of Eating Dangerously (2007) and E is for Eating – An Alphabet of Greed (2004). He lives in London with his wife and two children.

Tireless in the pursuit of a good dinner, award-winning food writer and broadcaster Tom Parker Bowles has concentrated a life spent in thrall to his appetite into one cookbook, Let’s Eat. The recipes range from the resolutely traditional and British (My mother’s roast chicken or the classic Sticky toffee pudding) through the speediest of quick fixes (Steak or Spiced grilled mackerel) to the truly global (Ceviche, Thai beef salad and Mexican beef stew). But all can be easily cooked in the most everyday of kitchens. This is a book about flavour, succour and good cheer. Real food, for people who live to cook and eat.

 

 

‘Few food writers enjoy eating with gusto quite as much as does Tom. Now, with this deeply scrumptious book, he reveals how talented he is at the first bit: the cooking.’

Simon Hopkinson

 

 

For Freddy

 

 

First published in the United Kingdom in 2012 by

PAVILION BOOKS

10 Southcombe Street

London

W14 0RA

An imprint of Anova Books Company Ltd

Text © Tom Parker Bowles 2012

Design and layout © Anova Books 2012

Photography © Cristian Barnett 2012

The moral right of the author has been asserted.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the copyright owner.

Commissioning editor: Becca Spry

Design concept & cover: Georgina Hewitt

Photographer: Cristian Barnett

Home economist: Justine Pattison

Layout: Allan Sommerville

Copy editor: Maggie Ramsay

Stylist: Pene Parker

Production: Laura Brodie

Proofreader: Jamie Ambrose

Indexer: John Noble

Ebook ISBN: 978-1-90910-807-3

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

First Ebook publication 2012

Also available in hardback ISBN: 978-1-86205-930-6

 

 

{ Contents }

 

Introduction

Comfort food

Quick fixes

Slow & low

From far-flung shores

Cooking for children

Index

 

 

Introduction

 

I have a battered old leather recipe book, dark blue and stained with fat, ketchup and chilli sauce. And this book provides most of the recipes for Let’s Eat. Entry into this shabby journal is every bit as exacting as a stage with Thomas Keller or Marco Pierre White. Each recipe has to earn its place. The process goes as follows: I travel to Mexico City, Bangkok, Palermo, Bolton or Vientiane. And eat. Everywhere and everything, my belly swelling as the days go past.

I take copious, scrawled notes and jot down recipes on scraps of paper, everything from ticket stubs to napkins (and as anyone who has ever spent any time eating Asian street food knows, their napkins make loo roll seem like canvas). Once back at my desk in London I attempt to decipher the name of a dish hiding beneath an errant scrap of noodle. Or a local ingredient blurred by a dousing of beer.

Yet this is not simply a traveller’s tome, but a collection of very British recipes, too. The food I grew up eating, and still adore. The shepherd’s pies and grilled sole, fresh asparagus and roasted grouse that never cease to thrill and delight.

At home, I cook each recipe at least three times, endlessly amending until it works (and gets the seal of approval from my wife; seriously, when she nods, the whole world agrees). Then, and only then, is it transcribed into the book. As the years pass, comments and additions find their way onto the pages. I love this leather volume, as much as I love my much-abused wok. Both have the patina of time and constant use, dirty and ragged to the outsider, but utterly beautiful to me. This book, like the wok, tells the story of my love of food. The scribbled additions, the infantile representations of the perfect-sized meatball and the scrawled notes, illegible to anyone but myself.

 

 

Let’s Eat doesn’t set out to sharpen your knife skills, nor redefine the way you view food. Taste takes precedence over pretty presentation and I’ve little time for pious finger-wagging. Buy the best you can afford. Good free-range meat does cost more. The animals take longer to grow, are killed later, and are hung (in the case of beef) often for longer than a month. This means extra cash, sure. As well as extra flavour. And an immeasurably happier life for those beasts, too. But having promised I wouldn’t, I’m starting to lecture from the lofty heights of my food writer’s ivory tower.

The same goes for those endlessly repeated mantras of seasonal and local. Of course seasonal food is important, as this quarterly demarcation brings changes to the market and kitchen that never cease to delight. I passionately believe that the first British asparagus, arriving in late spring, is worth hanging on for, the taste made all the better by the nine-month wait, served with good melted butter and a sprinkling of salt. The same goes for grouse in August, native oysters in September (one drop of Tabasco, one of lemon), gull’s eggs in May and strawberries in June. As one ingredient shuffles off for another year, it’s replaced by something equally beguiling. But I can’t bear those boorish types who scream bloody murder if you eat an apple in spring.

I’m all for local food, too, but don’t start quivering with rage at the thought of air-freighted fruits and fancies. Our diet would be pretty dull without the likes of lemons and pepper, chocolate and coffee, rice and fish sauce. And is it really so evil to prefer a glossy, firm onion grown 100 miles away to some rotten, squidgy specimen from that crap shop down the road? Pragmatism is the key, not po-faced gloom.

Too often, cookbooks are written by chefs who’ve long forgotten the constraints of the home kitchen. I promise that there’ll be no recipe starting with the instruction, ‘Take 30 litres of veal stock …’ or ‘Dip the whole pine nuts into the pine nut praline and then dip them into the liquid nitrogen …’ Most of us hardly have room for a mini-blender, let alone a Pacojet processor or sous-vide bath.

Over the years, I’ve cooked every recipe in this book in my own kitchens. Some of them were no bigger than the average store-cupboard. If you can soften onions on the wonky electric ring of a canary yellow Baby Belling with only two settings – searing and Hades – then you can do anything.

For me, cooking is so much more than the application of heat to ingredients. It makes me happy; from the planning and shopping to the preparation and eating. With the radio trilling away in the background and a glass of wine at my right hand, I feel as if all is well in the world: cooking as catharsis, as ritual, as bliss. Plus there’s the ironically selfish pleasure that cooking for others can bring: friends and family all gathered around the table. ‘Why is it that young couples buy a television or sofa before a table?’ is a question that vexes chef Fergus Henderson. And quite rightly so.

Food is not just mere ‘lifestyle’. It’s our one shared universal experience. You can be celibate, teetotal and tax-dodging, but you still have to eat. It’s the basis of all economies, the catalyst for wars and the keeper of peace. The move from hunter-gatherer to sedentary farmer saw the birth of civilisation as we know it. And the history of a country, of its invasions and conquests, is far better illustrated through the food we eat than through some dusty, desiccated historical tome.

Food, too, is the great communicator. My grasp of foreign tongues is shaky, to say the least. Yet the symbol of enjoyment, the rubbing of one’s gut, is universal. One gets to see far more of an alien culture from behind a robata grill, zinc bar or home-made smoker than from any number of insipid guidebooks.

All the dishes in this book are within easy reach of anyone who can turn on an oven and grasp a knife. I’m a resolutely amateur cook, my culinary education untainted by years spent in restaurant kitchens. I’m messy and bumbling, with presentation generally more suited to Bedlam than Bocuse. These, though, are recipes to make the taste buds grin and the belly cheer.

Let’s Eat takes the choicest cuts from ten years spent as a professional food writer, and throws it into one volume. I’ve banged on enough. Let’s eat.

 

 

{ Comfort food }

 

‘Landlord, bring us beans and bacon, and a bottle of your finest Burgundy.’

G K Chesterton

If beans, bacon and Burgundy don’t ooze comfort, then God only knows what does. Comfort food is familiar, without fuss, drama or pomp. Straightforward, reliable and ever welcome, this is the Ronseal of recipe types: ‘Does exactly what it says on the tin.’ It’s all about easy pleasure and solid flavours, an edible balm that tastes exactly as it should.

It is, though, the most subjective of culinary categories, as the choice of dish is defined entirely by one’s gastronomic past. A childhood spent tugging the apron strings of a great English cook will produce markedly different dishes to a youth passed alongside wok and cleaver. Yet anyone with a heartbeat and opposable thumb will have at least one dish – be it hot buttered toast, red lentil dhal or peppered tripe soup – that coddles, comforts and soothes.

The majority of dishes here are European in genesis, as comfort food is particularly well suited to temperate climes; a later chapter deals with food from far-off lands too. There’s a good sprinkling of British food. These are the staple dishes of my youth, adolescence and adult life. A week will rarely pass when I don’t cook at least one of these recipes. Bonhomie for the belly and succour for the soul.

 

 

{ Cooking at home }

 

‘Heat is just another form of seasoning,’ I was once told by that Celtic force of nature, chef Richard Corrigan. This is a man whose intelligence is matched only by his generosity and, as ever, he’s spot on. The flavour and texture of a piece of meat is affected by the amount of heat used, from quick sear to slow simmer. Yet too often the amateur cook fears real heat. We soften our onions on a piddling flame, and complain that it takes 30 minutes, not ten. We’re afraid of burning our meat, rather than browning it. And we struggle with gas that seems to have only two settings: nothing and too hot.

Experience is everything, and the more that I cook and learn, the easier things become. I still panic at the thought of hollandaise sauce, for example, yet soufflés hold no fear. It doesn’t help when chefs tell us how easy everything is, forgetting that they can bone chickens in their sleep, whereas I’d rather braise my own nose than attempt it again.

Professional chefs do have many advantages: when they dry-fry chillies, they have extractor fans that are so powerful they rip the words straight from their lips. No question of gassing out the house as it does at home. Nor do they have to contend with the smell of burnt dripping hanging around the sitting room for weeks after cooking huge portions of boeuf Bourguignon. Or the stench of chip fat clinging tenaciously to every fibre. They can blacken steaks to their hearts’ content, flambé duck without fear of ruining the ceiling and fling the fat with reckless abandon. That is the point of a professional kitchen.

At home, things must be a little more subdued, but it’s never quite as calm as the blessed Delia might suggest. She makes it look easy, as she’s been doing what she does, beautifully, for many years. All I’m saying is that cooking is often messy, smelly, noisy and painful. That a pan full of hot fat will always spit like a cobra when introduced to a handful of raw meat. And sharp knives continue to slice open even the most lauded of hands. Don’t fear the heat, and cooking suddenly becomes a whole lot more easy.

 

 

{ Fat }

 

Once upon a time, in the not-so-distant past, we worshipped fat. Fat was health, wealth and happiness. ‘The fat of the land’ was something to be coveted rather than disdained. We hankered after great wobbling dollops of marrow, gleaned from the bone with a specially shaped scoop. Fought over the last scrap of chicken skin. And lusted after lard, dripping, suet, schmaltz and butter. Fat carries flavour and aroma, provides the sexiest of textures, allows us to relish in our meat and delight in our food. Without fat, life would be one long lunch with Hare Krishnas.

Fat is also utterly essential to human life: our brains wouldn’t function without the stuff, our cells would cease to survive, join the bleedin’ choir invisible. Hormones would wither and die, immune systems buckle.

If the body were allowed to choose its fuel, it would go for fat, no question. Fat provides double the energy of similar amounts of protein and carbohydrates. Yet 50 years back, saturated fat suffered a spectacular fall from grace: from hero to zero in a matter of months. Scientists noted that coronary heart disease had suddenly become the biggest killer of all. At the same time, after the bleak paucity of the rationing years, there was an increased consumption of animal fats. No surprises there. Fourteen years of mock goose and Woolton pie will do that to an appetite. Scientists put two and two together and came up with four and a half. More animal fats, more heart disease, ergo animal fat is a gimlet-eyed, stone-cold killer. Animal fats became Public Enemy Number One. Despite the fact that there has been no conclusive proof linking saturated fat with heart disease, fat’s image was changed for ever.

That’s not to say that one could survive solely on a diet of butter, bone marrow, lard and milkshakes. Too much of anything, from rice cakes to lardy cakes, is never a good thing. The palate would start to tire and the body bloat. A healthy diet means a balanced diet, lots of green stuff, nuts, pulses, fish and the rest. Fat doesn’t kill; rather, too much of the wrong kind can. Allied with sitting on your vast, wobbling butt all day, munching Quavers by the ton and slurping entire reservoirs of Cherry 7-Up. So in short, embrace animal fats, revel in them, but don’t exist solely upon them. And buy the very best you can afford. Fat you can see, wrapped around kidneys or hugging a leg of lamb, is not the stuff to worry about. It’s those hidden buggers, creeping around all those processed foods, that are the truly dangerous foe.

 

 

Spaghetti with meatballs

 

{ SERVES 4 }

 

500 g/1 lb 2 oz minced pork

250 g/9 oz minced steak or beef

1 whole egg and 1 yolk

85 g/3 oz breadcrumbs, soaked in 125 ml/4 fl oz milk for 10 minutes, then squeezed out

2–5 dried chillies, crumbled

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

500 g/1 lb 2 oz dried spaghetti

grated Parmesan, to serve

For the sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil

1½ onions, finely chopped

1–3 fresh Thai or finger chillies, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

2½ × 400 g/14 oz cans chopped tomatoes

8 basil leaves, torn

Italian-American food at its best, star of more mob movies than you can shake a cannoli at. Purists may argue that Goodfellas, Martin Scorsese’s red-sauce-splashed classic, was the meatball’s greatest ever cinematic moment. ‘Veal, beef, pork …’ mumbles Vinnie, cooking up his prison feast. ‘You gotta have the pork. That’s the flavour.’ As well as cutting the garlic with a razor blade. But it’s actually in Point Break, Kathryn Bigelow’s brilliant surf, screw, run and rob film, where the meatball reaches its peak. So fine is the sandwich that it actually causes the cops, who are on stakeout, to miss the bank being robbed. When done well, meatballs have that sort of effect.

 

To make the meatballs, mix the pork, beef, egg, egg yolk, breadcrumbs and chillies together with a good pinch of salt and lots of pepper, then cover and chill for 30 minutes (the mixture, not you).

Meanwhile, to make the sauce, heat the oil in a saucepan, add the onions, chillies and garlic and cook gently until soft. Add the tomatoes, season, and simmer uncovered for 40 minutes. Add the basil at the end of cooking time.

Roll the meat mixture into small, squash-ball-sized balls. Heat the olive oil over a medium-high heat in a frying pan and fry the meatballs for 2–3 minutes, leaving the inside a little underdone.

Cook the spaghetti in a large saucepan of boiling lightly salted water, following the timing on the pack. Five minutes before the spaghetti is ready, add the meatballs to the sauce and simmer for 5 minutes, until cooked. Drain the pasta and serve with the meatballs, sprinkled with Parmesan.

 

 

Chilli cottage pie

 

{ SERVES 6 }

 

2 tablespoons olive oil

½–2 Scotch bonnet chillies, finely chopped

4 red onions, finely chopped

1 kg/2 lb 2 oz minced beef (freshly minced if possible)

2 tablespoons tomato purée

4 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce, or to taste

Tabasco

500 ml/18 fl oz fresh beef stock (you can use cubes at a push)

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the mash

8 large Maris Piper potatoes, about 1.3 kg/3 lb total weight, scrubbed

6 tablespoons milk

50 g/1¾ oz butter, plus 25 g/1 oz to dot on top

Too often, the cottage pie (and its bleating cousin, the shepherd’s pie) is a mean sort of lunch, made with small, rubbery pellets of cheap mince, a splash of ketchup and lumpy mashed potato. Even worse, people insist on using the leftovers from Sunday’s roast. I’m all for using up chicken bones and the like, but to chop up yesterday’s beef for a pie not only gives an inferior filling – it robs me of roast beef sandwiches too. My great-grandfather, food writer and polemicist P Morton Shand, blamed the decline of British food on our culture of leftovers, where ‘… the joint lingered from Sabbath to Sabbath, suffering diverse strange transformations in its progress from Sunday’s midday dinner to Saturday’s supper: hot, cold; cold, hashed; cold, minced; cold, rissoles; cold, shepherd’s pie; cold, Kromensky; and cold, stewed. It is the very diagnosis of dyspepsia.’ I agree. This recipe uses fresh beef mince. If you can get the decent stuff from your butcher, freshly minced, it does make all the difference. This is a cheap dish, but shouldn’t be a mean one. Avoid ‘lean’ mince at all costs.

As to chillies, I like a good kick of warmth, not so much that it sends diners fleeing from the table, their tongues sizzling in bowls of yogurt. I use one or two Scotch bonnets, but adapt as needed. They’re pretty fiery, but have a lusciously fruity tang. If you do have to use those generic Dutch big chillies, good luck. They have all the kick of a limbless ass.

For the mash, I don’t bother peeling the potatoes before cooking. Boil in their skins, leave to cool, then peel by hand. Much quicker and easier.

 

Gently heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and soften the chillies in it (do open a window, as these chillies can create a gas that tends to get children crying and wives hacked off), then add the onions and soften for about 10 minutes.

Add the beef, turn the heat to high and brown it. Add the tomato purée and cook for 2 minutes. Add the Worcestershire sauce, a few jigs of Tabasco and the stock; taste, then season. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 25 minutes. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4.

Meanwhile, make the mash. Put the potatoes in a big pan of lightly salted water, bring to the boil, then simmer for 20–25 minutes, until a knife goes through with ease. Tip into a colander, let them cool a little, then peel. Heat the milk and butter in a small saucepan until the butter melts, then mash the potatoes with the mixture. Season.

Take a rectangular pie dish and pile in the hot meat. Top with mash. Fork the top of the mash so it looks like a choppy sea. Dot with a little extra butter and bake for 20–30 minutes, until the top is golden and the meat bubbling fiercely below. Serve with boiled peas.

 

 

Beef Stroganoff

 

{ SERVES 4 }

 

600 g/1 lb 5 oz fillet steak, cut into 5-cm/2-inch-long strips

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon hot paprika

about 75 g/3 oz butter

1 tablespoon plain flour

100 ml/3½ fl oz chicken stock

1 tablespoon tomato purée

1 teaspoon French mustard

115 g/4 oz small mushrooms, sliced

1 onion, finely chopped

75 ml/2½ fl oz dry white wine

200 ml/7 fl oz soured cream

2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

boiled long-grain rice and green salad, to serve

There are endless arguments as to the origins of beef Stroganoff – whether it was a Hungarian dish, a classic Russian one, or a French one, inspired by Russia. The Stroganovs were a rich and wealthy family of merchants, traders with a long geographical reach. And one of the clan was said to have employed a French chef who is reputed to have created the dish. Other experts disagree, citing the etymology as derived from strogat, meaning in Russian to ‘cut into pieces.’ The truth is long lost. What remains, though, is a dish that uses soured cream and paprika. Well, sometimes. In other recipes, it uses cream instead. Some marinate the meat, others don’t. There is no real ‘authentic recipe’ and this one most certainly isn’t. But it’s broadly recognisable and tastes damned good too.

 

Toss the strips of steak in salt, pepper and paprika, cover and put in the fridge for 2 hours.

Melt 25 g/1 oz of the butter in a small saucepan over a medium heat, stir in the flour and cook for 2–3 minutes to make a golden brown roux. Gradually blend in the stock, tomato purée and mustard, bring to the boil, then simmer for 5–10 minutes until thickened. Set aside.

Heat another 25 g/1 oz butter in a large frying pan over a medium-high heat and cook the mushrooms for a few minutes. Scoop them out of the pan onto a plate and set aside. Cook the onion in the same pan, adding more butter if needed, then add to the plate of mushrooms. Cook the steak in the remaining butter until browned on all sides, about 3–4 minutes. Deglaze the pan with the wine.

Return the mushrooms and onions to the pan, along with the sauce and soured cream. Mix well, then cover and let stand for 15 minutes. Reheat, sprinkle with chopped parsley, and serve with rice and a green salad.

 

 

The perfect burger

 

{ MAKES 8 }

 

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 kg/2 lb 2 oz minced beef, with at least 20% fat

8 slices Cheddar or Swiss cheese

16 rashers smoked streaky bacon

8 soft white buns, split

2 beef tomatoes, sliced

1 iceberg lettuce

4 large sweet pickles, halved

mayonnaise, ketchup and mustard, to serve

There’s a lot of guff talked about hamburgers: adding eggs or onions to the mix and topping them with pineapple, beetroot, foie gras and God knows what else. I’ve travelled across America in search of burger perfection and found that one rule applies – the simpler the burger, the better. You still need good meat, minced rump or sirloin with about 20 per cent fat, preferably from a butcher. And a small, soft bun that can be held in one hand. Lettuce, tomato, cheese and bacon are all acceptable, even desirable, additions, not forgetting proper pickles, too. One of the best I’ve ever eaten was at the In-N-Out burger chain in California. Simple, succulent and perfect. Byron’s Britain’s best chain. For now, anyway. But don’t mess about. No monster-size patties or wacky embellishments; just something to be wolfed in about four or five bites, the juices dribbling down your chin.

 

Add a good pinch of salt to the beef, and lots of pepper, mix, cover and leave in the fridge for an hour.

Shape the mixture into 8 patties. Heat a heavy-based pan or barbecue to high, then cook the burgers for about 3 minutes on each side for rare, 4 minutes for medium and 6 for well done. A minute before they’re ready, top them with cheese so it melts slightly.

Fry the bacon until crisp and toast the buns on the cut sides for 30 seconds.

Now the build. Bottom bun, then burger and cheese, then 2 rashers of bacon, a slice of tomato, a couple of lettuce leaves and a pickle half. Leave it to personal taste when it comes to the mayo, ketchup and mustard. Then top bun.

 

 

Toad in the hole

 

{ SERVES 4 }

 

115 g/4 oz plain flour

2 medium eggs, beaten

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

300 ml/½ pint full-fat milk

3 tablespoons lard or olive oil

450 g/1 lb good pork sausages

One of the very few school dishes, along with the ersatz ribs and crisps on a Sunday, that I actually found edible. A thrifty lunch, sure, but make sure you get the best sausages you can find (I like chipolatas for this) and it becomes a very decent feast. This is my late step-mother Rose’s recipe. She specifies lard, quite rightly, as it adds to the flavour. But olive oil will do fine.

 

Preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/Gas 7. Sift the flour into a bowl, mix in the eggs and season. Whisk in the milk to make a smooth batter.

Put 2 tablespoons lard or olive oil into a frying pan over a medium heat, then cook the sausages until you have a good colour.

Put the remaining lard or olive oil into a 18 × 28 cm/ 7 × 11 inch baking tray or roasting tin and put into the oven for a few minutes, until smoking. Pour one-third of the batter into the tray. When it starts to rise and set in the hot oil, arrange the sausages in it and pour over the rest of batter. Bake for 25–30 minutes, until the batter is browned and billowing.

 

 

Roast woodcock

 

{ SERVES 1 }

 

1 woodcock, plucked but not drawn, head on

a little soft butter

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 rashers streaky bacon

a little red wine

1 slice of good crusty white bread, halved

Beguiling brown eyes, an elegant, rapier-like beak and delicate black markings – the woodcock is an undoubtedly beautiful bird. Agile as a housefly and very hard to shoot. The eating is rather less refined. It arrives at the table roasted whole, neck lolling and eye staring blindly up. The skull is hewn in half to get at the brains, while the innards lie thick on a piece of fried bread. The flesh is rich, dark, with a hint of the pungent. For those who adore their game, it’s the best of the lot.

Any shot bird will have a clean gut (they empty their bowels as they fly), and the entrails are soft and livery in taste. I buy my birds from The Blackface Meat Company (www.blackface.co.uk). This is based on a recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s magisterial The River Cottage Meat Book (Hodder & Stoughton 2004).

 

Remove the gizzard: either ask your butcher to do this, or make a small split in the vent end of the bird, insert a finger and feel for a hard little lump. Spear it with a cocktail stick, pull it out, snip it off and push the intestines back into the body.

Preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/Gas 8. Put the bird in a roasting tin, massage butter over the breast and season. Lay the bacon over the breast, then tuck the head and neck under the wing and put in the hot oven for 8–20 minutes: 8 gives you bloody, 20 well done (I like about 10 minutes). Remove the bacon after 5 minutes, chop and set aside.

Rest the bird on a warmed plate for 10 minutes. Using a teaspoon, carefully scoop out the innards and set aside. In a small frying pan, heat a little butter and add the bacon. Sizzle for a minute or two, then add the innards and juices from the roasting tin. Add a little red wine, bubble gently for 2 minutes, season and mash any lumpy bits. Toast the bread, then spread the ‘pâté’ on one half and rest the bird on the other. Gnaw off every last scrap of meat.

 

 

Roast grouse

 

{ SERVES 4 }

 

4 young grouse (I get mine from www.blackface.co.uk)

50 g/1¾ oz butter, softened

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

150 ml/5 fl oz dry white wine

300 ml/10 fl oz game or chicken stock

sprig of thyme

watercress, to serve

For the fried breadcrumbs

200 g/7 oz white bread, a couple of days old, crusts removed

50 g/1¾ oz butter

A truly seasonal British treat. I start to get the urge round about the end of July, and by 12th August, when the season starts, I’m craving my first taste. When you have a young bird, it would be heresy to do anything other than roast it, with all the traditional trimmings: clear gravy, fried breadcrumbs and bread sauce. There’s no need for bacon, as it tends to overwhelm the delicate taste.

As to hanging, I don’t believe the young birds need it. The Victorians had a taste for birds so ‘high’ that the maggots were already feasting, and the flesh was horribly bitter. Forget all that. The young grouse is a spectacularly unthreatening beast: sweet, succulent and wonderful. I like mine pink, but not gushing blood. And my father reckons that cold grouse makes the greatest breakfast of all.

 

Preheat the oven to 240°C/475°F/Gas 9. Lightly cover the grouse breasts with butter and season inside and out. Put into the searing hot oven for about 15 minutes. You want rare meat, not bloody. The breasts should feel fairly firm. If too soft, they’re not cooked. Remove the bird from the tin, and leave to rest while you make the gravy.

Meanwhile, to make the breadcrumbs, tear the bread into small bits and blitz in a food processor to make crumbs. Fry the breadcrumbs in the butter over a medium heat until crisp. Drain on kitchen paper, then season.

Pour off the excess fat from the roasting tin, then put the tin over a high heat and throw in the wine, stirring and scraping while you simmer it. Reduce by half, then add the stock, thyme, salt and pepper and boil to reduce until deeply flavoured. Add any of the juices released from the resting grouse, then strain through a sieve into a warm jug. Serve with watercress, fried breadcrumbs and bread sauce (see page 28).

 

 

Bread sauce

 

{ MAKES 600 ML/20 FL OZ }

 

1 onion, halved

6 cloves

500 ml/18 fl oz milk

2 bay leaves

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

200 g/7 oz white bread, a couple of days old, crusts removed

100 ml/3½ fl oz double cream

Steaming, and stained dark brown with gravy, bread sauce adds beauty and ballast to whatever it touches. Which is usually chicken or turkey, as any other meats tend to overpower its subtle, clove-scented allure. The key lies in infusing the milk with onion and spices.

 

Stud the onion with the cloves and put it into a saucepan with the milk, bay leaves, salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, then take off the heat and leave to stand for 30 minutes.

Tear the bread into small bits and blitz in a food processor to make rough crumbs. Remove the onion and bay leaves from the milk, add the breadcrumbs and bring gently back to the boil, then simmer over a low heat for about 20 minutes, giving it the occasional stir.

Pour in the cream, bring back to a simmer and whisk, then serve immediately.

 

 

Pot roast chicken

 

{ SERVES 2–4 }

 

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 × 1.5 kg/3¾4 lb chicken (the best you can afford)

1 lemon, halved

150 ml/5 fl oz dry white wine

10 cloves garlic, unpeeled

2 big sprigs of rosemary

350 ml/12 fl oz chicken stock (fresh or cube)

4 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine

2 tablespoons soy sauce

handful of coriander stalks

2 pinches of cayenne pepper (optional, but gives it a wonderful heat)

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

thick slices of brown bread, to serve

cos lettuce salad, to serve

This dish is near impossible to bugger up. The initial browning (to add that extra level of flavour) tends to spit viciously and takes longer than you think. One breast, then the other, then onto its back. Stock cubes are fine, as there’s so much else going on, but if you do use them cut back on the salt.

This is something that’s developed over the years. I added the soy and rice wine because they were there and it seemed a good idea at the time. And it worked. The wine gives a rounded, rich sweetness while the soy deepens the flavour of the broth. Don’t fear the excess amount of garlic. The cloves soften and mellow in the juices.

 

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4. Heat the olive oil in a large cast-iron pan over a medium-high heat and brown the chicken all over, about 10 minutes. Remove the chicken. Shove half the lemon up its ass and squeeze the other half over the skin. Deglaze the pan with the white wine, stirring, then put the chicken back in. Add the garlic, rosemary, stock, rice wine, soy sauce, coriander stalks, cayenne, salt and pepper. Bring to the boil.

Cover and roast for 1 hour 10 minutes to 1 hour 20 minutes. To test the chicken is cooked, poke a skewer into the thickest part of the thigh: the juices should be golden, not pink.

Transfer the chicken to a plate and leave to rest for 10 minutes. In the meantime, strain the cooking liquid through a sieve into another pan; discard the herb stems, but squeeze all the garlic through. Remove excess fat from the top with a spoon, then boil until the liquid is reduced by a third.

Carve the chicken and place in bowls atop a slice of bread. Pour over your sauce and eat with a crisp, simple cos lettuce salad. Drink any excess sauce direct from your bowl.

 

 

A deeply healthy, utterly addictive noodle dish

 

{ SERVES 2 }

 

2 chicken breasts (the best you can afford), cut into 1 cm/½-inch cubes

juice of 1 lime

2 teaspoons gochujang (Korean chilli paste) or a good whack of fish sauce, 2 tiny chopped bird’s eye chillies and a splash of soy sauce

For the stir-fry

250 g/9 oz Thai rice noodles

dash of groundnut oil

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

4 spring onions, sliced into 2.5 cm/1 inch pieces diagonally

½ head of broccoli (about 140 g/ 5 oz), cut into small florets

8 Thai or banana shallots, finely sliced

8 baby corn, quartered

50 g/1¾ oz frozen peas

50–100 ml/2–4 fl oz chicken stock (a cube is fine)

3–10 bird’s eye chillies, finely chopped (depending how hot you like it)

2 teaspoons fish sauce

big handful of coriander leaves, roughly chopped

small handful of mint leaves, roughly chopped

1 lime, halved

For the chilli fish sauce

75 ml/2½ fl oz fish sauce

4–8 bird’s-eye chillies, finely chopped

juice of 1 lime

This is probably the dish I cook more than any other, and we eat it at least twice a week at home. There was much debate as to whether it belonged in the From far-flung shores chapter, but in the end I decided this was comfort, pure and simple. Eating it makes me happy, wholesome even.

You can use whatever vegetables you have to hand, from frozen peas to broccoli, sugar snaps, French beans or bean sprouts. It even makes that ridiculous baby corn look useful. The key is a balance between the hot, sour and salty. The flavours are bold, but never overwhelming.

It’s the sort of food that renders talking irrelevant. Just writing about these noodles makes my mouth water. My wife describes them as ‘medicinal’, thanks to all the fresh vegetables, herbs and chillies within. We like it hot, but tone down the chillies if need be. And you can always add more heat, by way of the chillies in the fish sauce. If you can’t get hold of those fiendish little scud or bird’s eye chillies, use a quarter of the amount of habanero or Scotch bonnet. The flavour is different, but the heat mighty.

There are two slightly exotic ingredients here, both easily available on the internet (www.royalthaisupermarket.com) or from Asian shops. They make the dish better still, but are not essential. The first is gochujang, a Korean fermented chilli paste that I use in the marinade. It has a deep, rich flavour with a hint of Marmite. And the second are the noodles I use (Khanom Jeen Rice Noodles 200g), specialist noodles used by the Thais for breakfast and curries. They have a wonderful soft texture. If you can’t get them, use any rice noodles. I have a pair of special white bowls we use for this soup, deep and wide. They are as much a part of the ritual as are the noodles themselves.

 

 

This is best cooked in a wok, and the chicken must be cut into small cubes of roughly the same size, to ensure they cook evenly. Make it in two batches. The actual cooking takes a few minutes. Once the prep is done, you’re laughing.

 

Put the chicken in a bowl with the lime juice and gochujang. Cover and leave to marinate in the fridge for an hour. Remove from the fridge 10 minutes before cooking.

To make the chilli fish sauce, mix all the ingredients together and set aside.

For the stir-fry, cook the rice noodles in a large pan of boiling water according to the packet instructions. Drain, cool under cold running water and set aside.

Drain the chicken, discard the marinade, and pat the chicken dry with kitchen paper.

Heat the groundnut oil in a wok until smoking, then throw in half the garlic, cook for a second, then add half the chicken and stir until browned, about 1–2 minutes.

Add half of all the vegetables, but not the chillies. Stir-fry for another 30 seconds, then add half the stock and chillies. Taste, season with fish sauce and cook for a further 30 seconds to a minute, until the chicken is cooked through. Add half the herbs, mix and add half the noodles. Mix for another 30 seconds, and finish with the juice of half a lime.

Repeat for the second bowl. Serve with chilli fish sauce.

 

 

Chicken & sweetcorn soup

 

{ SERVES 4 }

 

1.2 litres/2 pints dark chicken stock (see page 39)

2 corn ears, kernels stripped from the cobs

200 g/7 oz boneless cooked chicken (the best you can afford), shredded

2 spring onions, sliced

juice of ½ lemon

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Tabasco

This is the sort of soup best suited to the lean, cruel months of January and February. So it’s a bore that the very best sweetcorn is out of season. Still, use the imported stuff if it has sufficient sweetness. Or freeze a glut in the summer and autumn months. This is not the place for a stock cube: using my 5-hour stock will produce something that is rich, soothing and restorative.

 

Bring the stock to the boil in a large saucepan and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes, to reduce a little.

Add the corn kernels to the stock and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the shredded chicken and simmer for a further 5 minutes, until cooked through. Add the spring onions and lemon juice and season to taste with salt, pepper and a dash of Tabasco. Serve.

 

 

My mother’s roast chicken

 

{ SERVES 4 }

 

1 unwaxed lemon

1 x 1.8 kg/4 lb chicken (the best you can afford), rinsed inside and out with cold water and then drained

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

about 75 g/3 oz butter, at room temperature

Gravy

200 ml/7 fl oz dry white wine

450 ml/16 fl oz chicken stock (a cube is fine)

My wife swore that if she heard me mention this dish one more time, she’d shove it where the sun don’t beam. Well, words to that effect. Because this was such a staple of my youth, I roll it out any time anyone asks if my mother is a good cook – which is pretty much all of the time. She is, although she was always less bothered with the cakes, puddings and pies side of things: anything that requires exact measurements. Which was fine by us. All my sister and I really wanted was Findus Crispy Pancakes and Ice Magic chocolate sauce. Sadly, we had to seek those illicit pleasures elsewhere.

This is a classic recipe, cooked in the top right-hand oven of the Aga. I’ve adapted it for normal ovens. My mother insists that chopping off that dangly bit above the cavity and putting it on top of the bird improves the flavour. As it releases about a ton of schmaltz, or chicken fat, I’d agree. Buy the best chicken you can afford. Rather eat one decent free-range than four of those flabby imported beasts with all the depth of a puddle.

 

Preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/Gas 7. Pierce the lemon with a small knife and ‘shove it up the chicken’s bottom’. Season the bird with salt and pepper, inside and out, then massage the butter all over it. Cook for 20 minutes, then turn the oven down to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4 and cook for a further 40 minutes. Poke a skewer into the thickest part of the thigh: the juices should be golden, not pink. If not, cook for a little longer, then retest. Let it rest for 15–20 minutes.

Meanwhile, for the gravy, spoon excess fat from the roasting tin, but leave a little in the tin. Put the tin over a high heat. When everything starts bubbling, deglaze with the white wine. Simmer while the alcohol cooks off, then add the stock, stirring all the time. Tip in any juices from the resting chicken. Boil to reduce a little, then strain through a sieve into a warm jug. Serve the chicken with the gravy.

 

 

Chicken & mushroom pie

 

{ SERVES 4–6 }

 

75 g/3 oz butter

50 g/1¾ oz plain flour, sifted, plus extra for rolling pastry

600 ml/20 fl oz hot chicken stock

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

juice of 1 lemon

Tabasco

1 large onion, finely chopped

225 g/8 oz button mushrooms, sliced

15 g/½ oz dried morels, soaked in warm water, drained and chopped (optional, as they are expensive but they do add some mycological magic)

150 ml/5 fl oz dry white wine

1 cold roasted chicken (the best you can afford), flesh stripped and cut into bite-sized pieces

1 tablespoon finely chopped tarragon

1 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 egg, beaten, to glaze

500 g/1 lb 2 oz all-butter puff pastry

Nothing beats a good pie when nights are long and credit short. I’m far too lazy to make my own puff pastry, especially when the supermarkets have decent ready-made stuff. Just ensure it’s all-butter, as the pastry made with margarine is predictably nasty. When roasting a chicken for dinner, add another one to eat later. As ever, the better the chicken, the finer the taste and texture.

 

Melt 50 g/1¾ oz of the butter in a saucepan over a low heat, then stir in the flour (one of those small Wonder Whisks makes life much easier) and cook for about 2 minutes. Don’t let it colour. Slowly add the hot stock until you have a thick sauce. Season, then add the mustard, lemon juice and a few dashes of Tabasco and leave to simmer for 2 minutes.

Sauté the onion and the fresh and soaked mushrooms in the remaining butter until soft. Add the wine, bring to the boil to cook off the alcohol, then add the mixture to the sauce, stirring over a medium heat for a couple of minutes. Add the chicken and herbs, then allow to cool.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6. Put the chicken mixture into a 2 litre/3½ pint pie dish and brush the edge with a little beaten egg. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface and lift onto the pie dish. Cut a couple of small vents in the pastry and press around the edges to seal well. Brush with beaten egg and bake for 30–35 minutes, or until golden brown.

 

 

{ Chicken stock }

 

Stock used to scare the hell out of me. Not literally. It never chased me through the woods with a bloody cleaver, or harangued me on the Second Coming of Christ. No, my fear of stock was purely practical. Unlike frying an egg, say, or making a curry, it seemed to involve vast, industrial vats over-flowing with centuries of serious culinary know-how. I saw it as a professional process, mastered by moustachioed French chefs, their hands riddled with scars, their toques white and priapic. ‘The foundation of French cuisine,’ they’d mutter, in gutteral Gallic, before browning a few kilos of chicken wings in a world-weary way.

But one day, fed up with the impotent insipidity of the shop-bought versions, I gave it a go. I followed a recipe, probably by Nigel Slater, and managed to transform a couple of old carcasses, along with a few tired vegetables squatting in the bottom of my fridge, into a golden nectar, good enough to drink. I had created something wonderful from the drab, useless and everyday. Bless you, kitchen chemistry. You never cease to amaze. And so I became a maker of stock, a process every bit as soothing as it is satisfactory.

As the years have passed, so my stock recipe has evolved. Dark chicken stock is my liquid of choice, made from at least two carcasses (frozen leftovers from a roast chicken – when there are two foil-wrapped parcels in the deep freeze, it’s time to make stock) and roasted wings. These wings, I reckon, are the secret weapons, although necks and hearts are grand, too. No liver though, as it adds an unpleasant bitter note. Very occasionally, towards the end of the winter, I might throw in a grouse that has lurked in the icy depths too long. Or a partridge carcass. The more flavour, the better, especially as the vast majority of my stock goes into either spicy, Thai-tinged broths or proper risottos that crave a serious savoury punch.

Although it can be a good way of using up carrots sulking in the depths of one’s fridge, the fresher the vegetables, the better the stock will taste. Contrary to traditional knowledge, stock is not a rubbish dump for geriatric onions and rotten tomatoes, nor should it be left forever bubbling, as you throw in whatever seems fit. Tomatoes add sweetness, as do onions (keep their skin on for colour). Celery adds … well, celery is the most mysterious of vegetables. Raw, it’s pretty dull and one-noted. Cooked down, it adds a sensual roundness that a stock cannot live without. A few parsley and coriander stalks add still more depth (I just freeze them after using the leaves), along with peppercorns and a brace of bay leaves.

Every cook will have his or her own version. Purists will go for bones alone, Michelin-starred maestros might favour a very light stock, cooked for no more than an hour or two, so as not to overwhelm. But I’m an eater, not a saucier, and I want a lot of roasted chicken heft. So mine takes about 5 hours. At the meekest of simmers. I plunge my roasted carcasses and wings into cold water (and a big stockpot is a must; up there with a good knife and proper wok, it’s a stalwart of my kitchen), bring to the boil, skim off the scum, then turn down the heat until it’s just a flickering flame, add the vegetables, herbs and aromatics, and let it blip away. Just a blip, mind, not even a simmer. When the cooking time is up, taste, sieve and pour into jugs to cool. Let the dark sediment settle at the bottom, then pour off the clear liquid and use or freeze. It’s ready for risotto.

For broth, I reduce it by about a third to intensify the flavour. To clarify further, there are endless clever ways with egg whites and mince. But I’m buggered if I know what they are. My stock is for cooking, slurping and sipping, so I don’t lose too much sleep over a few minuscule and flavour-packed specks. This is cooking as therapy, a balm and salve. And you get a few litres of amber nectar at the end. Super stock, indeed.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

A darkish, deeply flavoured chicken stock

{ MAKES ABOUT 5 LITRES / 9 PINTS }

2 cooked chicken carcasses, kept from roast chicken

8 chicken wings, roasted for 20 minutes at 220°C/450°F/Gas 7

chicken neck and heart (optional but preferable)

2 large tomatoes, quartered

2 large onions, quartered

2 large carrots, roughly chopped

3 celery stalks, roughly chopped (with leaves, if present)

handful of mixed parsley and coriander stalks

2 bay leaves

8 black peppercorns

Cut or tear up the carcasses into small pieces and put into a large stockpot, along with the wings and neck and heart if using. Cover with cold water (filtered is best; it sounds poncey, but it does make a difference to the flavour) and bring to the boil. Skim off any scum and turn down the heat.

Add the tomatoes, vegetables, herbs and peppercorns and cook for 5 hours, covered, over a flickering flame. You want blip blip, not bubble bubble.

Use a slotted spoon to discard all the meat and vegetables. Pour the liquid through a fine sieve into jugs. Leave it to sit and cool.

After an hour, most of the sediment will drop to the bottom of the jugs. Skim off excess fat – but leave some. Pour the stock into freezer bags, leaving the sediment behind.

 

 

A really good fish pie

 

{ SERVES 6 }

 

600 ml/20 fl oz full-fat milk

½ small onion, thinly sliced

6 black peppercorns

1 bay leaf

2 fresh parsley stalks

blade of mace

300 g/10½ oz undyed smoked haddock

115 g/4 oz cod fillets

150 ml/5 fl oz dry white wine

Tabasco

175 g/6 oz small cooked prawns, shelled

1 small pot (about 55 g/2 oz) potted shrimps

24 uncooked queen scallops, about 200 g/7 oz (optional)

big pinch of finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

For the mash

1.3 kg/3 lb Maris Piper potatoes, scrubbed

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 tablespoons full-fat milk

50 g/1¾ oz butter, plus 25 g/1 oz to dot on top

For the béchamel sauce

50 g/1¾ oz butter

50 g/1¾ oz plain flour

2 tablespoons double cream

white pepper

There’s no place for salmon in a proper fish pie. I’m sorry, but it’s just not right. It’s somehow too greasy, too lurid and too, well, salmony, to feel anything but ill at ease. It’s not that I hate salmon. The wild stuff is a rare treat, rich and magnificent. And there are a couple of decent salmon farmers (Loch Duart, for one) that allow these once-great beasts space to swim and build up their muscles and fins. But the vast majority of farmed stuff is pap, pure and simple. Ruinous to the environment, and equally dull on the palate. Smoked haddock, on the other hand, is the backbone of this pie. Undyed, of course, alongside some good unsmoked fish, for contrast and balance. A few prawns add life, and queen scallops are a fine addition, too. Even a pot or two of potted shrimps. A good béchamel is essential, and a whisper of booze. But eggs are just gilding the lily. This pie is all about the fish.

 

To make the mash, put the potatoes in a big pan of salted water, bring to the boil, then simmer for 20–25 minutes, until a knife goes through with ease. Tip into a colander, let them cool down a little, then peel. Heat the milk and butter in a small saucepan until the butter melts, then mash the potatoes with the milk. Season.

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4. Put the milk, onion, peppercorns, bay leaf, parsley stalks and mace in a large shallow pan, heat to a simmer and then poach the smoked haddock and cod for 5–6 minutes, until the fish just flakes when pressed with a knife. Lift out the fish, remove the skin and any stray bones and set aside. Strain the milk through a sieve into a measuring jug; discard the flavourings. If necessary, add a little extra milk to make up to 600 ml/ 20 fl oz; set aside.

To make the béchamel sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan over a low heat, stir in the flour using a wooden spoon, and cook for 2–3 minutes; do not let it brown. Remove from the heat and slowly stir in the reserved milk until smooth. Add the cream and cook for 2–3 minutes, adding salt and white pepper to taste.

Add the wine to the béchamel and cook gently, stirring, for a further 2–3 minutes. Add a big dash of Tabasco. Add the fish, shellfish and chopped parsley and put into a pie dish.

Cover the fish mixture with the mash; using a fork, fluff up the top into small waves and dot with a little extra butter. Put in the oven for 20–30 minutes, until the top is golden.

 

 

Haddock Parker Bowles

 

{ SERVES 4 }

 

2 plum tomatoes

50 g/¾ oz butter

4 × 175 g/6 oz undyed smoked haddock fillets, skinned

4 eggs

For the white wine sauce

2 large shallots, finely chopped

25 g/1 oz butter

175 ml/6 fl oz dry white wine

150 ml/5 fl oz fish stock

150 ml/5 fl oz double cream

juice of ½ lemon

For the mash

650 g/1 lb 7 oz Maris Piper potatoes, scrubbed

3 tablespoons full-fat milk

25 g/1 oz butter

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

25 g/1 oz chives, chopped

My grandfather was a good cook, in a time when gentlemen were rarely seen in the kitchen. My father has a picture of him in his apron, looking very pukka. It was probably made on Savile Row. My uncle Simon carried on the family tradition with Green’s, a proper English restaurant and oyster bar. It has the feeling of a St James’s club, although the food is markedly superior. And Haddock Parker Bowles could be described as a signature dish. It’s certainly never been off the menu since the first restaurant opened in St James’s in 1982 (there’s now another Green’s in Cornhill, in the City). The current recipe is wonderful, but a little too cheffy for my tastes (in the cooking, not the eating). So I’ve pared it down a little, although the essence remains. Make the tomato concassé first, along with the sauce, which can be reheated. And poach the eggs just after you’ve made the mash.

 

First, make the tomato concassé. Pierce the tomatoes, then put them in a bowl of boiling water for 30 seconds. Run them under the cold tap. Peel, cut into quarters, remove the seeds and cut the flesh into small dice.

To make the sauce, sweat the shallots in the butter over a low–medium heat until soft and just turning golden. Combine the white wine and stock and use to deglaze the pan, then reduce slowly until lightly syrupy. Add the cream and reduce until the sauce coats the back of a spoon. Strain through a sieve, then add the lemon juice. Season and keep warm.

Make the mash. Put the potatoes in a big pan of salted water, bring to the boil, then simmer for 20–25 minutes, until a knife goes through with ease. Tip them into a colander, let them cool a little, then peel. Heat the milk and butter in a saucepan until the butter melts, then mash the potatoes with the milk. Season, mix with the chives and keep warm.

For the fish, melt the butter in a large frying pan over a medium heat and fry the haddock fillets for about 8 minutes, until brown and the fish flakes easily when pressed with a knife, turning halfway through cooking. Allow to rest.

Poach the eggs (see my method on page 51), then drain.

To serve, put the chive mash on 4 warmed plates, top with haddock and a poached egg. Pour the sauce around the fish, and sprinkle with the tomato concassé.

 

 

Goujons of sole, haddock or even pollack (if you must)

 

{ SERVES 4 }

 

300 g/10½ oz white bread, a couple of days old, no crusts

200 g/7 oz plain flour

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 eggs, beaten

1 kg/2 lb 4 oz sole, cod, haddock, plaice, pollack, filleted, skinned and cut into strips somewhere between the size of your small and ring fingers

6 tablespoons olive oil

3 lemons, cut into wedges

For the pea purée

900 g/2 lb frozen petit pois

25 g/1 oz salted butter

a few sprigs of mint

splash of hot chicken stock

A goujon is a fish finger with a French accent and Chanel bag. They’re incredibly easy to make and it’s a lunch that the children love as much as we do. Sole is expensive, but perfect. If buying haddock, make sure it’s sustainably caught – the same with cod and plaice. Rather than have me wagging my finger at you, check out the Marine Stewardship Council website to see which fish you can and can’t eat (www.msc.org). Some people suggest pollack. But there’s a reason we haven’t eaten this fish for years … it’s deadly dull. As my friend Matthew Fort would say, ‘Bollocks to pollacks.’

 

Tear the bread into small pieces and blitz in a food processor to make crumbs, then put them on a plate. Mix the flour with a little salt and pepper and lay out on another plate. Put the eggs in a shallow dish.

Using one hand (this stops both hands getting clagged up), dip the fish strips into the flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs, shaking off any excess at each stage.

Fry the fish in batches in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, over a medium–high heat, until crisp and golden, then drain on kitchen paper. Keep hot while cooking the rest.

For the pea purée, cook the peas in a saucepan of boiling water for 4–5 minutes, then drain. Put them into a blender, add the butter and mint and blend, adding hot chicken stock to thin it out as needed (I like it to be quite thick, so you can use the goujons as golden spoons). Season and serve with the goujons and wedges of lemon.

 

 

Baked potatoes with caviar

 

{ SERVES 4 }

 

4 small baking potatoes – use a floury type such as Maris Piper

2 tablespoons soured cream

50–60 g/about 2 oz unsalted butter

125 g/4 oz caviar (ideally Royal Belgian from www.kingsfinefoods.co.uk)

OK, so this is a rare treat. And with wild sturgeon in perilous decline, a ruinously expensive one, too. But there is some first-class farmed caviar out there, miles removed from that muddy muck from years gone by. I once went to a caviar tasting with Laura King, the real expert on all matters ovoid and salted. With me was chef Rowley Leigh and food writer Bill Knott. She opened a vast 5 kg/11 lb tin of wild beluga (the biggest of the caviar eggs, the rarest and most expensive, though in my view no better or worse than oscietra, just different). We all took polite nibbles, but for Bill, the temptation was too much. When Laura turned her back, he dug deep and emerged with a mass of these oily black eggs piled atop his mother-of-pearl spoon. A huge gash now marked the previously pristine surface, christened by Laura as the Knott Trench.

As a deeply greedy person, and a caviar freak, I’d rather eat a glut or nothing at all. The contrast of cool eggs and hot, creamy potato is one of the best in the world. It’ll probably cost you the same as dinner for two at Le Gavroche. In its own way, and eaten rarely, it’s every bit as good.

 

Preheat the oven to 220°C/425°F/Gas 7. Bake the potatoes for about 45 minutes, until crisp and soft inside.

Carefully cut open the potatoes and scoop the insides into a bowl. Add the soured cream and butter, mix until the butter melts, then spoon back into the potatoes.

Heap with caviar and eat at once.

 

 

Potted shrimps

 

{ SERVES 6 }

 

175 g/6 oz unsalted butter

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

½ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

½ teaspoon ground mace

1 small bay leaf

450 g/1 lb peeled brown shrimps

sea salt

brown bread, sliced, to serve

3 lemons, cut into wedges, to serve

There are many claimants to the crustacean throne, with various lobsters and crabs elbowing their way into our affections. But the modest brown shrimp, Crangon crangon, is a definite contender. The only prawn we call a shrimp (unlike the Americans, who call all prawns shrimp), it’s small and intensely sweet. The best in the world come from Morecambe Bay in Lancashire. Potting is one of those old British techniques that has fallen by the wayside, but before the invention of refrigeration, covering cooked beef, ham, crab or lobster with a layer of butter didn’t just add to the flavour, it preserved, too. Serve cold with slices of brown bread and butter, or hot on good toast.

 

In a saucepan over a medium–low heat, melt the butter, then add the black pepper, cayenne pepper, mace and bay leaf. Throw in the shrimps and stir to coat. Cook for a couple of minutes until brown and cooked, then remove from the heat and leave until just warm. Remove the bay leaf and check the seasoning.

Divide the shrimp mixture among 6 ramekins and season with a little salt. The butter should cover the shrimps. Put the mixture into the fridge and chill until set.

Toast the brown bread; serve with the potted shrimps and a wedge of lemon.

 

 

{ Eggs }

 

I once spent an entire week going to work on a diet of eggs. Eggs and pretty much nothing else. I was allowed butter or oil to cook them in, as well as herbs, chillies, onions and any other secondary ingredient deemed appropriate to the matter in hand. A little cheese or ham could creep in for an omelette, say, but mustn’t become the star of the show. Bacon was a no-no, despite my protestations (fried eggs cry out for crisp shavings of smoked, cured pork), and mayonnaise verboten. This ovoid diet wasn’t done for pleasure, I hasten to add, nor culinary curiosity. Nope, it was a commissioned piece for the Mail on Sunday in reaction to news of the Charles Saatchi diet. The great advertising guru and contemporary art collector had lost huge amounts of weight on a similar diet, despite being married to Nigella Lawson. A triumph of the will, if I ever heard one. And I was to sample a mere seven days.

The first day was fine. Boiled egg for breakfast, fried egg sandwich for lunch, masala scrambled eggs for dinner. The next day started with a poached pair on toast, and a craving for anything, anything but egg. I walked past sausage shops and curry houses, burger joints and brasseries, longing for a change. Lunch was another omelette, eaten resentfully. And by dinner, my baked egg became a figure of hate. Five more long, dreary and frustrating days followed. My digestion shut up shop, my burps became toxic … I became toxic. Damn you, eggs. Once the experiment was over, I didn’t touch another for at least a month.

Despite the occasional blip, though, I love eggs, worship their curves, adore them in their every form. Fried in butter and plonked between two slices of cheap white bread or whisked into still more butter to make hollandaise sauce. Boiled with soldiers, baked with ham, coddled, scrambled and poached. Even raw, draped over steak tartare. They’re the ultimate convenience food, perfectly packaged and endlessly versatile. French cuisine would be lost without them. Actually, most of mankind would have problems making do without them.

Eggs cover every base, from economy food (tortilla, say) to comfort (baked eggs), home cooking (scrambled eggs) to haute cuisine (oeufs à la neige). Hen eggs might be our staple, but duck and goose eggs have a special richness all of their own. Don’t even get me started on eggs from fish.

But too often we forget the basics. There was uproar when Delia started her How to Cook with boiling an egg. ‘Outrage!’ cried the snobs. ‘Off with her head!’ bellowed the buffoons. Surely, they moaned, everyone knew how to boil an egg? Well, they don’t. It’s not difficult, but there are a few factors to take into account. How fresh is the egg (particularly important when it comes to poached eggs), how big, and exactly how hard do you like your white? I have no problem with it being a little ‘spermy’, but my wife cannot bear the sight of uncooked albumen. So while not attempting to teach my grandmother to, ahem, suck eggs, these recipes all work for me.

There is much debate about how to poach eggs. You need a shallow saucepan with a lid. Bring salted water to the boil in the pan. Break the eggs into ramekins (the fresher the eggs, the better). Turn off the heat, then drop in the eggs. Leave them for 3 minutes, then lift out with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.

As with chicken and pigs, I do believe free-range eggs are superior to those produced by barn-reared chickens (if it doesn’t say ‘organic’ or ‘free-range’, assume the worst). The difference in taste is huge. Dull, insipid and watery, eggs from barn-reared chickens are the end product of a wretched life. And they are a waste of money, too. Rather eat one decent egg than two second-rate ones.

Fresh eggs are best and if you’re lucky enough to have chickens, then yee-ha: you can date the eggs with easy precision. In fact, the eggs from my father’s chickens are the best I’ve ever tasted. His birds eat better than we do, with veggie scraps and grit to keep the shells hard. But buy the freshest you can find (difficult in a supermarket). A good test is to drop an egg in a glass of water (not convenient for the aisles of Asda or Sainsbury’s, I know). If it drops to the bottom, it’s fresh. The further it floats towards the surface, the older it is. If it bobs gaily on the top, bin it.

 

 

Chorizo scrambled eggs

 

{ SERVES 4 }

 

olive oil, for frying

200 g/7 oz soft picante chorizo, sliced into 1 cm/½ inch thick pieces

4 tablespoons diced stale white bread

8 eggs, beaten

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

½ teaspoon dried red chilli flakes

2 tablespoons roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley

fried potatoes, to serve (optional)

This is all about texture and contrast. Frazzled chorizo, crisp bread and wobbling, just set egg. A Spanish classic.

 

Heat a dash of olive oil in a frying pan and fry the chorizo over a medium–high heat until it begins to crisp. Add the diced bread and fry, stirring from time to time, until brown.

Stir in the eggs, season and add the chilli. Turn the heat down to extremely low and scramble the eggs very slowly for 15–20 minutes, stirring all the time, until soft and creamy. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with fried potatoes if you wish.

 

 

Baked eggs

 

{ SERVES 2 }

 

a little chopped ham or cooked asparagus (optional)

4 eggs

2–3 tablespoons double cream

4 teaspoons butter

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

hot toast, to serve

This is one of my mother’s ‘signature’ dishes, although she’d be perplexed as to what a ‘signature’ dish is. When we used to arrive home, late, from holiday, the house would be cold and dark, the fridge bare. But my sister and I would collect the eggs, and my mother would break them into ramekins, splosh in a little cream from the top of the milk bottle and dot with butter.

 

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4.

If using ham or asparagus, divide this between 2 ramekins. Break the eggs into the ramekins, then add the cream, butter, salt and pepper.

Put into a small roasting pan and pour in some just-boiled water to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 7–10 minutes, until the yolk is wobbling and the white just set. Serve with toast.

 

 

Fried eggs

 

{ SERVES 1 }

 

1 egg

25 g/1 oz salted butter

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Ah, the great dilemma – butter or goose fat? The latter is better for a serious treat, but the former should be the default option. Olive oil is fine, but it does seem a wasted opportunity. Butter and egg are the closest of friends.

 

Break the egg into a ramekin. Heat a small frying pan over a medium heat, add the butter and heat until it is just bubbling. Slip in the egg.

Tidy up any edges (the older the egg is, the more the white will sprawl across the pan) and keep basting the egg using a spoon. Pay close attention to the yolk, but don’t over-baste.

Once the yolk takes on an opaque sheen, the white is set and the edges a touch frilly (up to 3 minutes, depending on size), remove with a spatula onto a piece of kitchen paper. Season and serve.

 

 

Tortilla

 

{ SERVES 4 }

 

4 tablespoons olive oil

2 onions, ideally Spanish yellow, thinly sliced

2 waxy potatoes, such as Charlotte, peeled and cut into small dice

pinch of crushed chillies

8 eggs, beaten

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

There are two important factors to the perfect tortilla. First, the right-sized pan is crucial. You need a small frying pan, about 15 cm/6 inches in diameter. As these Spanish potato and onion omelettes are perfect for everything from breakfast to picnics, it’s well worth the investment. The second lies in the caramelisation of the onions… low and slow, so that golden hue is teased out, adding immeasurable depth to the flavour. You want a gently oozing centre, too.

 

Heat half the oil in a large frying pan, add the onions and cook over a low heat for at least 30 minutes, until soft and golden. Add the potatoes and chillies, increase the heat a little and cook for another 20 minutes, until the potatoes are golden, with a hint of crust. Tip everything into a bowl and leave to cool slightly.

When cool, add the beaten eggs, season and mix. Heat the remaining olive oil in a 15 cm/6 inch frying pan until hot, then add the egg and potato mixture and cook for 4 minutes, using a spatula to run around the edge.

When the bottom of the omelette is firm, flip it out of the pan onto a plate, put the pan back on the heat and slip in the omelette, uncooked side down. Cook for a further 3–4 minutes, until nearly set, then turn out and cut into 4 pieces.

 

 

Huevos rancheros

 

{ SERVES 2 }

 

500 g/1 lb 2 oz tomatoes

groundnut oil, for frying

1–3 fresh jalapeño peppers, finely chopped

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

pinch of caster sugar

2 small corn tortillas

2 eggs

You’ll find this classic breakfast dish all over Mexico and the southwestern USA, and it ranks up alongside bacon and eggs as the royalty of the breakfast boys. It’s the perfect early morning heart-starter, the sauce possessing just enough kick to jolt the senses into action, while that yolk softens everything. You can cook the sauce in advance, to make things easier. And do try to get proper corn tortillas (available from www.coolchile.co.uk), as that maize tang is truly the soul of Mexican food. You can use those El Paso versions from the supermarket – but they just don’t taste the same.

 

Pierce the tomatoes, then put them in a bowl of boiling water for 30 seconds. Run them under the cold tap. Peel, cut into quarters, remove and discard the seeds and then finely chop the flesh.

Heat 1–2 tablespoons oil in a heavy-based frying pan, add the tomatoes and jalapeños and cook over a low heat for about 25 minutes, or until the tomatoes are reduced to a thick sauce. Season to taste with salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar.

In another frying pan, heat a little oil and fry the tortillas for a few seconds on each side, to soften. Drain on kitchen paper, wrap in foil and keep warm.

Fry the eggs in the same pan, adding more oil if needed, until the whites are set but the yolks are still runny.

To serve, put a warm tortilla on each plate, top with a fried egg and then spoon on some tomato sauce, leaving the yolk exposed.

 

 

‘Gegs (9–4)’*

 

{ SERVES 2 }

 

* Scrambled eggs

6 eggs

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

50–60 g/about 2 oz salted butter

hot toast, to serve

This is a beautiful cryptic-crossword clue. Slow and low is the key. You want fat, creamy curds, rather than rubbery globules of overcooked protein. The only way to guarantee this is to cook over the lowest possible heat. Use a heat diffuser if you have one. If not, go to the lowest flame and remove the pan from the heat if it gets too hot. There’s no need for milk or cream; just good, fresh eggs, butter, salt and pepper.

 

 

Break the eggs into a bowl, add 1 teaspoon of water, a pinch of salt and a twist of pepper and mix with a fork. Don’t beat the hell out of them, just do enough for them to get to know each other better.

 

Heat the butter in a saucepan until it just about melts. Pour in the eggs and stir over the lowest possible heat. You don’t want anything to happen for at least 5–7 minutes. Keep stirring, stretching those curds. Slowly, very slowly, the eggs will start to firm up. If it happens too quickly, remove the pan from the heat. After 15–20 minutes, they will be ready. Serve on hot toast.

 

 

Variation

Finely chop a small onion and a red chilli, then sizzle in half the butter until soft; allow to cool slightly. Add the remaining butter and melt, then add the eggs mixed with 1 teaspoon water and seasoning and cook as above. Two minutes before it is ready, add 1 skinned, deseeded and finely chopped tomato and a handful of finely chopped fresh coriander.

 

 

Mayonnaise

 

{ MAKES ABOUT 300 ML/½ PINT }

 

2 egg yolks, at room temperature

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

225 ml/8 fl oz sunflower oil

75 ml/3½ fl oz extra-virgin olive oil

big squeeze of lemon juice

Everyone used to tell me how easy mayonnaise was to make. I’d try it, split the bugger and give up for another few years. But then came the breakthrough. Some patient chef explained that, aside from making sure the eggs are at room temperature, it’s all about the initial emulsion of oil and yolk. Keep the faith and add the oil a drop at a time, until you have that thick base. After that you can add the oil in a thin stream. The rest is easy. Use a bowl with a narrow base and perch it on a tea towel to prevent slipping.

 

Put the yolks, mustard, salt and pepper in a bowl and whisk together for a good minute. The mustard helps the emulsion and the salt helps thicken.

Add a tiny drop of the sunflower oil and whisk hard. Once amalgamated, add a drop more and repeat. Keep doing this until the mixture starts to thicken, then you can get a bit more free with the pouring. But keep whisking and make sure the mixture emulsifies before you add more oil. Add the rest of the sunflower oil in a steady stream, whisking all the time, then slowly pour in the olive oil and continue to whisk. Once all the oil is used, taste and adjust the seasoning, add the lemon juice and whisk again. If it’s too thick, whisk in a couple of teaspoons of warm water.

 

 

French onion soup

 

{ SERVES 8–10 }

 

300 g/10½ oz butter

8 large Spanish onions, sliced as thin as possible (a mandolin is perfect for this)

salt and freshly ground black pepper

½ tablespoon plain flour

150 ml/5 fl oz dry white wine (or a glug of Port if you want a slightly sweeter, richer note)

4 tablespoons sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar

a few sprigs of thyme

2 litres/3½ pints hot beef or dark brown chicken stock (see page 39)

1 baguette, cut into thin slices

2–3 tablespoons olive oil

175–200 g/6–7 oz Gruyère, Emmental or Beaufort cheese, grated

This is one of those dishes for which you really have to make your own stock. Or buy some good stuff from the butcher. There’s nowhere for bad ingredients to hide. The onions are easy enough to cook (although be prepared to keep a constant eye on them for up to 3 hours … this requires concentration rather than any real skill), but good stock provides the depth. My wife sometimes complains that the 3-hour caramelised onions are a little too sweet. She has a point: this is a dish to be served in starter-sized portions, otherwise it can overwhelm. As it takes so long, it makes sense to make a big batch. Any leftovers can be frozen for another night.

 

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over a medium–high heat and add the onions and a big pinch of salt. Once they are bubbling away, turn the heat right down to very low and cook for 2–3 hours. Have faith. They’ll start off milky and drab, but check and stir every 10 or so minutes and try not to let them burn at all. As the time passes, they’ll take on a deep golden hue.

Stir in the flour, then deglaze the pan with the wine and vinegar. Add the thyme, hot stock and black pepper, and cook gently for around 1 hour.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4. Just before serving, put the baguette slices on a baking sheet, sprinkle with olive oil and salt and bake until crisp. Preheat the grill to high. Cover the baguette slices with cheese. Whack them under the grill until just burnished and bubbling. Ladle the soup into bowls and serve with the cheesy baguette.

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Award-winning food writer Tom Parker Bowles is one of the world’s most enthusiastic eaters. He’s as over the moon for simple food-a perfectly melting bacon, egg and cheese sandwich, or a rich tomato soup-as he is for the exotic, the fiery hot, and the elegant. Like many everyday gourmands, he never wastes a meal. The dinners he puts together for his young family at home are as carefully thought-out and executed as anything he makes for company. His easy culinary style and winning writing will delight fans of his fellow Englishman Simon Hopkinson’s Roast Chicken and Other Stories. The 140 recipes in Let’s Eat are divided into extremely useful chapters, such as “Comfort Food”, “Quick Fixes,” and “Slow & Low” and include:
– scrambled eggs
– roast lamb
– his Mum’s heavenly roast chicken
– Asian noodle soup
– meatballs
– sticky toffee pudding

Rounded out with a weekday cook’s shortcuts and basics, such as how to make stock and how to transform leftovers into entirely new meals, Let’s Eat is one of the best curl-up-and-read-it-tonight cookbooks of the season.

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