English Food – enjoy with gusto!

Tom Parker BowlesTom brings us the delights of the best of English food in an entertaining and tempting new book:  Full English: A Journey through the British and their Food by Tom Parker Bowles.  His chapter on London food is fabulous.

A richly enjoyable defence of the world’s most unfairly derided cuisine
– Christopher Hirst, The Independent

Boris admirer and food travel writer Tom Parker Bowles, delighted his audience recently at the Windsor Literary Festival with his lively, down to earth introduction to his new book.  Full English published this year by Ebury Press, is not just a list of recipes;  it is a descriptive tour of England from West Country cider brewers to Yorkshire tripe dressers sampling all the while the very best of real English food:  Bury black pudding, home-cured Wiltshire bacon and the planet’s finest cheddar.  As well as recipes for the traditional Apple and Rhubarb Crumble and Lancashire Hotpot you will find Battered Tripe and Eel Pie.  His chapter on London describes the Capital as a “great ethnic and cultural stew, that has been cosmopolitan ever since the Romans decided to set up shop”.   Tom is pioneering in his quest is to delve beneath the surface to unearth the real story behind our eating habits and what the food of today says about us:  organic heaven or mass-produced hell?  His favourite recipes are listed to follow:  potted shrimps and devilled kidneys.

I recommend the book to any lover of all things British.  As Tom himself says:  ” Good English food is undoubtedly criminally underrated, not least because so few visitors have actually eaten it.”

This book is available from Random House Books and Amazon

POTTED SHRIMPS

The brown shrimp, Crangon crangon, is one of the finest crustaceans
in the world, small but intensely sweet. They used to
be found in their millions in Morecambe Bay in Lancashire.
Potted in good butter, they make one of the finest of all
English dishes. Either serve cold with bread and butter, or hot,
melted on toast. I still believe Mr Baxter makes the best of all.
This is my approximation of his recipe.

Serves 6

170 g (5½ oz) unsalted butter
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp ground mace
½ tsp cayenne pepper
1 small bay leaf
450 g (1 lb) brown shrimps, peeled weight
salt
brown bread, to serve
3 lemons, cut into wedges

In a saucepan melt the butter, then add the black pepper,
mace, cayenne pepper and bay leaf. Allow the mixture to cool
until it is just warm. Remove the bay leaf and discard.
Divide the shrimps between 6 ramekins. Cover with the
spiced butter and a little salt. Put the mixture into the fridge
and chill until set.

When ready to serve, toast the brown bread on a griddle
and serve warm with the potted shrimps and a wedge of lemon.

DEVILLED KIDNEYS

There’s nothing evil about devilled kidneys, a classic Victorian
and Edwardian breakfast dish, from a time where men
were men and breakfasted on bounteous feasts of meat,
fish, potatoes and eggs. No ghastly arriviste cereals here,
thank you very much.

The word ‘devilled’ refers to the spicy kick of the dish,
which was originally produced by cayenne pepper and mustard
powder. I’ve added a few shakes of Tabasco, that most glorious
of sauces. This dish can be breakfast, lunch, a snack, dinner
or a savoury. You could substitute veal kidneys too.

Serves 4

3 tbsp plain flour
2 tsp cayenne pepper
12 tsp Colman’s English mustard powder
salt and freshly ground black pepper
knob butter
10 lamb’s kidneys, slit in half and cored
splash chicken stock
splash Tabasco
Worcestershire sauce, to taste
2 pieces toast
lemon juice
handful flat-leaved parsley, chopped

Mix together the flour, cayenne, mustard powder, salt and
pepper. Then heat a pan until hot and throw in the butter.
Toss the kidneys in the flour mixture and shake to remove
excess. Cook for 2 minutes each side, adding the stock,
Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce. Then remove the kidneys
from the pan and place on the toast. Taste and reduce the
sauce and pour over the kidneys. Squeeze over lemon juice
and sprinkle with parsley. Devour with gusto.

44 thoughts on “English Food – enjoy with gusto!”

  1. Its about time that English food came higher up in the agenda – why are we so plagued with fast food Italian, French, Spanish, Indian, Chinese? Good basic English food is probably healthier and more nourishing and we should go back to all these wonderful foods: fish and chips, English breakfasts, baked potatoes, soups, stews etc.

  2. Couldn’t help but notice Cameron owning up to hunting (fox-hunting as far as one could tell from his answer).

    Is it time we knew where Boris Johnson stands on fox-hunting? Is he a hunter?

  3. I love overviews of national food scenes. Exploring a place through its food is one of the best ways I know to go about it. This might explain all that Anthony Bourdain I keep watching.

    This book sounds like it would dovetail nicely with a book I read earlier this summer, Mark Kurlansky’s Food of a Younger Land. If this book is about what the food says about the English NOW, Kurlansky’s book was very much about what the food said about Americans THEN (‘then’ being between the wars). It was also about the Federal Writers Project (part of FDR’s WPA) which is a particular interest of mine but the food discussions themselves are the best part of the book. As I said in my review on Fabulous Foodie (http://blog.fabulousfoodie.com/food-writing-via-the-wpa/) the subtitle is long enough to make description almost overkill “A Portrait of American Food Before the National Highway System, Before Chain Restaurants, and Before Frozen Food, When the Nation’s Food Was Seasonal.”

    I know one of Parker Bowles earlier books is available in the States but I shall keep an eye out for this one as well. Or, better yes, send Patrick to get one for me. oh Patrick, I need you to go shopping!

  4. @steve james: @donald caner: You are right Steve. See here for some comments on hunting:

    The problem with the hunting ban is that it is like many other pieces of government legislation: drafted with such vagueness that the citizen does not really know where he stands.

    http://www.boris-johnson.com/2005/12/29/labour-legislation-police-hunting-government-agencies/

    That is why Gordon Brown’s Whitehall — and who shall deny that for the last ten years he has squatted like a vast octopus over government? — has criminalised courses of human conduct at twice the rate of previous administrations, with 3,000 new offences, all of which must in theory be policed and punished if the law is not to be held in contempt. It is not just the obvious attacks on discretionary activities such as hunting,

    http://www.boris-johnson.com/2007/05/25/the-pursuit-of-happiness/

  5. @Ed: it seems to me (and I may not have been following the hunting ban story as closely as some – being so far away) that people seem to equate being for or against the ban as being for or against hunting. But surely one can be against the having the ban as a piece of legislation while still not being personally in favor or interesting in hunting.

    I mean, if we make laws banning every thing simply because X number of people disapprove of it, surely that leads to extreme overlegislation (if not down right chaos when public tastes and norms shift – as they do).

    I’ve read Boris’ description of his experience with hunting and it doesn’t sound to me like something he enjoyed much at all or that he’s likely to do again. It doesn’t sound like fun to me either but this doesn’t mean I need my personal preference translated into law. I don’t see the point in hunting, would never engage in it and think certain forms of it aren’t hunting at all in the strictest sense of the word. That said, it appears to me that there are perfectly reasonable grounds for being opposed to the idea of legislating it out of existence.

  6. I can’t think of anything more disgusting than potted shrimp and devilled kidneys except tripe, and eel pie. Yuck! However these recipes do demonstrate that english/British food is not bland as is commonly assumed; the British invented ‘curry’, a popular victorian dish. And that our cuisine has influences from all over the world, as we owned most of it, once upon a time.

    I predict that cookbooks with the recession in mind will be popular. If only they taught cookery in schools again (instead of food technology) people might be healthier. If women could afford to stay at home (if they can stand it).

  7. dragging the topic back to food (because I find it infinitely more interesting fascinating though side discussions are), I wonder what people think of the statement I just saw on Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_cuisine):

    Historically, British cuisine means “unfussy dishes made with quality local ingredients, matched with simple sauces to accentuate flavour, rather than disguise it.”

    (which I suppose places it 180 degrees from French cuisine – which, from an eater’s point of view (and definitely not a cook’s) is all sauces and flourishes as far as I can tell.

    I’m not sure I – as a non-Brit would have said that the above was my understanding of historical British cuisine but then I think British cuisine has likely suffered from centuries of bad PR only now being righted. Maybe it’s all those cookery writers. Maybe it’s the word cookery. So much more robust sounding than mere “food.”

    The Wikipedia article goes on to say in the very the next sentence:

    “However, British cuisine has absorbed the cultural influence of those that have settled in Britain, producing hybrid dishes, such as the Anglo-Indian chicken tikka masala, hailed as “Britain’s true national dish”.

    I think most robust ‘national’ cuisines today are the result of the ethnic cuisines they have underlying them. They have to, don’t they? Possibly this is not true of what might be considered by the world at large “Italian cuisine” – which to most of us seems pretty consistently – well, Italian. But I’m sure Italians from all walks of life and all corners of that bastion of culinary excellence would point out the various regional influences and resulting hybrid dishes. ‘Carciofi Romani alla giudia’ comes to mind. If you haven’t had artichokes this way, you have not had artichokes. ( http://www.nytimes.com/1988/02/28/travel/fare-of-the-country-the-food-of-the-roman-ghetto.html )

  8. @dmnyc: You are very clever to analyse and get that point. Yes it is more about the legislation rather than any desperate priority on Hunting as an interest.

  9. @Philipa: I must admit that tripe and eel and kidneys send me squirming but to balance that out there are some real gem ancient recipes that I’ll be trying out. Tonight its the crumble – just the weather for it.

  10. All this talk of British food makes me think a marathon viewing of Two Fat Ladies is in order. It’s where I learned the two most important rules of cooking.

    Rule One: Add butter to everything.

    Rule Two: When in doubt, add more butter. And possibly bacon.

  11. @Philipa: Have you tried devilled kidneys? They’re gorgeous! You could always substitute lamb cutlets for the kidneys if it’s the offal you find awful.

  12. @dmnyc: Did you even read my comment at 3:16pm? I think not and may have been great minds think almost alike. Almost as I think I substantiated the point that Wiki can be.. unreliable in it’s information.

    But Patrick is correct, I think – always add wine. To the cook 🙂

    Patrick – you guessed it; I’m not an offal lover and find offal awful. Although I did once cook liver with bacon and apples and that was nice. I prefer game.

    Mel – off yes please; cherry crumble for me, with custard. Bread and butter pudding. After a nice Bambi casseriole.

  13. I just love this article. Anything to do with food really. I like this book for its rustic feelings and looks beside its simple but tempting dishes.

    Talking about rustic food, folks. Have you tried making your own wines/ syrups the simple way? I picked wild brambles, damsons and elderberries from the hedgerows around my stately home. Attentions, folks, please.

    Anyway, one layer of berries, half layer of sugar and so on. Use preserving sugar as its pectin will thicken the juice a bit nicely. Use less sugar if you prefer a more winery, sharper taste. After one month, you can drink it. Delicious.

    I promise you will not splutter into your homemade wine.

  14. @Philipa: I confess that I was in the process of writing my comment when your went up and I only saw yours AFTER I posted. My apologies for any misunderstanding 🙂 You were on topic, of course.

    I agree that Wikipedia can be, as you point out, unreliable. I always tend to treat it as a starting point but a starting point one must take with a grain of salt and substantiate ones self. After all, it takes the idea of “too many cooks” to an editorial extreme. But I thought that particular snippet was interesting in and of itself, as a point of discussion.

  15. @dmnyc: Indeed and no apology necessary but thanks anyway. Great minds and all that. Grain of salt – arf arf. Too many cooks? I think you’ve startd something now, we’ll see 🙂

    Bach – are you layering and leaving, or layering, boiling, bottling and leaving? (as jam is usually half and half) Do you add alcohol (and have you a recipe for sloe gin?).

  16. @dmnyc: Indeed and no apology necessary but thanks anyway. Great minds and all that. Grain of salt – arf arf. Too many cooks? I think you’ve startd something now, we’ll see 🙂

    Bach – are you layering and leaving, or layering, boiling, bottling and leaving? (as jam is usually half and half) Do you add alcohol (and have you a recipe for sloe gin?).
    Sorry… forgot to say great post – can’t wait to read your next one!

  17. @Bach: You great tempter! I will post to follow the recipe for fruit crumble in the book – amended to include apricots or any of your bramble fruits too Bach

  18. I didn’t post that “Comment by Philipa on October 7, 2009 @ 8:03 am”. Wasn’t me. I didn’t log on til after 9am.

  19. @Bach
    The night before last I was restless, cold and hungry during the night. Then I enjoyed this wonderful concoction before bedtime and slept soundly like a baby all the way through. Thanks Tom for your totally brilliant recipe – its the very best crumble.

    I have slightly adapted it with different fruits and water instead of brandy. Serve with hot custard or double cream.

    This is a rather modern English invention, said to have come about during the Second World War and the strictures of rationing. Normal pastry would use too much precious flour, fat and sugar, so the crumble was invented, using less of all the ingredients. It is very easy to make.

    Serves 4
    450g (1lb) Bramley apples, peeled, cored and sliced
    200g (7oz) rhubarb, washed and sliced – I used a handful of apricots instead
    knob butter
    75g (2.¾oz) light brown sugar
    Pinch cinnamon
    splash cider brandy – I added half a cup of water instead
    2cm fresh ginger, peeled and grated – I left this out

    Topping
    100g (3½oz) unsalted butter, diced
    200g (7oz) plain flour
    Pinch ground ginger
    50g (1¾oz) Demerara sugar

    Preheat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas mark 4. First make the filling. Put the apples and other fruit into a greased ovenproof dish and dot with butter. Mix the sugar and cinnamon together and sprinkle over the fruit. Pour over the cider brandy and sprinkle with the freshly grated ginger.

    Next, make the topping. Put the butter, flour, ground ginger and half the sugar into a bowl. Rub the butter into the flour until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Spread the crumble over the fruit and scatter with the remaining sugar.

    Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes or until the top is golden and crisp. Serve warm.

  20. Dear Tom,
    Bravo for your principled stand for home grown grub. My favourite is black pudding. Did you know that the French go ape for it? Of course you did, for you are an intelligent, well travelled young man (and very pretty too – in a very masculine way) The B.P.must be moist though. It goes down a treat in the morning. The circus strong man swears by it. Of course if I can knobble the rest of his brekkers, before he catches,me that goes down a treat too!

  21. @Philipa: you can add raisins with the apple and that would be totally yummy too I would think. After consumption sink into the most comfortable position and softest bedding and the most wonderful slumber awaits you …..

  22. @dmnyc: and I am hungry for more too – at this rate it will be crumble at least once a week through the autumn and winter with whatever seasonal fruits happen to be around.

  23. @Gillian: He is indeed desperately rushed off his feet! All he needs is to put up his feet and enjoy some great nourishing mouth-watering English food.

  24. @Philipa: Just layering berries and sugar in a big jar, tightly covered and leave in a warm room to ferment. Use un-washed berries for that rustic taste.

    Sloe Gin ( from a wine making book ): Pick a handful of Sloes. Prick them with a pin carelessly. Drop them into an empty bottle with a bit of sugar, then top it up with gin. Leave for a few months to infuse.

    Philipa, I ain’t say nothing more rather than that!

  25. @Mel: Thanks for the wonderful recipe, Mel. You’re so kind – it saves me from standing in my local Border, holding the book open and writing down the recipe from the book!

  26. Mel, could you post all the recipes from Tom’s new book for us to copy, so we don’t need to buy his book, please?

  27. @Bach: Ha ha!!! You are so so funny I nearly rofl

    Glad to hear you find the recipe totally swooningly wonderful, which it is. However, I do have a day job and couldn’t possibly type out each recipe out however much I love everyone on the site. If you let me know your favourite type of food, however, I could find another one – how about a hotpot for instance?

  28. We all know you are a very busy bee, Mel ! Please don’t worry. You know what, I have just bought a 007 styled mini camera from a spy gadgets shop and I intend to go to Border and secretly photo all the recipes in Tom’s new book and send the film to Lord Mandelson who will forward it to Lord Truscott who will ask his wife to develop the film for me. Hey, Bistro!

  29. i am not.sure about london being ethnically and culturally stew, most ethnic english who lived in london like other cities came from rural areas, after the romans few lived in cities like london, which actually had a tiny population after the romans, most people in england were rural until the industrial revolution and even then major cities and towns only developed gradually. new archaeology and analysis suggests names such as london are closer to germanic languages than celtic ones and it may.be possible a germanic language was.already spoken in britain in roman times which may explain the change to anglo-saxon england without the need of mass movements of people, one can also explain this with vikings and normans who tended to adopt the language and culture of those they conquered and were also small in number.

    british food generally reflects climate, simple,.basic and wholesome, which is more to do with local ingredients and climate, environment. traditional london food often reflected the food of the mass number of people from the surrounding rural areas and villages who came to london. such food is actually quite uniform with only a.little regional variation. of coarse there has also been mass movements of people out of britain throughout history too which rarely gets mentioned. there is also a tradition of pubs which only recently have been selling food, also restaurants and takeaways are a more recent phenomenon. restaurants are also not a traditional way the british.ate, most food was home cooked and it has only been since mass industry.that takeaways/cafes were needed.

  30. if london was always a cultural and ethnic stew it would be unlikely english identity in any form would have survived in london at all, and certainly not in a food sense, it would have been too week, and there is no way such an identity would have survived the way it has, also ethnic identity as food was passed down, no one is taught ethnic identity, other ethnic identities would.have survived more. as such identities require a sharing.of common culture, language, tradition and way of life.

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