I’ve become slightly obsessed with smoking things. I started with the obvious, salmon, and moved on to meat like game, pigeon and venison, then to bone marrow (our smoked bone marrow butter became kind of legendary). We even started smoking ice creams. Playing around with smoking fruit and vegetables was exciting and opened up so many possibilities. Beetroot worked immediately. It’s one of my favourite vegetables because of its versatility. I find the large ruby beetroot to be quite meaty so we thought up a play on a beef tartare. But not in the way of veggie burgers and vegan sausages. I hate that stuff! It is kind of fun to dress this tartare as you would imagine it being served in a Parisian brasserie.
200g plain yoghurt
Line a large sieve with muslin and set it over a deep bowl. Put the yoghurt into the sieve, then gather up the edges of the cloth and secure them together. Leave in the fridge overnight to allow the liquid to drain out of the yoghurt (this liquid or whey can be reserved and used in ferments).
500g raw beetroots
a drizzle of vegetable oil
applewood chips for smoking
Preheat the oven to 190°C fan/210°C/Gas Mark 6–7. Drizzle each beetroot with oil, sprinkle with salt and wrap individually in foil. Bake for 1–1½ hours or until the core temperature reaches 90°C. Remove from the oven and allow to cool and steam in the foil for 15 minutes. Remove from the foil and rub off the skins.
Take a flat tray with a steam insert (such as a deep roasting tray that will hold a flat steaming rack) and spread the applewood chips over the bottom of the tray. Warm the tray over a medium heat until the chips start to smoke, then turn the heat down to low. Place the beetroot on the steam insert/steaming rack and set this over the smoking chips. Completely cover the top and sides tightly with oven-safe clingfilm so the smoke is sealed inside with the beetroot. Leave to lightly smoke for 7 minutes. Remove the beetroot from the tray and leave to cool.
Brined Egg Yolks
500ml 7% brine (see note below)
10 egg yolks (we use CackleBean) – this allows for a few breakages
a drizzle of vegetable oil
Pour the brine into a deep bowl. Gentle add the yolks using your hands or a slotted spoon. Cover the surface of the brine with the vegetable oil so that the yolks are held down in the brine. Allow the yolks to brine for 1 hour at room temperature. To serve, gently remove the yolks with your hands or a slotted spoon.
240g Fermented Beetroot (see Larder)
1 tablespoon Shallot Vinegar (see Larder)
2 tablespoons capers
a drizzle of Ember Oil (see Larder)
Maldon sea salt and cracked black pepper
handful fresh hazelnuts, finely sliced
bittercress or watercress to garnish
Mince the fermented and smoked beetroot through a mincer or chop finely with a knife. Season with the shallot vinegar, capers, ember oil and some salt and pepper. Using a small ring mould, make a disc of the beetroot mixture in the centre of each plate. Top with a layer of the hazelnut slices. Gently place a brined egg yolk to the side of each disc. Garnish with cracked black pepper and bittercress or watercress. Place a spoonful of the hung yoghurt to the side of each disc.
Salt and brines: A brine is a mixture of salt and water. The salt is added to the water and brought just to the boil to dissolve the salt, then allowed to cool before use. We make brines of different strengths based on the amount of salt that is added. This is expressed as a percentage in relation to the amount of water. So, for example, a 2% brine means that the weight of salt added is 2% of the weight of the water. In other words, for a litre of water (which weighs 1kg) you would need to add 20g of salt.
What’s the USP? When is a cookbook not a cookbook? When its a ‘hymn to an early spring meal’, all 226 pages of it. This is food writing in the purest sense, a series of extended essays ruminating on the process of cooking a single meal; a sort of exercise in culinary mindfulness.
Who’s the author? Thom Eagle is the head chef of Little Duck: The Picklery, a ‘fermenting kitchen and wine bar’ in East London (unsurprisingly, there is a fair amount on fermentation in the book) and writes the food blog ‘In Search of Lost Thyme’. First, Catch is his debut in print.
What does it look like? A novel. Forget glossy photographs, this is all text interspersed with some black and white line drawings of pots, pans and assorted ingredients by artist Aurelia Lange.
Killer recipes? Here’s the thing, Eagle says ‘recipes are lies’ so there aren’t any. At least not in the list-of-ingredients-followed-by-a-method format that we all know and love. Instead, they are snuck in by stealth, so for example, a recipe for quick-cured lamb loin, complete with measurements for the simple salt and sugar cure appears spread over three pages at the end of chapter one, ‘On Curing With Salt’ and one for salsa verde is nestled quietly in chapter 10 ‘On Wild and Domestic Celeries’.
What will I love? Eagle is a thoughtful sort of bloke with a particular view on all things culinary which gives the book a distinctive tone. When was the last time you heard someone say that they ‘go out of their way’ to visit old salt-pans’? Eagle has travelled from Kent to Sicily to look at the damn things, trips which have helped him, and now, in turn, his readers ‘appreciate the importance of salt throughout our history’.
What won’t I like? Eagle is very self consciously ‘a writer’ (he studied American Literature at uni) and consequently there is a fair bit of ‘food writing’ to get through; raw vegetables aren’t seasoned but ‘subjected to the violence of lemon and salt’ which you’ll either think is incredibly creative writing or just plain irritating, depending on your taste in literature.
Should I buy it? It may be a little pretentious and overwritten, and it’s debatable whether the ‘stealth’ recipes are an improvement on the traditional format, but Eagle has genuine insight into the practical and philosophical sides of cooking, as well as extensive knowledge of international cuisines and culinary history, making First, Catch well worth reading.
Cuisine: Modernist British Suitable for: Anyone really interested in cooking and food writing Cookbook Review Rating: 3 stars
I dug up a wild strawberry plant some years ago from a hedge in my mum’s garden. Remarkably, given the neglect and various house moves, it is still alive and producing fruit. The harvest of a small handful of fragrant berries indicates that the strawberry season has properly started. There aren’t enough for a dish so instead they get muddled in the bottom of a flute and topped up with some sparkling wine. Pure essence of summer!
We need to look for a more abundant supply for this iced parfait, a classic combination of ripe fruit and something creamy. The essential part is a really flavoursome fruit purée, so choose your berries with care for this. The purée wants to be pleasantly sweet and may need a touch of sugar. The fruit sugar – fructose – is really good for enhancing the flavour of fruit compotes and purées and can be bought from most supermarkets or health food shops.
As an alternative, buy a good-quality strawberry purée. These are often intense in flavour and many only have a small added sugar content. The frozen purées available from specialist online shops are a great thing to have in the freezer for an impromptu dessert or cocktail.
NOTE: Start this recipe 24 hours ahead
For the parfait
4 large free-range egg yolks
2 tbsp water
100g caster sugar
85g full-fat natural yoghurt
1 leaf of gelatine, soaked in cold water
200g strawberry purée
100ml double cream mixed with 2 tsp semiskimmedmilk
lemon juice to taste
300g ripe strawberries
1ó tbsp caster sugar
16 shortbread biscuits
1. Place the egg yolks in a small, heatproof bowl that will fit over a saucepan to make a bainmarie.
2. In a heavy-based pan, mix the water and sugar and warm gently until the sugar has dissolved, then increase the heat and bring the syrup to 110˚C. Whisk the syrup gradually into the egg yolks and then place the bowl over a pan of simmering water. Whisk gently until the egg mix reaches 79˚C. At this stage the mix will be thick, creamy and quite stiff. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature, whisking occasionally. Whisk the yoghurt into the egg mix.
3. Next, drain the gelatine and place with a few spoonfuls of the puree in a small pan and heat gently, stirring constantly to dissolve the gelatine. Whisk this back into the remaining puree and then whisk the puree into the yoghurt mix. Whip the cream and milk to very soft peaks and gently fold this through the fruit mix. Add lemon juice to taste. (The gelatine can be omitted, but using it makes the parfait slightly softer and easier to cut, as well as holding its shape better on the plate as it starts to defrost.)
4. Lightly oil a small loaf tin and line with a double thickness of cling film, using a clean tea towel to push the film tightly into the corners of the tin. Pour in the parfait mix and freeze overnight.
5. Remove the parfait from the freezer 20 minutes before serving. Hull the strawberries and cut into pieces if large. Mix with the sugar, which will draw a little moisture from the berries and form a glaze. Slice the parfait as required,
wrapping any leftovers tightly in cling film and returning to the freezer if you don’t use it all at once.
6. Serve the sliced parfait with the berries and biscuits. More cream is, of course, always an option.
It is only later in April that spring lamb becomes more widely available. There may have been some for Easter but, as Jon has mentioned, leaving it until a bit later in the season is a sensible option. From the cook’s point of view, it is the delicacy of spring lamb that we want to enjoy; the meat is paler and has a sweeter flavour than when it is more mature, and this really shines through in this light warm salad.
The prime cuts of lamb – the loin, fillet, rack and rump – all work well cooked to medium rare or medium, while the harder-working muscles, such as the legs or shoulders, benefit from slower roasting or braising. The one problem with small portions of lamb is that the membrane between the fat and the meat very rarely breaks down before the meat is cooked. A rump will usually work, given its larger size, but a piece of loin is often better cooked as a lean eye of meat.
Serves 4 as a light main course
1 x 300g piece lamb loin, trimmed of all fat and sinew. (Reserve the fat.)
oil for frying the lamb
25g unsalted butter
100g rustic bread, cut into croutons
1 head of chicory
2 tbsp light olive oil
15g Parmesan, finely grated
100g watercress, large stalks removed
2 tsp capers
Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Start by rendering the lamb fat for frying the croutons. Cut the fat into small pieces and colour in a heavy pan. Add enough water to cover by 1cm and then simmer gently until all the water has evaporated. You should be left with liquid fat and the solids. Strain and reserve the rendered fat.
2. Season the lamb loin well with salt and pepper. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a heavy nonstick pan. Seal the lamb all over to create a rich, dark colour. Add a second tablespoon of oil to cool the pan slightly and then add the butter, turning the lamb in the foaming butter over a low to medium heat for 3–4 minutes – aim for medium rare. Remove the lamb to rest on a plate in a warm place, retaining a dessertspoonful of the fat from the pan.
3. Fry the croutons in the rendered lamb fat until crisp and golden.
4. Break the chicory into individual leaves and cut any really large leaves in half at an angle.Wash and dry.
5. In a small food processor, blend the ricotta with the olive oil, Parmesan, a good grating of lemon zest and 2 tsp of lemon juice. Season to taste.
6. Toss the leaves together and scatter the croutons on top. Slice the lamb thinly and arrange on the leaves. Mix any lamb juices with a little of the fat from the frying pan and drizzle over the meat. Spoon the dressing and scatter the capers over the top. Sprinkle with a little sea salt and a little more grated lemon zest.
What is it? Former Michelin starred chef/patron of the much missed Sienna restaurant in Dorchester and now head honcho of the Creative about Cuisine food writing, photography and consultancy business has teamed up with leading food blogger Jonathan Haley for his first book that’s all about ‘exploring, cooking and eating with the seasons’; a guide to ‘seasonal living’ that doesn’t just tell you that crayfish are in season in May, but where and how to catch them.
What’s the USP? In addition to Brown’s seasonal recipes and accompanying photographs, the book contains a month by month guide to the year that encompasses seasonal ingredients, what you can expect to find growing wild in the fields and meadows, what you can forage for on land and at sea and what feasts and festivals to celebrate.
What does it look like? Beautifully designed by Matt Inwood (who has also worked on books by Tom Kerridge and Jason Atherton among many others), the introductory pages of each monthly-themed chapter have their own colour – an icy blue for January, a warm sage green for July – giving the book a lively feel and providing a suitably hued contrasting frame for Brown’s seasonal landscape and nature photography which is every bit as impressive as his food photography.
Is it good bedtime reading? You’ve got to love a book that goes that extra mile with some well-written prose to enjoy away from the stove and blogger Jonathan Haley has provided that in spades with chapter introductions and a series of ‘Out and About’ ‘Food and Foraging’ and ‘Feast and Festival’ articles that appear in each chapter.
Will I have trouble finding ingredients? Although the book encourages the reader to get out there and forage for their own food, the recipes are kind to the more indoorsy cooks amongst us and you should have little trouble finding all the specified ingredients or suitable alternatives. A list of recommended suppliers at the back of the book should help fill in any gaps.
What’s the faff factor? As this is written by a former Michelin starred chef, you won’t be surprised to encounter some degree of complexity in some of the recipes, but that is more than balanced by plenty of very approachable, straightforward dishes.
How often will I cook from the book? The seasonal theme and mix of everyday and special occasion dishes ensure Well Seasoned will be a well-thumbed tome.
Killer recipes? Warm salad of new season’s spring lamb; harissa mackerel flatbreads with quick-pickled cucumber; hay-baked leg of kid goat; sauteed squid with chorizo and piquillo pepper dressing; white chocolate mousse with cherry compote.
What will I love? Brown and Haley have really taken their seasonal premise seriously and have unearthed all manner of useful and sometimes arcane information (who knew that the Celts called the first of May Beltane Day and that there is a cake named in its honour? The recipe is included in the book).
What won’t I like? If you were hoping for a collection of recipes from Sienna restaurant, this is not it.
Should I buy it? Seasonality should always be a top priority for any serious home cook or chef and Brown and Haley have created a year-round reference work that should find a place on the shelves of amateur and professional kitchens alike up and down the land.
Cuisine: Modern British Suitable for: Home cooks and professional chefs Cookbook Review Rating: 4 stars
What is it? A sequel to the excellent Hawksmoor At Home was always going to be a tough gig but Gott and Becket, owners of the London-based modern steak restaurant group Hawksmoor that’s recently expanded to Manchester and will open in New York in 2019, have nailed it.
What does it look like? In a word, sumptuous. That’s not a word I particularly like but I can’t think of a better one for this hefty, 300-odd page tome with its hand-drawn illustrations, stunning photography of the food and restaurant interiors and imaginative page layouts.
Is it good bedtime reading? Absolutely. The story of the restaurant is told in detail with essays written by all the key players with additional contributions from suppliers.
Killer recipes? I could just copy out the book’s index, but some standouts include potted beef and bacon with yorkshires; Tamworth belly ribs; lobster slaw; macaroni cheese; whole roast pig’s head; trotter sausages; short rib bubble and squeak and sticky toffee tatin
Will I have trouble finding ingredients? If you want to follow Hawksmoor’s ethos of serving the best quality meat and fish, you’ll want to give Asda a swerve and start chatting up your local butcher and fishmonger, if you’re lucky enough to have them, especially when it comes to things like pig’s head, trotters and whole brill and monkfish. Otherwise, you shouldn’t have too much of a problem.
What’s the faff factor? Although the food is often quite simple, if you want to go full on Hawksmoor at home, you will have to set aside some time to make stocks, sauces and condiments.
What will I love? The sheer breadth and depth of the recipes. As well as all that meat, the chapters on seafood, vegetables and sides, breakfast and brunch and puddings are excellent. There’s even recipes for bar snacks like hot buttered lobster rolls and some serious sounding cocktails including Shaky Pete’s Ginger Brew made with gin, London Pride beer and ginger syrup.
What won’t I like? Some material from Hawksmoor At Home is repeated including how to cook the perfect steak and how to make the restaurant’s signature burger but there’s more than enough new content, including a new seafood chapter written by Mitch Tonks, to justify the purchase if you already own the first book.
How often will I cook from the book? You’ll be most likely to reach for Hawsmoor: Recipes and Recipes at the weekend when you have a bit more time in the kitchen, but the snacks, salads, vegetables and sides (and those cocktails) will come in handy anytime.
Should I buy it? Here’s a tip: if you’re best friends with Morrissey who wrote the song ‘Meat is Murder’, he probably won’t talk to you again if this celebration of all things carnivorous ended up on his coffee table. But if you’re a chef considering opening a steak restaurant or looking for inspiration for meaty starters and mains, this book is unbeatable. For fans of the restaurant, it’s the perfect memento with many of the recipes achievable at home. In short, Hawksmoor: Restaurants and Recipes over-delivers in every department, making what could have been a cash-in into an essential purchase.
Cuisine: British Suitable for: Confident home cooks and chefs Cookbook Review Rating: 5 stars
What is it? TV tie-in to Nigella’s latest BBC TV cookery show with about 100 recipes celebrating home cooking.
Nigella who? You’re kidding, right? Nigella is the famously sultry queen of British food writing and broadcasting who could sexualise a sultana at 100 paces. She has ten other books to her name including How To Be a Domestic Goddess, numerous TV shows and appearances and a hugely popular website.
In 2013, she transcended foodie-fame to became tabloid fodder due to a messy divorce from former ad-man and art gallery owner Charles Saatchi. In the same year, revelations were made about her drug use during a court case involving the couple’s personal assistants.
What does it look like? A cook book. There are recipes. There are (mostly) overhead shots of the dishes to illustrate the recipes. The food styling is kept to an absolute minimum and anyone hoping for images of all those gorgeous rose-gold utensils, copper KitchenAid stand mixer, or indeed Nigella in her now-famous map-of-Venice silk dressing gown from the TV series will be sorely disappointed.
Is it good bedtime reading? Sort of. This is first and foremost a recipe book but Nigella has such a distinctive and well developed writing voice that the extended introductions are just a joy to read at any time.
Killer recipes? Coconut shrimp with turmeric yoghurt; Turkish eggs; toasted Brie, Parma ham and fig sandwich; sweet potato tacos; white miso hummus; roast loin of salmon with Aleppo pepper and fennel seeds; Chicken barley (the list goes on).
Will I have trouble finding ingredients? You may need to head online for Nigella’s favourite ingredient du jour, Aleppo pepper, but the book seems to be designed with the supermarket shopper in mind.
What’s the faff factor? Nigella doesn’t understand the meaning of the word. She is faff antimatter that annihilates the very idea of unnecessary arsing about in the kitchen. If she can make something simple and easy, she will.
How often will I cook from the book? At My Table is a book you could turn to for mid-week meal inspiration, a weekend baking session, special occasion dining or when entertaining friends. So if you like Nigella’s style, you won’t be leaving her on the shelf.
What will I love? The sheer range of the recipes, from simple tray bakes with familiar, comforting ingredients and flavours like chicken and peas to more exotic creations such as Moroccan vegetable pot and brussels sprouts with preserved lemon and pomegranate. ‘Subverting the spiralizer’ cocks a well deserved snook at the clean eating brigade by re-purposing the movement’s emblematic gadget to make down and dirty shoestring fries.
Nigella is always reliable when it comes to desserts and baking and At My Table doesn’t disappoint with the likes of sunken chocolate amaretto cake and warm blondie pudding. She knows her booze too and negroni sbagliato made with prosecco, Campari and red vermouth is destined to become the drink of the chattering classes, and just anyone who buys the book.
What won’t I like? Some may object to Nigella’s shortcut style (‘better behaved cooks would tell you to skim off the frothy bits that rise to the top but, frankly, I’m to lazy to’ she admits in the method for her chicken barley stew) but we know what we think of those people don’t we?
Should I buy it? Despite the almost utilitarian design, you should welcome Nigella to your table. You won’t regret it.
Cuisine: British/Eclectic Suitable for: Beginners and confident home cooks Cookbook Review Rating: 4 stars
How did The Sportsman book come about?
I wasn’t planning to do a book at all particularly, but then I got an email from Phaidon. I thought, I quite fancy doing something with them, they make such lovely books. My motive really was to make a souvenir, a representation of The Sportsman and the work that we’ve done over the last 17 years, so it was as simple as that really.
I love a cookbook when it’s not just a collection of recipes, but also tells the story of the restaurant which The Sportsman does brilliantly.
Oh, thanks, that was the plan. I’m the same, I think we’ve probably got quite similar tastes in that respect. Just another recipe, photo, recipe, photo book can be lovely, but if you cook a lot you don’t often need that and its quite interesting to have a story, isn’t it?
I was a little bit intimidated by having to write the whole story, so I tried to do it episodically. I can write 1000-1500 words but as soon as it goes over that I’m a bit out of my depth, so I wrote essays. It appealed to me because I like that kind of Pulp Fiction thing where you move around in the story. It doesn’t insult the intelligence of the reader, it allows the reader to work it out for themselves.
Having written for The Telegraph for two years, I often have to assume no knowledge or intelligence on the part of the reader because that’s part of newspapers, everything has to be crystal clear- recipes that idiots can cook and all that kind of stuff. It was really nice to do a bit where actually I didn’t have to worry about that. I had a bit more of a free hand.
What are your favourite recipes from the book?
A few stand out. The one I’m really loving at the moment, it’s just gone back on the menu, is the pot roast red cabbage, that feels like a very modern dish. Rene Redzepi did this thing where he took a whole cauliflower, and, like a lot of people, I thought what a lovely idea. It makes you question the nature of a chicken versus a vegetable and why do we treat them differently. I thought I’d try a traditional cooking method applied to a winter vegetable and the result was spectacular. I love that dish.
The slip sole with seaweed butter is always going to be a big thing with us because that feels like a recipe with all the loose ends tied up, everything seems to work. It’s a local fish, its seaweed from the beach outside the pub, its butter from the diary, its salt from the sea, there’s something almost holistic about it.
You see slip soles on a lot of other people’s menus these days.
I know, I’m so chuffed. I love it, I think some chefs get annoyed when their ideas get copied but I actually see it as flattery.
Unusually, the book contains recipes for some fundamental ingredients, right down to salt.
That was the route that I chose twelve or thirteen years ago – to go elemental rather than poncey. We got to the point where the kitchen was quite well set up, I had a good team and I was able to start thinking about my own style. It was almost like a fork in the road; shall I go down the route that most two and three-star chefs do where they refine everything, and they trim all the fun out of the food and I went the other route which was to go a bit more elemental, to think about things like salt and butter and bread the very basics of restaurants and to try and elevate them and make them as good as they could be.
Then this whole idea sprang up that there were some things I could make in my own kitchen that were better than I could buy from any supplier. I used to love Echiré butter that you used to get in posh restaurants like Nico’s, it was so delicious, but I couldn’t afford it. But when I made my own butter that made a lot more sense. I always have to remind people that nobody was making their own butter in restaurants back then, so it was a radical idea, but it was also fantastic because it was a reflection of the landscape as well.
Has writing the book clarified in your own mind what your style is or was that already evident to you?
It was already there, but yeah, you’re right. Whenever you have to reflect a bit, inevitably it crystallises things and makes them a bit clearer. In that respect it was good. It was more just having to dredge into my own brain really and allow myself to look at it from that point of view. I don’t know whether it was revelatory, but it was a fun process.
How would you describe your cooking, it’s very distinctive isn’t it?
I suppose so, yeah. The Sportsman is like two restaurants in one. I’ve never really said it and not many people have observed this, but we do an a la carte which is for somebody who lives in Whitstable and wants to pop out for lunch, and then we do a tasting menu and it’s the tasting menu that I’ve put most work into in the last 10 years. When I wrote about a style of my own that was really it.
Olivier Roellinger and those kind of chefs developed a certain style. So Roellinger, I give the example in the book, was very much reflecting the spice trade in Saint-Malo; Michel Bras with his foraging reflecting the landscape on the plate, and that’s what the tasting menu is about really, it’s a bit more kind of highbrow but at the same time I’m also very keenly aware of not alienating people. My palate and my taste are quite traditional, and I love really tasty food. I think that’s the style.
It’s interesting that you mention chefs like Roellinger and Bras because you’re in the same category but you’re in a pub on the Kent coast. Have you ever been tempted to move The Sportsman into swanky restaurant premises?
No, I’ve never had a problem with that. I’ve always thought that anything’s possible where I am. The elephant in the room is their three Michelin stars versus our one, but I don’t mind that, I’m enjoying watching the arbiters of the food world struggling with the modern definitions of what’s good. We’ve added to that in a way. It’ll take you three or four visits to the Sportsman to realise, “oh wait a minute, this is really quite a serious restaurant”.
I’ve never had a problem with the idea that a pub is basically just a building same as a restaurant is and you can do whatever you like within reason. We don’t have locals because we’re in the middle of nowhere and there’s no village around us, so that helps us to do whatever we like. The usual things that apply to pubs don’t apply to us. Because I have carte blanche then it’s just about what feels right rather than what anyone’s trying to tell you to do.
How has your cooking evolved over the time The Sportsman has been open?
I started off, I was a keen amateur and cooked dinner parties for friends. I loved everything-Chinese food, Italian food, I was a bit more ‘global-kitcheny’ as we all were back in the 90’s. Then I found a way to teach myself to cook by going to Marco Pierre White, Nico Ladenis, La Tante Claire and all those places that were around in the 90’s and copying them.
When I was a kid of 14, I bought a guitar and to learn how to play it – it’s not like now, you go on Youtube and any song you want to play you can watch someone play it – then I used to go to gigs, stand at the front and watch the guitarist, watch what his fingers did and try and do it as soon as I got home. And I suddenly realised that’s how I taught myself to cook. I went to the restaurant, ate the food, then I understood what it was supposed to taste like so when I went home to cook it, with the aid of quite a lot of books, it was the memory of what it was supposed to taste like in my head.
So that style of copying Ramsay and Marco and Nico was the first five years of the Sportsman. We would knock people out because we got close. We weren’t some rank amateurs who were out of our depth, we were delivering. It’s just that I wanted a bigger picture. I noticed that all the great chefs find an angle and my angle was the surrounding history of this area. I didn’t want to copy old recipes, I just wanted the landscape and the history to inform the tasting menu more than dominate it.
I started almost closing in on myself. It sounds restrictive but the reason I did it was because it such a remarkable few miles. It was owned by the kitchens of Canterbury Cathedral in the Doomsday Book, so for a thousand years it was their larder. There’s everything you need here – fish, seafood, lamb, pigs, salt making, hedgerows, it just goes on and on. I wrote them all down once and I thought, that’s enough, that’s a menu. There’s a concept behind it rather than just whatever’s nice that day. The food, when we send it out, feels like it reflects the surrounding area.
What’s your involvement with Noble Rot in London?
It started out as a wine fanzine. Dan and Mark who wrote it worked in the music industry with my brother Damien who lives in Brighton. Dan was married to my cousin who had also been working for Island Records. I met Dan and we hit it off about wine because we both like those slightly nerdy, culty wines.
He came and had a look in my cellar and saw Raveneau and Leflaive and all these great names and we bonded over that. Then three years after doing the magazine they said they wanted to start a wine bar and I just said, let me know when you do it, because I didn’t want them to mess the food up. I said, I’ll help you, thinking that they’d get a little wine bar like Sager and Wild and of course they found a 50-seater restaurant, but you know, sod’s law.
I got the chef and gave them some recipes to use; I just go up every couple of weeks and keep an eye on it now. I think they’re going to do another one in which case I will get back involved a bit more heavily. We’re really lucky, we’ve got a great head chef and a good team and so far, there haven’t been too many alarms, but I didn’t want the call at eight in the morning saying we haven’t got any staff, I can’t get involved on that level.
So, you’re still based at The Sportsman?
I’m still here at The Sportsman, its where I want to be. I don’t want a chain of restaurants, this is where I’ll be staying. I still cook every day. It’s different to how it was because for the first 10 years it was quite easy. Although we were busy it wasn’t mad, and you’d get the odd shift where you were quiet.
Now its 100 plus covers a day, every single day and that starts to mean that you have to have somebody running a section. That really has to be their whole job because there’s a lot of things to think about, a lot of planning, ordering, making sure everything goes out right.
I have chefs on each section and my job is to go through everything with them, taste all the stuff, monitor the food that’s coming out, coming up with new dishes, finding new ingredients, I like to meet the farmers I use and all that sort of stuff. That’s more my job, but that doesn’t preclude me from being in the kitchen every day, but I just tend to get in the way now. But it’s still great, it’s lovely. As I get a bit older it suits me better than working a section and doing 13-14 hour days.
My head chef has been with me 17 years my sous chefs have been with me for 10-12 years, it’s a bit of a family business as well, my brother is here, Emma my girlfriend works up front and does various things for the restaurant, although I’m the only one that tends to get mentioned. That was another thing in the book, I wanted to let the others share a bit of the blame, that’s why I put the interviews with them and let them talk to the editors, just to share it rather than it all being on me.
Talking of being in the spotlight, have you ever been tempted to do TV?
There’s been a couple of television companies sniffing around, but it’s all the same old shit – amateurs cooking and you judge them. It’s like, ‘haven’t you made enough of these programmes yet?’ I wouldn’t mind doing something interesting, but I think I’m a bit too old now, I think I missed the boat. Ten years ago I would have been a good choice, but I’m not bothered, that’s cool.
Chef’s Table came here a while ago to do a recce but we haven’t heard anything back from them. I like their stories, they’re a bit more interesting than your average one and I think that’s what Phaidon were drawn to, the story. You might be a really great chef cooking, knocking out three-star, two-star food but if you haven’t got much of a story, what kind of a book are you going to do? And I think that’s the same with Chef’s Table.
This is your first book, will there more?
I don’t know, I don’t think so. Actually, that question came up because when I wrote down all the recipes there were nearly 250 and we only had room for 55 in the book, so there is a lot of stuff left over. You can knock out a hundred of them because they’re dated slightly, but there’s still a lot that’s not in there so it’s possible. I don’t know how it works, if they ask me I’d have to think about it but no plans at the moment.
The Sportsman is a remarkable book about a remarkable place run by a remarkable man. Stephen Harris is a former punk rocker, turned history student, turned financial advisor, turned (mostly) self-taught cook, turned publican, turned Michelin starred chef. He runs what he once called ‘a grotty rundown pub by the sea’ in Seasalter on the Kent coast, but which to many is a place of serious culinary pilgrimage.
If you haven’t heard of Harris or The Sportsman, or come to that Seasalter, this is a wonderful introduction to all three. If you’re a fan, you’ll be especially delighted by the effort Harris has put into this, his first book, with a series of insightful and fascinating essays about his own personal history, the story of the pub, his approach to cooking and the heritage and produce of the region, making it so much more than simply a collection of recipes.
Not that you’d be disappointed with a collection of recipes from the Sportsman. There are 55 of them here, arranged under headings reflecting what Harris calls the ‘Kentish terroir’ that drives his menus. The signature slip sole in seaweed butter (‘I liked the idea of serving the fish alone on a plate. It was a statement of intent’ says Harris in the recipe’s introduction) appears in the The Sea: The Kent coast and North Sea and salmagundi – an English mixed salad that’s presented as more of an essay than an actual recipe with specific ingredients and a method – in a chapter titled The Gardens: The Sportsman Allotment and Isle of Thanet.
Harris takes inspiration from chefs around the world including David Kinch from California whose ‘Tidal Pool’ prompted Harris to create Rockpool, a collection of local sea vegetables and seafood served in a fish stock and seaweed broth; and Michel Bras in Laguiole in Southern France whose multi-ingredient gargouillou salad is the inspiration for salmagundi. But dishes such as baked cod with chestnuts, parsley and bacon; pheasant with bread sauce and rose hip juice and greengage soufflé with greengage ripple ice cream are unmistakeably English; the food is so specific to Kent that to call it British would be too much of a generalisation.
But you don’t have to live in the same county as Harris to cook his food. Unless you live by the sea, his recipe for salt is going to be tricky to pull off (transporting buckets of sea water any distance is always going to be a challenge) but the majority of the dishes can be easily adapted to produce more easily available near to where you live. They’re mostly straightforward to prepare, although he’s not adverse to a few long ingredient lists (his roast lamb gravy has 17 of them, including home-made chicken stock) or cheffy flourishes; smoked mackerel with cream cheese, apple jelly and soda bread with mackerel velouté is a properly complex restaurant dish.
There are many pearls of wisdom, from Harris’s treatise on what he calls Total Cooking (‘we are constantly questioning our processes and trying new ideas’) to his analogy of music and cooking (‘When I am finishing a sauce or soup, I can’t help thinking like I would if I had a graphic equaliser and was balancing something in a song. The treble is like acidity’) to detailed descriptions of his preferred ingredients (thornback rays are superior to the blond variety because ‘rather than the texture being open and woolly when cooked, the flesh of the thornback was denser and stickier on the teeth).
Even if you never prepare one dish (trust me, you will), you’ll be a better cook for reading The Sportsman. How many cookbooks can you say that about?
Cuisine: British Suitable for: Confident home cooks Cookbook Review Rating: 5 stars
I had always wanted to serve a warm mousse, and I found further inspiration for the idea back in 2005, when I was flicking through the elBulli cookbook one day. In my version, I began by spooning salted caramel into a coupe glass, then topped it, elBulli-style, with foaming warm chocolate from an iSi whipper. Because I always like to serve contrasting tastes, the dark chocolate demanded a milky flavoured ice cream. I put a scoop on top and it slowly sank into the warm mousse as it arrived at the table. This was perfect: both delicious and theatrical.
175 ml/ oz (¾ cup) double (heavy) cream
125 g/4 oz (2⁄3 cup) caster (super fine) sugar
225 ml/8 oz (1 cup) double (heavy) cream
380 g/13 oz 70% chocolate, roughly chopped
225 g/8 oz (1 cup) egg whites
Start by making the caramel. Heat the cream to just below boiling, then remove from the heat. In another pan, heat the sugar until it melts and turns dark brown. Take off the heat and pour in the hot cream. Be careful as it may spit. Return to the heat and warm gently to ensure the caramel is completely dissolved. Allow to cool then cover and refrigerate for up to a week.
For the milk sorbet, combine all the ingredients in a blender and blitz at high speed. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill for at least 30 minutes. Pour into an ice cream machine and churn according to the manufacturer’s directions. Transfer to a plastic container and freeze for at least 2 hours before serving.
To make the chocolate mousse, heat the cream in a pan until it starts to simmer. Add the chocolate to the hot cream, take off the heat and whisk gently to amalgamate. Add the egg whites to the chocolate cream mixture and whisk by hand again to incorporate.
Pour into an iSi whipper and t with two N20 cream chargers. Sit in a 65oC/150oF water bath for 1 hour before using, shaking every now and then to equalise the temperature.
We serve this dessert in glass ice cream coupes. Start by putting a tablespoon of caramel in the bottom of each coupe and add a pinch of salt. Shake the iSi whipper, lower the nozzle to just above the caramel and squirt in the chocolate mousse, keeping the nozzle beneath the mousse as it emerges. Fill to 2 cm/ inch below the top of the coupe. Leave for 1 minute, then carefully sit a scoop of sorbet on top. It will stay in place for a few minutes before slowly slipping in, so serve it straight away.
Makes 350 ml/12 fl oz (1½ cups)
200 ml/7 fl oz (scant 1 cup) water
200 g/7 oz (1 cup caster (superfine) sugar
Combine the water and sugar in a pan and boil for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to cool completely.
Extracted from The Sportsman by Stephen Harris
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