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.
These spicy flatbreads are perfect for an informal summer lunch. The cooling cucumber and light yoghurt dressing are a great match for punchy North African spices and rich fish.
To remove the pin bones (the line of small bones that runs down the centre of each fillet), use a small, very sharp knife and cut at an angle either side of the line, creating a V-shaped channel. Lift one end of the strip with the tip of the knife and pull away gently in one piece. As an alternative, the bones can be pulled out with a pair of needle-nosed pliers or tweezers while pressing down gently on the fillet behind the bone. It’s not difficult but your fishmonger will also happily do it for you.
Serves 4 as a generous starter or light lunch
For the dressing
150g natural yoghurt
40g harissa paste
ó lemon, juice only
For the pickled cucumber
ó large cucumber
Maldon sea salt
50ml cider (or white wine) vinegar
50g caster sugar
For the fish
4 large, fresh mackerel, filleted and pin bones removed
4 tsp harissa paste
1 tbsp oil for frying
8 large, soft flatbreads
1. Preheat the oven to 150˚C.
2. Make the dressing by spooning the yoghurt into a small bowl. Stir in the harissa, add the lemon juice and stir well.
3. Peel the cucumber and slice in half lengthwise. Remove the seeds using a teaspoon and slice into ócm crescents. Season the cucumber with a generous pinch of salt.
4. Prepare the pickling liquid by stirring the sugar and vinegar together until dissolved. Pour the liquid over the cucumber pieces and put to one side, turning occasionally while you prepare the fish.
5. Spread 1/2 tsp of harissa paste onto the flesh side of each mackerel fillet. Add the oil to a large, non-stick frying pan on a high heat and fry the fish, skin side down, for about 3 minutes. The fillets will curl up as they hit the heat but gentle, firm pressure from a palette knife will flatten them out again. Don’t be tempted to move them around the pan. When the skin is browned and crispy, turn and fry for 30 seconds more, flesh side down.
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
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
£29.95 Phaidon Buy the book
At the Table was the spiky-haired one’s seventh major cook book in about as many years and followed hot on the heels of the mammoth New British Classics. How on earth did he do it?
No doubt that sustaining a career like Rhodes’s is a team effort, and the many acknowledgements in the front of the book support that theory. However, all the food for the book was prepared by the chef himself, and his style is firmly imprinted in both the prose and recipes.
As always with Rhodes’s dishes, quotation marks abound in titles to indicate not all is as it seems, eg Pigeon and Red Onion “Pasty” turns out to be a pithivier. There are many more examples. It’s an annoying affectation and is indicative of Rhodes slightly overwrought approach.
However, the book design is excellent, with good use of colour. The photography is superb, and there are some real gems amongst the recipes, including a terrific crab salad, duck with spicy plums and a fantastic pear parfait.
Rhodes is a highly skilled and talented chef, and his food can be demanding of the home cook. Using this book may require a little more forethought and preparation, and you may need to adapt the recipes to your own abilities, but the results will be worth it.
Cuisine: modern British Suitable for: Confident home cooks and professionals Cookbook Review rating: 3 stars