I love the Great British Menu. There’s plenty wrong with it – enforced friction between the chefs, pointless “out and about” sections, and we all know it should be 1 x 1 hour show a week but the chance to see the top tier of British chefs cooking their guts out is always fascinating. This year’s show has a Comic Relief theme.
One chef was new to my radar this year, Mary-Ellen McTague. A Fat Duck graduate, her influences were clear to see. I found her bath of beans particularly amusing, and am sad to see it won’t feature at the final banquet.
When Sainsbury’s asked me to come up with a Red Nose Day cookie, this playful starter was at the forefront of my mind. Picking up a recipe for “bacon and banana cookies” from her mentor’s book Heston Blumenthal at Home the idea of a play on a Full English was there.
Topped with sweets this is a silly biscuit – that’s the point – but the bacon element is genuinely interesting. Go for a sweet cure bacon and it’s not so jarring, but it’s really worth a go.
Full English breakfast cookies (makes about 20):
5 rashers smoked bacon
120g butter, diced
260g caster sugar
220g plain flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 large eggs
Fried egg sweets and orange jelly beans, for decoration
- Preheat the oven to 190°C. Line a baking tray with baking paper and lay the bacon on top. Bake for 10 minutes, then pat dry with kitchen paper. When cool cut into tiny pieces.
- Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Sift in the flour, baking powder and soda with a pinch of salt until mix until a smooth dough is formed. Mix in 1 egg at a time, then stir in the bacon pieces.
- On a greased tray spoon out small blobs 10cm apart and bake for 8 – 10mins or until the the cookies are browned. As soon as they are out of the oven press a fried egg and a few jelly beans into the surface to melt in. Leave to firm up on the tray for a couple of minutes then transfer to a cooling rack.
It’s been something of a duck week. I nearly picked up two duck breasts at the weekend, but when they cost £7 and a whole duck cost £8, it seemed a false economy (as buying meat portions almost always is). So after enjoying some lovely roasted duck breasts with red wine sauce and sauté potatoes, what to do with the rest of the duck?
Heston had a bloomin’ good suggestion in Heston at Home: potted duck. Being a Heston recipe, it has quite a few stages of curing and confiting, and I got bored waiting for it so tossed aside the smoking stage at the end. I can’t say I miss it; there’s mountains of flavours rolling along in waves as you munch down through rich, soft meat.
If you have some duck legs knocking about – and let’s face it, who hasn’t… – you could do much worse than piling this into a nearby kilner jar. So here’s what I did based on Heston’s recipe, smoking stage removed and all.
Potted duck (can serve about 8, depending on how generous you are – it’s pretty rich):
9 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
5 black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
Zest of 1 orange
2 duck legs
500g duck fat
2 sprigs of rosemary
2 cloves of garlic
- Preheat the oven to 180°C. Put the star anise, cinnamon, peppercorns and bay leaves on a baking tray and roast for 5 minutes. Tip the lot into a pestle and mortar with the salt and orange and pound to dust. Rub all over the duck legs, store in a sealed container and refrigerate overnight.
- The next day, put your slow cooker on low. Add the duck fat, rosemary and garlic and allow to melt. Thoroughly rinse the duck legs and pat dry. Add to the slow cooker and top up with oil if required to cover the legs. Slow cook for 18 hours.
- Remove the duck legs from the fat and shred with two forks. Pack into a ramekin or kilner jar, and pour over a little of the cooking fat (save the rest for roast potatoes or pork belly). Refrigerate for a couple of hours then serve with your best toast, pickles and chutney (I used a fig chutney like this).
Another year, another royal celebration, another round of special dishes by Heston Blumenthal. Following last year’s trifle to commemorate the royal wedding, this year Heston produced a panoply of picnicky treats. I’ve had a stab at one here: Diamond Jubilee Chicken.
I’m really not a fan of coronation chicken, the dish originally commissioned for the Queen’s coronation. For me the fruit in there just really jars. Thankfully this version dismisses all that and you get a lovely curried chicken mayo. I read the summary of the ingredients and given it a go myself. You can skip the brining if you like, but brining gives you succulence and depth of flavour, with a lovely finish of peppery nigella seeds which I adore.
I haven’t been able to try the shop-bought version. It may or may not taste like the Heston dish but it makes a great buffet treat regardless.
Diamond Jubilee chicken:
3 chicken breasts
For the brine:
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 star anise
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon golden syrup
For the dressing:
300ml mayonnaise (home made if you can)
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon nigella seeds
Lemon juice, to taste
- Put the chicken and all the brining ingredients in a large bowl. Cover with water and add enough salt to make an 6% brine solution. Allow to brine for 6 hours, then drain, rinse and pat dry.
- Grill the chicken until cooked through (I used a George Foreman Grill). Allow to cool on a wooden board and then slice into bite-size chunky pieces.
- For the dressing blend all the ingredients together, then stir in the chicken. Dust with paprika and serve with toast, crudites or salad.
Waitrose and Heston Blumenthal have released strawberry crumble crunch as a recipe card in store to help celebrate the Jubilee. Sounds a bit like Mr Tumble Jumble to me. I’ll be honest; I didn’t seen the recipe card before making this but I had seen the recipe video on YouTube. Based on that I slung it together at work; during my lunch break I wasn’t able to get everything possible and I had to make do with the equipment to hand (microwave, kettle and fortunately a George Foreman Grill!) All things considered I think I ended up with a pretty tasty dessert! Perfect for such a hot day and created lots of smiling faces in the office. Took about 15 minutes and is well worth it!
Heston’s a bit obsessed with trifles. If you’ve made the real thing I’d love to know how it ended up.
Heston Blumenthal’s strawberry crumble crunch (serves 8 – 10):
300g strawberries, hulled
1 tablespoon of sugar
400ml double cream
8 meringue shells
A small pot of strawberry yoghurt
- Put your serving bowl in the fridge to get nice and cold. Put the sugar and strawberries in a bowl (keep back one strawberry) and mash roughly with a fork. Add a splash of water and microwave for 4 minutes. Once the fruit is mushy add a grind of black pepper, pop into the base of your trifle bowl and refrigerate while you do everything else.
- Whip the cream until thickened to where it barely falls off a spoon. Stir through the yoghurt and squeeze in the juice of ½ a satsuma. Crush the meringue shells and stir through.
- Preheat a dry frying pan or George Foreman Grill to its highest setting. Thinly slice the remaining strawberry, sprinkle with sugar and grill until starting to turn black, and then flip over and grill the other side. When they’re done remove to one side, bash up the hazelnuts and pop those on the grill for a couple of minutes until lightly toasted.
- Once the strawberry mix in the fridge is cold, layer on the cream mix, top with the nuts and sliced strawberry.
When people find out you write about food in a blog like this, after some initial shuffling embarrassment the questions start: why do you do it? What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?
Slightly easier to answer is: got any tips in the kitchen?
Because the best answer I can give is to get yourself one or two really good knives. Bin the ones you picked up in Matalan; save up a bit and buy a good brand (and a sharpening steel!). I probably only use a small knife for fine cutting, a large one for general work like dicing vegetables, and a bread knife. What’s the best brand? Like many of these things it’s personal preference; I really like Henckels, lots like Global, others swear by Sabatier. But what do the chefs use?
For as long as I can remember Heston has been a fan of Tojiro knives. He even asked for a set of them as his luxury item on Desert Island Discs in 2006. I’d love to own one but they’re priced a little out of my range. Thankfully Grunwerg have released the Heston Blumenthal Kitchen Knives range, styled on the Tojiro knife, which is far more affordable.
I was sent one of these Santoku knives, and they are absolutely beautiful. A lovely weighting, not too heavy but well-balanced. When I slid it out of the box after a quick sharpening I pounced on an onion, slicing, dicing and chopping. It cut through with no effort at all. If I had one criticism it is one common to many of this kind of knife, and that’s the steep angle of the blade encourages moist food to stick to it. As you slice through a cucumber for example the slices will stick to the knife and sometimes they roll off all over the place. What’s difficult to get across is just how much easier a decent knife makes things: you can cut quicker, cleaner and finer. You will genuinely save yourself time in the kitchen with a decent knife, and this blade is an excellent choice.
With thanks to Hannah for the knife and Helen for tipping her off!