Success on a stick; eating in

For the Oscars of the supermarket world, dozens of judges test hundreds of products. This year's winner can be viewed as the creme de la creme of ready meals, says Michael Bateman
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The Independent Culture
A KEBAB of scallops and bacon is this year's winner of the best supermarket product of the year. Earlier this week, on the strength of one such kebab, Tesco picked up the Gold Q award in the British Quality Food and Drink Awards, the Oscars of the supermarketing world, which are sponsored by SuperMarketing magazine.

You might wonder how such a modest dish could outpace the best that these huge conglomerates have to offer. The judging criteria look to reward price, value, quality and inspiration. How could a few scallops on sticks qualify? Well, said the judges: because they were fresher and better and cheaper than you could find in most fishmongers, with the added value that you can cook them in minutes and, after eating, declare them as excellent a dish as you can get at three times the price in a good restaurant.

Several hundred supermarket executives and buyers - from Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, Tesco, Sainsbury, Safeway, Asda et al - piled into the Dorchester for the awards, frantically cheering their own successes. Over 20 years the awards have developed from a modest trade event to something more high-profile, thanks to the aspirational chairman of the judges, Joe Hyam, who recruits a highly critical panel from outside supermarkets, including expert food writers such as Claudia Roden, restaurant critics such as Fay Maschler, top chefs such as Brian Turner, chairman of the British Academie Culinaire, and numerous specialists on wines, chocolate, cheese, health and nutrition.

It's not too difficult to pick winners in the dozen main categories (see overleaf). But how do you select an overall winner? How do you choose between an organic cider and a raspberry Pavlova, or a farmhouse Wensleydale and a can of beer with a widget? "It's less of a problem than you might think," says Hyam. "We're simply looking for the one product which above all most deserves an accolade."

This year, the final contenders ranged improbably from those tasty scallops from the Clyde to a wholehearted and gutsy Cornish pasty, a piquant packet of parmesan shavings and rocket leaves, and a majestic monster of a choc ice.

I have followed the winners over recent years and the judging's uncompromising stance has produced some marvellous successes. Marks and Spencer took the Gold Q in 1995 with a crumbly tarte aux cerises. But the glory really belonged to the Welsh bakery company who made it, and declined to bow to requests from Marks & Spencer to make it more "cosmetic" because the cherries were bleeding into the pie. "That's because they are the best cherries," replied the bakery indignantly.

Two years ago, a smallish company, Oscar Mayer in Chard, Somerset, won a Gold Q for Waitrose for its leek and bacon lasagnette. It turned out that not only had their technical head, Steven Poole, had a training in Michelin-starred restaurants, but he retains no fewer than 30 professional chefs in his factory. Quality will out.

Sainsbury's won the Gold Q last year with a spicy laksa of soupy noodles. It was billed as a triumph for Sainsbury's food commandos, known as the Innovations Team, who storm the world (in this case, Malaysia) hunting down new products. Steven Parkins, Sainsbury's skilful young development chef, was frank enough to say that his former boss, Peter Gordon of The Sugar Club, had already introduced this dish to Britain. But all credit to Steven for translating it into a winning supermarket product.

And so to this year's Gold Q. I spoke to Pam Hamilton, account manager at Dawnfresh Foods, in Lanarkshire, after she'd heard that the scallop and bacon brochette they make for Tesco had been shortlisted. She explained that freshness is the key to the winning product. Dawnfresh scallops are collected by divers off Mallaig, or dredged in the Clyde by day-boats. They are turned round immediately, converted into ready-to-cook kebabs, and in the shops the next day.

"Shellfish and bacon, scallops and bacon, are not new ideas. It's a very simple concept," says Pam. "But we had to have bacon which cooked in the very short time it takes to grill a scallop. We tested thousands of thicknesses of bacon, before we settled on a very thin strip of slightly streaky bacon, lightly smoked to contrast with the sweetness of the scallops. The kebab is served with lemon wedges and a simple dressing of olive oil and sunflower oil and a bit of parsley." GOLD Q AWARD

Tesco Scallop and Bacon Brochette (pounds 6.99, serves 2)

l Fresh meat, game,

poultry and fish

Tesco Scallop and Bacon Brochette

Fresh produce

Tesco Finest Gourmet

Roquette Salad

Desserts and puddings Birds Eye Wall's

Magnum Double


Asda's Yorkshire

Blue Cheese

Ready meals

Tesco Finest

Beef Wellington


Gilsons Seeded

Nettle Bread


Marks & Spencer Roasted Tomato and Goats'

Cheese Quiche


Sainsbury's Organic

Creme Fraiche Accompaniments & Ingredients

Tesco Finest Chilli & Garlic Dipping Oil


Sainsbury's Marbled


Soft Drinks

Coppella Apple &

Elderflower Juice

Light meals

Ginsters Beast of Bodmin

Moor Cornish Pasty

Junior Q Award - Meals

and Snacks

Sainsbury's 8 Mini

Beefburgers and Buns The kebab, food cooked on skewers, is one of the oldest recorded forms of cooking. Indeed almost the most primitive. It may not have originated in Persia but the word does, kebab referring to the grilling process rather then the skewering.

By the seventh and eighth centuries Persia had raised this sort of cooking to an art form, laying down the principles. Meat must be cooked on long flat blades (never round ones or the meat spins as you turn it) and the long heating of the barbecue or grill up to an hour to achieve the right degree and quality of heat.

The kebab is not an excuse for using up tough meat, as you might assume from the practices of some Greek-Cypriot restaurants in London.

Some of the tastiest kebabs are made with finely minced meat. Here is a version of this recipe found in the Arab Middle East; along with the famous `kebab" of south-east Asia, skewered satay sticks of marinated chicken with spice peanut sauce (from Savouring the East by award-winning New Zealand writer, David Burton, one of the most readable books of its kind. Faber pounds 15.99). Plus an original grilled fruit kebab, created specially for us by Maria Elia, the innovative young chef at Delfina in Bermondsey Street, SE1.


Makes 4 kebabs

12 pineapple, peeled

1 mango, peeled

1 papaya, peeled and deseeded

1 dragon fruit, peeled

2 kiwis, peeled

8 lychees, peeled and de-stoned

12 lime leaves, washed

4 lemongrass, outer leaves removed

For the glaze:

250g/8oz palm sugar (or demerara sugar)

1 small red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped

20g/12oz ginger, peeled and finely chopped

juice of 6 limes

2 teaspoons chopped mint

To make the glaze soften the palm sugar in a saucepan over a low heat, add the chilli and ginger and cook until caramelised, add the lime juice and return to the heat. Bring to the boil and add the mint just before serving.

To make the kebabs, cut the fruits into rough shapes as you desire. Trim the outer leaves from the lemongrass stalk and thread the fruits through. Place on a baking tray and place under a pre-heated grill for three minutes on either side. Serve hot drizzled with glaze, or serve separately on the side.


Serves 4

500g/1lb Iamb, trimmed of fat

1 onion finely chopped

4 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

1 tablespoon paprika powder

2 teaspoons ground coriander seed

1teaspoon ground cumin

12 red chilli pepper

pinch allspice

salt to taste

Vegetable oil for brushing meat

Chop meat, and pulse in the food processor till fine. This is actually a great job for the out-of fashion meat mincer (available at all good boot sales). Put the meat through the fine blade twice.

Mix the meat with the onion, parsley and spices. Using a tablespoon, make compact oval shapes, and slide two or more on to each skewer. You need flat metal blades long enough to rest on the edges of a roasting pan or oven dish.

Place under a very, very hot grill (this is ideal barbecuing food, of course). Brush with oil and cook for two minutes on each side. Serve with salad and steaming rice.


The magic ingredient is tamarind, which replaces the more usual lemon juice and soy sauce.

For the satay:

1kg chicken (or lamb)

112 tablespoons dried tamarind

1 large onion

2-3 cloves garlic

walnut-sized piece of fresh root ginger

1 tablespoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground fennel seeds

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon lemon peel

2 teaspoons brown sugar

1 teaspoon salt

Bone the chicken (or lamb), then cut across the grain into fairly thin slices, about 7-8mm (13in) thick. Cut these slices into smaller pieces, aiming for squares wherever possible. The idea of thin, flat squares is to allow the marinade to penetrate over a wider area, and to ensure quick cooking later.

Break the tamarind into small pieces, pour over four tablespoons of boiling water, and allow to stand five minutes, Meanwhile, peel the onion, garlic and ginger and pulverise in a food processor (or pound or chop very finely by hand).

Squeeze the tamarind in the water to extract the pulp from the pith and seed, then strain it into the onion mixture and add the remaining ingredients. Mix well, stir in the chicken (or lamb) and leave, covered, to marinate for at least six hours, preferably overnight.

Soak bamboo skewers in cold water for an hour. Thread three or four pieces on to each skewer and cook over glowing charcoal, turning when the meat begins to show brown patches. They should only need a few minutes per side.

Serve with peanut sauce, recipe shown above.


You can "roast" the peanuts by dry-frying them in a hot pan. When cool, rub off the skins.

75g/3oz roosted peanuts

6 dried small hot chillies, soaked

1 medium onion

1 clove garlic

5 candle nuts or macadamias

34 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel

2 tablespoons oil

375ml/23pt coconut cream

2 teaspoons dried tamarind

1 teaspoon brown sugar

salt to taste

Pulverise the peanuts in a food processor with a little oil (or substitute five tablespoons of peanut butter). Set aside.

Pulverise the chillies, onion, garlic and nuts in a food processor (or pound or chop very finely by hand). Fry in oil over a low heat for four to five minutes, stirring frequently. Add the lemon peel and coconut cream and bring almost to the boil, then add peanuts, tamarind (soaked in four tablespoons of boiling water and strained), brown sugar and salt to taste.

Serve at room temperature.