Chefs’ classics: Britain’s top cooks and restaurateurs reveal their brilliant new versions of comfort dishes
Think you can make the tastiest shepherd's pie? Nailed the perfect spaghetti carbonara?
Charlotte Philby is a writer at The Independent with a weekly column on motherhood in The Independent Magazine. She was shortlisted for the 2013 Cudlipp award for excellence in popular journalism for her undercover investigative work, and writes for various cultural magazines.
Saturday 19 November 2011
Simon Hopkinson's Caesar salad
Zuni Café in San Francisco serves the most authentic version of this dish that I've tasted – and it is the closest to this recipe. It's proper. First, an absolute negative – I loathe it when people use those Spanish silvery boquerones instead of the traditional brown salted anchovies; they're utterly wrong because having something that tastes sharp and acidic in a Caesar salad is anathema to the dish, which should be creamy and crunchy. Good-quality extra virgin olive oil is also very important. This version is based on one of the best recipes from the great American book The Joy of Cooking, which after extensive study seems to offer the most classic version of Caesar salad. People often overlook making good croûtons – the ones in this recipe contain both butter and olive oil and are infused with lots of garlic, all of which imparts a wonderful savoury quality. Another crucial element is the egg cooked for a couple of minutes, so that the white is only just set. I hate Caesar salads with extraneous stuff like chicken or salmon – you shouldn't mess around with this dish.
'The Good Cook' by Simon Hopkinson is published by BBC Books, £25
The Caesar salad was invented by Caesar Cardini in Tijuana, Mexico, in 1926. Whatever the recipe was then, it is sure to have changed somewhat since. Having eaten various Caesar salads over the years, I leave it up to you to decide whether this recipe is the real thing or not.
Note: please, please, please resist the urge to shave the Parmesan cheese rather than grate it finely; this is both silly and it also misses the point of the dish. The finely grated cheese should absolutely adhere to each and every dressed lettuce leaf, rather than as pointless pieces which, irritatingly, appear as too much in some servings, or too little – or are sometimes even non-existent. For the croûtons
3tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, bruised
Salt and pepper
100g cubed bread (a sourdough baguette is very good here)
For the dressing
2 large cloves of garlic, crushed to a paste
5-6 anchovies, drained, finely chopped
1tsp lemon juice
2-3tsp Worcestershire sauce
Plenty of pepper
100-125ml extra virgin olive oil
2 large eggs
3-4 crisp cos (romaine) lettuce hearts, separated into individual leaves
2-3tbsp freshly grated Parmesan
Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Warm the butter and olive oil gently and infuse with the garlic for 5 minutes, or so. Strain into a bowl, mix with the bread and seasoning; then lift out the bread on to kitchen paper for a moment. Bake on a tray in the oven until crisp and golden.
Boil the eggs for 2 minutes, cool under cold running water; then scoop out the runny egg into a small bowl. Break up with a fork until sloppy. To make the dressing, take a large bowl in which you will serve the salad and mix the garlic paste with the anchovies, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce and pepper. Whisk in the olive oil until loosely emulsified, then briefly toss the croûtons in this so they absorb a little of it, before introducing the lettuce, eggs and Parmesan. Mix together; sprinkle more Parmesan over when serving, if you like.
Michell Roux Jnr's Souffle Suissesse
This recipe has been on the menu at Le Gavroche since 1967 and is the perfect take on the classic cheese soufflé. It has passed down from father to son through generations, and for our customers it has become a rite of passage: "You must try the Soufflé Suissesse," our loyal diners tell friends coming here for the first time. It's almost a form of initiation. My father made Soufflé Suissesse when he was working for the Royal family many years ago; it was served to the Queen Mother.
This is not a dish for the faint-hearted. It's made with lots of cream and cheese. It's light and yet extremely indulgent. In essence, it's just eggs, cream and cheese. When you're using so few ingredients the key is not to scrimp: you need very good mature cheese and good eggs. A lot of people are scared of soufflés – but success comes from not being scared. For the perfect soufflé you have to know when to stop whisking your eggs. They must be glossy and shiny but still hold; smooth not grainy. Once you've mastered this, you can go on to make all sorts of more complicated soufflés. But none will beat it. The Soufflé Suissesse is the perfect meal in its own right, it doesn't need any accompaniment, except perhaps for a good glass of wine.
Michel Roux Jnr is chef at Le Gavroche, London W1
45g plain flour
5 egg yolks
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
6 egg whites
600ml double cream
200g Gruyère or Emmental cheese, grated
Heat the oven to 200C/gas 6. Melt the butter in a thick-based saucepan, whisk in the flour and cook, stirring continuously for about 1 minute. Then whisk in the milk and boil for 3 minutes, whisking all the time to prevent any lumps from forming.
Beat in the yolks and remove from the heat; season with salt and pepper. Cover with a piece of buttered greaseproof paper in order to prevent a skin from forming.
Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they form firm, but not stiff, peaks. Add one-third of the egg whites to the yolk mixture and beat with a whisk until evenly mixed, then gently fold in the remaining egg whites.
Spoon the mixture into 4 well-buttered 8cm-diameter tartlet moulds and then place the moulds in the oven for 3 minutes, until the tops begin to turn golden.
Meanwhile, season the cream with a little salt. Warm it gently and pour into a gratin dish. Turn the soufflés out into the cream, sprinkle the grated cheese over the soufflés and then return to the oven for 5 minutes. Serve immediately.
Mark Hix's pintade au vin
In France, cooking a coq au vin is part of the national heritage – you just walk into your local butcher's and pop a coq in your basket. In this country, the dish doesn't translate so well – apart from anything else it isn't easy to find a cock bird. The point of using a cock bird for coq au vin is that the meat is a bit tougher, tastes better and is perfect for long, slow cooking so that the wine flavour permeates the dish.
I think that guinea fowl makes a perfect alternative here – the meat has a fantastic depth of flavour. At the restaurants we use guinea fowl from Woolley Park Farm (woolleyparkfarm.co.uk ); these ones are slowly reared and therefore are much larger and gamier than your average guinea fowl – perfect for a dish such as this.
The lovely flavours in this dish are also achieved by giving the meat a three- or four-day long soaking in a fairly tannic red-wine marinade which eats its way into the flesh.
Traditionally, most recipes use button or Paris mushrooms but I think that meaty wild mushrooms make a much better addition if you can get your hands on some.
Mark Hix is the owner of Hix, London W1
2 medium-sized guinea fowl
1 x 750ml bottle of gutsy red wine
Vegetable oil for frying
60g flour, plus more for dusting
2tsp tomato purée
500ml dark meat stock (a beef cube or fresh ready-made stock)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the marinade
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1 large onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1tsp chopped thyme leaves
10 black peppercorns
For the garnish
60g thickly-sliced bacon or pancetta, cut into 1-2cm cubes (these can be bought pre-cut from supermarkets)
Vegetable oil for frying
150g firm mushrooms such as ceps, girolles or button mushrooms, cleaned, quartered or cut into bite-sized pieces
24 button onions or small peeled onions
1tsp caster sugar
A good knob of butter
Remove the legs from the guinea fowl and cut the knuckles off; then cut each leg in half at the joint.
Chop the carcass in half through the central breast bone and chop away the back bone which has no meat on. Cut each breast into 2 or 3, depending on the size of the bird, then put all of the joints into a stainless steel container with the wine and the rest of the ingredients for the marinade.
Mix well, cover with clingfilm and leave to marinate for at least 3 or 4 days, and up to a week in the fridge.
Remove the pieces of guinea fowl from the marinade and dry on some kitchen paper. Season them and dust with flour.
Heat some vegetable oil in a heavy frying pan and cook the pieces of guinea fowl on a high heat, giving them a nice brown colour all over, then drain on some kitchen paper.
Preheat the oven to 175C/gas mark 4. Melt the butter in a heavy-based saucepan or casserole, with a lid, that fits in the oven.
Add the flour and mix well, then the tomato purée, and cook on a low heat for a couple of minutes, stirring well, until it starts to turn a light brown colour.
Gradually add the marinade, stirring well to avoid lumps forming, and all of the stock. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the guinea fowl pieces, season lightly with salt and pepper, cover and cook in the oven for about an hour or until tender.
Fry the pieces of bacon in about a tablespoon of vegetable oil for 3-4 minutes until lightly coloured, remove the pieces on to a plate, leaving the fat in the pan.
Add the mushrooms to the pan and lightly sauté for 3-4 minutes until lightly coloured, add the cooked bacon and put to one side.
Meanwhile, put the button onions in a pan, cover with lightly salted water and add the sugar and butter. Bring to the boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until tender. Drain and put them with the mushrooms and bacon.
Pour the guinea fowl and sauce into a colander, over a bowl, to catch the sauce. Strain the sauce through a fine-meshed sieve into a saucepan and simmer until the sauce has reduced by about half and thickened. If the sauce is not thick enough, mix a little cornflour in water and stir into the sauce until it thickens.
Remove the guinea fowl pieces from the colander and add to the sauce with the mushrooms, onions and bacon. Bring back to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes.
Serve with rice cooked in chicken stock, or mashed or boiled potatoes.
Julian Bigg's spaghetti carbonara
Every summer, when I was a child, my family and I used to go to the south of France. There was a simple little restaurant in a town outside Cannes which only served three or four dishes – and this unusual version of spaghetti carbonara is one of them.
They gave you a glass bowl-full of garlicky spaghetti, with roughly chopped wild boar on top and a raw egg yolk in the centre – and they served it to you with a jug of hot pasta water. You were also given a big nugget of Parmesan with a cheese grater. At the table, you'd take your hot water and pour it into your bowl and beat it really quickly so that it lightly cooked the wild boar and emulsified the egg yolk until you got this delicious creamy and rich carbonara. It's unlike any other carbonara recipe I've seen.
Nowadays this classic dish is all about cream, garlic, onions and white wine. This version is very pure. I've been trying to perfect the recipe ever since eating it and I think I'm nearly there now. The nice thing about it is that it's different every time; you customise it to how you like it. It's good fun for a relaxed dinner party with friends, served with a classic green salad and a Campari soda with orange.
Julian Biggs is head chef at Ducksoup, London W1
450g roughly chopped wild boar pancetta
3 cloves of peeled garlic
300g dried spaghetti
4 Burford Brown egg yolks
100g Parmesan, grated
Extra virgin olive oil
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil. Pour in the spaghetti and garlic, keeping on stirring so that it doesn't stick together.
When it's cooked, drain off and reserve 300ml of the pasta water, and retain the pasta water in a jug.
Pick out the garlic cloves and, with a little salt and the back of a large chopping knife, gently crush it to a smooth paste.
Put the pasta back in the pan with the garlic, olive oil and plenty of black pepper and give it a good stir.
To serve (as shown below left), divide the pasta between four bowls, sprinkle the roughly chopped wild boar pancetta over the top and then pop an egg yolk into the middle of each dish.
Serve with the hot pasta water, more Parmesan and encourage your guests to add the water to the dish and beat until it all comes together.
You can adjust the consistency with more Parmesan, pepper and hot water, until you create a rich and creamy dish. It's essential this is served straight away and piping hot or you won't achieve the desired effect.
Margot Henderson's fish pie
This dish has been passed down to me from Elizabeth, my mother-in-law, via my husband Fergus. He taught me to stop trying to jazz it up. Leave it alone. Enjoy its simplicity, its whiteness, its creaminess, and its restorative qualities. This version uses a mixture of smoked haddock and fresh haddock, with no fancy anything added, just a few boiled eggs; not too many, though – when you're eating it you should be almost fighting over the egg.
Fish pie is about love and togetherness. If you're feeling fragile it brings you around. It's a great dish to have on the table to share. People can be scared of it being too simple; they feel they have to spruce it up, but then it loses its way. If you really want to smarten it up you could add spring greens but I don't approve of prawns or other racy elements. The idea of adding salmon is disgusting; it's too rich and totally unnecessary. It's important to get the right amount of creaminess to your white sauce, the key is not to let it get too firm. You should make it so that it's almost too creamy, so that when you leave it to settle, it firms up a bit but still keeps enough movement. Don't overcook the eggs, they need to be a bit runny, and the crispy top is all-important. The key is to take your time.
Margo Henderson is chef-proprietor at Rochelle Canteen, London E2
400g naturally smoked haddock
400g fresh haddock
2 pints of milk
2 fresh bay leaves
2 stalks of celery
Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. In a baking dish, lay out the fillets with their skin on, cover in milk, add the bay leaves, peppercorns, roughly chopped onion and celery stalks. Cover in tin foil and bake for 10 minutes until the fish starts to give when prodded. Take out and leave to cool.
When cool, lift the fish out and carefully take out the bones and skin. Try not to break the fish up too much. Strain the milk and leave to the side. Bring a pot of water to the boil and cook the eggs for 6 minutes. Run under water until cold. Peel and leave to one side.
For the white sauce
80g plain flour
2 pints of milk that the fish cooked in
Maldon sea salt
Melt the butter in a pan, stir in the flour, and cook gently for about 3 minutes. Heat the milk that you have already set aside, gradually add a little at a time, constantly stirring. Bring to a simmering point, then turn down to a low heat and cook for a further 15 minutes. Then taste and season.
For the mashed potatoes
2kg potatoes (Desiree work well)
100ml of milk
Peel the potatoes, then slice and boil them in salted water until well cooked. Heat the butter and milk and add to the potatoes, mash, taste and season. Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. To assemble the pie, spread the fish over the base of the baking dish. Slice the eggs in half and scatter over the fish. Pour the white sauce over, leaving enough room to add a healthy layer of mash. With a fork, fluff the potatoes. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until browned on top. Take out; leave for a few minutes to settle down. Serve with cooked frozen peas.
Rachel O'Sullivan's lasagne
This speck, mushroom and sherry vinegar lasagne is a combination of a few things I've come across in Melbourne. Usually with meat lasagne you have this very heavy bolognese sauce, whereas using ham lightens it up but still retains that richness and flavour. The ham works really well with the earthiness of the mushrooms and the sweetness and sharpness of the sherry cuts brilliantly through the cheese of the béchamel. If you can't get speck from a good Italian delicatessen you could replace it with Parma ham, though I like the smokiness of the speck.
There are lots of different ways to shake up a traditional lasagne if you want homely food but fancy something a bit different. Sometimes I do a veggie version which is like a combination of lasagne and moussaka, with aubergine going through it. If you can't be bothered with all the faff of making a béchamel sauce, you can always use ricotta instead. Some people say you have to use fresh pasta, but that's not true as long as you keep the dish moist enough. That said, it's important not to put too much béchamel sauce through it as it can get really heavy, and it's good to have your layers consistent. I always like to add a herb such as basil to bring a bit of freshness.
Rachel O'Sullivan is head chef at Spuntino, London W1
1kg Swiss brown mushrooms
150ml sherry vinegar
250g sliced speck
1 bunch of basil, picked and torn
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
200g grated mozzarella
500ml simple tomato sauce
100ml olive oil
For the béchamel sauce
100g grated Parmesan
1 x 500g packet of lasagne sheets (I recommend De Cecco)
Preheat the oven to 180 C/gas mark 4.
Heat the olive oil in a heavy-based pan and sauté the mushrooms with garlic, Maldon sea salt and pepper until all liquid has evaporated.
Deglaze the pan with sherry vinegar and reduce again until all the liquid has evaporated.
To make the béchamel, heat the milk gently over a low heat. In a separate pan, melt the butter over a low heat. In gradual stages, add the flour, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon. Again in stages, add the milk, mixing continuously bit by bit, to avoid lumps.
Finally, add the grated Parmesan and season to taste with sea salt and black pepper.
Layer the lasagne in this order: tomato sauce, lasagne sheets, béchamel, speck, mushrooms, mozzarella, torn basil leaves. Try to make 3 layers in total. The last layer should be béchamel and tomato sauce and on top a small handful of grated Parmesan. Bake in the oven for 45 minutes. Let the lasagne rest for 15 minutes before serving.
Jane Baxter's spiced shepherd's pie
I come from the north-east of England, where we'd always have a roast on Sunday and do something with the leftovers the next day. If we ever had lamb, mum would always do a shepherd's pie or moussaka. I was thinking about the spices she used in her moussaka when I decided to give this traditional shepherd's pie recipe a kick.
Lamb works very well with spices – there is a classic minced lamb and pea dish called a keema that I thought might make an interesting base. In keeping with that idea, instead of making a traditional mash, I decided to do a saffron mash with toasted almonds over the top.
When you're using seasonal vegetables you have to get quite experimental or get bored, especially at this time of year when all you've really got is the ends of root vegetables, cauliflower and leeks.
For this dish you use onions, carrots and leeks cooked together with your spices for a base which makes for a really tasty lamb. You could try to do something different with the topping, adding Jerusalem artichoke or a bit of celeriac into the mash. This shepherd's pie can be done on a reasonable budget, it's just the pinch of saffron which is moderately expensive.
Jane Baxter is head chef at Riverford Organic's Field Kitchen in Devon
2 onions, finely chopped
1 leek, finely chopped
1 stick of celery, finely chopped
1tbsp sunflower oil
1tbsp finely chopped or finely grated ginger
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
4 red chillies, finely chopped
1tbsp coriander seeds, toasted and ground
1tbsp cumin seeds, toasted and ground
tsp ground turmeric
2tsp ground black pepper
750g minced lamb
440g tin of chopped tomatoes
400ml chicken stock
For the saffron mash
1 kg floury potatoes
4 cloves of garlic, sliced
Pinch of saffron
Salt and pepper
200g frozen peas
1tbsp chopped mint
1tbsp chopped coriander
1tbsp flaked almonds
In a large saucepan, cook the chopped veg in butter and oil for 15 minutes until soft but not brown. Add chilli, garlic and ginger and cook for a few more minutes; add spices. Turn up the heat and tip in the minced lamb; brown. Add the tomatoes and stock, bring to a simmer; cook gently for 30 minutes. Peel the potatoes; cut them into quarters. Place in a saucepan with the garlic, salt and half the saffron. Cover with water; bring to the boil and cook until the potatoes are tender. Meanwhile, add the rest of the saffron to the milk; warm through to infuse. Drain the potatoes. Mash by passing through a potato ricer. Transfer to a mixer; whip up the potatoes, adding the infused milk slowly. To finish, blanch the spinach or chard in boiling water for a few minutes, drain and refresh in cold water; squeeze out excess moisture. Chop roughly. Add the spinach and peas to the lamb with the fresh herbs. Pour into an ovenproof dish, top with the mash and place in a medium oven (160C/gas mark 3) for 30 minutes. After 15, sprinkle with almonds, season and return to the oven to brown.
Stuart Gillie's bread and butter pudding
When I worked in Italy and New York all the other chefs would gang up on me and say what do you even cook in England? I'd always say well, there's this thing called bread and butter pudding, I'll make it for you. It always won them over. When we decided to do a version for Bread Street Kitchen we wanted to keep it quite chunky using a selection of different types of bread, with lots of custard. When I was little we used to make brown bread ice-cream at home – where you chop up old pieces of bread and sprinkle it with sugar, put it in the oven and then fold it through ice-cream, so that it makes chunks of caramelised ice-cream. This is a warm version of that.
You don't want your bread and butter pudding to look all perfect, you want it really rocky on top. Remember that this recipe started as a leftover dish, this is just a more refined version, tarted up with a bit of vanilla bean or Tonka bean grated into it. You should always use a mixture of day-old bread: brown or wholewheat, sourdough loaf and also some brioche; even bits of hardened baguette. But don't use too much bulk, you need lots of liquid.
Stuart Gillies is head chef at Bread Street Kitchen, London EC4
300ml double cream
300ml whole milk
3 medium eggs
80g egg yolks (pasteurised/fresh)
Day-old bread (see above)
A pinch of cinnamon
A handful of sultanas
Combine the milk, cream, eggs, sugar and yolks; blend. Pass through a cone-shaped sieve. Cut bread into 5cm chunks. Place the bread into an ovenproof dish; add a pinch of cinnamon. Add the sultanas, and cover the bread with the cream mixture to just below the rim. Bake at 150C/gas mark 2 for 30 minutes or until lightly set. To serve, add a sprinkle of light brown sugar; put back in the oven; cook for 8 minutes more.
James Golding's blackberry and apple pie
My grandmother used to make the best apple pie for me when I was a child. It was all about the crunch of that sprinkle of sugar on the top, together with the softness of the fruit, and a nice bit of double cream poured over the top. This is her recipe. It's so simple – the key is that she used to collect her own fruit. Even if you live in a city, blackberries grow all along the train-line walls, you only need a handful so I'd recommend collecting them when they're in season and freezing a bag.
I grew up on the edge of the New Forest and going out and collecting food was a big part of our life. Now I live in Highcliff, between New Forest and Christchurch; on the weekends I love foraging for wild ingredients.
Bramley apples or good medium-sized eating apples – which will not lose their shape – are ideal for this pie. You can also mix in a couple of crab apples if you like, which add more of a citrus flavour: the smaller the crab apple the more tart the flavour.
James Golding is head chef at The Pig Hotel, Brockenhurst, Hampshire
6 cooking apples, peeled, cored and diced
150g fresh bramble berries or blackberries
75g demerara sugar
In a hot pan, melt the butter. Mix the apples and sugar together then place in the pan with the butter.
Cook until the apples start breaking down, then mix in the blackberries and cool it down.
For the pastry
450g plain flour
Cream the sugar and butter together in a mixing bowl. Add the flour and combine with eggs until it starts to come together.
Knead the paste for a minute, then cover with clingfilm.
Rest in the fridge for 1 hour until firm.
Roll out the pastry and line the inside of a large pie dish.
Cut out another piece the same size as your basin opening for the lid.
Fill with the cold apple and blackberry mixture and crimp on the lid.
Make a small hole in the centre of the pie for any steam to escape, brush with some egg wash and sprinkle with a little brown sugar.
Bake for 20-30 minutes at 200C/gas mark 6 or until golden brown.
Serve with ice cream or some vanilla custard.
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