Save your pennies: Top chefs reveal how cutting your food bill needn't mean scrimping on flavour
From forgotten cuts of meat to scrumptious Spanish peasant dishes...
Tom Kerridge, head chef and founder of The Hand and Flowers
A shoulder of lamb is high yield, serving four to eight people. They're always best from your local butcher or farmers' market – it's about cheap, fresh British staples. A slow-cooked shoulder of lamb with boulangère potatoes makes a great family dish. Thinly slice a couple of onions and four large potatoes and place in a big bowl. Sprinkle with a bunch of thyme leaves and season. Layer the onions and potatoes in a roasting tray and place the lamb shoulder on top. With a knife, create holes in the flesh and stick a peeled clove of garlic in each one. Pour on a pint of chicken stock and stick in a preheated oven at 130C for 4-5 hours. This recipe is great to put in the oven on a Sunday morning, go and walk the dogs, call in at the pub for a couple and then get home when the house smells amazing and lunch is ready!
Ben Tish, executive chef at the Salt Yard
When it comes to shopping for vegetables, try going to Asian markets. They're really well priced, and the quality is generally superb. It is possible to do meat on a budget but you have to bargain-hunt. You can buy beef or lamb on its sell-by date – it will be fine. End-of-market days are also good for buying meat and fish, especially on a Saturday when the market is closed for two days. My great cheap meal option would be a homemade lamb kofte: mix lamb mince with breadcrumbs, cumin, coriander etc, skewer and grill. Serve with flat bread, humus, a dressing of yogurt, cucumber, red onion and coriander, with rice.
Jun Tanaka, head chef at Pearl Restaurant
Forgotten cuts of meat are a fantastic option for flavoursome and cheap family meals – oxtail, lamb shoulder and shanks, pork cheeks and belly are just a few that you can use. The great thing about using these cuts of meat is that you don't have to compromise on the quality of the meat. My favourite cut is definitely the cheek, especially pork. Try braising them in the oven for an hour with chicken stock, carrots and onions with a pinch of mixed
spice, a splash of red wine vinegar, soy sauce and a drizzle of honey. To balance the richness of the meat I like to serve it with a fresh, crunchy salad of sliced fennel and apple dressed with lemon juice and olive oil.
Jason Atherton, head chef and founder of Pollen Street Social
Every week, clear out your fridge and make a stir-fry. We do it once a week, dicing all the leftover food and frying with egg-fried rice. For cheap protein, mackerel, pollock, gurnard and the like are excellent, cheap ways to get quality sustainable fish. And always buy seasonal – it tastes better.
Gizzi Erskine, food writer, chef and television presenter
As far as I'm concerned, peasant food is where it's at. Braised oxtail, ox cheek and beef brisket are my favourite meats for their gelatinous finish and slow cook. The slow cooker has come into its own again and popping a dish on before you leave for work to have a bubbling rich stew on your return is the clever cook's way of making dinner. The ultimate protein, though, is the egg. We are one of the only countries that just sees eggs as a breakfast or baking tool. Most countries would eat eggs for supper in a shot. Try eating Chinese fried eggs with some rice and Asian greens or a Keralan egg curry. Or what about some healthy ham, egg and chips?
Omar Allibhoy, head chef at El Pirata De Tapas and owner of Tapas Revolution
Spain has been a very poor country for centuries; families were often left with very few humble ingredients, and so had to be very resourceful and creative with the ingredients they had. Migas (bread crumbs) is still a very popular dish in Spain.
For the standard recipe you'll need:
One or two-day-old loaf of bread
A bit of water
Four garlic cloves
A small glass of olive oil
One chorizo sausage
A few slices of pancetta (bacon)
Slice the loaf of bread and chop the slices in 1cm cubes. The night before cooking it, sprinkle a bit of water and let them rest and rehydrate. The next day, fry the whole garlic cloves in the olive oil in a wide pan. Once golden, put aside. Then fry the chopped bacon and chorizo in the same oil; when golden and crispy add the garlic back into the same pan, as well as the chopped bread. Keep cooking and stirring for around 10 minutes till the bread is golden.
From here on, it's completely up to you. You can finish it off by adding a fried egg on top (Leon), grapes (Andalucia), melon (Madrid and Castilla), Pimenton and spinach (Extremadura)... and so on. It can be a substantial meal or a perfect garnish.
Judy Joo, executive chef at The Playboy Club London and television personality
My best advice would be: don't waste leftovers! Buy whole chickens and fish for the best bang for your buck. Roast a whole chicken for dinner, then pick off any remaining meat and leftovers for sandwiches, salads and soups. To stretch the chicken even further, use the carcass to add extra flavour to rice when cooking. Remove the carcass and sauté any leftover diced vegetables in a separate pan. Add the rice and any leftover meat for quick, easy fried rice. "Make your own" jacket potatoes are another great, fun way for the family to use up leftovers. Just chop up and blanch any leftover veg, shred and mix up all leftover cheese (sour cream, crème fraiche, everything – make a nice cheesy topping) and meat can be anything from tinned tuna to crumbly bacon.
Annie Bell, food writer and author
People think pasta dishes are inexpensive, but cheese can push the cost up, particularly those like parmesan or mozzarella. Cheddar's affordable and excellent for things like cheese omelettes and soufflés. Pastas using tinned tomatoes are reliable: spaghetti puttanesca, for example, just needs a few anchovies, capers and olives added to the tomato sauce. Anything based on seasonal vegetables is a good idea, particularly at this time of year. Whenever there's a glut of something the price goes down in the supermarket. Use them for frittatas and the like.
Bruno Loubet, head chef and founder of Bistrot Bruno Loubet
Don't dismiss the more affordable cuts of meat, but read the label and make sure not to go for stewing meats. Roast or grill your meat, allowing more time, so the meat can cook for longer at a lower temperature. Leaving time for the meat to rest is important to achieve a tender result.
Ian Pengelley, head chef at Gilgamesh
Asia has definitely been leading the way for years in terms of fresh, healthy food, served quickly and cheaply. I'm still stunned at the just how inexpensive the food is in Asia – and the flavour and freshness blows me away every time. Try a healthy Asian chicken hot pot: add a splash of soy, Worcester sauce and sherry (optional) to a litre of boiling chicken stock. Drop in noodles and add green veg. Top with grilled chicken and finish with coriander and chilli oil.
Skye Gyngell, food writer, head chef and founder of Petersham Nurseries Café
At home we don't spend a vast amount of money on food. I shop daily for what we want, rather than big weekly shops. We often have no more than an omelette and salad. If you have eggs in the house, you can always make a meal. Spelt, brown rice and barley make for a lovely dishes, but they need to be laced with garlic, basil, mint, perhaps lemon and parmesan.
Bill Granger, restaurateur, food writer and TV chef
Pulses are the best place to start – protein is very important, but also the most expensive part of a meal. It's cheaper to get dried pulses and soak them overnight, then boil them. To make them more interesting, use in curries, daals, or for a great chickpea burger just take a couple of tins' worth, a few eggs, coriander, spring onion, parsley, chilli and breadcrumbs, pulse it up, shape them and fry them off until they're crispy – a bit like falafels.
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