Simon Hopkinson: 'Pop a Fray Bentos in the oven, add ketchup and it's heaven'


My earliest food memory... Having rice pudding in the Marine Hotel in Criccieth, north Wales. It was very creamy and sweet. After that, I used to say "only pudding", as that's all I wanted, so "rice pudding" was rechristened "only pudding" in my family.

My store-cupboard essentials... Anchovies, capers and Spanish anchovy-stuffed olives. I'm also making daal at the moment, so I've always got a couple of different pulses for that, as well as a little stock of Fray Bentos steak-and-kidney pies. Just pop one in the oven, get the ketchup out and you're in heaven.

My favourite cookbook... Richard Olney's The French Menu Cookbook. His prose is wonderful, but he also offers practical advice: he won't just say "do this", he'll explain the reasons for it. He never worked in a professional kitchen; he just had a way about him.

The kitchen gadget I can't live without... My dad's old swivel peeler. The more you use it, the sharper it gets somehow, and it's almost like a sixth finger. If I lost it, I'd be very upset.

My culinary tip... I'm known for my roast chicken, but another great way to cook chicken is to steep it. You make a nice vegetable water with some wine, or for Asian flavours, a broth with ginger and spring onions. Then, once the stock is nicely flavoured, you put in the chicken and bring it to a simmer for two minutes then switch it off and put the lid on. Leave it for half an hour and do the same thing again, before letting it go cold. Because you're not poaching it constantly, the chicken will stay fantastically juicy while slowly cooking in the surrounding heat.

My favourite food shop... I love Shepherd's Bush Market. There are two great halal butchers there – I go to one for beef tripe, and the other for lamb tripe – and there's also a very good Asian grocer and a wonderful vegetable shop with lots of types of aubergine and the like.

My top table... Chez Georges, a very traditional Parisian restaurant just off the Plaçe des Victoires. I've been going there for 30 years and it hardly ever changes. It does all the classics: buttered radishes, egg mayonnaise, grilled lamb cutlets with green beans, snails and cool Beaujolais served in a pewter jug.

My dream dining companion... Tom Ripley, from Patricia Highsmith's books, because he has such good taste and I know he'd enjoy good food and wine. He's obviously pretty amoral, and you'd have to forget about all the terrible stuff going on in his head, but for a few hours, I'd think he'd be great company.

My guilty pleasure... Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. It's that mixture of saltiness and ridiculous sweetness I like. I actually keep them in the freezer: that way, they're perfectly crunchy and cold.

The strangest thing I've eaten... A bowl of salted cuttlefish guts, at the Japanese restaurant Ikeda in Mayfair. They're pungent but quite delicious, though last time I went there they looked at me blankly when I asked for them. The original chef died some years ago, and I think the dish died with him.

My pet hates... What I call smears and dribbles: sometimes I'll read a menu and think, "That sounds like a lovely idea for a sauce" and then it comes as a sort of paintbrush smear across the plate and there's hardly anything there, because it's more about making the plate look nice.

My tipple of choice... A good gin Martini. If I make it at home, I drink it in these little vintage 1950s beakers I got in America and I put them in the freezer until they're really cold. I don't like it too dry – I'll put two glugs of vermouth in – and I'll shake it with lots of ice before straining it and adding a lemon twist. Finally I'll add a couple of silverskin pickled onions on a cocktail stick.

'The Good Cook', Simon Hopkinson's new TV show, is on Fridays at 7.30pm on BBC1. The accompanying book is published by BBC Books, priced £25

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