Simon Hopkinson: You Ask The Questions

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online

Born and raised in Lancashire, Simon Hopkinson was 17 when he got his first kitchen job at La Normandie restaurant in Birtle. There he worked under the tutelage of Yves Champeau, before moving to London to set up Bibendum (right) in Kensington with Sir Terence Conran. He left in 1995 to concentrate on being a food writer (he was an award-winning columnist for The Independent), and his book, Roast Chicken and Other Stories, was recently voted, by a panel of food experts in Waitrose Food Illustrated, "the most useful recipe book ever written".

Will you be eating turkey with all the trimmings this Christmas?
PIPPI LAMBERT, WANDSWORTH

Yes, but I won't be cooking it. My sister-in-law does it, and before that, my mother would do it. I do like turkey, but only the brown meat. Turkey carcasses also make fantastic stock. It's good enough to drink on its own.

Any suggestions as to what to do with a turkey baster for the rest of the year?
NICK COLEBRIDGE, BY E-MAIL

Quails. A friend of mine, many years ago, did some quails with a turkey baster. At the time, I thought it a very nancy thing to do - you can just tip the pan and spoon the juices over each quail.

Why did you stop writing for newspapers? I enjoyed your column
SARAH FRY, EXETER

I did eight and a half years of writing columns. I reached a point where I was getting more and more simple in my thoughts about cooking. Every time the English asparagus season came around, all I wanted to say was: "Go to a pick-your-own asparagus farm. Take them home as quickly as possible. Peel them. Boil them. Serve them with melted butter. That's it." That doesn't really make a cookery column. I'd also written four books and felt that I'd had enough of writing. But that's not to say I won't do it again.

A suggestion, please, for an impressive alternative to an iced Christmas cake
SUE CALLOWAY, DONCASTER

I'm not good on cake. I don't eat it. But a good suggestion is just to buy a big box of Leonidas white chocolates. They look a bit like they have been iced, but they are actually just white chocolates with great big hazelnuts on top.

If I eat another of my mother's turkey vol-au-vents after Christmas, I'll be sick. Any more creative ideas for leftovers?
MICHAEL PRINCE, KETTERING

I love coronation turkey. I like to use the Constance Spry base for the sauce, which appeared in Roast Chicken and Other Stories - Second Helpings.

[serves 6]

50g chopped onion
1 tablespoon sunflower oil
1 dessertspoon good-quality, Madras curry powder
1 teaspoon tomato purée
150ml red wine
120ml water
1 bay leaf
a little sugar
salt and a touch of pepper
a slice or two of lemon, plus juice
400ml mayonnaise
1-2 tablespoons apricot purée (sieved apricot jam or mango chutney is also suitable)
3-4 tablespoons lightly whipped double cream

Gently stew the onion in the oil until transparent. Add the curry powder and cook for a few minutes longer. Add the tomato purée, wine, water and bay leaf. Bring to a simmer and add salt, sugar, pepper, and lemon slices and juice. Simmer for a further 5-10 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve, and cool. Add by degrees to the mayonnaise with the apricot purée to taste, followed by the whipped cream. Generously combine with slivers of carefully cooked turkey.

Last year, it was the three-bird roast. What's this year's trendy Christmas lunch?
ADAM JACKSON, NEWCASTLE-UNDER-LYME

Hugh Fearnley-Wearnley, as I like to call him, did the real thing last year, with 12 birds - he started with a snipe and went up to a turkey. It is the most wonderful, absurd thing, but I've never eaten one. It can't possibly cook right, and must be dangerous. Do we really know that the bird in the middle is cooked properly?

How do I cook goose?
KATY BEST, MIDDLE WALLOP

The first recipe I wrote for The Independent was for roast goose. It's based on what the Chinese do to ducks. You get your goose and pour boiling water over it, so the skin contracts. Prick it all over and hang it in a cool place for 24 hours, so it dries. Stuff it with dry, seasoned mashed potato, flavoured with sage. Juices and fat run into the mash and it is delicious. I want to eat it now.

Have you ever had a terrible Christmas dinner?
JIM TWERK, BUCKINGHAMSHIRE

No, I can't say I ever have.

Why did Roast Chicken and Other Stories win the Waitrose poll? Are you writing another book?
BARBARA FINNEY, CORNWALL

That's difficult because I don't want to blow my own trumpet. What appeals, I think, is that it's full of all the things I most want to eat. It's about eating rather than cooking. I sometimes think that some recipes are written purely for the recipe, not for the enjoyment of eating. The only reason I cook is to eat something delicious. It's becoming a rare thing. I am thinking about writing another book now, but I'm not sure what about.

Which books inspired you when you were learning to cook?
BASIL ST JOHN ELLIS, TUNBRIDGE WELLS

Top was Richard Olney's book, but those by Elizabeth David, Robert Carrier and Constance Fry were all inspirational.

I hear that you never studied cooking at college. Who taught you to cook?
MICHAEL ODOGWU, DULWICH

My first job was at La Normandie. It was very, very French. That was where I learnt to cook. I worked there during two school holidays, when I was 16, and took a job there after I left.

Where do you go when you want a great meal out?
JANE MENZIES, EDINBURGH

If I could go anywhere in the world it would be Harry's Bar in Venice. It's not just about the food, it's the ethos of the place. And they make exceptional drinks.

I'm all for al dente vegetables, but surely not Brussels sprouts?
DAVE ROSS, LONDON N8

Quite right. I actually don't like al dente vegetables. What upsets me most is a green bean that squeaks when you eat it. I can deal with really soft sprouts, but not soggy ones.

I'm alright at the food, but I never know what wine to serve with Christmas dinner. Any tips?
JAMES SMITH, WESTON UNDERWOOD

Always serve a good red, as expensive as you can afford. If you want something for a long lunch, go for a top-growth beaujolais - something like a Moulin-à-Vent.

What has been your worst experience as a chef?
NYE JONES, WREXHAM

I once left four portions of foie gras in the oven and forgot about them. I was making a foie-gras terrine. If you overcook foie gras, the fat melts away and leaves you with duck livers that have returned to their original size. And six pints of duck fat. Disaster.

The family is coming over on Christmas Eve. We'll be eight and I want to make something festive but not too filling. Any ideas?
MARY FRIEDMAN, WEST YORKSHIRE

A traditional Christmas Eve thing to do in France is a grand aïoli, which is usually salt cod with lots of different vegetables. Buy a whole beautiful cod or haddock, and poach it. Serve it with garlic mayonnaise and various steamed or boiled vegetables. The plate will look very white, but the food will taste delicious.

Michael Winner says he's a big fan. How does that make you feel?
JENNY ROBERTS, LONDON

Very happy. He often came to Bibendum, and he really liked it. When we held John Cleese's birthday there, he was particularly nice about it. I'm very grateful for all his support.

Cooking now seems to be a macho pursuit. Have you ever experienced homophobia in kitchens?
JAMES HANBURY, OXFORD

No I haven't. I don't think it is macho, really. Francis Coulson and Brian Sack were two of the greatest hoteliers ever, and they were gentle, sweet men.

You once employed two people for their handwriting. What other qualities do you look for in staff?
JOAN FLIGHT, BANBURY

I wouldn't call it greed, but I do look for a healthy love of eating.

What's so special about tripe?
EDWARD WHITE, NUNEATON

The way it is cooked is what makes it special. You definitely need to add something like a trotter or some slices of calf's foot. Something that will add richness. What makes tripe tasty is what you add, and its texture, when cooked properly, is lovely.

What do you cook for yourself when you feel like a treat?
JACKIE SPELMAN, LEEDS

Grilled lamb cutlets are a favourite. I grill them on a very high stove-top grill, fat-side down (on their side) with no fat on the grill or the meat. Season them with salt. Let the fat run down on to the grill. Turn them over and get them really crisp on each side and pink in the middle. They're really nice with mint sauce.

Is there anything you won't eat?
SIMONE LEONELLI, GLASGOW

Only one thing. It's a Japanese thing called natto, and it's fermented soya beans. They go very slimy, producing a goo with the consistency of slug slime. They smell and taste like vomit. It's a favourite Japanese breakfast.

Beyond the basics, what's the one ingredient everyone should have in their store cupboard?
JIM WELSH, BASILDON

A big bottle of Tabasco. It's great.

Are you an organic obsessive?
LAURA PAYNE, LONDON

No. A carrot is a carrot is a carrot.

Do you have a fail-safe stuffing recipe?
GORDON WHITE, BIRMINGHAM

Keep it simple. Onions and breadcrumbs flavoured with lemon and parsley goes really well with poultry. Just make sure you use a lot of lemon and a lot of parsley.

Roast Chicken and Other Stories is published by Ebury, £12

Comments