The conversation: Polpetto's chef Florence Knight on the delights of ketchup with chocolate, how to cook a perfect moist turkey, and why she prefers the Boxing Day feast
How will you be spending Christmas?
It’s always at my mum’s. I’m one of five and now I’ve got four nieces and nephews. It’s very traditional: we have hand-knitted stockings with all our names on and a huge Christmas tree with an angel on top. It’s the one time of year family get together. My mum’s still like, ‘When are you going to go to sleep? Father Christmas is tired’. I love it.
What’s your favourite part of the Christmas meal?
I’m going to be controversial: Boxing Day is my favourite meal. I adore ham, and we have pickly red cabbage and leeks in a béchamel sauce and jacket potatoes.
What’s your top tip for the home chef for keeping the turkey moist?
I normally go for a Norfolk Black turkey. Because it’s big, I quite often brine it before. I always put streaky bacon on top, so the fat oozes into the skin. And a pork and sage stuffing inside to keep the moisture. Then a bed of loads of onions and vegetables so it’s sitting on something.
And do you know what a traditional Venetian Christmas involves?
There’s a lot more fish. They have this sausage that’s very important to them over there. It’s called osso collo and it’s sliced pork neck. Then they’ll have a ravioli and tend to eat a pandoro. I’ve already eaten three this year. It’s perfect torn up and dipped in coffee.
A lot is being made of the UK undergoing a foodie revolution. What do you think of that?
What’s especially great is what’s going on in the middle ground. It used to be Michelin star and McDonald’s, and there wasn’t much between. Now, you have all these amazing independent restaurants, all filling that price point with lovely food and great chefs.
Your first experience in a kitchen was at 19. How did you take to it?
Kitchens can be quite intimidating, but once you find the right people, they’re fantastic. I fell in love with all that atmosphere and passion.
Your cookbook has a section on ketchup. What’s the story there?
My food is very homely. The food with tweezers and the technical stuff, I admire. But there’s also nothing better than something simple and authentic. Ketchup is something that we all have. We eat it with fatty foods, like chips, because it has the pickly flavour that cuts through fat. So if you step back and think, what will it work with, it tends to be strong flavours.
With chocolate, the ketchup brings out a lovely berryness, that makes your cheeks pucker. It’s all about getting that perfect balance: not enough for you to recognise ‘Oh that’s ketchup’.
Desert Island Discs scenario. Five ingredients, what would they be?
I’d definitely take olive oil. Salt, I love: a good-quality Maldon. You need your seasonings, so black pepper as well... Are we presuming the island has food on it, so I could catch a fish?
Yes, you can catch fish and hunt rabbits and pick veg...
OK, I’d like to take unwaxed lemons, because then you’ve got the skin and the juice. At the moment, I’m slightly addicted to Coolea. It’s an Irish cheese. It has an almost caramel flavour with salt granules that pop in your mouth. I’m completely in love with it!
Florence Knight, 27, is head chef at Venetian-inspired London restaurant Polpetto, set to reopen on 14 January 2014. Growing up near Godalming in Surrey, she has worked in kitchens since the age of 19. Her first cookbook, ‘One’, is out now
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