Comfort food: Britons stick to just four recipes at home

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Britain's growing reputation as a nation of culinary connoisseurs has been set back by research which shows that most people have a cooking repertoire of just 4.1 dishes.

An increasing number go in search of exotic flavours when eating out, but at home a combination of lack of time and bravado means Britons tend to stick to a familiar comfort zone.

One of the most popular dishes, the 1070s staple, spaghetti bolognese, is cooked at least twice a week by 6.1 million nationwide. The dish is served an estimated 670 million times a year across the UK.

Although men often boast that they produce the best chefs, the average male appears to be considerably less adventurous. A survey by YouGov found most had a repertoire of just 3.5 dishes compared to 4.5 for women. Young adults aged 25 to 34 are the most adventurous, with almost five recipes to their name, and the worst offenders were those aged between 45 and 54 who cooked just 3.2 regularly.

Despite the increasing number of cookery programmes on television, the research found many people were unwilling to experiment in the kitchen.

Two in three claimed to be very interested in new ideas but seldom put them into action. Almost 40 per cent of people blamed time pressures, but one in five admitted they just did not have the confidence to inject more life into their cooking repertoire.

The researchers found that approximately 20 million plates of pasta are eaten in the UK every week, but a roast remained in the top favourite dishes, with 10.25 million consumed.

While traditional British favourites such as stew, bangers and mash, shepherd's pie and fish and chips endure among the top 10, they are now superceded by stir fries, with 7.59 million dining on the eastern dish each week.

Almost a third of people said that 10 years ago they cooked more traditional dishes. The Scottish were the most progressive, with 39 per cent moving away from conventional dishes, and cooks in southern England were most faithful to old favourites, according to the research commissioned by Loyd Grossman Sauces.

"Despite the recent explosion in the number of foodie television shows, it seems that a combination of time pressure and fear of failure is limiting our culinary repertoire, particularly on weekdays," the broadcaster said.

"The best way to start is to take a different ingredient and add it to an old favourite for a new taste kick. I always have a number of ingredients on standby in my kitchen for just this purpose; they include lemons, limes and dried chillies." And he added: "For example, if you're going to cook a chicken breast, wrap it in pancetta and add rosemary for extra flavour; it's a simple way to give the dish a distinctive twist.

"Putting more variety into what you cook on a daily basis doesn't have to be time-consuming or risky."

Celebrity kitchen


"My wife is a fantastic cook so I certainly eat a wide range of different dishes. We also have a maid, so there really is plenty to choose from. We eat a lot of French dishes, but my favourite is lamb."

* JOAN BAKEWELL, Television presenter and writer

"Oh I love cooking and I used to be great. I don't use huge recipes anymore though, no more 'show-meals' these days. But I certainly cook more than just four dishes. Favourites include many varieties of chicken; lemon chicken and rice, roast chicken, casserole and peppers. I would never buy pieces though, I'll always cut from a whole chicken. I make a nice tartlet and a lot of flans. People from my generation really planned their fridge and used up what they had. I think nowadays people tend to buy what they want then throw out the rest. That said, when I'm tired I will just ask myself, 'What tin can I open?'"

* BORIS JOHNSON, Conservative MP for Henley and shadow higher education minister

"The truth is I'm not really the best of cooks and I would perhaps be guilty of cooking a very limited amount of dishes. Having said that, I do make a very nice fish pie, but in all honesty it's been a long time."

* ANN WIDDECOMBE, Conservative MP for Maidstone and The Weald

"When I'm at home, I do cook a wide variety of things for nutrition such as fish, pasta, vegetarian meals and roasts and my favourite dish is roast lamb. But I spend a vast amount of time eating at the Commons; I would rate their food moderate to good. In the 1950s, we didn't have the luxury of the variety we have now; we had to cope with limited ingredients. These days, there is no excuse to cook only four meals over and over again."

By Susannah Orchard