From sausages to fish pie, a 30-year journey

On average, we eat five evening meals at home every week

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A report published last week by a market research company called Kantar Worldpanel (and I wonder if they’ve researched the viability of that name) reveals depressing things about British eating habits.

Sandwiches and ready meals preponderate. On average, we eat five evening meals at home every week (one day we go out, and the other we just can’t be bothered to do anything). Of these five, two are likely to be the same because the average person has a repertoire of only four recipes they can cook.

This suggests that we are not reading the recipe books we buy. Certainly, I have not cooked a single recipe from most of the 20 recipe books in our house. But this might be because of, rather than despite, the foodie revolution. The food prepared by television cooks seems to turn out right. I don’t believe there’s a single show where the invariable verdict is that the resulting meal was hardly worth the time spent preparing it. We seek to emulate that perfection, therefore, we mustn’t spread ourselves too thinly.

I myself have boiled cooking down to about three recipes, chiefly sausages in red wine. It’s on page 178 of Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course, a page plastered with sausage fat and red wine stains in my copy. As a Yorkshireman living in London I feel that sausages in red wine expresses two facets of my character: the northern demotic element (the sausages) and the cosmopolitan sophistication (the red wine). My only problem with the recipe is that in 30 years of cooking it I’ve never met a single greengrocer who stocked the “small button onions” specified, so I use shallots.

A crisis occurred one Saturday, about 20 years ago, when I was preparing for a dinner party. I was in the West End, buying the ingredients for sausages in red wine with the Delia in my hand. Having bought all the ingredients, I then left the Delia on a bus. I had never committed the recipe to memory, and, glancing into the carrier bag, I realised I would not be able to reconstitute it from the ingredients, so I hailed a taxi, yelling, “Follow that bus!” “Why?” the driver asked, not unreasonably. “I’ve left a cook book on it!” I said.

I did manage to get the book back, which cemented my affection for sausages in red wine. But over the years, some people have come to regard the eating of a sausage as akin to suicide. Only this week, I read that tens of thousands could be falling ill each year from sausages contaminated with hepatitis E (or something). Today, dinner-party hosts are supposed to ask, “Do you have any special dietary requirements?” which I tend to couch as, “You don’t have any special dietary requirements, do you?” the implication being that they’d better not have. Even so it may be time to turn over a new leaf – literally. For some time now, I’ve been thinking that flaky fish pie might have what it takes to see me through the next 30 years.   

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