Archive for the ‘food politics’ Category

Don’t get me wrong here folks, I have huge admiration for Michelin-starred chef/restaurateur/TV presenter/cookbook author Richard Corrigan, with his salt-of-the-earth bonhomie, clear-eyed yet unjaundiced worldview and his solid, down-home cooking style.  But I did a double-take when I saw his latest publication, The Clatter of Forks and Spoons placed next to Big Flavours & Rough Edges: Recipes from the Eagle – wouldn’t you?

It’s a terrific image so I don’t begrudge it at all – that’s my charity-shop-chic silver plate cutlery! – and Corrie’s text is so environmentally and politically astute, I can even find the recycling of a cover idea eco-fabulously forgiveable.  It’s almost a shame he couldn’t have borrowed the title too, but the rattle of battered flatware on a hard surface is even more gorgeously evocative of his writing.  Not a plain celebrity chef collection of restaurant recipe formulae, this book follows the current fashion, being a collation of discursive thoughts and memories, favourite dishes and discoveries: recipes sharing equal space with long tracts of text and a smattering of mood-evoking photographs; similar to Georgio Locatelli’s Made in Italy, for example.  To which I say hooray, by the way – who ever learnt anything about food or cooking from a mere recipe book?

On the other hand, I was going to recommend David Eyre’s excellent-in-parts Eagle gastro-pub-grub book – for its informative recipes but not its crummy index – until I realised it’s out of print and £95 – bloody hell! – so I’ll just be wiping the spills and splashes from my precious copy a little more assiduously in the future.  I will however, soon be sharing its best recipe: root vegetable & greens soup.  Prosaic-sounding, I know, but absolutely ambrosial, and to which I return time and time again: a soup apart.
Big Flavours & Rough Edges: Recipes from the Eagle
The Clatter of Forks and Spoons

And if you’re not into reading or cooking, sample Richard Corrigan’s hospitality at Bentley’s Oyster Bar 11-15 Swallow Street, London W1 (just off Piccadilly) – bliss – or scroll down and watch this captivating video of him talking about this book

His new place sounds pretty nice, too: Corrigan’s Mayfair 28 Upper Grosvenor Street London W1

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News reaches me my husband is at the eye of a storm of controversy in the States, but I don’t know how that can be, we work hard to keep his secret identity SECRET so we can carry on our gastro adventures privately; don’t want to draw a crowd, not keen on being mobbed by paparazzi either.



Turns out there has been shome mishunderstanding: read Lucy Mangan in today’s Guardian explaining how this impostor has grabbed the headlines – and why he’s wearing a necklace of Snickers bars: all I can say is I pity the fool who does that for a living and keeps the same haircut for thirty years.

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So Asda and Tesco have been investing wads of cash in advertising campaigns for their all-new all-phoney price war: loss leader largesse = long checkout queues.  Much as I loathe the pair – for crimes against aesthetics as much as for their ethics – I must offer my congratulations: should keep some of the johnnies-come-lately credit-crunching yet 4-wheel driving riff raff out of my local Lidl.

the supermarket trap
graffiti street art photographed in Leake Street tunnel, Waterloo last Saturday

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knobbly vegetables at an open air market
Well hooray!!  News just in that the EU (about which I am generally positive so don’t start getting the wrong idea) in its wisdom is proposing to relax its rules governing the marketing of fruit and vegetables, so the less than ideally dimensioned may once more get a look in on the supermarket shelf.

In fact, the restrictive rules apply to produce being classified as Class One grade, i.e. perfectly uniform, which is what the major supermarkets insist on having.  Farm shops, markets and discount supermarkets, plus the “cheapo” and “for cooks” ranges at the majors already sell the so-called second rate stuff so it’s hardly a revolution in the making.

As far as I can tell it’s just about size and appearance and not actual eating quality.  So while they’re thinking about change could they please think about implementing ripeness standards (or realistic potential for ripeness standards)?  These are every bit as important when it comes to fruit quality.  How many punnets-worth (hmm – why are they so often BOGOFs, I wonder) of rock-hard peaches (stone fruit indeed) and tomatoes rotted on me before I realised the wretched things would never ripen?  Too many, so now I don’t buy them unless I can smell their fragrance.

Strangely enough, Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel is facing substantial opposition from member states, so don’t hold your breath.

Minimum “standards” will be retained for the following:

  • apples
  • citrus fruit
  • kiwi fruit
  • lettuces and endives
  • peaches
  • pears
  • strawberries
  • sweet peppers
  • table grapes
  • tomatoes

With aviation costs soaring our fruit may be in for a bright future: maybe, just maybe, produce that doesn’t thrive locally will be shipped instead of flown in.  The chill of an airfreight hold destroys enzymes, killing off all potential for ripening.  Now I’m no chemist but I can taste and smell the difference.

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Another confirmation of the wisdom of a locavore lifestyle arrives with the news in The Independent that MRSA may have entered the food chain in Europe.  If that doesn’t get us buying British bacon I don’t know what will, as if I wasn’t sufficiently peeved with my fellow consumers over porky products.

Save Our BaconThis might be a good opportunity to repeat the point that the UK has the highest welfare standards in pig rearing of all Europe and yes, that does make our pork products a little pricier than Dutch and Danish, but surely folks, you can taste the difference!  If you doubt, give it a taste test: buy a pack each of Danish and British streaky rashers.  Start them sizzling (separately) and breathe in through your nose; you’ll get a good idea of the relative qualities of piggy diet and environment from that alone.  Don’t know about you, but I’d rather eat bacon that smells and tastes of pork than of garbage and latrines – literally.

I see the June 2008 Waitrose Illustrated magazine carries a feature on the Save Our Bacon (i.e. save our pork farms) campaign with top chefs Fergus Henderson, Angela Hartnett, Tom Aikens and a couple of hairy bikers plus Jamie Oliver’s pig farmer friend Jimmy Doherty lending their clout:

It’s a crisis but it’s not too late.  Consumers need to demand British pork.  If it doesn’t say British on the label, don’t buy it.

Well, Jimmy would say that, wouldn’t he?  But he’s absolutely right: this Save Our Bacon idea is great, only last time I checked, Waitrose packs of dry-cured smoked streaky hailed from Denmark.  Perhaps Waitrose buyers share my own quibble with our pork industry: the prevalence of the wet cure in processing.  Just like the wretched Chorleywood Process for bread, the wet cure for bacon accelerates processing time and turns a hitherto quality product into a damp squib, but with a bigger-better-faster profit for the manufacturer, natch.

Worst of all wet cures is the saline injection: you can tell if the label states more than 100% pork.   What? this is when saline solution is injected into the meat (so prior to processing, there was more pork per 100g of product than there is afterwards) to cure it from within.  And that’s the vile white salty stuff bubbling up from your bacon.  Conversely, with the dry cure, salt surrounds the piece of meat, drawing moisture out, concentrating the meat fibres and flavours, making for densely crisp and tasty bacon.  And bacon needs to be crisp and tasty or it’s not really bacon, is it?

So, Waitrose, I add my wholehearted support to your campaign with this one proviso: insist your sources stop shooting the saline: quality pork requires quality processing.

Here is a short and far from comprehensive list of respectable online UK bacon suppliers:

 You can read about the issues involved and sign the pledge here or here and if nothing else, avoid imported pork; it’s no bargain.

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Do you ever buy delicious edibles in jars or tubs?  If so, you’ve no doubt acquired more than a few items preserved in olive oil.  Now this idea is so obvious perhaps I’m just a slow learner, but until recently, once the olives, or sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes or anchovies were gone I used to throw away the oil left behind.

And then it dawned on me: that way flies food waste and for a frugal hedonist that way lies madness too.

Food manufacturers go to some lengths to keep us buying the fancy “deli” stuff aimed at our sophisticated palates.  This usually means adding herbs and/or garlic to enhance the flavour of the main attraction, so while blithely using the contents of the jar, might it not be a really good idea to also make use of the olive oil it’s been swimming in to augment and deepen the flavours of your dish – or even the whole meal?
sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil

So if you’re cooking up beef daube with olives, brown the beef in oil from the olive jar (try anchovy for an authentic southern Rhône flavour) – or start your sofrito sizzling with sun-dried tomato oil for an Italian ragù.  Try frying the aubergines in artichoke oil next time you make caponata.  Kick off a pilaf with the same; add a few drops to plain couscous, a tablespoon or two to pizza dough…

rosemary branch in olive oilI have even been known to strain the oil into a decanter and poke in a couple of rosemary sprigs – hey presto, rosemary oil for focaccia!

Use in almost any recipe instead of your usual olive oil.  If you devote half a shelf in the fridge door to these almost empty jars and use them up quickly, not only is the extra depth of flavour well worth it, you’ll be able to save up your pennies for some really special olive oil.

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Excellent article in today’s Guardian.  It argues that culinary technique and confidence are more important than following recipes and it’s by Glynn Christian, for heaven’s sake – who knew he was still around?  Turns out he’s been Down Under for the last decade and has a new book to promote.

OK, so it’s not the prettiest cover, but this is a man ahead of his time: standing astride the nexus of the culinary & media worlds, boldly going…you get the picture

Here’s the first paragraph:

Get your store cupboard right and it’s like having a piano in your kitchen. You’ll always be able to segue into the right tune just when you want, to turn something cool into a dish that’s hot and jazzy, satin-smooth and sexy or just drop-dead tasty with a twist, a flick, a squeeze or a damn good hand full.

Very beguiling; Nigella had better watch out…

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Sometimes it’s hard to tell which end is speaking

There should be stringent laws, licensing laws, to make sure produce is only used in season and season only

Does anybody actually know how to legislate seasonality, especially with all this climate change going on?

Can we assume that Petrus, the Boxwood Café, maze and all the other gaffs in his empire serve seasonal produce exclusively?

And if it’s true that Britain has become

 a nation of lazy eaters who followed trends and fads rather than substance

is not the celebrity chef culture, which he exploits mercilessly to be one of its biggest beneficiaries, at least partly to blame?

Don’t get me wrong, I know what he’s driving at, and I do agree with him in principle and over the sorry turn Delia has taken, and about plastic bags, but does he have to be so bombastic?  Perhaps his bookings are down…oh! no!  well waddayaknow; he has a new series of The F word starting up next week.

Now, if he started a campaign against bad language and bullying we’d really be talking.

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precious jewels of colour, fragrance and flavour

It’s so good to see sensible food philosophy gaining credibility; witness the publicity given to the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) “The Food We Waste” report published today. I overheard an interview on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning and I see The Independent online has covered it, so let’s hope a few more people are persuaded to boycott the BOGOF, for a start.

The siren song of buy-one-get-one-free is so seductive you need nerves of steel to resist it, but unless set to buy that many anyway, I have learnt to avoid those deals like the plague and only buy a lot of stuff when the unit price is low.  That way it’s me, not the supermarket, who decides how much I buy, lug home, store, consume – and DON’T throw away!  BOGOFs are rarely the bargain they seem.

So, marketing managers, how about appealing to a higher sensibility than greed?


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