The British Table
A New Look at the Traditional Cooking of England, Scotland, and Wales
By Colman Andrews and Christopher Hirsheimer
The British Table: A New Look at the Traditional Cooking of England, Scotland, and Wales celebrates the best of British cuisine old and new. Drawing on a vast number of sources both historical and modern, the book includes more than 125 recipes, from traditional regional specialties to modern gastropub reinventions of rustic fare. Dishes like chicken pie, mackerel with sorrel sauce and a pastry shop full of simple, irresistible desserts have found their way onto modern British menus—delicious reminders of the depth and breadth of Britain’s culinary heritage.
The book blends these tradition-based reinventions, by some of the finest chefs in England, Scotland and Wales, with forgotten dishes of the past worthy of rediscovery.
The newly trendy grain called spelt is an ancient form of wheat (Triticum spelta), first cultivated as early as the fifth millennium BC in the Caucasus. The Greeks disseminated it around the eastern Mediterranean and the Romans probably brought it to Britain, where there are records of it being grown by around 500 BC. It fell out of fashion as conventional wheat (Triticum aestivum), which offers higher yields, became increasingly popular. There was a brief vogue for it in the nineteenth century, and then it largely disappeared from the U.K. By the latter part of the twentieth century, commercial plantings of spelt in England had all but disappeared.
Since 2005, the grain has begun appearing on a small scale again, almost always grown organically. At his Hix Oyster and Fish House in Lyme Regis, Mark Hix cooks spelt risotto-style, with whatever seafood is best at the moment. He also adds locally foraged seasonal seashore vegetables (the green leaves in the photograph), unlikely to be available to most cooks, but these are not essential.
For the stock:
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
6 cloves garlic, halved
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
10 whole black peppercorns
Pinch of saffron threads
1 tablespoon (15 g) butter
4 or 5 parsley stems, leaves reserved for the spelt
½ (14½-ounce / 400-g) can chopped tomatoes
6 cups court bouillon or fish stock, store-bought or homemade (see below)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the spelt:
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 cup spelt, soaked in cold water for 2 hours
8 medium shrimp
8 ounces (225 g) cleaned squid, cut into ¾-inch
8 medium scallops, shucked
½ pound (225 g) mussels or clams in their shells, or a mixture, cleaned and debearded
Reserved parsley leaves, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Make the stock:
Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or a large skillet with a cover over medium heat, then add the onion, garlic, fennel seeds, peppercorns, and saffron. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 to 4 minutes, then add the butter, parsley stems, tomatoes, and court bouillon. Bring the stock to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 45 minutes. Strain the stock through a fine-mesh sieve and season it with salt and pepper. Set the stock aside.
Make the spelt:
Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or a large skillet with a cover over low heat, then add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 to 4 minutes. Drain the spelt, add it to the pan, and stir continuously for about 30 seconds. Add about a quarter of the reserved stock, stirring the spelt occasionally, until the stock has been absorbed. Repeat the process three times, until you have used all the stock.
When the final portion of stock is about half absorbed, stir in the shrimp, squid, scallops, and mussels and/or clams.
Add the parsley leaves and season with salt and pepper. Cover the pan and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, or just until the clams and/or mussels open (discard any that do not open). The spelt should still be slightly soupy. Serve in soup plates or shallow bowls.
Makes about 21/2 quarts (2.35 L)
Court bouillon is fish stock; Eliza Acton described it in Modern Cookery, in All Its Branches (1845) as “a preparation of vegetables and wine, in which (in expensive cookery) fish is boiled.” Not a bad definition. This “quick broth” is indeed the traditional poaching liquid for fish, but it also makes a good base for fish or shellfish soups and stews.
3 pounds (1.5 kg) fish carcasses or bones, with bits of meat and skin attached (use only whitefleshed saltwater fish)
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
1 stalk celery, coarsely chopped
1 leek, white part only, washed well and coarsely chopped
1 bay leaf
Juice of 1 lemon
1 (375-ml) bottle (or ½ [750-ml] bottle) dry white wine
10 whole white peppercorns
Put the fish, onion, celery, leek, bay leaf, lemon juice, white wine, and peppercorns into a large pot and add about 3 quarts (2.8 L) water, or enough to cover the ingredients completely. Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil over high heat. Uncover the pot, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 30 minutes, skimming off any scum that forms on the surface as it cooks.
Strain the stock, discarding the solids. Rinse out the pot, then return the stock to it and simmer over low heat for about 15 minutes more.
If you’re not using the court bouillon immediately, it may be cooled to room temperature, then frozen for future use.
Venison and Beef Pie
The best wild-shot venison comes from Scotland, so it’s not surprising that Scottish-born chefs, like Jeremy Lee of Quo Vadis in London, like to use the meat in their savory pies, as in this recipe. American cooks don’t have access to domestically shot wild venison unless they hunt it themselves. The alternatives are meat from Asian deer species raised and slaughtered by Broken Arrow Ranch, a huge game preserve in Texas, or that imported from New Zealand and sometimes Scotland, usually frozen but occasionally fresh in season.
3 tablespoons sunflower or vegetable oil
1¾ pounds (800 g) venison, cut into large pieces
⅔ pound (300 g) beef brisket, cut into large chunks
2 red onions, sliced
1 large carrot, halved lengthwise and cut into 10 to 12 pieces
1 (4-ounce / 120-g) piece thick-cut bacon, cut into ½-inch (1.25-cm) cubes
1 clove garlic, crushed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon red currant jelly
2½ cups (600 ml) good-quality red wine
12 ounces (340 g) puff pastry, store-bought (thawed, if frozen) or homemade
1 large egg, beaten
Heat half the oil in a Dutch oven or large skillet with a cover over medium-high heat. Working in batches, brown the venison and the brisket, turning the pieces frequently with tongs until they are well browned on all sides, 6 to 8 minutes. Set the meat aside as it is done.
Add the rest of the oil to the pot, reduce the heat to medium, and add the onions and carrot. Cook for 5 minutes, until they begin to soften. Add the bacon and garlic and cook for 2 to 3 minutes more. Season generously with salt and pepper, then add the bay leaf and stir in the red currant jelly and the wine.
Bring the liquid to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low, return the meat to the pot, cover, and simmer for about 45 minutes, or until the meat is tender. Set aside to cool.
Preheat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC).
Spoon the meat into four individual baking dishes or one large one.
If using individual dishes, divide the puff pastry into four equal parts and roll out each part to form a round just large enough to fit over the top of a baking dish. If using one large baking dish, roll out the puff pastry to form a round just large enough to fit over its top. Gently lay to pastry over the top of each baking dish. Decorate the pastry with any trimmings, if you like. Make a small hole in the middle of the pastry to allow steam to escape, then brush the beaten egg over the top.
Bake the pies or pie for 20 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 350ºF (175ºC) and bake for 30 minutes more, or until the pastry has risen and turned golden brown.
Caledonian Oatmeal Ice Cream with Berries
One of the most famous and widely copied “modern Scottish” innovations dreamed up by the late Ronnie Clydesdale at his Ubiquitous Chip in Glasgow, this delicious ice cream was perhaps inspired by the traditional dessert called cranachan—a mixture of toasted oats soaked in whisky, whipped cream, and berries. The dish has remained on the menu at the Chip for decades with various accompaniments (it is currently served with white wine jelly and caramelized plums), but I think all it needs is some sweetened berries. There’s no whisky in this recipe; I suggest adding it yourself, in a glass, on the side.
2½ cups (500 g) sugar
½ cup stone-ground Scottish oats (source: Scottish oatmeal from bobsredmill.com)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 cups (720 ml) heavy cream
1 cup (240 ml) milk
2 cups (about 300 g) assorted fresh berries, such as blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, etc.
1½ tablespoons (22 g) butter
1½ cups (150 g) dry bread crumbs
Combine 1 cup (200 g) of the sugar with 1 cup (240 ml) water in a small saucepan. Bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until the syrup has reduced by half, about 20 minutes. Set the syrup aside to cool.
Heat a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, then add the oats and toast them, shaking the pan and stirring the oats occasionally, for about 6 minutes, or until they are golden brown. Set the oats aside.
Lightly grease a baking sheet with the vegetable oil.
Combine 1 cup (200 g) of the sugar with 3 tablespoons water in a small saucepan. Bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the syrup has caramelized and reached 325ºF (160ºC) on a candy thermometer. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the toasted oats, then pour the mixture out onto the prepared baking sheet and let it cool.
When the oat mixture has cooled, crush it into small pieces with a rolling pin and set it aside.
Put the reserved syrup into a large bowl, then beat it with a hand mixer on medium speed until it thickens slightly.
Add the cream and milk and continue beating until soft peaks form. Fold in the oatmeal pieces, mixing them in well, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and freeze for about 1 hour. Remove the mixture from the freezer and beat it again for about a minute. Transfer the ice cream to a 5-cup (1.1-L) loaf pan, cover with plastic wrap, and freeze until firm, at least 3 hours.
Combine the remaining ½ cup (100 g) sugar and ½ cup (120 ml) water in a small pan. Bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
Reduce the heat to medium and cook until the syrup has reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Stir in the berries and cook for about 15 seconds. Transfer the berries to a small bowl and set them aside to cool.
Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the bread crumbs and toast them, stirring frequently, until they’re golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer the bread crumbs to a wide, shallow dish large enough to hold the ice cream loaf.
Unmould the ice cream loaf by briefly dipping the base of the pan into a bowl of hot water to loosen it from the edges, then tip the loaf out into the dish of bread crumbs and coat all sides with the crumbs. Slice the loaf into eight pieces about 1 inch (2.5 cm) thick, then cut each slice in half lengthwise. Arrange two pieces of ice cream on each of eight chilled plates, then spoon some of the berries next to each serving, dividing them between the plates.
The British Table: A New Look at the Traditional Cooking of England, Scotland and Wales by Colman Andrews (Abrams) and the image credits: © 2016 Hirsheimer & Hamilton.
Link to to website for readers to purchase the book:
Book credit: The British Table: A New Look at the Traditional Cooking of England, Scotland and Wales by Colman Andrews, published by Abrams (£30)
Image credit: © 2016 Hirsheimer & Hamilton