Thursday, June 24, 2010

In Defence of English Cooking

By George Orwell

We have heard a good deal of talk in recent years about the desirability of attracting foreign tourists to this country. It is well known that England’s two worst faults, from a foreign visitor’s point of view, are the gloom of our Sundays and the difficulty of buying a drink.

Both of these are due of fanatical minorities who will need a lot of quelling, including extensive legislation. But there is one point on which public opinion could bring about a rapid change for the better: I mean cooking.

It is commonly said, even by the English themselves, that English cooking is the worst in the world. It is supposed to be not merely incompetent, but also imitative, and I even read quite recently, in a book by a French writer, the remark: "The best English cooking is, of course, simply French cooking."

Now that is simply not true, as anyone who has lived long abroad will know, there is a whole host of delicacies which it is quite impossible to obtain outside the English-speaking countries. No doubt the list could be added to, but here are some of the things that I myself have sought for in foreign countries and failed to find.

First of all, kippers, Yorkshire pudding, Devonshire cream, muffins and crumpets. Then a list of puddings that would be interminable if I gave it in full: I will pick out for special mention Christmas pudding, treacle tart and apple dumplings. Then an almost equally long list of cakes: for instance, dark plum cake (such as you used to get at Buzzard’s before the war), short-bread and saffron buns. Also innumerable kinds of biscuit, which exist, of course, elsewhere, but are generally admitted to be better and crisper in England.

Then there are the various ways of cooking potatoes that are peculiar to our own country. Where else do you see potatoes roasted under the joint, which is far and away the best way of cooking them? Or the delicious potato cakes that you get in the north of England? And it is far better to cook new potatoes in the English way — that is, boiled with mint and then served with a little melted butter or margarine — than to fry them as is done in most countries.

Then there are the various sauces peculiar to England. For instance, bread sauce, horse-radish sauce, mint sauce and apple sauce; not to mention redcurrant jelly, which is excellent with mutton as well as with hare, and various kinds of sweet pickle, which we seem to have in greater profusion than most countries.

What else? Outside these islands I have never seen a haggis, except one that came out of a tin, nor Dublin prawns, nor Oxford marmalade, nor several other kinds of jam (marrow jam and bramble jelly, for instance), nor sausages of quite the same kind as ours.

Then there are the English cheeses. There are not many of them but I fancy Stilton is the best cheese of its type in the world, with Wensleydale not far behind. English apples are also outstandingly good, particularly the Cox’s Orange Pippin.

And finally, I would like to put in a word for English bread. All the bread is good, from the enormous Jewish loaves flavoured with caraway seeds to the Russian rye bread which is the colour of black treacle. Still, if there is anything quite as good as the soft part of the crust from an English cottage loaf (how soon shall we be seeing cottage loaves again?) I do not know of it.

No doubt some of the things I have named above could be obtained in continental Europe, just as it is possible in London to obtain vodka or bird’s nest soup. But they are all native to our shores, and over huge areas they are literally unheard of.
South of, say, Brussels, I do not imagine that you would succeed in getting hold of a suet pudding. In French there is not even a word that exactly translates ‘suet’. The French, also, never use mint in cookery and do not use black currants except as a basis of a drink.

It will be seen that we have no cause to be ashamed of our cookery, so far as originality goes or so far as the ingredients go. And yet it must be admitted that there is a serious snag from the foreign visitor’s point of view. This is, that you practically don’t find good English cooking outside a private house. If you want, say, a good, rich slice of Yorkshire pudding you are more likely to get it in the poorest English home than in a restaurant, which is where the visitor necessarily eats most of his meals.

It is a fact that restaurants which are distinctively English and which also sell good food are very hard to find. Pubs, as a rule, sell no food at all, other than potato crisps and tasteless sandwiches. The expensive restaurants and hotels almost all imitate French cookery and write their menus in French, while if you want a good cheap meal you gravitate naturally towards a Greek, Italian or Chinese restaurant. We are not likely to succeed in attracting tourists while England is thought of as a country of bad food and unintelligible by-laws. At present one cannot do much about it, but sooner or later rationing will come to an end, and then will be the moment for our national cookery to revive. It is not a law of nature that every restaurant in England should be either foreign or bad, and the first step towards an improvement will be a less long-suffering attitude in the British public itself.


[taken from here]

Friday, April 16, 2010

PhD level cooking

The Bourdain recently did a show about learning how to make the simplest stuff-- roast chicken, omelet, spaghetti with tomato sauce-- and asked renowned chefs like Thomas Keller to give lessons.

The "simplest" things are actually the most difficult to do well. Like making hardboiled eggs. Usually people will say that someone is so bad at cooking that all he can do is boil an egg. But doing it properly-- i.e., the yolk and white are hardboiled, but there is no trace of grey on the outside of the yolk-- requires tremendous precision.

Truly PhD level stuff. In which case I'm stuck repeating 5th grade.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Estofado de Lucas

It's been a while since my last post. Between my Floyd memorial and this post I moved residences and had a new position at the Bank. And I became a proud father to my son Lucas. I name this dish after our little boy because this truly is a fusion of my Dear's and my cooking styles. And it can give you a good kick.


1/2 kilo pork, cubed (menudo cut)
1/4 kilo potato marbles, halved
about 6 medium tomatoes, diced
1 onion, chopped
1 garlic, chopped
dried chile pods (I used chile Arbol)
fish sauce (patis)
fennel seeds, about a pinch or two
black pepper, coarsely ground
cooking oil (I used canola oil because of its neutral flavour)
2 cups stock, chicken or beef

1. Brown the pork in a stew pot. Hold on to the spices for now-- don't put anything on the pork, just chuck it into the pot and cook until all the liquid evaporates and the fat starts rendering. A few brown pieces is good. Set the pork aside.

2. Using the same pot, heat up some oil fry the black pepper, fennel seeds, and dried chile pods until you start to smell them. Put in the onions and garlic and fry them until they release their aroma as well.

3. Chuck in the tomatoes. As they're frying (and releasing their lycopene into the oil, turning it red), mash the tomatoes so you'll get a light quasi-tomato sauce in the pot. Don't use canned tomato sauce as the tomato flavour will tend to overpower the dish-- nothing really beats beating fresh tomatoes into a pulp. Season with some fish sauce to taste and to add a slight fermented layer to the flavours. At this stage you can actually use this sauce on pasta.

4. Chuck in the pork and stir. Bring up the temperature in the pot and fry the pork in the sauce for a while. Then chuck in the potatoes and fry some more, stirring to make sure that the sauce/oil coats every piece of potato. Let it all fry on high for about five minutes until they're all happily blended.

5. Pour in the stock, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and let the pot simmer. Stir from time to time. Reduce the sauce to the desired thickness and turn off the heat.

Let it stand for about 15 minutes to let the flavours mature then serve with steamed rice.