Tag Archives: Gary Rhodes

Favourite Cook Books no.4: ‘Great British Classics’ by Gary Rhodes

I have been meaning to write a post on this excellent cookbook for quite a while, and it is such a shame that my prompt to pull my finger out was the sad and untimely death of Gary Rhodes at the end of last year.

When I was asked to submit my list of favourite cookbooks to the 1000 Cookbooks project, I put New British Classics as my number one choice, my comment at the time being: “simply the best book on British food around. Everything from lowly haslet to lobster.”

Favourite recipes include salad cream, lardy cake, prawn cocktail, rhubarb and rack-on-black – lamb roasted with black pudding.

My favourite books on food tend to be by food writers rather than professional chefs because they write about their love of food and its importance in our culture and history. Chefs tend to be, well, cheffy; there’s no evocative description of the hustle and bustle of a French market, and they assume that you want to be cooking restaurant-level food at home. This is where Rhodes was different – sure there are cheffy dishes like the very complex rich pigeon faggot – but there are basics such as fried bread, porridge and jam roly-poly. Everything is represented and everything has equal billing, meaning that whatever your ability level there is a way in. You can start off with basics like scrambled eggs or go straight in at the deep end with pigs’ trotters Bourguignonne.

The full gamut of British food is here: fish and chips, steak and kidney pie, pork faggots, white pudding, Welsh rarebit, and the massive range of techniques contained within makes it the most comprehensive book of British recipes there is. What’s more, every single recipe works perfectly; he goes through every stage, assuming you know nothing but never patronises. If you don’t own a copy and you’re interested in cooking British food, it really is essential.

The secret to his success was his attention to detail. Every move made, and technique used was meticulous and done with deftness, even the way he picked up an ingredient to show to camera had an air of precision about it. Take a look at this clip from the accompanying BBC programme, where he shows us how to make cabbage and bacon soup, and you’ll see what I mean:

He was a classically trained chef who applied French techniques to classic British dishes, taking them to new heights while keeping them authentic. His approach definitely rubbed off on me when I was teaching myself to cook; use the best ingredients and don’t cut corners, every stage is there for a reason, so you need to understand why it is there. Only when that penny drops will you develop a cook’s intuition. This approach to cooking won him his first Michelin star at the age of 26, eventually receiving an OBE for services to the hospitality industry in 2006.

On television, he was very enthusiastic, polite and well-spoken; he seemed a little odd and socially awkward (as all the best people are), making him all the more endearing. He got me interested in cooking and wanting to spend my precious leisure time in the kitchen, learning new techniques and tackling novel ingredients.

He was rarely off the telly during the late 1900s and early 2000s, his trademark spiky hair and over-enthusiasm caused many to pooh-pooh him as gimmicky. Eventually the fickle eye of entertainment focused upon other, younger chefs and so he stopped appearing so regularly. But his books and their accompanying TV shows are great; his Rhodes Around Britain and Cookery Year series are worth checking out too (his apple pie recipe from the latter is the best in world in my opinion).

He died on the 26 November 2019 at the age of 59 from head injuries after a fall – no way or age to go, I’m sure you’ll agree. Of course, when someone dies, there work is revaluated and I hope people recognise what he did for British cuisine, because he put it on a pedestal when everyone else was looking elsewhere.

Braised Oxtails

He was ‘discovered’ on the Keith Floyd programme Floyd on Britain & Ireland. On the segment he makes his signature dish: braised oxtails. Ironically, by the time New British Classics was published his most famous dish was illegal to eat – cooking beef on the bone was banned because of health fears surrounding the BSE crisis. Eventually the ban was lifted, and I could make it for myself. Back in my pop-up restaurant days it was the main course at my first ever Odd Bits offal evening.

This is my version of Gary’s signature dish; it’s slightly simplified but just as gutsy. It really is one of the most delicious things you will ever cook. Nothing else needs to be said – except ‘cook it’!

Enough for 6

2 oxtails, trimmed of excess fat

Salt and pepper

Beef dripping

Around 100 g each carrot, onion, celery and leek

1 tin of chopped tomatoes

2 tbs tomato purée

Small bunch thyme and rosemary

2 bay leaves

1 clove garlic, crushed

300ml red wine

1 litre beef stock

Season the oxtails and fry in dripping until well browned, transfer to an ovenproof pot, then fry the vegetables until nicely brown too. Tip those into the pot along with the tomatoes, garlic and herbs and bring to a simmer. Pour the wine into the original pan and reduce until almost dry. Add to the pot with the stock.

Simmer very gently on the hob or braise in an oven set to 160⁰C. Whichever you choose, it needs to tick away for 3 hours.

Remove the cooked meat and keep warm and pass the cooking liquor through a conical strainer, really pressing the vegetables hard to get all the flavour out.

Throw in a big handful of ice cubes, and stir so they freeze the fat; you should be able to lift out ice and fat in one nice big satisfying lump.

Reduce the liquor to a sauce and season with more salt and pepper, then add back the oxtails to heat through.

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Fifth Course: Rich Pigeon Faggot with Mustard Sauce

Here’s the penultimate course of the Dinner Party Through Time and it brings us up to the Second World War. The recipe is not actually from the 1940s, but I thought it represented two very different aspects of food culture during this time. A normal faggot is a mixture of pork or lamb offal and offcuts wrapped in a little caul fat and baked. They are of course a national dish and, quite rightly, should be celebrated.

During WWII, meat was rationed, and families could spend up to just one shilling and tuppence on meat per person per week, which got you a little over a pound of meat each. Offal, however, was not rationed so housewives would supplement the ‘proper’ meat with offcuts. This meant that dishes such as faggots were eaten more often.

churchill war room

In contrast to this, Winton Churchill ate opulently in his war room, putting away course after course of delicious, rich and very expensive food and booze. Here’s a typical lunch menu:

Native Oysters

Petite Marmite

Roast Venison with Mushrooms

Ice Cream with Raspberries

Stilton, Apples, Grapes & Walnuts

…and to drink:

Pol Roger Champagne

Chardonnay

Claret

Port

Cognac

Don’t forget the coffee and cigars, of course.

He did not hide the fact he was living in this way, indeed people thought the man who was overseeing the war should be living in this way. I doubt that would happen today.

Anyway, I digress.

I thought making a very cheap and basic meal into something rich and indulgent would highlight these two diets perfectly.

It’s a very complicated affair, but it benefits from the fact that you can make it ahead of time and can freeze them – in fact the freezing process helps tenderise the rich pigeon filling.

I can’t pretend it’s my own recipe; it’s adapted from Gary Rhodes’ excellent New British Classics.

Unfortunately, no one took a photograph of them, so here’s a picture of a woodpigeon from the RSPB website:

woodpigeon_rsbp

This recipe makes 24 to 30 faggots.

For the faggots themselves:

6 pigeons

1.8 litres pigeon stock (see below)

2 chicken breasts

350g belly pork

150g back fat

150g chicken livers

2 shallots, finely chopped

2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 tsp thyme leaves, chopped

90ml brandy

120ml Madeira

2 egg whites, beaten

200ml double cream

Pigeon reduction (see below)

Salt and pepper

Caul fat, soaked overnight in salted water

Vegetable oil or lard for frying

Well ahead of time, remove the breasts from the pigeons (or ask your butcher to do it). Use the carcasses to make the pigeon stock (see below). Reduce around 400ml of the stock by three-quarters to use in the pigeon reduction (see even further below).

Coarsely mince the pigeon breasts, chicken breasts, pork, back fat and chicken livers twice.

Heat the shallots, garlic and thyme in a small saucepan along with the brandy and Madeira and boil down until almost dry. Mix this into the meat along with the egg whites, cream and pigeon reduction. Season with salt and pepper and refrigerate.

Unfurl your caul fat and spread it on a chopping board, cutting it into approximate six by six centimetre squares. Take tablespoons of the faggot mixture and roll into balls and wrap each one up in a square of caul fat. Pat each one dry and fry in oil or lard to seal them and give them a nice golden colour. Arrange them in a flameproof tin or pan.

Warm the remainder of the stock and pour it over the faggots. Simmer them very gently in the stock for about 15 minutes and let them cool in the stock then freeze.

When you want to eat the faggots, defrost them and warm them up in the oven. Serve them up with the mustard sauce (again, see below) and some steamed cabbage and some mashed potato.

For the pigeon stock

2 tbs sunflower oil or lard

6 pigeon carcasses

2 onions, chopped

2 carrots, chopped

4 sticks celery, sliced

4 mushrooms, sliced

500ml of red wine or port

2 cloves of garlic

2 sprigs of thyme

10 juniper berries

5 tomatoes

Black peppercorns

Beef bones

Beef skirt

I’ve already written about how to make stock, so have a look at this post for some general hints and tips. Don’t worry, if you don’t have exactly the right amount or variety of stock veg. I often use bags of veg trimmings I sequester in my freezer exactly for this sort of thing.

Fry the pigeon carcasses in the oil until very well browned, then turn down the heat and add the onions, carrots, celery and mushrooms. Cook these until they are softened and browned. Tip the whole lot into your stockpot, deglazing the frying pan with a splash of the red wine or port. Add the remainder of the wine or port with all of the other ingredients plus enough water to cover.

Bring slowly to a bare simmer, keep the pot covered and on your smallest hob on the lowest heat and let it tick away for three hours. Strain, skim and reduce to a volume of 1.8 litres.

For the pigeon reduction:

2 good sprigs of thyme

4 juniper berries, crushed

1 garlic clove, chopped

120ml brandy

120ml port

the reduced pigeon stock

Place all of the ingredients except the reduced stock in a pan and reduce the liquid by three-quarters. Strain through a sieve and add the stock. Cool and keep in the fridge until needed.

For the mustard butter sauce

200g chilled, cubed butter

a small onion, sliced

2 bay leaves

1 star anise

12 black peppercorns

4 cardamom pods, cracked open

4 tbs white wine vinegar

8 tbs white wine

360ml chicken stock

4 tbs cream

salt and white pepper

2 tsp English mustard

Take a knobsworth of butter and gently cooked the onion and herbs and spices gently for around five minutes.

Now, lots of reducing: add the white wine vinegar, turn up the heat, and reduce by three-quarters. Next, add the wine and reduce by three-quarters. Finally add the stock and reduce that by three-quarters too.

Turn the heat down low, stir in the cream and whisk in the remainder of the butter a few pieces at a time. Season with salt and white pepper, strain and stir in the mustard. Pour into a warmed sauce boat or jug.

 

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