Discover Tom Kerridge's Best Ever Recipes from a Michelin-starred chef »
How to get more flavour in every mouthful
By Robyn Lewis
British chef Tom Kerridge has been described as “the most down-to-earth but high-flying chef on the big food scene”. He’s the only chef in the UK to run a pub with two Michelin stars, the first pub in the world to achieve that status.
He’s best known in Australia for his Lifestyle TV series Proper Pub Food, featuring hearty, casual cooking – indoors and outdoors – plus family and special occasion food with minimum fuss.
His reputation is ‘blokey’, “great food for your mates”, but don’t let that deter you of that’s not your style, especially if you’re a fan of Jamie Oliver’s shared platters and big salads – there are many similarities in presentation. But, there’s more.
When a book’s media release promises that it will “really change the way you cook”, we need to have an in depth look. Can this really be true?
First impressions? The recipes are good, very good. We see a lot of cookbooks here at VisitVineyards, including celebrity cookbooks, and titles from our Australian TV personalities – this one has that something extra, a greater touch of inventiveness, that's obviously been tested and (importantly) passed the paying consumer test.
Kerridge likes big flavours, and “getting the balance of taste and texture right – sweet, acid, crunch, silkiness”. Ever the chef, even for home-cooked food.
He also takes every chance he can get to add some extra flavours, sometimes in surprising ways, and this is what makes Best Ever Dishes stand apart for me: whether via curing, brining, salting pre-cooking, and with rubs and marinades, or adding unexpected ingredients into his pastries and sauces, he packs in the flavour.
These are techniques you can adapt to just about anything you already cook, to take your own faves to another level as well. I’ve already tried out a few.
Many of these steps are overlooked in cookbooks ‘for the masses’ (although chefs do them as a matter of course) – Kerridge doesn’t patronise us by leaving them out. It is after all not rocket science. He’s generous with his techniques and knowledge, as well as with his seasonings, and I like that a lot.
He’s also aware that not all of us have big budgets, and especially with family meals and his meat dishes, works hard to get as much out of every cut as possible.
He’s a real meat fan and I wouldn’t recommend this book for vegetarians. You’ll also be wanting to get a blowtorch if you haven't one already (not the tiny ones for caramelising crème brulée, but something that can throw out a good flame to colour a roast – he also uses it for charring things like lemon slices for “the most incredible garnish”). You’ll also need a mandolin for fine slicing – the Japanese ones are good and not expensive. You may well find yourself using them every day after reading Best Recipes Ever.
And so to the recipes. Kerridge’s view is to keep Starters simple. As he says “it’s as if you are taking your guests by the hand and leading them into the meal, showing them where you’re going to go. You’re setting the mood for the rest of the meal, and if you’re calm and confident, they’ll relax, all ready to have a brilliant time.” Great advice – you don’t want the smoke alarm going off and the dog running off with the steak, and getting yourself into a frazzle!
They include make-ahead dishes like Ham Butter with Hot Toast, and Spiced Lamb Terrine with Flatbreads, but even things that you have to serve immediately like Wok-Seared Cockles with Ginger and Pak Choi and Scallops and Brown Shrimps Baked in Seaweed Filo (the filo part is optional) are easy to do it you prepare ahead.
I also like the look of the Smoked Haddock with Beetroot Slaw with Vodka Crème Fraiche (you could substitute another smoked fish, or even smoke one yourself); the Smoked Eel with Pear, Lime and Szechuan Pepper; the baked Sardines with Warm Tomato Sauce; Crab Fritters with Saffron Mayonnaise (yum! surely a versatile sauce); and for those who have access to edible seaweed, the Seafood Tarts with Seaweed Salad (and if you don’t, well a simple mixed-leaf salad will be fine – it’s the seaweed in the pastry that does it for me, and you can use dried).
Then to Salad and Soups. Kerridge loves to throw an element of surprise into the familiar, such as a poached egg rolled in chopped celery leaves floating in an otherwise simple bowl of celery soup. He believes with both soup and salads that they need to be treated with love, care and respect, just as you would with other parts of your menu. No blended left-over veggies or that ‘soup of the day’ (week? month? year?) staple of Australian pubs, bland pumpkin soup.
Indeed he says “one of my favourite recipes in this book is the Garlic and Brown Bread Soup because it takes simple, homely ingredients and elevates them to a new level. I roast the onions and garlic with lemon for several hours then serve them with a beautiful, lemony burnt butter”.
OK, some of us have to spend our Saturdays taking the kids to sport and other activities, not roasting onions and lemons (another handy reason for that blowtorch – the lemons I mean, not hurrying up the kids!), so what else is there?
Beetroot with Celery Leaves and Redcurrant Glaze was a healthy hit in our house (tip from me: cook beetroots in a pressure cooker, they are done in 15 minutes, not the standard hour) and for entertaining, the Crispy Duck Salad looks a divine fusion dish, with Thai influences and pomegranate.
Ever have to ‘bring a salad to share’? (I’ve never worked out why there is never enough at those sorts of events – do some people just take enough for one?). His Hard-cope Coleslaw would fit the bill nicely, and again Kerridge packs in extra flavour by adding anchovies, garlic and cayenne to his dressing. Make a big one as it’s a sure winner.
Mushrooms a la Grecque is a 70s throwback, but you can make it ahead and keep for up to two weeks, to take along when you need it, or to pull out at a BBQ.
For soups, if you have access to lots to fresh tomatoes and basil, you’ll want to make his Roasted Tomato Soup, and for pumpkin growers, elevate your never-again-boring Pumpkin Soup with Oyster Mushrooms. Those with spare cash should definitely seek out pumpkin seed oil to drizzle on top (it’s great on other veggies too) as it adds special flavour and is highly nutritious as well.
My daughter loves his Cauliflower and Cheddar Soup with Capers (although we eat her fried capers) – it’s cauliflower cheese in soup form; ditto Butternut Squash and Parmesan Soup. Good family food.
Onto fish, and I so wish we could get proper monkfish here in Australia when I read his Monkfish Scampi recipe. His lemon mayo would do just as well on prawns though. Hake with Verjus Butter is baked in vine leaves (for anyone venturing into sous vide, this would work very well).
Many of the fish species in Best Ever Dishes are not found in Australia, so you will need to work out substitutes in your area, but Kerridge’s techniques are certainly adaptable.
If anyone catches a skate or stingray (outside their protected waters, of course) try the wings with Crunchy Chickpeas and Chilli Tomato Sauce – in fact you could put these toppings with loads of other things, even meat or chicken.
It’s in this area that Kerridge really shines. He kicks off with a few more retro dishes, including Lemon Pepper Chicken sparked up with a Green Pepper Salsa – it’s a classic for a simple reason: because it tastes so good.
His twist on the classic French chicken with 40 cloves of garlic is to brine it, then serve it deconstructed platter style à la Jamie Oliver. Ditto his ‘Whole’ Satay Chicken – the “ultimate Saturday-night chicken dish” especially if you brine it ahead (he suggests starting on Thursday).
I served his Sticky Drumsticks to a room full of young chefs recently, who arrived en masse unexpectedly – what could have been scary was simple, and delicious. The only problem was there were no leftovers, which are otherwise good in lunchboxes, picnics or fishing trips. His Pineapple Barbecued Chicken is also delicious and being good Australians of course, please make it with one of Queensland’s best and ripest pineapples. Who needs a trip to Malaysia when you can enjoy this at home?
What would British pub food be without pies? Kerridge starts with a Chicken, Bacon and Pistachio Pie made with bought filo pastry – so easy, which can also be made with pork of beef. Then Cottage Pie with Blue Cheese Mash (yummo), proper Shepherd’s Pie, and the Classic Ham and Mushroom Pie, made even more special with another pastry additive: dried mushroom powder.
It’s for tips like this throughout the book that you need to buy it.
Lots more comfort dishes follow: sausages, meatloaf, patties, roasts, braises, meatballs, lasagne (another blowtorch opportunity!), hamburgers, pizza (made with bought puff pastry), ribs, sandwiches, stews, pulled beef, liver, with lots of lamb dishes towards the end of this section, which I love. (Often lacking in US cookbooks).
Puddings include Treacle (golden syrup) Tart with Mascarpone Ice Cream which Kerridge regards as “probably one of the greatest puddings of our time”; Raspberry Rose Water Jellies (made with sparkling wine) with Sweet Cheese; mini Tropical Fruit Pavlovas (with rum cream); Strawberry Tartlets and Easy Strawberry Ice Cream, and one of his favourite recipes from his mother’s collection, Brown Sugar Meringues with Praline Cream; a reinterpretation of the 70s classic Pineapple Upside -down Cake; and Grown-up Doughnuts.
Chocolate lovers don’t miss out – there are pages of chocolate desserts – although fruit is a bit light on.
Like most contemporary cookbooks there is also a section on Basics: stocks, gravies; Red Wine Sauce; Curry Powder; Pickle Liquor and a good recipe for Onion Jam. The photography by Cristian Barnett is evocative and consistently good throughout.
Overall, Tom Kerridge's Best Ever Recipes is 300 pages packed with lots of ideas and good, tested, innovative recipes – it reminds me of a British food equivalent of Ottolenghi: The Cookbook (and the hit sequels); something you need to have if you enjoy casual cooking and entertaining but want to take it to the next level, and at $40, far better value than a lot of other titles around right now.
Will it change the way you cook? It certainly has for me, with those subtle tips and small changes that elevate dishes to the next level.
Tom Kerridge’s Best Ever Dishes is published by Bloomsbury (London, 2014; hc 304 pp) and retails in Australia for A$39.99
Tom Kerridge’s Best Ever Dishes can be purchased via Booko.com. au here »
Four recipes from Tom Kerridge’s TV series Proper Pub Food can be found here »
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