The marketing phenomenon that is British Food Fortnight is well known, and this year's event looks like being another success, despite the recession. But celebrating British produce doesn't have to be limited to just a fortnight, the concept can provide a much longer - and much needed - boost to customers and profits. Emma White reports.
Twenty-odd years ago, when he was just starting out in the industry, TV chef Phil Vickery suggested putting an English cheeseboard on a menu. The head chef threatened to have him sacked.
In a sign of how attitudes have changed, British produce is now all the rage and is seen as a positive asset on many a menu. Even broadcaster Terry Wogan recently called for British Food Fortnight to be every fortnight, and last year the event was so successful that the organisers developed the theme and founded Love British Food - with the aim of promoting the use of British produce throughout the year.
SEE OUR RECIPES AT THE END OF THE ARTICLE
Simple Autumn Fish Stew With Herbs And Turmeric, by Phil Vickery
Canteen Mushroom Pie, Cass Titcombe
Pheasant Crown Stroganoff, by Brian Turner
Scottish Grouse With Bread Sauce And Game Chips, by Tom Kitchen
Michel Nijsten, head chef at the Albright Hussey Manor Hotel in Shrewsbury, found custom increased by 300% during last year's British Food Fortnight so the restaurant continued the promotion through to this March, and it paid dividends.
"We were bombed out with customers over the two weeks last year but even after that we increased custom by about 50% - it has been a real money-spinner for us," Nijsten says.
Like many conscientious chefs, Nijsten had always cooked with locally sourced food but he says British Food Fortnight helped to bring a focus to his efforts and provide an extra means for getting customers through the door. Needless to say, he will be repeating the promotion this year and featuring last year's most successful dishes.
"We flagged up our involvement with the fortnight on our menu, on the internet, in newspapers and on the radio. We offered any two or three courses with a free glass of cider or old-fashioned lemonade. It brought people back to the restaurant and gave us a chance to show that we care about the food we serve," he says.
Cass Titcombe, head chef at London restaurant group Canteen, believes it goes further than that, arguing chefs have a "duty" to use British seasonal produce wherever possible.
"Chefs should use British food 52 weeks of the year, where possible. We produce some of the most amazing lamb, beef and pork in this country and our native fish are second to none. Not to mention all the wonderful berries in the summer - what could be more British than strawberries and raspberries?" he says.
Looking beyond British Food Fortnight, Titcombe adds that seasonal local produce is always a winner for chefs - from an environmental as well as financial perspective.
"As the colder months draw near there is an amazing array of cheap root vegetables in season - parsnips, swede and potatoes to name but a few, along with curly kale and Brussels sprout tops (a favourite of mine) which are great blanched in boiling water and tossed in butter with black pepper and sea salt.
"As a general rule, seasonal will be cheaper as there is an abundance of produce in its native season, resulting in lower prices - plus it will have travelled a shorter distance than the same item that will need to be imported when it's outside our season," he says.
And it's the same throughout the country. Scottish chef Tom Kitchin, owner of the Michelin-starred Kitchin restaurant in Edinburgh, says caterers can save "an incredible amount of money" during the recession by carefully selecting locally available produce.
"The Scottish larder is phenomenal. We have fish called blue ling that live three miles down the coast in the North Sea. We have game, red berries and all kinds of mushrooms, from chanterelles to girolles. You can't beat the freshness and quality of these local foods," he says.
Buying locally raised animals and fish whole when they are in season and using every part of them is one of the most economical ways Kitchin says chefs can use British produce.
"We're just coming into game season now and I'm using roe deer which can cost between £45 and £60 each but I'll use every part. I will use main loin fillets for an à la carte menu; braised neck meat for ravioli at lunch and the back legs for mince to make a venison terrine," he says.
Despite the cheeseboard episode, Vickery's love of British food wasn't daunted and remains as strong as ever. He agrees getting the best out of British involves going back to basics and using produce when it is in season - "never eat strawberries at Christmas" - but he also advises making deals with local suppliers and not being seduced by Thai and European flavours.
"You can do so much with British produce. I love root vegetables such as swede and turnips which you can cook with some olive oil and oven-roast with garlic and rosemary to concentrate the sugars and make them beautifully soft and serve with, say, venison," he says.
Selecting lesser-known British products and sourcing niche local suppliers will not only save cash but also provide great and original produce, he adds: "It's lovely to see local people making liqueurs, jam, marmalade, pork pies and pickled walnuts, which are great with cold meat. Or make yourself an autumn fish stock stew with three unfashionable fish such as mackerel, dog fish or coley which will cost you three or four quid (see page 27). Add some carrots or swede and potato - it isn't rocket science."
Yorkshire-born chef Brian Turner endorses Vickery's support for local suppliers, adding that developing good relationships with them is the key to getting the best out of British produce: "Small operators don't get the advantages that the chains do, so they need to talk to other restaurants in the area to build up a loyal relationship with suppliers," he says.
Turner advises chefs to pick a lot of produce when it is in season and freeze it to use off-season: "It's the old adage - using produce when it is at its peak. In our country, pick the berries and put them away to use when they are out of season," he says.
He also suggests using alternative cuts of British meat to save caterers money during the recession. "Try shank of lamb instead of shin of veal; shoulder of lamb instead of leg of lamb and white cabbage instead of haricot verts,"
British Food Fortnight runs from 19 September to 4 October. For a full list of tips on how you can get the most out of British produce all year round, visit the official British Food Fortnight website at www.lovebritishfood.co.uk
SIMPLE AUTUMN FISH STEW WITH HERBS AND TURMERIC
By Phil Vickery
INGREDIENTS (Serves four)
- Roughly 100g each of carrot, onion, parsnip, leek, green beans, and potato
- 200-250ml white wine
- 600ml water
- 1 fish stock cube
- 1 chicken stock cube
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
- 1/2tsp ground turmeric
- 2 fresh bay leaves
- 4 heaped tbs chopped parsley
- 4 heaped tbs chopped basil
- 2 heaped tbs chopped coriander
- Salt and pepper
- Sugar to taste
- 50ml good-quality olive oil
- 500g total of the following three fillets: fresh mackerel, rock salmon (dogfish or huss) coley or whiting
Cut the vegetables into small pieces. Place the wine, water, fish and chicken stock cubes, garlic, vegetables, turmeric and bay leaves into a saucepan and bring to the boil.
Add some salt and pepper, then simmer for 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are cooked.
Cut the fish into 3cm pieces and drop into the hot stock. Poach for 2 minutes - do not overcook.
Add the herbs, turmeric and olive oil and warm through.
CANTEEN MUSHROOM PIE
By Cass Titcombe
If you're lucky enough to forage for your own wild mushrooms, there's a great native variety waiting. Any edible wild mushroom can be used for this pie - just cut huge ones into bite-size pieces.
INGREDIENTS (Serves six)
- 4tbs olive oil
- 35g butter
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 100g leeks, diced
- 10g fresh thyme, leaves picked and chopped
- 15g dried porcini, chopped
- 75ml white wine
- 300ml double cream
- 500g mixed cultivated mushrooms, halved or quartered according to size
- 200g mixed wild mushrooms
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 15g fresh parsley, chopped
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 700g puff pastry
- 1 egg, beaten
Heat up 2tbs of the oil and the butter in a saucepan and sweat the onions and leeks for about 10 minutes or until soft. Add the thyme, dried porcini and wine. Simmer for 5-10 minutes until the wine has evaporated. Stir in the cream and cook for a further 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Fry off the mushrooms with the garlic in two batches, using half of the remaining oil each time, in a hot frying pan for 3-4 minutes until the mushrooms are lightly browned.
Add the mushrooms with any juices to the other pan. Stir in the parsley and season to taste. Allow to cool completely.
Preheat the oven to 170°C. Butter the inside of a 28-30cm oval pie dish that is at least 8cm deep (or individual pie dishes can also be used). Roll out the pastry on a well-floured board to a thickness of 3mm. Cut out an oval piece of pastry to line the dish. The pastry needs to be long and wide enough to cover the bottom and sides of the dish, with some extra for overhang. Place in the dish, leaving the edges hanging over the sides. Brush the overhang with a little beaten egg. Fill with the cold pie filling. Cut a piece of pastry for the lid - this should be slightly larger than the dish - and lay it over the filling. Dip your fingers in flour and pinch the edges of the lid to the edges of the pastry lining the dish, to seal them together. Trim off excess pastry with a knife.
Cut three or four 1cm slits in the lid, to allow steam to escape during baking. Brush the lid with beaten egg to glaze. Bake for 35-40 minutes until the pastry is golden brown and the filling is bubbling around the edges and through the slits in the lid.
Serve with mash, greens and gravy.
PHEASANT CROWN STROGANOFF
By Brian Turner
INGREDIENTS (Serves four)
- 1tbs oil
- 1oz butter
- 2 crowns of young pheasant
- 2 shallots, finely diced
- 4oz button mushrooms, finely sliced
- 1tsp paprika
- 100ml dry white wine
- 150ml double cream
- Juice of 1/4 lemon
- 1tbs chopped parsley
- 60g butter
- 220g sliced celery
- 2tbs chopped walnuts
- Salt and pepper
Heat oil and add butter. Lightly seal the crown of the pheasant on breasts. Roast at 200°C for about 30 minutes, take out of the oven and rest.
Add chopped mushroom to pan and sweat off, colour golden brown. Turn down heat and add shallots, pour off excess fat. Sweat slowly for 30 seconds and add paprika, stir and add white wine. Reduce to 30ml.
Add double cream and reduce by half. Add lemon juice and check seasoning. Take breasts off the bone, put into sauce and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the parsley.
Meanwhile melt 60g butter. Add sliced celery and stew for 10 minutes until cooked. Season.
Add chopped walnuts. Pour into serving dish. Arrange pheasant on top. Pour sauce over and serve.
SCOTTISH GROUSE WITH BREAD SAUCE AND GAME CHIPS
By Tom Kitchin
INGREDIENTS (Serves two)
- 2 grouse, prepared and wrapped in streaky bacon or pancetta
- Vegetable oil
- 50g celeriac, carrots, and celery, chopped into 1cm dice
- 12 baby onions
- 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
- 1tbs brandy
- Salt and pepper
- 250ml chicken stock
- For the bread sauce
- 250ml milk
- 1/2 large onion, peeled
- 2 cloves
- 1tbs butter
- 110g white bread, crusts removed and cut into 2cm cubes
- White pepper
- 1tsp nutmeg
- Game chips
- 1 large potato
- 300ml vegetable oil
Take the grouse out of the fridge so that they can come to room temperature before you start roasting. Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas 6. Heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a large heavy-bottomed roasting tin. Season the grouse very well, inside and out, then sear them in the pan until golden brown all over. Add the diced vegetables, baby onions and thyme sprigs to the pan. Place the grouse on one breast and roast in the hot oven for 3-4 minutes. Flip the birds on to the other breast and roast for another 3 minutes. Next pour brandy into both birds and place them on their back to finish roasting - another 5 minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven and leave the grouse to rest for 10 minutes breast upwards so the juices are evenly distributed. Keep all the pan juices and vegetables.
Put the roasting tin back on the heat on top of the stove and begin to reduce the cooking juices. Add the chicken stock, bring to the boil and let the sauce reduce and thicken. Take off the heat and pass through a fine sieve. Keep warm until ready to serve.
To make the bread sauce
For a smoother sauce, use a hand blender. To finish, season with salt, white pepper and nutmeg.
Simmer the milk with the onion stuck with cloves and cook until the onion is tender.
Strain the milk into a clean pan and add the butter. Next, whisk in the bread off the heat until smooth.
To make the game chips
Using the criss-cross part of a mandolin, cut the potato into slices roughly 3mm thick. Warm the oil gently on the stove. Dip a slice into the oil to check the oil is hot enough to fry. Fry the potatoes until crisp. Drain on paper towel and season lightly with salt.
Serve the rested grouse whole with pan juices, vegetables, bread sauce, game chips and some sautéd spinach and girolles. As an alternative to bread sauce, serve with celeriac purée.