We had American houseguests last week. They were budget travellers, so we had cause to eat at a Wetherspoons at the end of a day out. I felt responsible for the shoddiness of both food and service. I wanted to say how British food – sausages, pies, fish and chips, cheddar cheese – is GOOD. But it’s only good in people’s homes, not when it’s served up in places that use words like ‘authentic’ and ‘two for one meal deal’ on their menus. Because let’s be honest, in most pubs and cafes around the country, the menu descriptions should read something like this:
If British menus were honest…
Steak and Ale Pie
Our kitchen staff play endless games of keepy-uppy with every one of our beefsteaks, ensuring each chunk of meat thrown into our pies is as tender as can be. Two full driptrays of beer go into every pie, along with all the stray peas we can sweep up from under the fridge.
Our local butcher will lovingly compress all the sludge he can mechanically recover from the carcass of a stillborn calf and coat it in breadcrumbs shaken from a toaster. The grim result is shoved under the grill at an e. coli-killing heat for your convenience until it starts to curl.
British Cod and Chips
We deep-fry all our pre-prepared battered pollack (a special type of cod) TWICE to make sure you get a Traditional Fish Supper that is both crispy on the outside and like fish-flavoured chewing gum on the inside. We serve it with a slurry of peas and tartar sauce which should have been chucked out months ago.
Authentic Italian Spaghetti Bolognaise
We’ll mix our manky tomatoes and furry onions with the greyest mince we can find into a pan last washed by a Parisian plongeur in the 1920s, top it up with Mexican wine and leave to boil over until you’re crazy enough to order it. We’ll serve it on a ball of spaghetti stodgy enough to block you up for a week.
But here’s my homemade Shepherd’s Pie recipe
This will convince you that British people can make tasty food. I promise. It’s essentially minced lamb and mashed potato. Here’s what you need:
500g minced lamb.
Some rosemary, some thyme
Bottle red wine
Couple of onions
Couple of large carrots
2 egg yolks
300ml beef or chicken stock
1kg of starchy potatoes (I used Desiree)
Loads of grated hard Italian cheese (I used parmigiano reggiano)
Heat the olive oil in a hefty saucepan. Grate your onions, carrots and garlic and add to the pan. Keep it moving until it’s soft, browned and smells good.
Season the meat generously with salt, pepper, rosemary and thyme and add to the pan. Stir fry until the meat is brown, adding tomato puree and Worcestershire sauce as you stir. (I used about 2 tablespoons of each.) Then pour in 1/3rd of a bottle of red wine. Turn the heat up and reduce. This means cook the bejesus out of it until most of the liquid has evaporated.
Then add your stock (I went with beef; Gordon Ramsey says chicken.) and simmer gently for about 40 minutes.
Meanwhile, peel and cut your potatoes into small chunks and boil for 25 minutes. When they’re done, drain and leave aside until they’ve finished steaming. Otherwise you’ll have sloppy mash. Now it’s time for the secret ingredients. Mash in two egg yolks (JUST the yolks) and a heart-attackalicious amount of Italian cheese. Really mash it up good now. Your arm should hurt. Set aside.
So now you transfer the meaty veggie goodness to an Perspex dish and spread the mash on top. The best way is to dollop it into the corners and spread towards the centre with a fork. Try to make it an even depth throughout. Smooth the top off with the back of a spoon, then drag a fork across it to give it a nice ridge effect. Sprinkle more grated cheese if you value quality of life over quantity. Put in a preheated oven for 25 minutes and serve. See, British food is tasty.