19 July 2005

I started to write a reply to the latest comment from Matt, and it set off a firestorm of food-inspired prose, so why not save myself the wrist strain and just make it a regular post. So here goes:
I would be interested in the aforementioned food, if it is as good as you say. When I was in Great Britain, I thought most of the things I ate to be extremely bland. I was willing to excuse the first few meals off of the plane because of my airsickness, but it just never got better. Eventually we all started craving the greasy meat-like patties of McDonalds.That being said, we didn't spend months and months there, as Orwell said that only the well traveled would know good English fare.
--Posted by Matt aka aulservant aka Throckmorton at 7/19/2005 11:47:32 AM

Yes, and what might pass for quick meals and restaurant food in London might not accurately reflect traditional English food. I once read that you could never get quality Cornish Pasties outside of Cornwall...everywhere else in Britain they are a sort of "fast food" slopped together with precooked meat and veggies.

I'd say with few exceptions my English cooking is hardly bland. While it is very traditional and therefore shirks the annoying gourmet convention of making every ingredient exotic and weird (ie. mango and chile infused haddock with Spanish nutmeg vinaigrette, or what-have-you), I use lots of traditional ingredients, simple ingredients such as Worcestershire sauce, freshly cracked pepper, seasoned salt, butter, sauteed onions, leeks, various herbs, etc. Also, if you've got really good meats you don't need overly spicy food...really choice lamb or beef would be a waste if you bury it under tons of overly spicy seasonings. Lamb in particular has a very pleasing, softly sweet taste that I'm rather keen on...something to augment rather than obscure.

Which isn't to say I abstain from using powerful spices...another pseudo-English dish is my Chicken Curry, and Debra and I have gone to church sometimes embarrassed by how strong the curry reek is on our clothes. That is potent stuff. My recipe only has four ingredients...chicken, onions, butter, and a special hot curry powder. I've made Lamb Curry twice before but lamb is so hard to come by...it was excellent though. I really ought to live in New Zealand, where the sheep outnumber the people 9 to 1, or something like that.

I think, as Orwell points out, the problem with English food isn't that English food isn't good, its that there are so many instances of poorly executed English food that give it a bad name. Having not yet had the experience of visiting in person, unfortunately, that's mostly conjecture combined with some degree of satisfaction with the recipes I've honed. However, I've seen several recipes that sound like they would bore me to tears. I imagine Lincolnshire sausages (the chief sausage for Bangers and Mash and Toad-in-a-Hole) would be rather bland compared to spicy bratwurst and Italian sausages, and plop a bunch of Yorkshire pudding on them, and your bland quotient just doubled. However, the Bangers and Mash I made (with Swedish potato sausages...the closest thing I could find) was tasty, if not exceptional. Other things I've made, aside from my signature and favourite dish (Shepherd's/Cottage Pie), are the aforementioned Leek Soup which is surprisingly good, an English Beef Soup similar to what we know as steak soup, an Irish Beef Stew made with Guinness stout (very, very tasty), fish and chips, and various other things.

There's a simple lack of pretense I love about English cooking. French cooking is rife with snobbery, and basically has morphed into modern "gourmet". Complexity, to my thinking, can ruin a dish far quicker than simplicity will. English ingredients are simple, mild, and unpretentious. Simple flavours like beef, ale, butter, pepper, carrots, potatoes, cheese, onions, lamb, apples, etc...these sort of ingredients present something of a challenge to a cook (I dare not use the self-important moniker "chef"), to allow their flavours to meld and not distract from each other. Most modern recipe books engage in "one-upmanship", trying to outdo the other books by creating wild, new, sensational recipes using all new ingredients and weird flavour combinations. It has almost gotten to the point that you can walk into a restaurant and never find something as simple as a grilled steak and potato (now its a bourbon-sauteed ribeye topped with crispy onion curls served with garlic-parmesan mashed turnips) or roast beef. I mean, you can still get simple stuff, but the trend is to overcomplicate everything in order to sell it. Case in point...the simple appeal of Fettucine Alfredo. A good dish of this should contain noodles, milk/cream, butter, and Parmesan cheese, maybe with some freshly cracked pepper on top. Nothing else. When you start dumping broccoli and chicken and chives and mushrooms and peppers and mozzarella and sausage....etc....you ruin the simplicity of the dish.

But all in all, there are three things I think the English do better than any other nation. Meat pies, cheese, and ale. The excellence of the latter in particular, is what prompted my experimentation in small-scale brewing...now well underway.

07 July 2005

My pick for '08: Newtlicious

In other news...my adopted land of Great Britain was hit today. Around 40 dead so far. However, in spite of the tragedy, I have to say, where is the Churchillian spirit? When bombs fell daily in London, and the Brits staunched themselves and stood firm, despite the death and destruction that was all around them? Today all we hear is fear. Fear on the radio waves, fear on the tele, fear from the politicians, the policy wonks, the "experts", the journalists, etc. Terrorists don't win by killing, they win by terrorizing. 40 dead is nothing in comparison to what the Brits have faced before. If only someone would say, nice try, you smelly bastards, but all you've done is sign your death warrant. Anger is not that great of an emotion, but its better than fear.