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How one chef rediscovered Custard

Bird's custard in measurement jug

Just can’t beat it

Stephen Harris hated custard. With a passion. The owner-chef of the Sportsman gastropub in Kent which recently won the National Restaurant Award 2016, has now undergone a transformation.

In his own words: “When I was a boy, it seemed that everybody loved custard and I was the only one who couldn’t stand it. I couldn’t get past the gloopy texture and luminous yellow colour. I preferred the vague, gentle sweetness of cream as well as the temperature contrast that cold cream gave to, say, steamed sponges. As the jug was passed around the dining table I would hear it whispered: “Stephen doesn’t like custard.” I felt out of step with the world.”

Determined to put the world to rights, Stephen decided to find out why exactly why he didn’t like custard- there had to be an explanation.

In fact, custard as most of us know it – the stuff that goes on spotted dick – is not actually custard at all. It’s actually a powdered sugar and cornflour that was made in the 1840’s by Alfred Bird who wanted to provide an egg-free custard for his wife.

To make matters worse Alfred Bird was a chemist who then added food colouring to the mix in order to make it vaguely resemble egg yolk and custard.

It seems Stephen had a point. Science and food rarely mix well.

He continues: “Proper custard, which I love, is very different: it is made with a base of eggs and sugar, mixed thoroughly before warm cream (and sometimes milk) is poured over. The mix is then heated at the same time as being stirred – this is the key. The stirring means that as the egg proteins heat up they do not clump together to make scrambled egg. The egg proteins start to coagulate at 65C and you take the temperature as high as you want the mix to be thick: a custard taken to 75C will be pourable, whereas one taken to 85C will set like a crème brûlée when it cools down.

“Learning how to make custard is an important skill for a cook as it is the basis of so many recipes: custard, crème brûlée, ice cream, crème patisserie, crème caramel, trifle, quiche and even soufflés.”

Although traditional chemist custard as I think it should be coined holds a special place in our hearts, maybe it’s time we all changed to the ‘proper’ stuff.

Good job Stephen.


Vegetarian Christmas Menu ideas


vegetarian christmasVegetarians can be the poor relatives on Christmas – =with nothiung but a nut cutlet to take the place of Turkey or Beef.

Here is one innovative suggestion for your Christmas menu – there are many others – please can we hear from you with YOUR ideas?

Go on! Help out those underserved veggies.

The following recipe, while designed to appeal to those who prefer a vegetable and fruit diet, could comfortably find its place on any restaurant menu over the festive season. It would also be perfect as accompaniment to the more traditional fare of roasted meats or birds.

Roasted onion squash and cep with sage, soft parmesan polenta and mascarpone

Serves 6

One small to medium onion
Two squash
olive oil 60ml
sage 1 tbsp, chopped, plus a few large leaves
garlic 2 cloves, crushed to a paste
cep, portobello or field mushrooms 6 (or use a selection of other wild mushrooms)

For the polenta milk 500ml water 250ml bay leaves 4 garlic 2 cloves, crushed to a cream sage 1 tsp, chopped coarse polenta 500g butter 50g parmesan 100g, freshly grated, plus extra for serving at the table mascarpone 200g

Preheat the oven to 170C/gas mark 3½. Wash the squash and remove the skin carefully with a sharp knife. Cut the flesh into even sized wedges (discarding the seeds) and place in a bowl. Drizzle generously with olive oil, season with sea salt and pepper and the chopped sage and creamed garlic. Jumble the wedges together so that all surfaces are well coated in the marinade. Arrange the squash in an ovenproof dish that is large enough to hold all the vegetables. (Retain the remaining marinade in the bowl.) Roast the squash in the oven for 20-30 minutes, or until they start to colour at the edges and soften a little.

Trim the mushrooms and cut in half or quarters, depending on their size. Toss them gently in the bowl with the remaining marinade until well coated. Remove the dish from the oven and arrange the mushrooms in and around the squash. Scatter with the whole sage leaves. Return to the oven and roast for a further 20 minutes, or until all the vegetables are soft when pierced with a knife, but golden at the edges.

Meanwhile, for the polenta, bring the milk, water, bay leaves, garlic and chopped sage to a gentle simmer. Using a whisk, add the polenta to the liquid little by little. Once it has all been incorporated and is smooth, continue stirring with a wooden spoon as it thickens. This may take up to 15 minutes, depending on the type of polenta, but it is important that the polenta loses its graininess as it cooks. Remove the bay leaves.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter and half the grated parmesan. Season to taste with sea salt and black pepper. Pour the polenta into a serving dish, scraping the pan clean with a plastic spatula. Scatter the remaining parmesan over the surface and dot with generous dollops of mascarpone. Cover and leave in a warm oven until ready to serve.

Serve the roasted vegetables with a scoop of the soft polenta on the side, a drizzle of good olive oil, and a bowl of freshly grated parmesan at the table.


The perfect Tomato Pasta


Spaghetti with cherry tomatoes


  • 350g spaghetti
  • 600g cherry tomatoes, halved and squeezed to remove juice and seeds
  • 2 tbs red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbs traditional balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tbs roughly torn basil leaves
  • Extra-virgin olive oil

In a bowl, combine 6tbs of olive oil with the vinegars and season. Add the tomato halves, pressing them down to absorb the flavours of the vinegar and oil. Add half the basil, stir, then cover and leave to marinate for an hour or more. Do not refrigerate.

Cook the spaghetti in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain and return to the pan. Add the tomato mixture over a high heat, tossing to combine and coat the pasta. Add the remaining basil and drizzle with olive oil to serve.

From “Pasta and Ravioli” by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers – Available on



The perfect Seafood Pasta


Orecchiette with scallops and rocket


  • 350g orecchiette
  • 8 large scallops, cut into quarters
  • 100g rocket, roughly chopped
  • 500g cherry tomatoes, halved and squeezed to remove juice and seeds
  • 2 fresh red chillies, cut in half lengthways, de-seeded and finely sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 lemon, cut into quarters
  • Extra-virgin olive oil

Put the tomatoes in a bowl, add the chillies, garlic and 2 tbs of olive oil and season generously. Heat 1tbs of olive oil in a small, thick-bottomed frying pan and add the scallops. Season and fry, turning the pieces over, until brown. Add the marinated tomatoes and stir over the heat briefly to combine.

Cook the orecchiette in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain and add to the scallops. Stir in the rocket and test for seasoning. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and the lemon quarters.

From “Pasta and Ravioli” by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers – Available on



The perfect Ricotta and Rocket Pasta


Conchiglie with ricotta and rocket


  • 350g conchiglie
  • 200g ricotta, lightly beaten with a fork
  • 500g rocket, roughly chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
  • 3 tbs torn basil leaves
  • 3 fresh red chillies, cut in half lengthways, de-seeded and chopped
  • 150g parmesan, freshly grated
  • Extra-virgin olive oil

Heat 2tbs of olive oil in a small, thick-bottomed pan. Add the garlic and fry until it begins to colour. Add the basil and half the rocket. Cover, reduce the heat and cook for 2-3 minutes just to wilt the rocket.Put this mixture, including any liquid, into a food processor and pulse-chop. Add half the remaining rocket, the chillies, seasoning and 2 tbs of olive oil. Blend briefly to combine.

Cook the conchiglie in boiling salted water until al dente, then drain, keeping back a little of the pasta water. Add the rocket mixture to the pasta. Lightly stir in the ricotta and the remaining uncooked rocket. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and the Parmesan.

From “Pasta and Ravioli” by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers – Available on



The perfect Penne dish


Pasta with aubergine, tomato and mozzarella


That looks yummy!


  • 350g penne
  • 2 aubergines, thinly sliced
  • 500g plum tomatoes, skinned and roughly chopped
  • 250g mozzarella, freshly grated
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 3 tbs finely chopped parsley
  • 2 dried red chillies, crumbled
  • extra-virgin olive oil

Lay the sliced aubergines on kitchen paper and sprinkle with sea salt. Leave for 20 minutes to allow the bitter juices to drain. Rinse in cold water and pat dry.

Heat 3 tbs of olive oil in a thick-bottomed pan. Add the garlic and parsley and cook until soft. Add the tomatoes and their juices, the chillies and 2 tsp of sea salt, and cook over a medium heat for 20 minutes.

Heat 4 tbs of olive oil in a large, thick-bottomed frying pan. Fry the aubergines in batches until brown and crisp on both sides. Drain on kitchen paper. Cook the penne in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain, return to the pan and add the tomato sauce. Stir to coat, then add the aubergine and the mozzarella. Serve immediately.

From “Pasta and Ravioli” by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers – Available on



The perfect Chilli Pasta


Penne all’arrabbiata


Yummy and easy to make!


  • 350g penne
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and cut in half
  • 4 dried red chillies
  • 3 tbs basil leaves
  • 750g plum tomatoes, skinned and roughly chopped
  • extra-virgin olive oil

Heat 3 tbs of olive oil in a thick-bottomed pan.

Add the garlic and fry gently. After 1 minute, add the whole chillies, then continue to fry until the garlic is lightly brown. Remove it with the chillies and save. Add the basil to the hot oil for a few moments to add flavour, then remove and save. Finally, add the tomatoes to the flavoured oil with 1 tsp of sea salt and cook gently for 10 minutes.

Cook the penne in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain, add to the tomato sauce, toss to coat and stir in the garlic, chillies and basil. Serve with olive oil drizzled over.

From “Pasta and Ravioli” by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers – Available on



Richard Turner’s traditional Rib Roast

Chef Richard Turner, courtesy of Meatopia.

Ouch! Chef Richard Turner (courtesy of Meatopia).

Richard Turner’s traditional rib roast

Serves 6
fore rib of beef 1, at least 2kg in weight
beef dripping

Remove the meat from the fridge a couple of hours before cooking. Season the surface evenly, then sear the joint all over in a hot pan with a generous tablespoon of beef dripping. Place the ribs, fat side upwards, on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Roast at 180C/gas mark 4 allowing 40 minutes per kilo for medium-rare or 45 for medium. Remove the roast when a meat thermometer registers 57C for medium-rare or 60C for medium and allow to rest in a warm place for at least 20 minutes (by which time the internal temperature will have risen by a couple of degrees).

For the horseradish sauce
Mix 100g of peeled and grated fresh horseradish into 250ml sour cream and season with Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper.

For the Yorkshire puddings
Makes 6
eggs 200ml, beaten
semi-skimmed milk 200ml
plain flour 200g
beef dripping

Start the Yorkshire batter the night before. (It gives the starch cells time to thicken which will give you a lighter, smoother batter.)

Pour the beaten eggs, milk and salt into a medium-sized bowl, then add plain flour by the spoonful, whisking constantly so you create a smooth batter (or whizz together in a food processor). Once all the ingredients are mixed, cover the bowl with clingfilm and refrigerate overnight.

Once your beef has roasted and is resting on the side, turn up the oven to 220C/gas mark 7. Put a dollop of beef dripping at the bottom of each hollow in a Yorkshire pudding or muffin tin and place over a high heat on the hob. Fill the holes just over halfway up with batter. The secret to great Yorkshire puds is cold batter crashing into intensely hot beef dripping. It should look alarmingly volcanic with lots of crackling and voluminous batter turning into pillowy puddings.

Place the trays of puddings in the oven for 15-20 minutes until golden, turning them over towards the end so the bottoms crisp up.

Serve the rib roast with the Yorkshire puddings and horseradish sauce along with roast potatoes and plenty of gravy.

From Hawksmoor at Home by Huw Gott, Will Beckett, Richard Turner (Preface, £25).
Click here to buy a discounted copy from Amazon!



Jeremy Lee’s Cullen Skink


Shame you can’t smell it… (Photograph: Romas Foord)

JEREMY LEE –  Theodora Fitzgibbon’s cullen skink was one of the first soups I learned to cook in Scotland. It’s an example of good cooking, simple, brilliant and a wonderful flavour.


  • Large smoked haddock 1, preferably Finnan, about 900g
  • 1 sliced onion
  • 850ml milk
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • cooked mashed potato, about 225g
  • salt and pepper

Put the haddock in a shallow pan, skin side down, with just enough cold water to cover it, bring to the boil, then simmer for 4 minutes. Turn the fish, and with a small slice take off the skin, add the sliced onion, cover, and simmer very gently for about 10 minutes. Take the fish out and remove all the bones, then put them back in the stock and simmer again for about 20 minutes, then strain. Put the stock and the milk in a saucepan, add the filleted fish, bring to boiling point, then add enough mashed potato to make it creamy and the consistency you like. Add the butter in very small pieces, and season. The last of the butter should hardly melt, but run in little yellow rivulets through the soup-stew. Serve with triangles of dry toast.

Jeremy Lee is head chef at Quo Vadis, London –



Wild mushroom, paprika bechamel and feta omelette


Wild mushroom, paprika bechamel, feta and parmesan open omelette by Selin Kiazim at Oklava.



Serves 4

  • 400ml milk
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp sweet paprika
  • 50g plain flour
  • 20g parmesan, finely grated
  • 4 egg yolks brushed clean and roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, finely sliced Juice of
  • 1 lemon 8 free-range eggs, whisked
  • 60g feta cheese (I prefer Turkish beyaz peynir, available at Turkish supermarkets in tins)
  • 20g parmesan, finely grated
  • 4 sprigs of parsley leaves, finely shredded For the omelette
  • 40g unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 300g wild mushrooms,

Heat the grill to its hottest setting. Warm the milk in a small pan, but don’t let it boil. In a separate pan, melt the butter over a medium heat and add the paprika and flour. Cook for about 2 minutes, whisking until smooth. Add a ladle of the warm milk and whisk again until smooth. Continue until all the milk has been used.

Season, then turn the heat right down, add the parmesan and cook for about 10 minutes, whisking occasionally. If it’s too thick, add a little more milk. If it’s too thin, keep cooking until it thickens. Pour into a bowl and cover with clingfilm to keep warm.

Heat the butter and olive oil in a nonstick 18cm-20cm frying pan. Sauté the mushrooms on a high heat, so they caramelise a little. Add the garlic, cook for a minute, then squeeze in the juice of 1 lemon and cook for 1 minute more. Disperse the mushrooms evenly, then pour in the eggs, turn the heat down to low and season. Using a spatula, gently pull the cooked egg into the centre of the pan.

Turn off the heat once the eggs are almost cooked.

Return the bechamel to a saucepan. Whisk the egg yolks in a separate bowl and pour them, one at a time, into the sauce, whisking all the time. Dab the bechamel over the omelette. Place the pan under the grill and cook for about 1 minute until golden. Sprinkle over the remaining parmesan, feta and parsley. I like to serve it with toasted Turkish bread and lashings of butter.