Gordon loves cooking and experimenting with food. He loves making new dishes, particularly with unusual or underused ingredients.
The pub (short for public house) is in many ways, for a lot of British people, the very hub of society. It is not only to consume alcohol that people head to the pub; there are those who regularly visit pubs without touching a drop of the hard stuff. Pubs are where people go to meet and socialise with friends. They are where many people go to watch live sport such as football (soccer) or horse racing. They are where people go to play pool, darts or snooker, or perhaps take part in a pub quiz. Pubs are also, however, about pub grub, served in many cases from morning opening time right through to late evening.
Pub grub (food) should of course be tasty, interesting and at least worth the money the customer spends. Traditionally, pub grub was recognised as representing the tastes of Joe Bloggs or John Smith - the average bloke on the street. It was essentially good old-fashioned home cooking, the only difference being that it was served in the pub. After all, the traditional British pub landlord thought of Michelin as the company who would put the tyres on his car, not a star on his menu!
It is the increasing popularity in recent times of the so-called gastro pubs which has changed the style of the food served in some British pubs, particularly outside the major cities. Top chefs now own pubs and serve food the likes of which the pub diner of yesteryear could never have envisaged. The good news is that there is plenty of room for both food styles - the traditional and the new - and that the British pub dining experience is as alive and well as ever it has been.
Simple, Sustainable and Traditional British Fish and Chips
Fish and chips is a British classic - perhaps the British classic. It is our unofficial national dish and it is important not to mess with it too much if it is not to lose its authenticity. What is important in modern times, however, is that we try to look beyond the traditional cod or haddock when considering which type of fish to serve. These species have been inappropriately fished to the point of threatened extinction, so this recipe uses the delicious and fortunately plentiful whiting, a member of the cod family and often called English whiting in North America. Here, I've also used the three stage cooking method for the chips - for extra crunch and perfection!
Ingredients per Serving
1 large floury/starchy potato
1 fresh fillet of whiting
2 tbsp plain/all purpose flour
½ tsp sea salt
2 tbsp frozen peas
Lemon wedge to garnish
Peel the potato and slice and chop it in to chips. Add them to a large pot with enough cold water to ensure they are fully covered. Bring the water to a boil and reduce the heat to achieve a moderate simmer for five minutes. Drain the chips carefully through a colander, spread them on a plate and cover to cool. Add them to a large plastic dish with a lid and to the fridge for at least half an hour.
Spread a clean tea towel out on a work surface and remove your chips from the fridge. Lay them on one half of the towel, fold the other half over on top and gently pat dry. Deep fry the chips at 150C/300F for five more minutes. Remove to kitchen paper on a plate, cover and cool before returning them to the plastic dish and fridge for another thirty minutes.
The really basic batter for the fish is prepared twenty minutes in advance and rested in the fridge. Add the flour and salt to a suitable dish and stir to mix. Very slowly, pour in cold water in stages, whisking with a fork or hand whisk, until you achieve the consistency of pouring cream.
A twin basket deep fat frier would be very useful at the next stage, as the chips and the fish have to be deep fried at about 170C/350F. If you do not have one, fry the chips first for five or six minutes until crisp and golden, sit them on a plate with clean kitchen paper and cover with foil to keep them warm while you fry the fish.
Draw the fish carefully through the batter. Hold it up over the dish for a few seconds to allow the excess batter to drip off before carefully submerging it in the batter. A fillet this size took about six minutes before the batter was beautifully coloured and crisped. Drain the fish also on kitchen paper before plating.
The frozen peas should be added to a pot of boiling water for three minutes, while the fish is frying. Drain them well through a colander or sieve, plate along with the fish and chips and garnish with the wedge of lemon.
Sea salt, malt vinegar and tartare sauce represent the ideal condiments to serve with this dish.
From Devon to Dingwall - My Personal British Pub Crawl Discovering Great Pub Grub
I have eaten British pub grub in more locations over the years than I could ever hope to remember. These experiences came about for a number of reasons, not just the fact that I have lived in different parts of the UK. I have travelled around Britain for work and for the simple pleasure of doing so - but most of all as a result of my great love of sea fishing and exploring new venues.
I have eaten pub grub in city centres from London, to Bristol, to Newcastle, to Inverness. I have eaten pub grub in beautiful country pubs from Essex, to Northumbria, to the Scottish Western Isles. I have eaten in British pubs as far south as Plymouth in Devon and as far north as Dingwall, Ross and Cromarty, in the Highlands of Scotland. While I do not claim this gives me any form of expert status on British pub food, I believe that these experiences have given me sufficient knowledge on the subject to allow my creation of this page and to hopefully do the subject at least some level of justice.
The aim of this page is to provide an insight in to the relevance and importance of pub grub in Britain, an idea of the traditional dishes which you are likely to find served and hopefully a few suggestions for adaptations of established classics which you may wish to prepare yourself at home - or in your pub.
Iconic Sunday Pub Lunch - Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding
Chilli Con Carne in Pitta Bread Pocket with Mexicana Cheese
The TexMex dish, Chilli Con Carne, is a big favourite in pubs the length and breadth of Britain. Unfortunately, there are occasions where it is a little bit bland and unimaginative. It is normally made with minced (ground) beef and served either with boiled rice or tortilla chip dippers. This recipe uses shin of beef, an inexpensive but delicious cut of beef, and sees the chilli served in a pitta bread pocket with a simple salad and spicy Mexicana cheese.
Ingredients (Serves Two)
1 lb shin of beef
2 pints fresh beef stock
½ bottle red wine
1 large white onion
1 14oz can chopped tomatoes in tomato juice
1 14oz can red kidney beans in water
1 green bell pepper
1 red chilli pepper
1 tsp whole cumin seeds
Small bunch coriander leaves (cilantro)
Sea salt and black pepper
2 pitta breads
6 green lettuce leaves
4oz Mexicana cheese
Cut the shin of beef up in to small to medium bite sized portions. Add a little drizzle of vegetable or sunflower oil to a large pot. Put the beef in and season with salt and pepper. Stir it around over a medium heat until it is browned and sealed. This should take two or three minutes.
Peel and half the onion. Set half of it aside for later inclusion in your simple salad. Finely slice the other half and add it to the beef for another minute or so of stirring. Pour in the beef stock and red wine and increase the heat until the liquid reaches a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer uncovered for one hour.
Drain the red kidney beans through a colander and add them to the pot, along with the chopped tomatoes. Put the cumin seeds in to a small, dry frying pan and on to a high heat until you smell them toasting. Grind them in a pestle and mortar and add to the chilli.
The bell pepper should be halved, seeded and sliced. Whether you leave the seeds in the chilli pepper or not depends upon how hot you want the finished dish to be. Either way, chop finely and add the peppers to the pot. Bring back to a simmer for a further hour, until the beef is beautifully tender and the sauce is lush and thick.
The coriander (cilantro) should be roughly chopped and around a handful added to the pot for the final five minutes of cooking. Stir well. The remainder will be used as a garnish.
Roll the lettuce leaves in to a cigar shape and roughly shred. Finely slice the remaining onion half, mix with the lettuce and lay as a bed on the serving plates.
Grill the pitta breads for about a minute each side. Carefully make a slit along one long side and open up to form a pocket. Spoon in the chilli con carne and lay on the plate. Crumble the Mexicana cheese over the top and scatter with the remaining coriander as a final touch.
Rule, Pie-tannia! Pies of Many Types are Popular in Great Britain
Pies of so many different types form an integral part of the British food culture and not just in pubs. I enjoyed the steak and ale pie pictured above at The Wide Mouthed Frog - situated in a beautiful location at Dunstaffnage Marina, just outside Oban, Argyll - but the variety of pies you will find around the country is incredible. Steak and kidney pie, Melton Mowbray pork pie, steak and sausage pie (much revered in Scotland) and rich and satisfying game pies are just a fraction of the possible pies you are likely to find offered for your enjoyment in British pubs.
The Scottish venison game pie recipe featured below sees the pastry cooked separately from the meat and laid on top immediately before service, representing a very simple preparation and assembly technique.
Succulent Scottish Venison Game Pie
Ingredients for Two
1lb diced loin of Scottish venison
2 pints fresh beef stock
1 small white onion
½ tsp dried thyme
Salt and black pepper
¾ lb puff pastry
Beaten egg for glazing
Baby new potatoes (quantity as desired)
Brussels sprouts (quantity as desired)
Begin by adding the potatoes to a pot with enough cold water to cover them and put them on to a high heat. When the water boils, reduce to simmer for thirty minutes.
Put a little vegetable oil in a large pot and gently heat. Add the venison and season with salt and pepper. Stir around over a medium heat to brown before peeling, halving, finely slicing and adding the onion. Pour in the beef stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for two hours, stirring occasionally and adding a little boiling water if required to maintain a stock level.
Drain the potatoes after a half hour's simmering and return them to the empty pot. Cover and set aside to cool.
Put your oven on to preheat to 200C/400F, around half an hour before the venison is due to be ready. Roll the pastry out on a floured board to a thickness of about half an inch. Use a 5" serving bowl to cut two discs. The pastry can be made more attractive by scoring a pattern and/or using the pastry offcuts to fashion a design to add to the top centre. Sit the discs on a non-stick baking sheet and glaze with beaten egg. Sit any additional piece of pastry on top and glaze that also. Bake for twenty minutes or so until beautifully risen and golden.
The Brussels sprouts should be simmered in boiling, salted water for ten to twelve minutes.
Rub the skins off the cooled potatoes, deep fry for five or six minutes until crisp and golden and drain on kitchen paper.
Ladle the venison stew in to the serving bowls and plate. Arrange the potatoes and drained sprouts alongside. Remove the pastry discs from the oven, carefully sit on top of the venison and serve.
Great British Pub Grub is Best Served with Great British Ale
What do you like to drink with your pub lunch? It may be that you are a wine drinker, or prefer to stick to a soft drink with your meal. If like many, however, you prefer a beer and are visiting a particular pub for the first time, it may well pay dividends to consider the beer menu as well as the food menu. It's a great shame that so many people automatically see the taps on the bar representing the brewing giants and hastily make their selection. Particularly in rural areas, there may well be a local classic sitting on a bottle on the shelf. In the examples pictured above, Heather Ale has been produced in Scotland for about 4,000 years, making it one of the oldest beers in the world - and who can resist the curiously named, Piddle in the Hole?
Mixed Root Vegetable Stew with Bruschetta (Vegan Friendly)
At one time - actually not so very long ago - someone requesting a vegetarian food option in a significant number of British pubs would have had two choices: a packet of salted peanuts or a packet of ready salted crisps (potato chips)! Times have of course changed considerably, however, and the overwhelming majority of British pubs will now offer at least one substantial vegetarian option on their menu. These options may be pasta, salads of many different types, or even a vegetarian burger or vegetarian chilli.
The dish featured here is designed to be tasty and satisfying, as well as incredibly simple. It is quick and easy to make in small quantities at home, or in larger quantities in a pub - and can even be embellished for omnivores by the addition of beef, chicken or lamb.