British food and drink is on the up. Famous chefs like Heston Blumenthal, Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay have helped make fish and chips and bangers and mash fashionable again, helped by TV programmes like The Great British Bake-Off and Great British Menu, as well as a switch that many people are making to local food production.
A similar thing is also happening to the drinks industry. British-produced real ale and cider have come into their own as consumer tastes change, and there has also been a rise in classic cocktails like Old Fashioned and Pimms, which are often made with purely British spirits and ingredients.
At Bonzer we are proud of our British heritage and of producing almost all of our products in the UK – in fact, 95% of our products are made in the UK – and so we thought we’d celebrate this fact by sharing five of our favourite British food and drink recipes, and also offering a few novel twists on age-old formulas.
Fish and Chips
It doesn’t get more quintessentially British than fish and chips. Consisting of battered cod, haddock or plaice (though many other types of white fish can be used) and deep-fried chips, and served with salt and vinegar, as well as options like tartar sauce, mushy peas or even curry sauce or gravy (depending on how far north you are), fish and chips is still one of the nation’s favourite dishes and the only real British contender to Indian and Chinese in the world of the takeaway.
Making fish and chips is traditionally simple. Place fish fillet in batter, peel and chop spuds, and then deep-fry the two until crispy. However, there are increasingly more and more variations with restaurants claiming to have the perfect batter or the best chips. One of the most prominent fish and chips restaurants in London is The Sea Shell of Lisson Grove who take pleasure in listing their detailed method of making the dish before charging between £14.95 and £32.50 for the pleasure of eating it.
One of the methods we also like is Heston Blumenthal’s version from his In Search of Perfection program. Here, he creates a special batter using vodka, ale and honey, but then puts the batter into a soda siphon (a Soda Splash could be used here) which gives it extra bubbles. The fish is floured and placed into the batter. At the same time he uses a triple-cooking method for his chips (great if you’re patient!) and serves the whole lot with mushy peas and lemon slices. You can watch the whole video here, a great way to make a British classic:
It would be nice to have a little history of the beef wellington here, it does after all have one of the grandest names on this list. However, its past seems somewhat sketchy. There are accounts that the dish was named after Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, due to his love of beef, truffles, mushrooms, madeira wine and pastry, but most of these appear to be hearsay, people creating a backstory based on the dish’s name, rather than it’s actual origins. The other less glamorous origin story that gets knocked about is that it’s named after a Wellington boot. It’s no wonder that people felt the need to invent the Duke of Wellington story!
The recipe for making a beef wellington is surprisingly simple, though with many of the dishes here there are plenty of variations that can be tried. Essentially, the dish starts with a good piece of beef fillet, which is covered in mushroom puree (this is an essential element of an authentic beef wellington). Some chefs, including Gordon Ramsay, then cover the beef and mushroom with ham. Others, especially the purists, will instead cover the whole thing with a crepe to stop the juices from the meat leaking into the pastry, which leads us onto the final step, which is to cover the whole thing with pastry and put it in the oven. It really couldn’t be simpler.
One interesting innovation that can ensure you have a perfectly cooked beef wellington is to use a Sous Vide to cook the beef fillet first. This will ensure that the fillet is perfectly cooked all the way through. The Scrumulous blog shows one way that this can be done. They cook the fillet exactly to their tastes before coating it with mushrooms and parma ham. They then freeze the meat to ensure that once they put in in the pastry and cook it in the oven they are not going to over-cook the meat. A great idea!
Toad In The Hole
Whoever decided to call this dish “toad in the hole” has no doubt put a few people off along the way, but whoever has tried it can attest that this is one of the best comfort foods that Britain can call its own. This dish is simply sausages cooked in Yorkshire pudding batter, and is normally served with onion gravy, vegetables and potatoes (especially of the mashed variety). It is very easy to make.
Start by preparing your Yorkshire pudding batter by putting eggs, flour, milk and salt into a blender. Then, you will need to roast your sausages in a little oil for around 15 minutes. Use a frying pan or baking tray for this. After 15 minutes, ensure that there is still oil in the pan and then add the batter to the mix. Leave it in the oven for roughly another 40 minutes and you will have perfect Toad In The Hole.
Cottage Pie and Shepherd’s Pie are two British staples, dishes that can be made quickly and easily and which are guaranteed to quench your hunger. Cottage pie is historically the first dish to have emerged. When potatoes first came to Britain and were being marketed as cheap sustenance, the cottage pie came into its own as a way of using leftover meat that was thinned out with gravy and cooked in the oven with a potato top. The term “cottage” was a signifier that this was a dish for modest families who lived in cottages. The Shepherd’s Pie came into use later but was essentially the same dish, oven-cooked beef or mutton in gravy with a potato crust. These days we’ve decided to split the terms, with cottage pie signifying a beef dish and shepherd’s pie taking lamb. It’s worked out quite well really.
Making a cottage or shepherd’s pie is quite simple. Fry the beef or lamb in a pan with vegetables such as carrots, onions, celery, whatever you’d use to make a good stew. Add stock, as well as wine and any herbs that you may like, and then keep cooking for a while to get a good “meat and gravy” consistency. At the same time you should be cooking some potatoes. Once they’re soft give them a mash and then you’re ready to assemble your pie. Simply place the meat mixture in the bottom of a casserole dish and then place the potato dish on top of it. That’s it. You’re done. However, there is one twist to this recipe that we thoroughly recommend.
One way that you can really cause a storm with your pie is by choosing a good stewing meat and slow-cooking it. For this, we would recommended shin of beef or even shoulder of lamb. Place the piece of meat in a sous vide with herbs and garlic and then cook per the instructions (times can vary depending on weight and temperature, but a time of 12 hours at 82°C may be about correct for a shin of beef here). Once this is done you’ll find yourself with one of the best pieces of meat you’ll have ever tasted. To incorporate it into your dish simply follow the instructions above but instead of frying the meat simply create your gravy with all the other ingredients and then flake the meat into the sauce before assembling your pie. Delicious!
Gin and Tonic
The humble gin and tonic has its roots in the British military and their time in India. In the early 19th century British soldiers based in India would drink a rudimentary version of gin and tonic to prevent malaria. It had been discovered in the 18th century that quinine could be used to prevent and treat malaria. However, the taste was so bitter that the soldiers started adding gin (which was given to the soldiers as one of their rations), water, sugar and lime to it to make it drinkable. Tonic water, which was the mixture of water and quinine, got its name due to the fact that it was a tonic for malaria. The kind of tonic water that you find in the shops these days features far less quinine and is far less bitter to drink.
A good gin and tonic can be made simply by pouring a quality brand gin and a good tonic over ice in a highball glass, before running a lime around the rim of the glass and giving it a quick squeeze before placing it in the glass. Give the flavours a quick stir with a Bonzer bar spoon to finish the drink.
However, there are some good variations that can be made to the gin and tonic to make it a bit more interesting. One of our favourites is to infuse it with liquorice – as described on the Great British Chefs website. To make the drink, follow the normal gin and tonic recipe but add 10 drops of liquorice bitters with the gin and tonic, as well as a liquorice root to serve, and you’re good to go with this surprisingly good take on a British classic.
If you’d like to find out more about Bonzer’s history, which started in 1879 with our first factory, please take a look at our company timeline.