How to cook the perfect boeuf bourguignon

It’s a mystery to me how this giant of the French classical repertoire has escaped the clutches of this column for so long. Richard Olney (another big beast of the Gallic cookery scene) describes boeuf bourguignon as “probably the most widely known of all French preparations”, while Elizabeth David introduces it as “a favourite among those carefully composed, slowly cooked dishes, which are the domain of French housewives and owner-cooks of modest restaurants rather than of professional chefs”. Sounds manageable. Yet Olney goes on, slightly worryingly, that “beef burgundy certainly…

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How to bake the perfect swiss roll

ow do you make a swiss roll? Push him down a mountain. Sorry, it had to be done. Thankfully, however, there are easier ways to score a slice of this much loved and, despite the name, very British cake. Neglected in recent years in favour of flashier rivals, it’s one of those rare pieces of patisserie to combine both style, in the form of that joyous spiral of jam, and substance – though not too much: it’s a sponge, not a roly poly. Thankfully, for something that looks so impressive, the swiss roll…

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How to cook the perfect miso ramen

Less a fast food than a national obsession, ramen inspires levels of devotion in its millions of fans that can seem puzzling to anyone who has never had the – considerable – pleasure. Yet one ridiculously rich, intensely savoury and scalding slurp is enough to explain why this simple noodle soup is fast becoming a global cult. Though it is not a dish with a long and distinguished pedigree (it was introduced to Japan by Chinese tradesmen in the 19th century, helped by imports of US wheat during the postwar years and…

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How to bake the perfect salted caramel brownies

Some of you, I know, have had your fill of salted caramel. You’re sick of finding it in everything from green tea to cider, still unconvinced by the idea of a savoury sweet, and that famous image of Nigella dripping head to toe in sugary, buttery saline goodness leaves you utterly cold. And I’m sorry for your loss, really I am. Because, to the rest of us, the attractions are all too clear: rich and buttery, with an intense caramel sweetness shot through with maritime undercurrents, it’s hard to think of many things…

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How to cook the perfect spotted dick

  Spotted dick may have a name that only the British could love, but it’s a dish the rest of the world could well learn to treasure, and not just for the laughter it inevitably prompts. A doughty mainstay of school dinners throughout the 20th century, this steamed suet pudding – pleasingly plain yet plump with currants – feels like the product of a different age in comparison with the obvious charms of last week’s salted caramel brownie, possibly because it is. According to Regula Ysewijn’s rightly lauded history of the British…

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How to bake the perfect pretzels

With more aliases than the late lamented Artist Formerly Known as Prince, known variously as brezel, bretzel, brezn and breze as well as the more familiar Anglophone pretzel, the correct spelling isn’t the only thing that’s a bit twisted about this ancient bread. Named originally for the Latin brachium, thanks to its (slight) resemblance to folded arms, and often credited to monastic bakers, perhaps because children were taught to pray with their arms crossed across their chests, in the US a pretzel is often assumed to be a crisp, salted biscuit, while in Europe,…

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How to cook the perfect risi e bisi

isi e bisi, a dish that’s even more fun to say than piccalilli, is a Venetian springtime speciality, traditionally made to celebrate the feast of San Marco on 25 April, when the peas are at their smallest and sweetest … and still a long way off in the UK. Like many legumes, peas are best eaten as fresh as possible, before their natural sugars turn to starch, so it’s worth waiting until the local crop hits the market to make this satisfying supper – or better still, using your own if you’re…

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How to bake the perfect strawberry tart

Strawberries, as a rule, are above cooking. The season for really good fruit is so short, and that fruit’s perfume so very delicate, that to gild the lily with anything other than a dollop of dairy would be sacrilege – as soon as it meets heat, that fresh acidity is gone for good. If you want to cook a strawberry, use this jam recipe. Occasionally, however, the occasion demands something a little fancier than a dish of fruit and cream – like a classic fruit tart, that pretty stalwart of the…

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How to make the perfect vegetarian scotch eggs

  It’s an unfortunate fact that many of the best things on the traditional British picnic menu are sausage-based, leaving vegetarian and non-pork-eating guests stuck with bread and cheese. This would be no real hardship were not for the fact that even many non-meat eaters find that scotch eggs have a way of making eyes at you from the other side of the rug, flaunting their bright yolks and crunchy crumb in a way that’s really quite unreasonable. The popularity of the scotch egg at such occasions is partly explained by the fact…

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The desi version of a healthy soup

Kanji or kanji water made of different rice varieties offers not just nutrition but also a lot of comfort Now that the rains are making their reluctant appearance, I long for kanji (rice gruel). It evokes memories of our annual childhood holiday in a small village on the banks of the Periyar river in Kerala. We were 18 grandchildren and, almost every year, at least a dozen would gather to spend time with our grandparents. So kanji for dinner was the only feasible option. At 7.30 pm, we would line up on a mat…

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