Thinking what to have for dinner tonight? How about some corned beef, pickled herring or brawn (jellied pig’s head) with fermented vegetables in salt? I’m sure these aren’t top of your wish list – they may even bring back nightmares of bad school dinners – but it could be worth giving some of those old recipes another chance.
Our culinary history has a long tradition of preserving foods in time of plenty – be it by making jams and chutneys out of the abundant fruits of late summer or pickling and curing meat and fish to guarantee a good source of protein throughout the whole year. Not only did this make a lot of economic sense, it also produced some of our most delicious British dishes – strokes of genius inspired by necessity.
The concept of using every part of the animal has been championed by some of this country’s top chefs, but it’s becoming more widely accessible across the board. There will always be a special place in our hearts (and stomachs) for a good fillet steak or roast rack of lamb, but there is still room for corned beef and pickled cabbage – so long as it is well prepared. Forget getting it out of a can. Think back to the way people originally made preserves for long sea voyages, packing meat in large salt crystals called corns. Made properly, it can be absolutely incredible.
Potted shrimps, salt beef, kippers, salted cod, smoked mackerel, dried sausages, black pudding – the list of old-fashioned but delicious ways to eat preserved meat and fish goes on. On the fruit and vegetable front, things like pickled gherkins make a great accompaniment but even if that’s not for you, bottled fruit in alcohol (like damsons in gin or raspberries in vodka) is another good way to enjoy British produce all year round.
Recently, restaurants have put a lot of emphasis on eating seasonally and locally, and I agree that this is important, but we can still have variety on our menus and be innovative in what we serve. Preserving food changes its character and makes for some really exciting dishes. It’s time to revisit some of our traditions.
Try some on Bruce’s menu, visit paternosterchophouse.co.uk.