I’m at beautiful Walnuts Farm in Heathfield, East Sussex, watching eagerly, camera phone poised, trying to catch a shot of a turkey at the precise moment he blows out his plumage. The turkey is, I am told, fluffing his feathers on more frequent basis than usual because he seems to be attracted to female bloggers. His owner Nick Ivins tells us that, bizarrely, turkeys aren’t shy of inter-species copulation.
I have a hunch, however, that this one is less turned on by me than by the thought of being captured on camera. I wouldn’t blame him. It transpires the lucky devil missed his date for Christmas dinner because the family ate goose, and then his life was saved once again by a number of fortuitous photo shoot bookings for the likes of Laura Ashley. Now the old guy looks set to survive a few more winters, because he’s considered ‘too tough’ for the table, even though he remains soft on the eye.
The purpose of today’s visit is not to flirt with old birds, however, but to learn how to cook lunch with Michelin-starred chef Josh Eggleton of acclaimed gastropub The Pony & Trap in Bristol. The event is hosted by Great British Chefs, to celebrate the launch of their new recipe app, and Nokia, who provided me with a Lumia 1020 41 megapixel camera phone with which to photograph the day’s activities.*
We are cooking a vegetarian menu of spelt, barley and butternut risotto with wild garlic and pistachios, followed by posh eggy bread (or pain perdu) with rhubarb and an elderflower sabayon. Josh talks us through his menu over plates of Bristol chorizo and crudités served with hummus and a fresh salad cream that is a far cry from Heinz. Josh explains that his food is British in the sense that we are ‘magpies of other food cultures’. He places weight on using native ingredients where possible, but will apply techniques from all over, with today’s meal notably borrowing from France and Italy.
Josh says his ‘food philosophy changes all the time’ but it is ‘based on produce or what I call artisanship‘. From this I learn that Josh is one of a number of acclaimed chefs keen to get involved in the early stages of making the produce used in his kitchen: from cheese-making to smoking and curing. Josh is quick to point out that when it comes to food there is much to know, and that even at his level he is still ‘learning everyday‘.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that I’m learning quite a bit today too, notably that it is well worth investing in a juicer, an appliance which until now I thought to be something of a home cook’s white elephant. But no, Josh says he uses a juicer all the time, to make purée from everything. A squash or carrot purée is made most intense by blending fresh juice with roasted veg, and raw horseradish juice is amazing in a Bloody Mary. Don’t bother with leeks though; Josh says leek juice is disgusting.
I like the fact that Josh’s menu is unfussy and more usable in the context of family cooking than I would expect from a restaurant chef. I am also inspired by his twists on convention, that the risotto is made using a combination of spelt and barley, both grown in Britain, that have been toasted to intensify their flavour. To begin the risotto, the grains are cooked again in butter, before being combined with onion and crushed garlic and excessively finely chopped carrot, spring onion and celery. The liquid comes in the form of a butternut squash purée; plenty of good white wine and water.
As someone who can’t chuck a chicken carcass without simmering it first, I ask Josh if the reason for the omission of stock is to do with its potential to ‘muddy’ flavours. He says the choice is primarily for the vegetarians’ benefit, but interestingly, he adds that the stocks he makes use only bones. The flavour is left as pure as possible to give the stock more versatility, and aromatics retain more vibrancy when added at a later stage.
Another ‘restaurant-y’ tip Josh gives is to start a risotto when you have time, chill when the grains are half-cooked and finish cooking it straight before serving. I can’t believe the idea hasn’t occurred to me before, but having recently switched allegiance from risotto to pilaf due to it being quicker to cook, I have a feeling this advice will revolutionise my meal planning.
Josh finishes the risotto with cubes of roasted squash, chopped pistachios, butter, Parmesan and wild garlic (good ingredient for novice foragers because it is prolific and its pungent smell is hard to confuse). Josh says he includes a quite a few local wild ingredients on his menus, favourites being vetch, a tasty alternative to expensive pea shoots, wood sorrel for its intense lemony flavour and pineapple weed, which smells of its namesake and works beautifully in panna cotta. The wild plant Josh gets the most from however is elder, and I am itching to try his suggestion of pickled elderberries as an alternative to capers.
Which brings me neatly to dessert, which was initially inspired by Josh’s idea to combine the sunny English flavours of strawberry and elderflower. It’s only March and the sun is beating down as on a June day, but not to force things we are using rhubarb as a seasonal alternative to strawberries. The chopped rhubarb is pan-roasted briefly in sugar with a touch of rosemary, so that it retains its bite. The fruit is then placed on top of sliced sourdough bread that has been steeped in eggs and milk with maple syrup, cinnamon and nutmeg then pan-fried, and topped with a sabayon flavoured with elderflower cordial.
We enjoy our dessert as the sun lowers in the sky above the garden at the front of the house. I feel both summery and refined, and comfortingly, well out of view of the turkey.
See Great British Chefs for Josh Eggleton’s recipes for spelt, barley & butternut squash risotto and eggy bread with pan-roast strawberries and elderflower sabayon
Disclaimer: I was invited to take part in this event by Great British Chefs and Nokia UK, who have loaned me a Lumia 1020 for the purposes of review. No payment has been made for the publication of this post and all views remain my own, unbiased opinion, in spite of what Jay Rayner might have to say!
*Pictures marked X were taken using my iPhone 4s due to my Lumia 1020 being in need of charge during the action
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