The Brits may have gotten heat for not having the most refined national cuisine in the past—between pub classics like fish and chips or bangers and mash—but if there is one thing they know how to do better than anyone, it's fine comfort food—and a crop of gourmet grocery stores, chefs, and food writers are bringing the best of British cuisine to light. After all, who better to know what to eat by a roaring fire when it's raining outside than Londoners?
One such store is Fortnum & Mason, a small grocery shop opened in 1707, turned gourmet department store complete with tea salons, wine bars, and restaurants in London's Picadilly. The cult of British cuisine is not lost on the iconic department store, which invented the Scotch egg in 1738, fed generations of royals, and now smokes its own salmon on the roof next to a collection of beehives used to make local honey. Earlier this summer, Fortnum & Mason decided to release its first cookbook in over 300 years—penned by food writer and critic Tom Parker Bowles, son of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. Want to eat like a true royal? From hot crumpets for breakfast to a slow-roasted Shepherd's pie for dinner, these are the best of British recipes for rainy fall days.
Toasted Crumpets With Marmite and Poached Burford Browns
"This is a dish created for the opening of 45 Jermyn St.," says Parker Bowles of the infamous restaurant inside Fortnum & Mason. "There's some lively debate as to who actually invented this mightily British combination of butter, crumpet, Marmite, and oozing egg. But whoever it was deserves a CBE for services to their country. Magnificent and magnificently simple too."
50ml white wine vinegar
4 Burford Brown eggs, at room temperature
Ground black pepper
Fill a large saucepan with water, and bring it to just under boiling point. Turn down to a simmer, and add the vinegar.
Place the crumpets in a toaster. They should be double-toasted to give them a little crispness.
Crack each egg into a small cup (this makes it easier to poach four at the same time). With a slotted spoon, swirl the water around to create a whirlpool in the centre, and then gently drop all the eggs into it. Turn the heat back up, and when it starts bubbling again, turn it back down to a low simmer. Poach the eggs for three to four minutes—they will rise to the surface when they are done. Remove them from the pan with the slotted spoon, and put them on a wad of kitchen paper to soak up the excess water.
Spread the crumpets generously with butter, and then spread with Marmite. Put them on two plates, top each one with a poached egg, and sprinkle with a little ground black pepper.
"At Fortnum's, the 45 Jermyn St. salmon cure is smoked on the roof, [which is] not far from the beehives," says Parker Bowles. "They also have a house cure and organic wild varieties too. Just add scrambled eggs, soft and buttery. Simple but sublime."
80ml double cream
40g butter, plus extra for buttering the toast
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
8 eggs, preferably Burford Browns, lightly beaten
250g smoked salmon
1 tbsp. chopped chives, to garnish
4 slices of sourdough bread, toasted
4 lemon wedges, to serve
Pour the double cream into a heavy-based pan, and bring to the boil. Add the butter and heat until foamy.
Season with salt and white pepper, and then reduce the heat to low, add the beaten eggs, and stir with a heatproof spatula until they are softly set. To prevent overcooking, it's best to take them off the heat a minute or so before they are done—they will continue to cook in the heat of the pan.
Arrange the smoked salmon in a nest on four serving plates. Put the scrambled eggs in the centre of each one, and sprinkle with the chives.
Serve accompanied by the buttered toast and the lemon wedges.
"What sins have been visited upon this blameless 'hunter's chicken' dish over the years, taking it from sophisticated luncheon to mid-'80s nouvelle cuisine catastrophe," writes Parker Bowles. "But this is the proper recipe, simple, classic, and always popular in Fortnum's. Use a chicken supreme (a breast with skin and wing attached)."
Ingredients for the chicken:
2 corn-fed chicken supremes
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Ingredients for the sauce:
50g unsalted butter
1 shallot, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, finely diced
2 plum tomatoes, skinned, deseeded, and diced
Pinch of sugar
100ml white wine
500ml chicken stock
120g button mushrooms, halved
1 tbsp. chopped tarragon
Ingredients for the mashed potato:
300g floury potatoes, such as Maris Piper
50g unsalted butter
25ml double cream
Wrap the potatoes individually in foil, and bake them at 200°C for about an hour until they are soft all the way through when pierced with a knife. When they are done, heat the butter and cream in a saucepan until the butter melts. Cut the potatoes in half, and scoop out the flesh. Push it through a potato ricer or a sieve into the butter and cream, and beat with a wooden spoon until smooth. Season to taste.
Season the chicken. Heat the oil in an ovenproof frying pan, add the chicken breasts, skin side down, and fry until golden. Turn them over, and transfer the pan to an oven heated to 180°C. Cook for 10 to 12 minutes until the juices run clear when a knife is inserted near the bone. Leave to rest in a warm place for five minutes.
While the chicken is cooking, prepare the sauce. Heat 20g of the butter in a pan, add the shallot and garlic, and cook gently until soft. Stir in the tomatoes, and cook for five minutes, and then add the sugar (this will help ensure the sauce is not too acidic), and pour in the wine. Boil until the wine as almost completely evaporated. Add the chicken stock, and boil until reduced by half. Blitz the sauce with a handheld electric blender until smooth.
Add the mushrooms to the sauce, and simmer for five minutes. Finish the sauce with the chopped tarragon leaves, and whisk in the remaining butter to get a good, glossy finish. Season to taste.
Place the mash in the centre of two shallow serving bowls, and place the chicken breasts on top. Finish with the sauce spooned over and around.
Overnight Shoulder-of-Lamb Shepherd's Pie
"Shoulder, slow-braised on the bone, for serious depth and heft," writes Parker Bowles. "With mash, piped (or simply spread) on top. A winter classic made better still. Pick the meat while still warm, as it makes the job easier. And baking the potatoes first will give you a drier, fluffier mash than the boiled equivalent."
Ingredients for the pie filling:
1 shoulder of lamb on the bone
2 carrots, cut into 1cm dice
1 celery stalk, cut into 1cm dice
1 large onion, cut into 1cm dice
8 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Sprig of rosemary, leaves finely chopped
Leaves from 4 sprigs of thyme
2 to 3 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
3 tbsp. tomato ketchup
500ml chicken stock
Handful of frozen peas
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Ingredients for the duchesse potato topping:
6 large baking potatoes
200ml double cream
120g unsalted butter
6 egg yolks
Season the lamb shoulder well, and place on a wire rack in a roasting tray. Cover the tray loosely with foil, place in the oven at 120°C, and slow-roast for eight hours. At Fortnum's, we tend to leave it overnight for the following morning's shift to take out.
Once cooked, pick the meat out while it is still warm, removing all the fat and skin. Shred the meat into decent-size pieces.
Heat a spoonful of lamb fat from the roasting tray in a large pan, add the carrots, celery, and onion, and cook gently until soft. Stir in the garlic and herbs, and cook for a few minutes longer.
Next, add the Worcestershire sauce, tomato ketchup, and the lamb, and mix well. Pour in the stock, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until it has reduced but the mixture is still moist. Check the seasoning.
To make the topping, wrap the potatoes in foil, and bake at 200°C for about an hour until tender.
Once the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut them in half, scoop out the flesh, and push it through a potato ricer or a sieve into a bowl. Bring the double cream and butter to the boil in a pan, and beat them into the potato. Season well, and then mix in the egg yolks. Once mixed, put the potato into a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle.
Now put the lamb into a large pie dish, pressing it right-side down. Scatter the frozen pies over, and then pipe the duchesse potato mix on top, ensuring the filling is completely covered.
Finally, place in an oven heated to 180°C for about 20 minutes until piping hot and golden brown. Serve, and enjoy.
Next up: Things to do in England, according to the iconic Louise Roe.