Chefs’ secret ingredients: turn dinner from basic to brilliant | Food

The ingredient: sage and onion stuffing

By Jack Monroe, food writer and campaigner

On the top shelf in my kitchen, nestled behind the jars of butterscotch Angel Delight and instant mash, is a pair of jars of pale green breadcrumbs – 24p sage and onion stuffing crumbs. I use them for coating homemade nuggets or fish fingers, padding out meatballs, in a can of tomatoes for a two-ingredient pappa al pomodoro, to top pasta bakes and macaroni, in garlic bread, to make a bread sauce with a flavour bang, mixed with chopped tomatoes for a quick panzanella, and in a five-ingredient nut roast for my vegetarian partner on a Sunday. I buy five boxes at a time and sieve them: fine powder in one jar for breadcrumb coatings, thickening stews and bread making, and the chunkier pieces in another for meatballs, toppings and soups.

The recipe: a most excellent vegetarian roast

Jack Monroe’s veggie roast



Food styling: Henrietta Clancy Photograph: Romas Foord/The Observer

Mrs J has been a vegetarian for two decades now and in that period has eaten an inestimable number of nut roasts. She says repeatedly that this is her favourite ever, and I take that as high praise indeed. It’s simple and the apricots can be switched for cranberries for Christmas dinner or other seasonal occasions. Leftovers make excellent stuffing sandwiches, or can be eaten cold with brown sauce and aplomb.

Serves 6, reluctantly, as I can eat the whole thing myself
onions 2
oil 1 tbsp
mixed nuts 400g
cooked chestnuts or other nuts 200g
dried sage and onion stuffing 170g
tinned mandarins 240g
dried apricots 150g

Peel and finely slice the onions, then toss them into a wide non-stick pan. Add the oil, season with salt and pepper, and cook on a very low heat on the smallest hob ring for 10 minutes to soften without browning. When gently cooked, remove from the heat and transfer to a large mixing bowl.

Finely chop the nuts and chestnuts – this is easily achieved in a small bullet blender, jug blender or food processor if you have them, but if you don’t, pop them into a sturdy freezer bag and grind with a rolling pin against the work surface. Tip the crushed nuts into the mixing bowl and add the stuffing.

Drain the mandarins, reserving the juice in a measuring jug, and tip them into the mix. Mash with a fork and fold them in. Finely chop the apricots and add those, too.

Add boiling water to the mandarin juice to make it up to 220ml. Pour it into the mixing bowl and stir well. Leave to stand for 15 minutes for the stuffing to swell as it absorbs the liquid.

Lightly grease a 900g loaf tin and scrape the mixture into it, pressing down firmly into the corners to really pack it in. Leave a clear inch from the top of the tin as the roast may rise as it cooks.

Place in the centre of the oven at 180C/gas mark 4 and bake for 50 minutes, until the edges are crisp. Leave to stand for 10 minutes to firm up. Serve warm or cold.

The ingredient: seaweed

By Nathan Outlaw, chef-owner Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, Port Isaac, Cornwall

Although it’s thought of as being salty, seaweed is actually a flavour enhancer capable of boosting a seafood dish to a new level. Steaming fish with bladderwrack enhances the ozoney flavour, while powdered sea lettuce or gutweed sprinkled into hollandaise adds an extra dimension to the sauce. I use seaweed that has either been foraged by our chefs or is from the Cornish Seaweed Company.

The recipe: grilled sardines, cucumber salad and seaweed salad cream

Nathan Outlaw sardines and seaweed salad cream



Photograph: Romas Foord/The Observer

Sardines are delicious and quick to cook. This dish, ideal for summer eating, is simple to prepare under the grill or on the barbecue. If using the barbecue, light it half an hour before cooking so it’s good and hot. Using seaweed to season the salad cream gives an interesting twist.

Serves 4
For the white wine shallots
banana shallots 4 large, peeled
white wine 150ml
white wine vinegar 75ml
caster sugar 75g

For the seaweed salad cream
egg yolks 2 large
dried seaweed powder 2 tbsp, or flakes blitzed to a powder
English mustard 2 tsp
caster sugar 2 tsp
lemon juice 2 tbsp
light olive oil 200ml
double cream 100ml

For the cucumber salad
cucumber 1, peeled
small capers in brine 3 tsp, drained
white wine shallots 2 tsp
dill 2 tsp, chopped, plus some sprigs for finishing
lemon juice 4 tsp
cold-pressed rapeseed oil 8 tsp

For the sardines
sardines 20 descaled, gutted and butterflied
salt and freshly ground black pepper
olive oil to drizzle

To make the white wine shallots, finely chop the shallots and place in a clean container. Put the wine, vinegar and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over a medium heat. Add a pinch of salt, then pour the hot pickling liquor over the shallots, making sure they are submerged. Leave to cool, then seal and leave for at least 12 hours before using. The shallots will keep for 3 months in the fridge.

To make the salad cream, whisk the first 5 ingredients together in a large bowl for 1 minute, then gradually whisk in the oil until fully incorporated. To finish, slowly whisk in the cream, then season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate until required.

For the cucumber salad, pare long ribbons from the cucumber using a vegetable peeler until you reach the seeds. Put the ribbons in a bowl with the capers, white wine shallots and dill. Dress with the lemon juice and oil, and toss. Scatter with the reserved dill.

Season the sardines with salt and pepper, then brush with olive oil. Place skin-side down on a grill tray or barbecue grid and cook for 3 minutes. Don’t be tempted to move them or you may damage the skin. Carefully turn the sardines over and place on a baking tray. Place the tray under the grill or on the barbecue for 1 minute to finish cooking the fish.

The ingredient: charcoal

By Monica Galetti, chef-owner, Mere, London

Monica Galetti



Monica Galetti. Hair and makeup Neusa Neves at Terri Manduca using Nars and Aveda haircare Photograph: Pål Hansen/The Observer

I use charcoal in lots of things at Mere, from bread and choux to batters and sauces. I like the shock factor of the intense black colour without it tainting the curry spices, which happens when you use squid ink. The flavour is a mild, smoky curry in contrast to the colour, which makes you think it will be very strong. I grew up with my mother making us curries, so this was inspired by the feelings of comfort from her home cooking, but I wanted to make it my own. My mum’s curries were usually very mild so us kids could enjoy them, but nowadays I absolutely love spicy food. This dish brings together the warming and fragrant flavours reminiscent of my childhood and travels.

The recipe: black curry cod

Monica Galetti black curry cod



Photograph: Romas Foord/The Observer

Serves 4
For the black curry powder
turmeric powder 2 tsp
cumin powder 1½ tsp
coriander powder 1½ tsp
ground ginger 1 tsp
chilli powder ½ tsp
fenugreek powder ½ tsp
charcoal powder 1½ tbsp (available at souschef.co.uk)

For the garnishes
hazelnuts 80g
black sesame 1 tsp
white sesame 1 tsp
cumin seeds ½ tsp
fennel seeds ½ tsp
celery 2 sticks
white balsamic vinegar 200ml
cucumber ½
grapes 2
radishes 2
fresh coriander to serve

For the sauce
shallot 1
olive oil as needed
butter 50g
white wine 100ml
fish stock 200ml
double cream 200ml
white miso paste 50g

For the cod
cod fillets 4, 140g each
olive oil as needed
cold butter 70g, cubed
garlic 1 clove
thyme 2 sprigs

For the charcoal use either bamboo charcoal powder or homemade vegetable coal. To make vegetable coal: preheat the grill to high. Thinly slice one large onion and spread into a single layer on a baking sheet. Place under a hot grill, turning occasionally until dry and completely blackened. This should take about 15 minutes. Remove and cool completely, then grind to a powder in a spice mill or pestle and mortar.

For the hazelnut garnish, heat a non-stick pan, add the nuts and colour gently all over, add the sesame and spices, and heat together for 2 minutes without burning. Cool then crush roughly in a pestle and mortar and set aside.

Peel the celery sticks and cut into batons about 1cm thick. Leave to pickle in the white balsamic vinegar for 20 minutes.

Peel and deseed the cucumber, then cut into 2cm thick pieces. Season with salt and pepper, and colour with a blowtorch or in a hot pan and set aside.

Slice the grapes into circles and set aside. Slice the radishes thinly and keep on ice.

To make the sauce, peel and cut the shallot in half, then slice thinly. Heat a saucepan with a little olive oil, add the butter and cook the shallot to colour. Add the wine and reduce to a third.

Add the fish stock, bring it to a boil and reduce by half. Add the cream and bring the mix to a boil, whisk in the miso and pass through a strainer.

To cook the cod, season the fillets with a pinch of salt. Heat an ovenproof non-stick pan and add a little oil. Place the fillets skin-side down and cook on medium heat for about 2 minutes, then place the pan in the oven at 180C/gas mark 4 for 2-3 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a small saucepan with 70g butter until foaming. Crush the garlic clove and add to the butter with the thyme. Stir in 1 tablespoon of the black curry powder. Remove the fish from the oven and pour this butter over and continue basting on a medium heat for 1-2 minutes.

Serve with the charred cucumber, pickled celery, grapes and radishes sprinkled around the plate and dress with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Spoon on some of the hazelnut mix.

Serve the sauce on the side. I like to finish the dish with some fresh coriander.

The ingredient: smoked sweet paprika

By Nieves Barragán Mohacho, chef-director, Sabor, London

Smoked sweet paprika plays an important role in Spanish cuisine and is used in paella, sauces, marinades, even drinks (one of my favourites being a Spanish version of a bloody mary made with a sherry base). My favourite brand, which we use at Sabor, is La Chinata.

I have vivid memories from when I was around eight years old, when my mother used to prepare some of my favourite dishes using smoked sweet paprika. As soon as the spice was added, the room would fill with smoky aromas and a huge grin would spread across my face. I knew a delicious meal was on its way.

Whenever I encounter that smell, whether I’m cooking or enjoying a meal out in Spain, I’m taken straight back to my childhood. My parents grew up in Cáceres in the Extremadura region, where paprika is produced. They later moved to Bilbao, where I was brought up. For a long time we used to travel back every year for our summer vacation.

Smoked sweet paprika is fantastic for dishes centred around oily fish such as brill, turbot, lemon sole or mackerel, or in a marinade for pork.

The recipe: whole grilled brill with ajada sauce

Secret Ingredients OFM August 2019 Observer Food Monthly Food styling: Henrietta Clancy



Photograph: Romas Foord/The Observer

Serves 2
For the ajada sauce
extra virgin olive oil 100ml
garlic 2 cloves, thinly sliced
moscatel vinegar 40ml
lemon juice 10ml
smoked sweet paprika 1 tsp
chopped parsley 1 tbsp
salt and pepper to taste

For the brill
extra virgin olive oil 50ml
brill 1 whole, around 800g
salt and pepper to taste

To make the sauce, warm the oil in a saucepan on a medium to low heat, then add the garlic. When the garlic begins to turn golden brown, add the vinegar and lemon juice, then set aside to cool.

Once cool, add the smoked sweet paprika and stir. It is important to wait until cooled, because if the oil is too hot, the paprika will burn and taste bitter. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and add the parsley at the end.

To cook the brill, put the oil in a large pan and warm on a medium heat. Season the fish with salt and pepper, then place it in the pan, dark skin side down, and cook for 4-5 minutes.

Flip with a large spatula and cook for another 3-4 minutes. If the pan seems very dry and the fish isn’t cooking well, you may need another splash of olive oil.

Place the brill on a large plate and pour the ajada sauce on top.

The ingredient: pig’s trotter

By Simon Hopkinson, chef and food writer

Most decent butchers will be able to furnish you with a trotter and will happily split it lengthways in two, then further cleave into 6-8 pieces, so allowing as much gelatine as possible to exude. If you have access to a Chinese supermarket, you will often find an entire trotter, neatly cleaved into 8 perfect pieces, in a film-wrapped carton – and for almost pence. For me, the inclusion of a trotter transforms stews; I always pop one in braised tripe, too.

I have, for many years, believed that chicken joints for a good coq au vin marinated in raw [uncooked] wine overnight will never be rid of alcohol; its strong notes remain in the chicken meat even when cooked, which I find indigestible. So I always pre-cook the wine with herbs and vegetables, together with a pig’s trotter to add richness and body to the eventual braise for the coq.

For this initial cooking I use a small pressure cooker, which will extract all the goodness from the trotter in the shortest time – say, 25 minutes on full pressure. Otherwise, simmer normally for at least an hour, maybe more; the trotter skin and meat should be falling off the bones.

The recipe: coq au vin

Coq au Vin Pig’s trotter Simon Hopkinson Secret Ingredients OFM August 2019 Observer Food Monthly Food styling: Henrietta Clancy



Photograph: Romas Foord/The Observer

Serves 4
For pre-cooking the wine marinade
decent red wine 1 bottle, preferably pinot noir
pig’s trotter 1 small, split lengthways and roughly chopped into 6-8 pieces
redcurrant jelly 1 scant tbsp
small onion 1, chopped
celery 2 sticks, chopped
carrot 1, chopped
garlic 4 cloves, unpeeled and bruised
thyme 3-4 sprigs
bay leaves 2

For the coq au vin
olive oil a trickle
pancetta 1 x 150-175g piece (rind removed and reserved), cut into 1.5cm cubes
butter 25g
chicken legs 4 large (drumstick and thigh), skin removed
flour 2 tbsp
shallots 16-20 small, peeled
dark open-cap mushrooms 12 medium-sized
cognac 3 tbsp

Put the marinade ingredients into a stainless steel pot together with the reserved pancetta rind and bring up to a simmer. Cover and quietly cook for at least one hour (or follow the pressure cooker method). Strain through a sieve and cool completely. Marinate the chicken pieces in this for at least 5-6 hours or, preferably, overnight.

Warm the olive oil in a solid-bottomed pot and gently fry the pancetta until golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve. Add the butter to the pot. Season the chicken joints and roll in the flour, then fry until golden brown in the fat and butter. Now remove these, too, and put with the reserved pancetta.

Tip the shallots and mushrooms into the pot and gently cook until well coloured – about 10 minutes. Return the chicken and pancetta to the pot, turn up the heat a touch, pour over the cognac and set it alight. Once the flames have died down, add the wine marinade. Shake everything about a bit, then cover and put on a very low heat. Simmer at the merest blip, covered, for about 45 minutes (or in a medium oven).

Serve the coq au vin with boiled or steamed potatoes lubricated with melted butter, then showered with finely chopped parsley.

JUST ADD A LITTLE OF THIS…

SIX SHORT TIPS FROM TOP CHEFS AND COOKS

The ingredient: potato

By Joe Trivelli, co-head chef at the River Café

potatoes



Photograph: Creativ Studio Heinemann/Getty Images/Westend61

When cooking at home, I often add about half a boiled potato to pesto. I use something that’s not waxy, an old potato rather than a new one. The idea came from a colleague of mine, from Genoa, whose mum does it. When I heard that, of course I tried it too. The potato gives body and smoothness, and also goes some way to replacing cheese for vegans. Cheese gives a binding kind of smoothness. So when cooking for vegan mates at home, I put in some potato and a couple of olives too, which gives it saltiness and tanginess.

Obviously it’s not going to win any authentic Ligurian pesto prizes; it tastes completely different but it is delicious. Actually, with many pasta dishes, I often cook potato and pasta together, as I like the added starch and the way the oil sticks to the pasta. The other secret ingredient in pesto (which I do do at work) is water – just a couple of tablespoons or if the basil is just really wet from being washed. It stops it becoming too oily and helps it become a sauce. Because I’m pretentious I use filtered water.

The ingredient: soy sauce

By Sat Bains, chef-owner at Restaurant Sat Bains, Nottingham

Glass bottle of soy sauce



Photograph: donatas1205/Getty Images/iStockphoto

In 2016 I was lucky enough to visit Japan and was introduced to this incredible soy sauce company in Akita, which has been around since the 19th-century. It is family-owned and has never before exported. We are the first restaurant to get its soy sauce. It’s beautiful, not too salty with a bit of sweetness and a lot of umami. Every soy sauce is different because they come from different breweries with their own individual processes. At the restaurant, we use it in lots of things – we can do a soy beurre blanc and when we make a nut-brown butter, a splash of soy adds a lovely layer of saltiness. One of my favourite dishes is something my uncle introduced me to when I was a kid. You get a big piece of deep-fried fish from the chip shop, and put sliced red onions on top and Sarson’s vinegar. I’ve now started adding soy sauce. You get the incredible crispy batter, soft fish, astringent red onion, hint of malt vinegar and the salty soy sauce. Anything you would normally put balsamic vinegar on, use soy too. In a tomato and onion salad, with basil and olive oil, add a little soy and it’s mind blowing.

The ingredient: allspice

By Yasmin Khan, food writer

Whole allspice berries



Photograph: Oleksii Terpugov/Alamy

I used to think of allspice as something just to use in cakes or biscuits at Christmas but three years ago when I was travelling around the Middle East researching Zaitoun, my book on Palestinian food, I learned about its incredible application in savoury dishes. It’s a really common spice used in the Levant, in Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese kitchens.

It’s not just one thing. When you smell it, you get hints of nutmeg, cinnamon, black pepper and mace. I think that’s why it has the English name allspice. I now use it in everything: from a marinade for barbecued chicken (it’s the key ingredient in jerk) and chickpea stew to salad dressings. I often have it with porridge, too, as it has more notes than cinnamon. It imparts a warmth, a sweetness and a spicy flavour that I can’t get enough of.

The ingredient: yuzu kosho

By Alison Roman, cookery writer

Yuzu Kosho



Photograph: South China Morning Post via Getty Images

Yuzu kosho is a Japanese chilli paste made by fermenting chillies and the rind of yuzu (a Japanese citrus fruit)with salt. There is green and red yuzu kosho but I prefer the green. It’s not common, definitely not something that’s going be at your everyday supermarket, but you can find it online easily or in a Japanese grocer.

I first used it about 16 years ago in Sona in California, the first restaurant I ever worked in. I was on the pastry station at the time and we used it with cherries– so cherries, sugar and a dab of yuzu kosho. That was a bit of a fancy application, but at home I use it in things like braises and stews or with cold noodles.

I really love it with chicken and beef. When braising a whole chicken with vinegar, a tiny bit goes a long way. It’s a very very simple dish but the yuzu kosho makes it special without having to do a ton of work. It’s not something most people are familiar with, so even when you use a little bit it’s a mysterious flavour – salty, spicy and citrussy, but not quite lemony.

The ingredient: fish sauce

By Blanche Vaughan, cookery writer

fish Sauce



Photograph: PR

I’ve been adding fish sauce to guacamole for years. I have to credit this idea to my friend, Crispin Somervile, who lived in Mexico. The guacamole doesn’t taste of fish sauce but it heightens the flavours of the other ingredients, which is the trick to seasoning – like adding a judicious bit of parmesan. You get these elements you can’t quite put your finger on but everything tastes better.

For one avocado, I add a couple of teaspoons, as that’s the main seasoning. I just sort of splash it in to taste. I add a bit of very fresh spring onion, lime obviously, a little fresh chilli and coriander. I don’t like the avocado too mushed up, I like a bit of chunk. Using fish sauce in guacamole did inspire me – sometimes I’ll put it into a dressing. I love it with a little rice vinegar on salads.

The ingredient: bacon rind

By Gill Meller, chef and cookery writer

bacon side



Photograph: Kateryna Bibro/Getty Images/iStockphoto

I add a square of bacon rind to my tomato sauce as it makes it much richer and creamier. I learned this trick years ago from the mother of the food ambassador of Puglia when I was invited to visit the region with a couple of chef friends. One evening the food ambassador, Franco, took us back to his mum’s home and she cooked for us. One of the courses was a pasta dish with this delicious tomato sauce. It was a sauce she made later in the summer when tomatoes were at their ripest, spending three or four days making enough to see her through to the following year. Her secret was to add horsemeat and various kinds of salt-pork trim leftover from making charcuterie. Her passata was cooked long and slow, and left simmering overnight. In the morning, she would take the horsemeat and trimmings out and what was left was this intensely flavoured tomato sauce. My sauce isn’t the same but it is inspired by it. I make it with lots of olive oil and garlic, sometimes adding onions and bay leaves, the best quality tinned tomatoes I can get hold of, a little bit of sugar, quite a lot of salt, black pepper and a bit of rind. I would probably use a few strips – pieces of skin, not so much the rind that comes from rashers. Most butchers who cure their own bacon will be able to sell or maybe even give you the rind.

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