If all goes according to plan I’ll be moving house soon and into one with a small kitchen.
When you cook for a living people assume you need 2,000 square feet of space to produce food. In reality you can rustle up good food from a chopping board and one cooker ring.
I spent three days last week staying in a camper van for the Balmoral Show and enjoyed it’s compactness. Access to the best food in Northern Ireland from the Food NI marquee was obviously an added bonus!
When I ran my restaurant in Manchester, my “kitchen” at home consisted of a bare shell with a two ring portable electric hob with a grill underneath. The last thing I wanted to do when I came home at night was to cook so it was more than sufficient. I still entertained at times and even cooked for my thirtieth birthday party from the two rings.
The best food I’ve had in restaurants have come from very small kitchens. Canny restaurateurs know that available space should be used to serve customers and not stroke the egos of chefs. Extending kitchen space when you’re serving the same customers is just daft! I’m a great believer in cutting your cloth accordingly.
The boot of my car consistently has a few things in it – a butane cooker, a box with salt, knives, a wooden spoon, a bowl, Broighter Gold rapeseed oil and an old griddle. A visit to a couple of local shops and I’ll get dinner sorted for 12 with that lot!
I’ve been doing a cooking slot on Radio Ulster for over 15 years now and when visitors come into the building they expect a Saturday Kitchen style set up with a beautifully styled set complete with obligatory cooker island and props. The look on their faces, when they see the fold-up table with a chopping board and butane stove, is priceless. There are no sound effects but instead genuine cooking, pans sizzling and everyone gets fed.
One pot dishes are ideal for confined cooking. Get everything into one saucepan and let everyone help themselves. Braising chicken is a wonderful way of getting the most out of it for flavour.
When you go to catering college one of the first things you learn to do is to prepare a chicken for saute – cut into two drumsticks, two thighs and the breasts in half. When you cook the skin until golden it imparts a delicious savouriness into the sauce. Ask your butcher to do this for you and then use the carcass for stock. Cooking meat on the bones adds richness to your finished liquor.
There’s a rustic restaurant I go to in Italy that’s got gingham tablecloths, candles in old Chianti bottles and is pretty much how you imagine the perfect Italian restaurant to be.
Apart from making the lightest gnocchi in the universe they do a dish that’s chicken cooked slowly in beer. It sounds simple but the fall off the bone, tangy meat is sublime. I managed to get the recipe last time (quite an achievement using a combination of my broken Italian and their pigeon English) and have taken the liberty of adding a little streaky bacon to the dish that lends a deeper salty dimension.
My other recipe this week is for tacos. Make a big pot of spicy mince and beans and let everyone put them into a soft flour tortilla with salsa, sourcream and cheese – eat them outside, the sauce dripping down your chin for the perfect Al fresco dinner. Only one ring required – what’s not to love?!