British Classic #10:POLO Mints

Posted July 13, 2009 by croosh
Categories: Uncategorized

There is one simple but brilliant reason why we as a nation love these small, faintly chalky and utterly inoffensive mints.

The price? No.
The taste? No.

It is because you can stick the tip of your tongue through the hole. A satisfaction that is totally unexplainable, but universally agreed. And that’s it, the whole story. The Alpha and Omega of POLO mints – they are, as their adverts boast, “the mint with the hole”.



British Classics #9: Fancy A Ruby? with Casey and Boz

Posted June 7, 2009 by croosh
Categories: Uncategorized

This is a big one. So big, in fact, that help is needed. A very special guest will be with you shortly…

Oh, and here’s a photo to give you a clue:

Any visitor to Britain who ventures beyond the confines of their hotel/guest house/elderly relative’s sprawling mansion (this last one only occurs in US movies, by the way) will quickly realise one very consistent fact of life upon which the entire isles agree. We bloody love Indian food. We love it so very much that we adopted it. Curry (Cockney rhyming slang Ruby Murray, to explain the title of this piece) is a legitimate part of the national diet, a soul-nourishing end to a night of fizzy beer light-headedness, or a blissful treat when no-one can be arsed to cook. They’ll even bring it to your door. With warm wet-naps. But I’m not here to expound upon a particular dish itself, I’m just providing the preamble to my guest. So, a little history. Which is a lot if you’re English, really.

The British love affair with curry began at the end of the Sixteenth century when the Dutch were the leaders in the trading of pepper. With their monopoly over the spice, they had hiked up the price, so the monarch granted a royal charter to a small group of merchants allowing them to create a trading company. The sole purpose of the East India Company, as it was later called, was to secure a better price for pepper than the Dutch asking price.There was never any intention for this company to build an empire. In fact, the British were not too keen on trading with India either. The country was merely perceived as a handy stopping off port and a place for the exchange of goods such as cotton and linens. However with the Dutch increasingly making trading in Indonesia more difficult, the coast of India became lined with ports that were protected by private armies consigned to keep an eye on the European traders.
At that time India was ruled by emperors and Mughals who were more often than not involved in infighting. This strengthened the European stronghold and their chances of grasping control of many regions and territories of India. With the Mughals yielding to the British, the East India Company gathered momentum and power. This reign of the British Raj was the most significant and the longest in Imperial history lasting officially up until 1947. The days of the Raj were decadent and this was reflected in their cooking.
Every social event paid special attention to the food and the British Memsahibs ran households that included chefs and cooks. Many of them were highly trained to cater for the western palate. Often, the grand meals would have consisted of game and poultry which was of poor quality so the cooks would often have to improvise by creating hybrid dishes such as chapatis and homemade jam. Breakfasts would consist of omelettes seasoned with spices and the simple Indian dish of rice and lentils known as kichidi turned into the British kedgeree with the addition of smoked kippers shipped from England. So from morning, noon until night, all the meals became a fusion of western and eastern cooking traditions.
Just as the British in India had endeavoured to replicate home comfort cuisine, when they arrived back in Blighty, they craved a little of the East and that was ‘curry’. Over decades, dishes have been altered and tweaked to suit the, ahem, somewhat more blunt British palate. Some dishes are entirely British creations, the names of which would be greeted with a blank stare in many kitchens in Jaipur, Madras or Mumbai. One of these homegrown examples has become a bona fide claimant to the title of national dish of Great Britain. And to tell you all about it is my very good friend and host of the fantastic and very silly podcast Here Goes Nothing, Mr CartBozMan a.ka Lee Bozier. Over to you Boz, I’ll crack open a couple of Cobras…

Aha Cobras indeed!!

Yes the dish so eloquently eluded to is non other than the mighty Chicken Tikka Massala.
Now my input here, as is my style (some may know) will be devoid of any actual researched facts or authoritative sources. It will be my own experiences and meandering randomness which will now be divulged.

I grew up in an area with a very close Indian community and when walking in the neighbourhood the smell of exotic spices were constantly prevalent in the air. Would I to walk there now it would be heavenly and would make me very hungry. At that stage in my life however I hated the smell, and consequently would not try any of this amazing cuisine until i reached 15 yrs old. At this stage I was fencing competitively on the junior series circuit, and after a blindingly good days competition, I was dragged to an Indian restaurant by my coaches daughter for celebratory purposes. At this point I was introduced to popadums naan breads and tandori chicken on the bone.
Once the flood gate was opened I became a bit of a regular in these establishments. But the day I tried my first Korma was the start of my love for actual curries. I have tried many over the years but non ever trumps the top spot held by the massala.

I was once visiting a friend and it was st. Georges day and we were going out for a meal. I said we had to have something that was quintessentially British on such a day, so 2 tikka massalas it was.

This dish has a particular taste that if done right sets all your taste buds alight but without blowing your head off (or a similar problem at a further extremity the next day ;). It is a heady mix of spices and in my humble opinion should be fairly sweet to taste. I have found that there are quite great differences in this dish regionally. Being from Hertfordshire in the home counties and having moved to the midlands I noticed quite a different approach to this dish. In the Stoke area it seems to be done with with a much fuller spicing and with less of the sweetness. It has taken me a while to find somewhere that consistently makes it the way I like. It is a smallish restaurant that uses only organic ingredients and no artificial colours or flavours.
One of the main characteristics of the massala in many places is that it comes bright red, and there have been reports that dangerous levels of colourings have been used at some establishments to achieve this. So from our adopted curry supplier, due to its ingredients policy the dish arrives a sort of orange colour and feels much healthier for the eating.

I have also recently delved into cooking this dish myself at home. Mine too end up an orange colour, in fact I go a bit mad with the tomato puree to achieve this.
I have tried both doing all my own spice blend and by buying a garam massala pre-mix of spices. I found the from scratch method to be far superior.

I guess I should mention however that this dish is not the most healthy on the planet. The chicken or lamb should be pan fried in Ghee which is clarified butter and a traditional ingredient. The marinade usually involves a yoghurt or cream base, and the final sauce is comprised of double cream. I dread to think of the calorific value (which is why I get someone else to cook it, plausible deniability ;). And with the normal accompanying items that traditionally comprise such a meal….. well lets just say that this isn’t a beer belly I have here 😉

So if you have a pre-conceived notion about ‘curries’ and have yet to venture into this particular cuisine, I would heartily recommend this dish as a very solid start point. It shouldn’t blow you head off and you may be pleasantly surprised. My wife hated curry when I met her, now she is a massala monster 😉

Well I think I have wittered enough. This dish is amazing and cornerstone of British society. Thanks to Casey for inviting me to write this, it is a real honour to put my waffle into text for such a consistently great Blog (hope I don’t bring the standard down ;).

Now back to Casey to fill in the bits I no doubt missed.

As if! Thank YOU Boz for your valued thoughts on a very English dish indeed.Good work, my friend. Hopefully this latest post was worth the wait for those of you that are following me regularly, once again I can only apologise for the sporadic nature of the episodes at the moment. Work is leaving almost no time for anything else, and the blog is sacrificed because of it. I will try and put another couple of eps up as soon as I can by means of compensation, and as always I truly value any comments, good or bad. (I’m a chef, I’m used to criticism). Before I draw this latest piece to a close, I’d like to steer any folks in search of a good giggle to Lee and Dave’s podcast, “Here Goes Nothing”. There are few more agreeable chaps I know than Boz, and his show demonstrates this every week. Plus the other guy puts on a comedy voice.

And on that Geordie-baiting bombshell…goodbye, and see you again soon. Or sooner, at least.


A quick recommendation

Posted May 12, 2009 by croosh
Categories: Uncategorized

Fighting the good (food) fight...

Fighting the good (food) fight...

Just wanted to take a second to bring a great, fun new podcast to your attention. Crimes Against Food, part of the Simply Syndicated media network, is a fine accompaniment to any cooking task and is available via iTunes or the (highly worth a visit) Simply Syndicated website. Join Gloria and Mia in their quest to expose food crimes committed daily…perhaps even in YOUR very home!! They are two highly funny and engaging ladies, and in my opinion have the best audio food podcast going. Download it and I’m sure you’ll agree. 


British Classic #8: Fish and Chips, our pretend National Dish

Posted May 5, 2009 by croosh
Categories: Uncategorized

Are there any other nations that deep-fry their national dish? 


Fish and chips ARE Britain. It is, along with a plate of pink roast beef and fluffy Yorkshire pudding, the food which the majority of visitors to the UK want to sample first upon arrival.  So, let’s explore why. A little theatre of the mind now…

It is a crisp, clear and starry night, with a biting wind trying its best to get into your collar and deaden your fingertips as you exit the cinema. The popcorn/Cornetto combination has made a temporary dent in your hunger, but now it returns with a vengeance as the sharp tang of hot vinegar mingles with the deeply savoury smell of hot oil and potatoes. You approach the brightly lit doorway, the only shop operating at this time of night in the high street, and join the queue. A high counter with a stainless steel and glass hot cupboard display a coterie of crispy, amber coloured treats, from palm-sized fishcakes to cricket bat cod fillets. The delicious and unique smell of this place is in part down to the beef dripping that they use in the fryer, a chip-shop secret since its inception in Victorian times. There are Land Of The Giants-style salt and vinegar shakers (i.e bloody gigantic…), the latter being full of the only vinegar allowed onto fish and chips; the mouth-puckeringly sharp and powerful Sarson’s Malt Vinegar. There are  jars of pickled onions and eggs,sometimes even a few jars of cockles and whelks, and the quintessential chipshop drink, the fizzy elixir known as Vimto.  Finally, you get your hands on your own warm parcel and head home or simply find a bench or comfy stretch of wall on which to unwrap your supper.  As with a perfect sausage sandwich, this dish is at its best when still slightly too hot to eat comfortably. The rich, vinegary savour is released as a puff of steam when the paper wrapper is unfolded, and the first breach of the crisp batter revealing thick, soft flakes of cod is a moment almost unmatched by any other meal in terms of pure satisfaction and comfort. 

That is why fish and chips are world famous. 

Now the sad reality. It is becoming almost impossible to find an old fashioned and honest chip shop. The simple genius of fine fresh fish battered and accompanied by local potatoes chipped and dropped into a deep vat of rendered beef fat is not enough any more, it seems. Nowadays you should expect to see  the slowly rotating elephants leg of a doner kebab grill, or perhaps burgers, some southern fried chicken slowly dessicating in a glass hot cupboard, perhaps? This dilution inevitably leads to less attention to the fish and chip part of the business offering – end result? Decidedly average to poor fish, coated in a powdered batter mix with about as much taste as an envelope, and poorly maintained fryers/laziness resulting in frankly rubbish chips that taste mildly burnt. Yum. Slowly but surely, this British legend is being blended with every other takeaway service on its street. A large contributor to this sea change (pun partially intended) is the shadowy spectre of sustainable codfish stocks. Atlantic cod at one point in recent history faced virtual extinction thanks to merciless and irresponsible over fishing. Things have changed considerably, and top quality sustainable cod is widely available albeit at a significantly higher price than before, but this is the price of respecting the population and breeding habits of edible species.  I serve the most beautiful Atlantic cod in my restaurant and it is undoubtedly worth every extra penny, as my customers will agree. But I digress. The simple fact I’m making is that the price of good cod has gone up, so most chip shops have moved into other areas and refused to pay for the good stuff. This is not always due to the meanness of owners, but more likely the wallet-conscious public baulking at the idea of a price hike for the good of their fish supper. It’s a crying shame.

Okay, soapbox away…Hey! You’re not here for a lecture, you’re here to find out what’s so good about British food! Let’s have a little journey around the isle…

Like a teenager, the British as a whole have an inbuilt craving for crisp, hot and salty foods submerged in hot oil. Arguably the best fish and chips in England at least come from the south coast, specifically Devon and Cornwall, but all coastal areas are lined with shops “frying tonight”. A general rule of thumb appears to be that the further north you go, the more deep fried things are available. The Durham cities of Middlesborough and Newcastle are the home of the calorific A-bomb known simply as a “Parmo”. Ready? A flattened chicken breast is coated in batter or crumb and fried, THEN topped with a white cheese sauce and a final topping of cheddar cheese, then it’s into a pizza oven, and then a takeaway box along with, naturally, chips. All I can say to my quite possibly shell shocked friends in egg white omelette, wheatgrass drinking California or similar places is…it’s very, VERY cold in the North East, and hot fat, salt and its inherent bursts of quick energy help when the moisture on your eyeballs wants to freeze. The people who make Kendal Mint Cake are in the same business. But I am leaving the best till last.

(Or should that be worst?)

The Scottish love the chippie like no other folk on the planet. Coincidentally, they love dying of heart disease too but we’ll gloss over that. This is a country that my previous diatribe doesn’t apply to, and the idea of a “fish supper”will live forever in the howlingly cold and bitter nights that Scots from Leith Walk to the Highlands experience. This time, the drink of choice is not Vimto, but it’s equally sweet cousin Irn-Bru (made in Scotland from Girrrrr-Derrrrrs, as the advert tells us). Got a food you like? In Scotland? Take it to the local chip shop, and they’ll batter and fry it for you, no questions asked. There is a huge list of successful and not-so successful fried experiments in Scottish chippies, the most famous being the deep-fried Mars Bar, an already sickly and rich concoction of caramel, nougat and chocolate. Battered, it becomes something beyond unhealthy, but the hit of sugar and hot fat is almost unmatchable. Ditto the deep-fried Cadburys Creme Egg, its filling of fondant making it akin to a crispy hard boiled egg filled with treacly cement. The competition was on with other, often poor quality junk foods being dipped in the batter jug and fried as an offering to the gods of cholesterol. An underground smash is the deep fried pizza. Yep, you heard right. A whole supermarket pizza, battered and fried. The food love that dares not speak its name indeed. All these variations are based on the same point: Scotland needs deep frying. Oh yes, and Freeeeeeedoooooooooom…

So I guess that is about it for a behemoth of a subject like Fish and Chips, I welcome a lot of comment on this one, from both home and abroad, not least because it has taken me so long to post. I can only apologise for my tardiness in updating the blog, and plead mercy for a chef in a very busy little pub that leaves me currently with almost no time for anything else. An in-progress draft of this post has been on my laptop for almost a month, and it is only now that I can finish it for publication. Rest assured that I still absolutely love writing these pieces, and I appreciate all who take a few minutes to read them. They will continue, I promise.




PS. I am aware of the existence in the US of the deep fried Twinkie. The only accompaniment I can suggest with this would be insulin. There was also an example of deep fried Coca-Cola, but that makes my teeth itch just thinking about it…

British Classics Cookery School #1: Shepherd’s Pie

Posted April 20, 2009 by croosh
Categories: Uncategorized

> Serves 8

> 60ml Olive Oil
> Salt and Pepper
> 1kg lean minced Lamb or Beef (although technically if you use beef, it becomes Cottage Pie)
> 2 large onions, grated finely
> 2 large carrots, grated finely
> 4 cloves garlic, grated finely
> 50ml Worcestershire Sauce (Lea & Perrins is the one, I think it’s available quite widely in the US now)
> 30g Tomato Puree
> 1 tsp Thyme leaves (dried is fine)
> 1 tsp chopped Rosemary (ditto)
> 500ml Red Wine (Beer is a fine substitute, but wine is the best by far)
> 600ml Chicken Stock (powdered is fine)
> 2kg Potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
> 100g Salted Butter
> 4 egg yolks
> Cheddar cheese or similar, to grate over at the end
> 1. Pre-heat the oven to 180deg.C/gas mark 4/350 deg.F
> 2. Heat the oil in the largest saucepan you have until hot, then season the mince and fry for 2-3 mins. Stir the onions, garlic and carrot into it. Add the Worcester sauce, tomato puree and herbs and cook for 1-2 mins, stirring constantly. Pour in the red wine and reduce (boil down) until the liquid has almost completely evaporated. Add the chicken stock, bring back to the boil then simmer until the sauce has thickened.
> 3. Meanwhile, cook the potatoes in boiling salted water until completely tender. Drain, then return to the pan and dry them out briefly over a low heat. Either mash or (for the best, smoothest mash) pass through a potato ricer, then beat in the egg yolks followed by the butter. Check the seasoning.
> 4. Spoon the mince into a large rectangular ovenproof dish(or divide it into a few dishes). Using a large spoon, layer the mash generously on top of the mince, starting round the outside then gradually working towards the middle, until covered in a smooth level layer of potato. Wipe round the edges of the dish to give a clean finish, then drag a fork in straight lines across the surface of the pie, either horizontal or vertical, to give a ridged surface. Brush on a little melted butter, then put into the oven for approx 20 mins, until golden and bubbling. If you like, add some grated cheese to the top of the pie for the last 5 mins of baking. Cut into neat squares, and lift out pie portions onto heated plates. Serve with a bottle of Heinz Tomato Ketchup or a bottle of Worcester Sauce. Buttered carrots are a delicious vegetable to serve alongside it. God Save The Queen!!!

British Classic #7: Toast, Our True National Dish

Posted April 6, 2009 by croosh
Categories: Uncategorized

We have a long tradition on this ancient island of being content to admit that our best efforts foodwise are trumped by other offerings of the same kind from other parts of the world. It’s a debatable claim that Britain produces the greatest beef (I happen to agree, but the cattle farmers of Argentina, the monks of Kobe or many other producers would beg to differ), and the Sunday roast, as grand and heavenly as it can be, cannot assuredly sit atop a list of the finest meals humanity can provide. But, amidst all of this ambiguity and debate, there is one area where we Brits, unarguably, lead the planet. I am talking, dear friends, of the simple task of toasting a piece of bread and putting something on it. Our neighbours  near and far have their quick and inexpensive solutions to satisfy a growling hunger – a crackling hot samosa from India, a Vietnamese rice pancake roll, the elegance of a Parisien butter croissant or the thick, fluffly churros of Spain are all wonderful but I would choose a round of thick, crispy buttered toast every time. Of course, and I hear you say it already, other countries do toast. Yes they do. But somehow, either through a worry of calorie consumption or simply an oversight of this little snack’s importance, they just don’t get it right. I’ve eaten toast in America, but it is always served with something else, almost apologetically. And I’m always supposed to put grape bloody jelly on it, too. A friend went to Japan and had the misfortune to come across the flabby, pallid offering there. No, the crucial aspect of toast that seems lost to the rest of the planet is, quite simply…….


Sorry about the capitals, but there you have it, the central mantra of the cult of toast. And it is a cult, I promise you. Toast is beguiling because (and why do I always mention this factor in every episode?) it is cheap. It is also a dish that anyone with basic motor functions can cook. And it’s good at any point of the day or night. In times of extreme poverty or inactivity, one can live on toast quite happily – visit most university halls of residence and you will find my claim proved. However down on your luck, however misfortunate your situation, chances are you can still scrape together a round of buttered toast, or an approximation. 

So what makes it a world beater? Good bread, for one. There are wonderfully delicious breads in every nation, but a good white bloomer or similar is the only thing that works for toast. Ciabatta? One word – holes. You’d be cleaning up butter for ten minutes. Even a perfect San Franciscan sourdough loaf just doesn’t seem right. No, it needs to be a simple white loaf, sliced thickly (an inch should do it), carefully toasted to your personal degree of done-ness. It must be crisp, and if you are lucky enough to own the hulking iron sumo wrestler of an oven known as an AGA, then you have access to the finest toast possible. The AGA toast utensil, essentially two mesh panels that clamp your bread in place, with a protruding handle that allows you to turn the toast, rotisserie-style. The wonderful crispness and charred edges that this imparts belong only to the effects of this one cooker. But if we could afford an AGA, we wouldn’t be living on toast, would we? So, you’ve toasted your bread to perfection. Now for the butter. There is no great wisdom to impart here. Essentially, you need to get as much as possible onto your slice whilst it is hot, so that you will have the wonderful combination of warm, crisp crunchy dough, and the chin-dribbling richness of melted butter with each bite. Add a mug of tea to the situation, and you have a portrait of Britain to rival anything Constable could have committed to canvas. But we don’t stop there. Why not put something on the odd slice? A new cavalcade of options present themselves, and this is where toast becomes a deeply personal affair. There is the grown-up bitterness of breakfast marmalade (although my younger brothers liked to temper this by combining it with peanut butter), or one of the many jams on offer (But no grape jelly. At least call it jam, then we’ll talk.). Why not go fully native and enjoy the delights of Marmite, a glossy black yeast spread, so salty that it is only enjoyable as a thin scraping across your slice? (Marmite will be an episode on its own, FYI). Toast’s zen-like simplicity and eagerness to go with other things make it a best friend of many a reluctant cook, and a beloved comfort to those far from home. British children partially exist on toast, and I believe that this creates the comfort association in adults. My dearest toast related memory (never typed THAT before) has to be the Sunday night ritual of bath, followed by toast and hot chocolate in front of the TV, whilst you have your hair dried. Nothing teaches hand eye coordination and concentration quite like trying to bite a piece of toast whilst simultaneously watching Catchphrase and having your head shaken like a cocktail by towelled hands. This memory is a bittersweet one for a few reasons. I owe my love of American Football to this weekly occurrence, as Channel 4 were the station that brought the sport to the UK in the Eighties, and their round-up on Sunday night with former Falcon Mick Luckhurst captivated me and my Dad equally. It also meant that once a year I could stay up and watch the Superbowl with him, an outrageous treat that I looked forward to as soon as the Playoffs began. I’d obediently go to bed mid-afternoon in order to prepare myself for the greatest show on Earth later. Dad would wake me up, and I’d sit with him watching the unashamed carnival that is Superbowl Sunday. That is, until I fell asleep sometime in the second quarter. Every bloody year.

Now, I used the word bittersweet in relation to this weekly routine, and the bitter part came at the end, when the last of the toast had gone, the powdery final slurp of hot chocolate disappeared, and Mick said goodnight. Then, on the way to bed the creeping depression of the prospect of Monday morning at school would gather, forcing out the earlier exhuberance. In class the next day, your mind would occasionally wander back to that now otherwordly place of warm toast, sweet cocoa, a roaring coal fire and the LA Raiders cheating to a win as your hair danced in front of your eyes.

Thanks for visiting the site, and I hope you enjoy these little voyages as much as I do. Any feedback is greatly appreciated, and I am planning on doing two collaborative episodes sometime soon, namely Biscuits, and Sweets. Anyone who would like to contribute by writing a small ode to their favourite biscuit or sweet shop item, feel free to e-mail me at, or by any number of other ways should you be a friend of mine (Twitter, Facebook, the majestic Simply and its community) and I’ll make you part of an episode!

Thanks again, and I’ll try and make the next post arrive sooner, ‘kay? ‘Kay.



Highly Debatable British Classic #6: Pot Noodle

Posted March 18, 2009 by croosh
Categories: Uncategorized

I know which side of the fence I occupy on this one. IT’S NOT FOOD! IT’S FOAM PACKAGING, SALTED! But hey, what do I know? For this episode, I would like to hand over to my old buddy Kate, who will lead you through the magical world of Golden Wonder Pot Noodle. Over to you, Kate…



Pot Noodle was launched way back in 1977 by Golden Wonder when convenience was the future and noodles were exotic! The original idea of ‘cup noodles’ came from Japan by Momofuku Ando, but it has since captured the hearts and stomachs of our nation’s youth.
Pot Noodle is made in the Welsh town of Crumlin in South Wales. The factory typically produces a staggering 155 million pots every year and they celebrated 25 years of Pot Noodle production there in 2004.

There have been a host of bold new Pot Noodle flavours and variants launched onto our shelves since the 70’s including ‘Asian style’ Posh Noodle, the incredibly hot Bombay Bad Boy and Sizzling Bacon.

In fact, they’ve just gone to market with a new and improved product range, introducing the new variants Chicken Satay, Lamb Hotpot and Tikka Masala to the Pot Noodle family!

Early Pot Noodle advertising portrayed Pot Noodle and its sister brands as a straightforward convenience food. However, Pot Noodle has achieved notoriety for some outrageous and memorable advertising campaigns in an ironic style, which often made allusion to the consumer being made to feel dirty for spurning traditional food in favour of something completely manufactured and artificial, but ultimately irrestistible.



Thanks again for the contribution, Kate. I decided that this would be an open debate rather than a regular BC episode. So if you have strong feelings either way on Pot Noodle (shudder), please chip in with a comment, and I plan to edit this post as they appear to include them. Cheers!

Croosh (& Kate McDougall)

See you again soon for #7: TBC