Salty sea air gives a special coastal flavour to the beef on The Duck Inn menu, in our latest extract from Norfolk Table: One County, Twenty Chefs
Ben Handley, of The Duck Inn, Stanhoe
Try as you might, you won’t get Ben Handley to share his scotch egg recipe. The quails’ eggs are lightly cooked, then cocooned in a mix of his butcher Arthur Howell’s sausagemeat and black pudding, before being crumbed and deep-fried, very precisely, to order. Slice through the crisp crust, the dark meat and just-firm egg white, and the golden-orange yolk runs out slowly, just as it ought.
‘Original Mr H scotch quails’ eggs’, served with home-made mustard and tarragon mayonnaise, are one of The Duck Inn’s most popular bar bites. “They’re up there with our lager and lime whitebait, and the scampi,” says Ben. “Dishes like this are a bit retro but there’s pure pleasure in eating them.”
Ben’s compact kitchen is a hard-working space from which a six-strong brigade is capable of turning out 300 meals on the busiest days. With the oven under his six-burner stove more useful as storage, and the top rammed with pans, he couldn’t manage without a sous-vide water bath. “Everything depends on the quality of the initial ingredient, but you can’t get a more reliable end result,” he says. With a busy weekend in the offing, Ben anticipates six whole sirloins going into the water bath – and emerging perfectly cooked.
Little of the beef that comes into the Stanhoe kitchen is wasted. Prime steak cuts might be offered with onions, mushrooms and skinny fries, or as a fillet and short rib dish, richly-flavoured and supremely tender.
For the non-carnivorous, Brancaster mussels cooked classically with cream, shallots and white wine; fish and chips; and a leek and Norfolk Dapple gratin are among the popular options, but this is a place to enjoy meat. Ben and his chefs glam up pub staples such as liver, bacon and mash by using ox liver with cubes of pancetta, confit onions, and smoked mash, or turn a simple dish of locally-shot pigeon into something special.
Ben’s supplier of choice is Arthur Howell, a fifth-generation butcher from Wells-next-the-Sea – est. 1889, no less. Like his father before him, he buys cattle from the 25,000-acre Holkham Estate, slaughtering at his on-site abattoir, one of the last remaining small operations in Norfolk.
He swings out a carcass from the coldstore. “Look at the fat, just the right amount, and the colour of that meat. That’s a well-reared animal.
“I see how well-looked after the cattle are, that they have a good life. The North Sea mists give the grass a flavour that you really can taste in the meat too.”
Ben is no stranger to the hospitality industry, his parents having owned the Lifeboat Inn at Thornham, and having worked as head chef at The White Horse, Brancaster Staithe, and, most formatively, at the Melbourne restaurant, Ruby Ruby. “It was there that I first experienced the notion of cooking with passion, something that has never left me.”
The team at The Duck Inn
Ben Handley, chef patron of The Duck Inn, Stanhope