Sea sea­soned

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

EDP Norfolk - - Inside -

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

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