IT’S A FULL ENGLISH OVER SNAIL PORRIDGE FOR ME
Ilove my food. The chance to eat three times a day is one of life’s greatest pleasures and, I suppose, the reason why cookery programmes are so popular. But chefs seem to spend most of their time nowadays coming up with outlandish food combinations. Reluctant as I am to be branded an unadventurous Northerner, I simply cannot summon up any enthusiasm for the likes of snail porridge. Yes, I may begin every day with instant Scottish oatmeal (two minutes in the microwave) and I cannot deny that I have an ample supply of the aforementioned molluscs on my hostas, but that said I have no burning desire to combine the two and inflict them upon my intestines. You could brand me a classic “meat and two veg and none of your foreign muck” Yorkshireman thanks to the apparent absence of any spirit of adventure where food is concerned but that would, I feel, be unfair. I am as happy as the next man to tuck into a prawn biryani or a chicken tikka masala, which, we are told, is now the current favourite British dish. Oh yes, I really am cosmopolitan when it comes to food – leaping easily and willingly from the Indian subcontinent to countries closer to home. Spaghetti bolognese is one of my signature dishes. It will astonish Mrs T to hear me talking in the plural, since she will claim she has yet to taste my other signature dish. But she has enjoyed it on many occasions. I call it a full English. Well, to be honest, not full. Not one of those that comes with hash browns, mushrooms, sausage, black pudding, white pudding, devilled kidneys, Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all – the sort you find gently congealing under one of those heat lamps in hotel breakfast buffets. That’s cheating anyway. My speciality is a home-laid egg or two (preferably fried but sometimes scrambled), two rashers of dry-cured back bacon, two small pieces of fried bread and a modest portion of baked beans (without all the runny juice). Add to this toast and butter (not margarine or low-fat spread), marmalade, a fresh pot of tea or freshly ground coffee in a china cup and you have, for me, the perfect start to the weekend. There are those who will scoff at my professed expertise, but I reckon that to produce all of the above at the same moment (without keeping anything warm on a hotplate or in the oven) takes a degree of skill. Toast not too brown, bacon not burned, eggs not overdone, tea and coffee fresh and not stewed. The technique of simultaneous production has taken me years to perfect and is not something that can be achieved in illfitting slippers. Snails and porridge might excite some, but bacon, eggs, toast and tea or coffee are one of those combinations made in heaven. Another is spaghetti bolognese, garlic bread and a large glass of rioja or chianti – either will do. With the chicken tikka masala it has to be beer – preferably Cobra or Tiger, and if not then San Miguel. Our local pub serves roast beef inside a large Yorkshire pudding, liberally doused with delicious gravy. Then it has to be a pint of hand-pulled local beer. If you are salivating I make no apology – I doubt that the mention of snail porridge had the same effect. Perhaps it really is my Yorkshire upbringing that has made me a mite suspicious, not only of weird combinations of ingredients, but also of overly flowery language used to describe what I am eating. I do not want my piece of cod “enrobed” in mornay sauce. I am happy for it just to be poured over it. Some restaurants are so outlandish in their descriptions that the fish dish really does become the “piece of cod which passeth all understanding”. I am delighted with gravy, not “jus”, with olive oil that is sprinkled rather than “drizzled” and I’d be happy to be told that my courgette flowers were “deep fried in batter” rather than being offered as a beignet. (My father was a plumber and the latter sounds like a posh bathroom appliance that I would not know how to use.) Any thing that “nestles” in a “bed” of anything should be left to sleep, and there is nothing remotely attractive or tempting about the word “compote” – we are still talking about stewed fruit, whatever fancy name you dress it up in. The descriptions: a) crusty b) succulent and c) tender should be taken for granted when it comes to a) bread b) chicken and c) beef. If they are anything else I would not want them, so why use those words to describe them? Reassurance? But then such language is what one has come to expect in the sort of restaurant that stuffs every orifice – all too often, one suspects, with the intention of disguising the lack of flavour in the chosen cut of meat. All I ask for is quality produce, locally sourced, properly cooked and neatly served in portions that are neither microscopic nor gargantuan, with fresh vegetables that are not boiled to within an inch of their lives. What’s more I like my menus in English. Since when did the French have a monopoly on describing food? And, anyway, it has recently been proved that many British restaurants now leave their European counterparts standing. With the delicious roast pork – and crispy crackling – that I enjoyed in our local pub last weekend I slaked my thirst with a pint of local ale whose name would put off the sort of folk who like their meat enrobed and their poussin nestling. It was called “Pigswill”. It was delicious. Pretentiousness? Stuff that for a lark. Or should I say, “farci cela pour une alouette”?
My speciality: A home-laid egg or two, preferably fried, two rashers of dry-cured bacon and a modest portion of baked beans takes a degree of skill to produce