“I personally think we all ought to eat fish heads.” I agree, but less so with Rick Stein’s little detailed tour of the eye eating experience: the satisfying gelatinous bit around the eye like a piece of soft plastic followed by a chewy ball.
Rick, celebrity chef and restaurateur, currently on the plug for his Spain book, offered up the slick Stein team to The Poly, Falmouth for one night only with all profits ploughed back into The Poly, a grand and impressive total of £6035.
My mum was shaking her head as he assembled his first dish: lettuce with egg, croutons, creamy vinaigrette and Spanish anchovies. She had a point but then so did the anchovies. The best. Ever. And according to Rick: “Really good anchovies are in the same order as truffles, jamón ibérico or caviar.”
He may have caught my mum’s head movements: “I apologise that a lot of the recipes I demonstrate are so simple but less is more. It’s all food that I would like to eat.” It’s a recipe for success that has earned him millions. He paused. Slurp of wine, hand to the head: “A lot of food is needlessly complicated. My recipes these days are getting less and less sophisticated.”
The next dish was hake with clams and spring veg. After an initial grapple with a hake, the dish seemed easy (all-in-one job) and smelt good. I love anything with a fresh vongola. Important tips on making fish stock were: turbot, lemon sole and John Dory are the best for boiling as they have less fat which can taint the stock; boil bones for only 20 minutes, any more and they will be bitter (like the time I left a whole lemon in, yuk); reduce down some turbot stock with sweated shallots and some cream and/or butter and you have some delicious beurre blanc, one of the most popular Stein sauces.
Quite correctly, meat followed the fish: rabbit and chicken paella. While Rick hacked at the rabbit, his sous chef James, jointed the chicken with ease, expertly holding the show together as the Padstein chef veered off-piste into complex anecdotes and answers to questions punctuated by wine supping, head clutching and sporadic memory loss. The paella was delicious, salty, meaty and rich, reminding me to ask my uncle for some rabbits the next time I saw him.
His current favourite fish dishes? Homemade sashimi with pickled ginger; Dover sole and salt crust fish. For the salt fish, mix one egg white with sea salt ( 1.5kg to every 5kg of fish) and coat the fish (with scales still on) so there’s about half an inch of salt encasing the fish, before placing in the oven.
And where will he be taking his faithful viewers next? Poland perhaps (lots of Polish employed in the restaurants) or Australia (home of his girlfriend) or even The States. Clearly a huge blues fan – “it’s full of sex and soul”, he doesn’t rule out a trip to the US incorporating country music.
His dirty food secret? Big Macs on the road in Australia, grease dripping down his front … .
Rick Stein’s food seems to be more and more incidental to a lifestyle choice, one that allows him to travel and experience the open road. The flavours, smells and tastes are integral but merely a part of this. I won’t be buying the book but I was somehow beguiled by his rumpled charm and even defended his quest for the simple in the face of claims that he couldn’t actually cook.