Sunday, May 13, 2007

How to cook the perfect...

Marcus Wareing is one of the top chefs working in Britain. Out of the Gordon Ramsay stable, he has three Michelin stars, two for Pétrus and one for the Savoy Grill, both London restaurants. For those of us who don’t visit top London eateries very often he shot to prominence last year as one of the chefs in Great British Menu on BBC2, cooking an exquisite custard tart for the Queen’s 80th birthday celebrations.

That custard tart was a triumph. A clean, cool, trembling tribute to British food at its very best. Sad then to read in an interview with Marcus ‘I don’t want to be remembered for a custard tart when I’m gone’!

The tart though, was the starting point for this book – How to cook the perfect… It seems that after the television programme Marcus met a couple of ladies who had run into some trouble recreating his dish. Reading through the instructions on the BBC website, I wonder if it was baking the tart case blind that caused the trouble. I notice recently that, in order to stop the pastry sliding down the inside of the tart tin, chefs do not trim the edges before they bake, draping the pastry over the edge of the tin and cutting the extra off afterwards. Hmmm. Good trick.

So Marcus and his co-writer, Jeni Wright, have come up with a book that lets us into the secrets of perfection. And the publishers, Dorling Kindersley, have come up with a video of how to make the famous custard tart. If you watch it you may be alarmed to see that he seems to plonk the baking beans into the tart shell still inside their plastic bag. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this recently and any comments on putting plastic in the oven will be gratefully received.

Another clever touch is to fill the baked shell with the uncooked custard after you put the shell in the oven, so you don’t spill it all over the place trying to manoeuvre it across the kitchen. And, in a change to the original recipe, the book suggests that you also grate the nutmeg over the tart once it is inside the oven, and not after you take it out. Have a look at Marcus’s oven in the video – it’s the size of a wardrobe. Have a look at yours. Get out the BandAids now.

You see, if you tell me you have the perfect method I am going to be picky.

I was all set to cook the famous tart until I read that it was far from his idea of a legacy. Well, if it’s not good enough for him… So I looked carefully through the book to see what else I could make to tempt you, my gorgeous public. How about roast potatoes? Mashed potatoes? Scrambled eggs? Pork chops? Don’t think so somehow. But wouldn’t pork chops ‘Michelin’ be spectacular? Well, yes and no, because the recipe is Marcus’s Mum’s. In fact most of the book is a hymn to family cooking, straightforward Sunday lunch stuff and salads and puddings. There’s a very good piece on how to make a chocolate fondant, all gooey inside – but do we really need to be told how to make a green salad?

In the end I made the nice fish pie, and very good it was too. But I have to confess that for two people I did not start off by making a couple of litres of good fish stock ‘from sole, plaice, halibut or turbot’. That’s the problem – a fish pie is supper, it’s not a three act drama. Nevertheless, it was good to be reminded to drain the vegetables and fish thoroughly so they don’t make the sauce watery. Elsewhere the tips are good too – scoring the skin of sea bass, drying out scallops overnight in the fridge and not overcooking a salmon fillet – and they are indeed the things that make the difference between a dish cooked well and a dish cooked averagely.

So who exactly is this book aimed at? I’m a bit puzzled actually. Its lovely sugar bag blue cover (well done DK design) is a delight to handle, and it brings back memories of Lipton’s shops and marble topped counters, flour bins, pats of butter and racks of biscuit boxes. I know that Gordon Ramsay is keen, quite rightly, to get women cooking again and restore the Sunday lunch, so maybe that’s who this is for, the roast chicken and apple crumble brigade. As a basic cook book it’s very good. But the dish that engendered this book was for the Queen of England! You’ve got all these Michelin stars, Marcus! Some of us are pretty good at roast chicken and apple crumble!

I finally figured it out. I know who this book is for. It should be on the wedding present list of every young thing that’s getting married this year. The Shires will be ringing with the sound of nutmegs being grated and potatoes being mousselined. An excellent idea – I have several people in mind for it!

How to cook the perfect... by Marcus Wareing with Jeni Wright

Published by Dorling Kindersley

Marcus Wareing returns to our screens this week in Great British Menu on BBC2 to defend the regional title for the North of England that he won last year.

The video of the custard tart is at


Jeanne said...

Great review - thanks June. I'm glad I'm not the only one who leafs through a cookbook and wonders who in hell it's aimed at ;-) Love the idea of the book as a wedding gift - I have a couple of weddings to attend soon...

June said...

Maybe the mantle of Delia has fallen on the shoulders of Marcus - I know many people, some of them men, who worship at her shrine. This is a bit of a trophy book, and admirably suited to wedding present territory!

lindy said...

I'm still contemplating making the potted shrimp, I think it will be soon. But here's a thing I do with fish pie, which kind of short circuits the stock question. I make it with shrimps (big ones-possibly "scampi" to you) in it, and heat the fish and shrimps, still in their shells, in the milk (with maybe a bit of cream) I use, with some seasonings, and thinly sliced carrots and fennel and herbs.

Then I let it sit a bit, infusing or what have you, drain the milk, and make a bechamel with it for the pie. All pretty quick, and not lots of pots. Oh yes, I do peel the shrimps before I put them in...but it seems to make the sauce better. Does this make sense? I fear I'm babbling.

June said...

Hi Lindy

I usually do the same, maybe just using some of the fishy bones and skin, and it does make a good base for the bechamel. I think I just felt the turbot was a step too far!

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