National Dish of the Week – United Kingdom

October 27, 2011 at 1:01 PM | Posted in baking, Food | 3 Comments
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English cuisine encompasses the cooking styles, traditions and recipes associated with England. It has distinctive attributes of its own, but also shares much with wider British cuisine, largely due to the importation of ingredients and ideas from places such as North America, China, and India during the time of the British Empire and as a result of post-war immigration.

In the Early Modern Period the food of England was historically characterized by its simplicity of approach and a reliance on the high quality of natural produce. This, was in no small part influenced by England’s Puritan flavor at the time, and resulted in a traditional cuisine which tended to veer from strong flavors, such as garlic, and an avoidance of complex sauces which were commonly associated with Catholic Continental political affiliations. It is possible the effects of this can still be seen in traditional cuisine.

Traditional meals have ancient origins, such as bread and cheese, roasted and stewed meats, meat and game pies, boiled vegetables and broths, and freshwater and saltwater fish. The 14th century English cookbook, the Forme of Cury, contains recipes for these, and dates from the royal court of Richard II. In the second half of the 18th century Rev. Gilbert White, in The Natural History of Selborne made note of the increased consumption of vegetables by ordinary country people in the south of England, to which, he noted, potatoes had only been added during the reign of George III: “Green-stalls in cities now support multitudes in comfortable state, while gardeners get fortunes. Every decent laborer also has his garden, which is half his support; and common farmers provide plenty of beans, peas, and greens, for their hinds to eat with their bacon.”

Other meals, such as fish and chips, which were once urban street food eaten from newspaper with salt and malt vinegar, and pies and sausages with mashed potatoes, onions, and gravy, are now matched in popularity by curries from the Bangladesh and Pakistan, and stir-fries based on Chinese and Thai cooking. Italian cuisine and French cuisine are also now widely adapted. Britain was also quick to adopt the innovation of fast food from the United States, and continues to absorb culinary ideas from all over the world while at the same time rediscovering its roots in sustainable rural agriculture.

The Sunday roast was once the most common feature of English cooking. The Sunday dinner traditionally includes roast potatoes (or boiled or mashed potatoes) accompanying a roasted joint of meat such as roast beef, lamb, pork, or a roast chicken and assorted

Sunday roast, consisting of roast beef, roast potatoes, vegetables and Yorkshire pudding.

other vegetables, themselves generally boiled and served with a gravy. Sauces are chosen depending on the type of meat: horseradish for beef, mint sauce for lamb, apple sauce for pork, and bread sauce for chicken. Yorkshire pudding normally accompanies beef (although it was originally served first as a “filler”), sage and onion stuffing pork, and usually parsley stuffing chicken; gravy is now often served as an accompaniment to the main course. The practice of serving a roast dinner on a Sunday is related to the elaborate preparation required, and to the housewife’s practice of performing the weekly wash on a Monday, when the cold remains of the roast made an easily-assembled meal. Sunday was once the only rest day after a six-day working week; it was also a demonstration that the household was prosperous enough to afford the cost of a better than normal meal. An elaborate version of roast dinner is traditionally eaten at Christmas, with almost every detail rigidly specified by tradition. Since its widespread availability after World War II the most popular Christmas roast is turkey, superseding the goose of Dickens’s time. Before the period of cheap turkeys, roast chicken would be more common than goose although Chicken was still a once a year treat until the 1950’s; goose being unsuitable for small groups of diners. Game meats such as venison which were traditionally the domain of higher classes are occasionally also eaten by those wishing to experiment with a wider choice of foods, due to their promotion by celebrity chefs, although they are not usually eaten frequently in the average household.

It is a widespread stereotype that the English “drop everything” for a tea time meal in the mid-afternoon. This is no longer the case in the workplace, and is rarer in the home than it once was. A formal tea time meal is now often an accompaniment to tourism, particularly in Devon and neighboring counties, where comestibles may include scones with jam and clotted cream (together known as a cream tea). There are also fairy cakes, simple small sponge cakes which can be iced or eaten plain. Nationwide, assorted biscuits and sandwiches are eaten. Generally, however, the tea time meal has been replaced by snacking, or simply dispensed with.

Although a wide variety of fish are caught in British waters, the English tend to mainly eat only a few species. Cod, haddock, plaice, huss, and skate are the fish-and-chip shop favorites. (The unadventurous approach and the tendency to eat fish battered were mocked by Keith Floyd with the phrase “unidentified frying objects”. A few other species, such as coley and pollack are found in the anonymous form of breadcrumbed fish cakes and fish fingers.

English sausages are colloquially known as “bangers”. They are distinctive in that they are usually made from fresh meats and rarely smoked, dried, or strongly flavored. Following the post World War II period, sausages tended to contain low-quality meat, fat, and rusk. However, there has been a backlash in recent years, with most butchers and supermarkets now selling premium varieties.

Pork and beef are by far the most common bases, although gourmet varieties may contain venison, wild boar, etc. There are particularly famous regional varieties, such as the herbal Lincolnshire, and the long, curled Cumberland with many butchers offering their own individual recipes and variations often handed down through generations, but are generally not made from cured meats such as Italian selections or available in such a variety as found in Germany.

Most larger supermarkets in England will stock at least a dozen types of English sausage: not only Cumberland and Lincolnshire but often varieties such as pork and apple, pork and herb; beef and stilton; pork and mozzarella, and others. There are estimated to be around 400 sausage varieties in the United Kingdom.

Sausages form the basis of toad in the hole, where they are combined with a batter similar to a Yorkshire pudding and baked in the oven, this can be served with an onion gravy made by frying sliced onions for anywhere over an hour on a low heat then mixed with a stock, wine or ale then reduced to form a sauce or gravy used in bangers and mash.

Northern European countries generally have a tradition of salting, smoking, pickling and otherwise preserving foods. Kippers, bloaters, ham, and bacon are some of the varieties of preserved meat and fish known in England. Onions, cabbage and some other vegetables may be pickled. Smoked cheese is not common or traditional, although apple-wood smoked cheddar has become available in many supermarkets. Meats other than pork are generally not cured. The “three breakfasts a day” principle can be implemented by eating bacon sandwiches at any time. (These have many colloquial names such as “bacon sarnies” or “bacon butties”).

Traditionally pubs in England were drinking establishments and little emphasis was placed on the serving of food, other than “bar snacks”, such as pork scratchings, and pickled eggs, along with salted crisps and peanuts which helped to increase beer sales. If a pub served meals they were usually basic cold dishes such as a ploughman’s lunch. In South East England (especially London) it was

Traditional pub food - a pie and chips, along with a pint

common until recent times for vendors selling cockles, whelks, mussels and other shellfish, to sell to customers during the evening and at closing time. Many mobile shellfish stalls would set up near pubs, a practice that continues in London’s East End.

In the 1950s some British pubs would offer “a pie and a pint”, with hot individual steak and ale pies made easily on the premises by the landlord’s wife. In the 1960s and 1970s this developed into the then-fashionable “chicken in a basket”, a portion of roast chicken with chips, served on a napkin, in a wicker basket. Quality dropped but variety increased with the introduction of microwave ovens and freezer food. “Pub grub” expanded to include British food items such as steak and ale pie, shepherd’s pie, fish and chips, bangers and mash, Sunday roast, ploughman’s lunch, and pasties. In addition, dishes such as burgers, lasagna and chilli con carne are often served.

Since the 1990s food has become more important as part of a pub’s trade, and today most pubs serve lunches and dinners at the table in addition to (or instead of) snacks consumed at the bar. They may have a separate dining room. Some pubs serve meals to a higher standard, to match good restaurant standards; these are sometimes termed gastropubs.

Catherine of Braganza, wife of Charles II, took the tea habit to Great Britain around 1660, subsequently to the introduction of coffee. Initially, its expense restricted it to wealthy consumers, but the price gradually dropped, until the 19th century, when tea became as widely consumed as it is today.

In Britain, tea is usually black tea served with milk (never cream; the cream of a “cream tea” is clotted cream served on top of scones than normally strawberry jam on top, a tradition originating from Devon and Cornwall). Strong tea served with lots of milk and often two teaspoons of sugar, usually in a mug, is commonly referred to as builder’s tea. Much of the time in the United Kingdom, tea drinking is not the delicate, refined cultural expression that the rest of the world imagines—a cup (or commonly a mug) of tea is something drunk often, with some people drinking six or more cups of tea a day. Employers generally allow breaks for tea and sometimes biscuits to be served. A mug of tea is the standard accompaniment to a meal in an inexpensive unlicensed eatery, such as a café or”caff”.

Earl Grey tea is a distinctive variation flavored with Bergamot. In recent years, herbal teas and speciality teas have also become popular.

Beer was the first alcoholic drink to be produced in England, and has been brewed continuously since prehistoric times. England is one of the few countries where ale (cask conditioned beer) is still a major part of the market. Lager or Pilsener style beer has

A glass of Bitter

increased considerably in popularity since the mid 20th century, and is often used as an accompaniment to spicy ethnic food. Any kind of beer may accompany a meal in a pub. English beer cookery includes steak and ale pie and beer-battered fish and chips.

Stout is a globally known style of beer which originated in England, although it came to be associated with Ireland. It has a culinary association with oysters; they can be used to flavor stout, or it can be drunk with them.

In Britain, “cider” always means an alcoholic drink of fermented apple juice. Technically, it is a member of the wine family, but it is always served by the pint or half pint like beer. It is traditionally associated with certain regions, such as the South West, Worcestershire and Herefordshire, but commercial brands are available nationwide. The cloudy, unfiltered version is called scrumpy, and the related beverage made from pears, is called perry. In England it is sometimes distilled into apple brandy, but this is not as widespread as with Calvados in France. culinary, cider is sometimes used in pork or rabbit dishes.

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