Here, Eat This: A Beginner's Guide to British Cuisine
With acclaimed British restaurant Feast closing in August, now's the time to acquaint yourself with its excellent English menu before it's too late. Luckily, chef Richard Knight will be opening another restaurant in the Heights within a year, and there are plenty of other British restaurants in Houston with hearty pub fare on offer.
Photos by Katharine Shilcutt Half of the fun of visiting England is the food -- especially the fresh butter, bread, meat and sweets.
British food has been unfairly maligned for years as bland and starchy, but modern British cooking in restaurants such as The Fat Duck, The Three Fishes and, yes, even Restaurant Gordon Ramsay have done much to change that perception over the last decade. Current British cuisine embraces traditional cooking and regional specialties like Yorkshire pudding or Cornish pasties, framed with fresh, seasonal ingredients and modern kitchen techniques.
However progressive British cooking gets, however, the comforting old classics such as meat pies or Sunday roasts are still enormously popular. It's this base of English standards we'll examine in this week's Here, Eat This.
Fish and chips
Fish and chips at Foster's in England.
Chips are a cross between steak fries and potato wedges, although in America they'll more typically be served as simply french fries. The fish is lightly battered, usually cod (although halibut, haddock and hake are popular choices, too) and always better with a few dashes of malt vinegar and lemon across the top before dipping into tartar sauce. In a pinch, fish finger sandwiches (frozen fish sticks with HP brown sauce and/or ketchup) will do.
Bangers and mash
Meat and potatoes are recurring themes in British cooking. And if one isn't there, the other will be present double to compensate. I once ate at a pub in Holmes Chapel that served me a winter root vegetable pie with two kinds of potatoes on the side. Bangers and mash are the best example of the meat-and-potatoes preference, being simply a plate of sausage (bangers) and mashed potatoes (mash).
HP brown sauce / malt vinegar
Brown sauce with ketchup and Colman's mustard at The Bull & Bear.
HP brown sauce is the British version of ketchup, improving nearly everything it touches. Imagine ketchup with a tangier, maltier edge to it from the addition of Worcester sauce and malt vinegar. Speaking of malt vinegar, it goes on nearly everything too. You'll need to acidity of both the brown sauce and vinegar to cut through all the fat and starch of many dishes.
Meat pie / Cornish pasty
Steak and kidney pie at Feast.
A meat pie is exactly what it sounds like: meat (and sometimes vegetables) and gravy baked into a pie crust. In its earliest incarnations, the tough "coffin lid" top of the pie was typically discarded or given to servants. These days, the buttery, flaky pastry dough is often the best part of a meat pie. My personal favorites in Houston are found in the frozen foods section of British Isles, the British necessities store in Rice Village, and crisp up nicely in the oven. There are specific versions of the meat pie such as a steak and kidney pie, although standard meat pies usually contain beef or lamb. A Cornish pasty (pronounced PASS-tee) is the portable version of a meat pie, sort of the equivalent of a British empanada, also filled with potatoes, swede (a.k.a. rutabaga) and onion.
Shepherd's pie / cottage pie
Unlike a meat pie, a shepherd's pie is distinguished by its crust of mashed potatoes rather than pastry dough. A true shepherd's pie will feature ground lamb in addition to peas and carrots, while a cottage pie usually features beef instead. The names, however, are interchangeable more often than not. Both are delicious.