01 December 2007

british cuisine

No, that's not an oxymoron. In fact, Britain boasts some wonderful traditional recipes, including several of my favorite dishes.

Of course, classic British cuisine isn't known for high levels of complexity or ostentatious presentation or snobbish refinement. And that is precisely why it is so attractive - British cuisine provides good, solid comfort food, ideally suited for a chilly evening, with a pot of strong tea and a nice berry crumble.

I mention this because tonight we enjoyed an absolutely wonderful supper of Scots bridies with gravy and rumbledethumps.

Bridies are lovely, flaky pastry - in this case golden and shiny with an egg wash glaze - stuffed full of leftover bits of roast beef, chopped up and sauteed in a pat of butter with onions and seasoned with ground pepper. In this instance, the beef had been roasted covered with sea salt, peppercorns, garlic, and mustard seed, ground together in a mortar and pestle into a rough paste. The beef made very nice bridies, especially with gravy made with drippings from the roast.

Rumbledethumps is one of those items of British cuisine sporting a quirky name - along with bashed neeps, bubble and squeak, champ, clapshot, cullen skink, howtowdie, kedgeree, punchnep, skirlie, stump, and so forth. Rumbledethumps is, very roughly, mashed potatoes with onion and cabbage. As I like to make it, I cube the potatoes with a bit of their skin left on, boil them in milk, drain them partway when they're tender. Add sauteed onions, boiled cabbage cut in thin slivers, some sour cream, and shredded cheese - I used a combination of extra sharp cheddar and smoked gouda because that's what I had on hand. Then you roughly mash it all together with ground pepper, salt, and a pinch of mace and serve.

For these recipes and a large number of other classic British recipes, you can go to the website of The Great British Kitchen, which has a terrific online cookbook. Among my favorites are the braised pork, roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, beef in stout, not to mention a variety of vegetable dishes, sausages, baked goods, and wonderful English cheesy snacks and sides (I have an awful weakness for English cheese, especially when accompanied by a nice ale or bitters).

Of course, mentioning beer, a meal isn't really British I suppose unless it somehow involves the consumption of alcohol - though from reading British novels and watching television shows, I get the sense that alcohol consumption often comes before, during, and after the meal - cocktails before, wine with dinner, and port or sherry to follow. But that's likely a caricature. Still, I've read novels where I've come away thinking, "Man, these people drink like fish."

I suppose I should be enjoying sherry or port at this point then, but instead I'm very much enjoying a very special gin and tonic made with Tanqueray Rangpur gin. Rangpurs are a strongly lime-flavored citrus fruit produced from an old Indian hybrid between a lemon and a mandarin orange. The gin and tonic itself also comes from India where quinine laced tonic - consumed for protection against malaria - was mixed to gin to go down more smoothly.

At any rate, Tanqueray Rangpur has a strong tangy lime flavor, very smooth, a bit sweet, with hints of ginger and bay leaf. It makes a terrible martini, but a fabulous gin and tonic. Whatever one might think of British colonialism in India, this particular gin and tonic almost seems to justify it.

Hail Britannia. And cheers.