It’s time to go left field rather than safety-first

05 August 2020, 08:43 am
Fine Food by Charles Campion

As the pandemic grinds onwards, food and drink plays a larger and larger role in our day to day life.

After decades when the mantra has been that we all eat more fresh food and only shop for the next day or two – the new normal now is for one mega weekly shop and the order of the lockdown day is a crawling supermarket trolley groaning under a burden of stock-piled toilet rolls.

Shopping has got more difficult; try taking a mistaken turn in the social distancing layout – the other customers can be very snitty. The kind of food we buy has changed – frozen is good, so is pickled, tinned, dried, fermented, bulk packs, and those tins of anchovies destined for the back of the cupboard. No wonder tastes are changing; bring on the spicy food.

When the SAS set off on their secret missions, it is said that tucked into each ration is a small bottle of diabolically hot chilli sauce. Spice is one way to make bland food palatable. A couple of decades may have passed but television’s Goodness Gracious Me is still fondly remembered for the “Going out for an English” sketch. A valuable insight into the British love of chilli, and it may just be that spice is already playing a part in broadening our horizons.

It may be a standing joke but there is something spooky about the year-long availability of hot cross buns. Once they were a Good Friday and Easter Week treat – after which wait for next year – today they are a year-round staple. This summer M&S has brought back one of their own speciality hot cross buns: Chilli & Cheese. What could be better proof of the nation’s growing infatuation with chilli?

Come adversity and there is always mention that we were never healthier than during the war time years when strict rationing prevailed. Alongside powdered egg, the example of healthy cooking quoted most often is Woolton Pie. Lord Woolton was in charge of healthy eating during the second world war and his pie contained mashed potato, cauliflower, oatmeal, carrot and spring onion. Formidable and (by the by) suitable for veggies and vegans.

As chilli gets a welcome boost should we also be looking at other strong and pungent flavours to transform lockdown dull dishes. Here are some ways to add a little kick to potentially dull recipes. Horseradish – the freshly grated root that makes the eyes water and the nose stream. Sichuan pepper – a small bud (not pepper at all but pungent enough to numb the lips). Mustard – hot English mustard powder, fiery and a great emulsifier. Wasabi – Japanese water plant goes head to head with horseradish. Long Peppers – eyewateringly fierce. Cayenne pepper – a traditional favourite, Escoffier would have used this to add heat and colour. Pimenton – Spanish with smoky notes. Food and cooking are always in a state of flux, even when there is no pandemic. Perhaps this is an opportunity to try stuff from left field rather than safety first – like a chilli hot cross bun perhaps? NPD folk should be all over this opportunity to add spice to everything.

more from Fine Food
  • “Jellyfish”

    02 September 2019 Fine Food
    The thoughtful diner’s watchword is that “you cannot have anything better than exactly what you want.”
  • “A pinch of flavour”

    18 July 2019 Fine Food
    It’s as if two teams of research scientists have gone to war… firstly there are the white-coated folk who champion new products and try to find the next wonder food, while at the other extreme laboratories start by listing the dire…
  • “Bring on the afternoon telly”

    19 March 2019 Fine Food
    The signs are all there and after studying the runes the BBC has devised a winning programme for that difficult afternoon telly slot.