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Category: English food

Four Typically English Savoury Dishes

The savoury dishes normally associated with traditional English cooking are characterized by a total lack of pretension and infantile simplicity of preparation and, as the Englishman in me would admit, distinguish themselves more by their strangely esoteric names than any claim to subtlety of taste. The limited space available to us here does not allow mention to extend beyond the following, generally considered to be the most common:

Bubble and Squeak: In the past this typically English savoury dish was a standard Monday lunchtime fry-up of vegetable and meat left-overs from the Sunday roast. Preparation and cooking present no great challenge, being well within the reach of a moderately-sharp five-year-old. Instead of being tipped into the wheelie bin, ingredients are chopped up and dumped into a frying pan. Mashed potato is then added as a binder, and the resulting agglomeration fried and turned until golden brown. The name itself, apparently, is an onomatopoeic echo of the sounds emitted during the frying process.

Yorkshire Pudding: Contrary to what most French people think, a pudding is not necessarily a hot dessert. Traditionally, Yorkshire Pudding is eaten either with the main Sunday lunch of roast beef and vegetables, or on its own as a starter. Made simply from a mixture of plain flour, milk and eggs, preparation is well within the competence of anyone capable of producing a tolerable cup of instant coffee, though it is vital to use lard as a cooking medium, and the oven must be really hot before baking. The dish can include onions, and is served with plain gravy or onion gravy sauce.

Bangers and Mash: This quintessentially English savoury dish consists of sausages served with mashed potatoes. Preparation is elementary enough to be well within the capabilities of anybody able to crack an egg five times out of ten without breaking the yolk. My French readers will be interested to note that ‘banger’ is a familiar word for a sausage, and constitutes an onomatopoeic reference to the fact that, unless thoroughly pricked before frying, their high water content makes them liable to explode with a deafening bang.

Toad-in-the-Hole: A sausage covered in a thick, Yorkshire Pudding-type batter, and then baked in the oven. Given that the sausage is usually bought ready-made, this is yet another English savoury dish which would not tax the culinary skills of anyone capable of making a decent cup of tea (though, apparently, the next-in-line to the British throne can’t). And what about the strange-sounding name?’ One explanation has it that the end of the sausage emerging from its batter coating is not without resembling a toad sticking its head out of a hole. Well…err with a bit of imagination, why not?



The Sad Tale of English Sauces and Condiments

It is a matter of the deepest sadness to the Englishman in me that vulgar mint and horseradish sauce, not forgetting copious quantities of runny gravy, are more or less the only traditional English options open to a cook wishing to complement the flavour of meat and vegetables, and render them succulently moist. And surely the grounds for my Bulldog’s denigration of le French Dunk are considerably weakened by the more than dubious nature of these native English sauces which, let’s be honest, present little inducement to being mopped up.  After all, does the thought of bringing bread into absorbable contact with such a cold, unappealing mixture as vinegar, chopped mint and sugar present a prospect any normal eater could find appetizing? And can dunking such a dubiously-coloured liquid as gravy (so watery that most of it would probably run down your chin) be seriously envisaged?

     Nevertheless, the more resolutely anglophile of our French readers, still interested in preparing these typically English sauces, will be pleased to learn that their questionable nature may be somewhat compensated for by their simplicity of preparation. As indicated above, one of those typically English sauces, mint sauce, an essential accompaniment to roast lamb, is made from just a few spoonfuls of chopped, fresh mint, a dash of vinegar, along with a sprinkling of sugar. Horseradish sauce, traditionally eaten with roast beef, boasts a tangy, mustard-like flavour, and is composed of nothing more complex than vinegar, sour cream, and the grated roots of the plant whose name it bears. And another of those very English sauces, gravy, in its basic form, is simply the juices which run naturally from meat during cooking. These may be further coloured, flavoured and thickened by adding gravy salt (a simple mix of salt and caramel) or gravy browning (gravy salt dissolved in water), and more consistency can be obtained by using an agent such as corn flour. Strangely, the dispensing recipient goes under the name of ‘gravy boat.’ Is it the nautical appellation, along with the hull-like shape which prompts this nation of sea-farers to douse their food with such floodwater quantities of liquid that dinner plates are not without resembling Brighton beach at high tide? But what is even more regrettable is the fact that, though successful preparation of any of these sauces would not tax the culinary skills of an averagely-intelligent eight year-old, few English household cooks are now willing to consent the effort: for concentrated cubes and powders, to which hot water is simply added, are now commonly used to make gravy; and ready-prepared bottled mint and horse-radish sauce, where the only inconvenience is the exertion involved in unscrewing the cap, are usually preferred to home-made versions made from fresh ingredients.

     Whether it is the effect or the cause, an industry has now developed which has made ready-prepared, artificially-coloured and preserved, standardized bottled-sauce concoctions an inseparable part of Anglo-Saxon eating culture. Indisputable proof of this is provided by the shelves of English supermarkets which display an awesome variety of pre-made condiments: sauces, pickles, creams and dressings of every description, the vast proportion of which are totally unknown in France. Many of these condiments, or their ingredients at least, saw light of day in the distant colonies of an Empire bathed in a never-setting sun, and began life in Blighty as an attempt to sweeten the pill at a time when English cooking was an unimaginative, insipid ‘boiled beef and carrots’ affair, and swallowing it was simply something to be got through in order to survive. But, like Dutch elm disease, the bottled-condiment blight, has now gained such an invasive hold that nothing can prevent it from spreading rampantly on; and far too often – unlike home-made, naturally-constituted, often regionally-inspired French sauces, considered to be an intrinsic, complement to a specific dish (and as such containing the same ingredients) – these industrially-produced seasonings represent a standardized, interchangeable accompaniment to almost any dish.

 Hélas, the Gallic in me has to admit that even traditional French sauces are now being threatened by the ubiquitous spread of this type of convenience food: for determined efforts are now having to be made to persuade the French housewife not to succumb to the spurious charms of Anglo-Saxon style, ready-prepared cubed, powdered and bottled pretenders. Needless to say, my Frenchman has every confidence that his compatriotes will resist this mass culinary invasion with the same heroic fortitude as that shown by Joan of Arc and her followers in raising the siege of Orléans, and booting those damned English invaders out of France for good and for all.


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