Ed Smith on braving new ingredients by keeping it simple, and how the new cookbook will help point you in the right direction
Image: Issy Croker
One of many things that I like about market shopping is that it provides an opportunity to try new (or new to me) ingredients. Whether it’s a type of cheese or version of charcuterie I’ve not seen before, a vegetable that’s relatively unusual on retail shelves, an odd-looking mollusc, unfamiliar vinegar, or a particular breed or cut of animal, every time I walk around the various sections of Borough Market I discover something different.
It follows, then, that the chance to experiment beyond routine is reflected in the Borough Market Cookbook, alongside the seasonal themes and events touched on in the first two posts of this introductory series.
We all love pottering around fresh produce markets, pointing (and clicking) at bountiful piles of fruit and vegetables, odd-looking fish and spectacular carcasses. But that’s really only half the joy. The real payoff comes when we pluck up the courage to buy and subsequently eat something, too.
But that’s sometimes easier said than done, isn’t it? Regardless of good intentions, I suspect every one of us has frozen at the last minute, and instead of picking up that super seasonal Italian lettuce or shimmering, red-scaled fish plumped instead for a more familiar green vegetable and a couple of fillets of salmon or cod.
Perhaps the main stumbling block is the “but how do I cook with it?” question. If that relates to the likes of quince, red mullet, mallard, summer truffles, masa harina, and fruit powders, then the cookbook provides specific answers. Unfortunately, we’d need a book with an infinitely expanding page count to give guidance on every current—let alone future—ingredient underneath the railway arches.
However, there is in the book (I think) an overriding sense of encouragement to go out there and explore; to be enchanted and enthused and engaged by market produce, and to just give things a go. The traders can always provide cooking and eating tips, so we’re rarely completely on our own, without a clue what to do.
Paper bag to warmed plate
Moreover, there should be a sense that cooking great meals from scratch is actually very simple. Most market produce really doesn’t require much effort to take it from paper bag to warmed plate. Further, it’s rare that the interesting ones (in particular) need to be transformed far beyond their natural state to be enjoyed. Basically, whether instantly recognisable or new to you, when good ingredients are at their peak, it’s easy to make great-tasting food.
Among the book’s recipes, the ‘cook interesting ingredients simply’ approach is particularly evident in those dishes that suit two to four people for a brunch, lunch or simple supper: picture tonka bean spiced eggy bread with roasted grapes; fennel and campagnolo sausage linguine; steamed sea trout with pan-fried baby gem; veal chops with anchovy-dressed puntarelle. You’ll see that none of them take more than a few minutes to cook, but all are centred on a couple of interesting ingredients that you’re unlikely to find in the supermarket aisles, and may have walked past (without picking up) when at the Market.
Not in the book but of a similar vibe is this recipe for smoked eel and scrambled eggs. It’s not much more than the basic bacon and eggs that you’ve been cooking all your life, but using smoked eel instead of cured pork does change proceedings just a little. This is an ingredient that’s very British (indeed, very London), but is on very few people’s typical shopping list. Which is a shame. Because it’s utterly delicious, and in this context is the exact meeting point between great smoked bacon, haddock, kippers and smoked salmon—which in my book means it’s the perfect partner to oozing scrambled eggs. Red frills—a type of mustard leaf—add horseradish, pepper and mustard notes, along with a touch of grassy citrus. And you must add really good tomatoes (at room temperature), to cut through the richness of the eel and egg.
If in the past you’ve glanced at the smoked eel on the counters of Shellseekers Fish & Game or Furness Fish Markets but carried on walking, be sure to remember this next time and to give the eel a go.