Monday, December 6, 2010

Christmas Time

Christmas time is not always a time of happiness in the restaurant business. For most people Christmas Eve, Christmas day and Boxing Day is a time for celebrations and a time to unwind with close friends and family. For people in the business Christmas starts in August. Menus have to be written and approved ready to be sent out when we get our first enquiries. Traditionally September is the month when we start to get enquiries about Christmas staff parties. Menus are sent and bookings taken.

We tend to do our first parties in early December, with them running through to January. We have Christmas parties ranging in size from two or three people, through to exclusive use Parties who book out a whole venue. Our two private dining rooms also prove popular for groups of up to 20 people who want a bit of privacy.

By the time Christmas Eve comes along staff could have had several weeks of working flat out. In all of our sites we now close Christmas Day but open Christmas Eve and Boxing Day. For years we have worked Christmas Day, both for ourselves and other people and it is only since we have had kids that we have decided to close.

We have Christmas Day at home and generally invite a few friends to enjoy the Day. The day starts off with presents for the children followed by bacon sandwiches and mugs of tea. This year we have 22 for lunch and so I will have to pull my finger out on Christmas Eve. Luckily I have a chef friend from London staying for Christmas so we should be able to get the work done.


We will start at around 2pm with smoked salmon and blinis with a little gin crème fraiche. I like to make blinis without buckwheat as I think it makes the blinis lighter, the batter will be made in the morning and then lightly fried in butter at the last minute. I will get my salmon from Paul at P.H.FISH. He does a great cure and lightly smokes whole sides of organic farmed salmon from Loch Duart in the Highlands. I like to cut the salmon quite thickly to give it a bit more texture and chew.


This year I think I will start the meal off with lobster and fennel ravioli with a spicy tomato butter sauce. The filling will have to be made the day before and the pasta dough made Christmas morning. It will be a fair amount of work but two of us should get it done.

The most important main course of the year

I used to be a goose man until I met a couple on holiday in Turkey.

Tanya and Mark Beckinsale help run Tanya’s family turkey farm in Cookham Dean, just outside Henley on Thames. The Copas family have been rearing award winning turkeys since 1957 Copas turkeys have a reputation for quality second to none. At Copas they choose slow growing breeds which are reared outside from the age of 6 weeks in cherry orchards and reach maturity at about 6 or 7 months, (the norm is 2 months) This gives the birds a more dense flesh, further hanging of the bird gives it a more gamey flavour reminiscent of other rare breed poultry. The turkeys are dry plucked by hand and because of a good fat covering the turkeys stay moist and succulent. Mark and Tanya kindly sent us a Copas turkey the first Christmas after we met and we have not looked back. We recently took the kids to Cookham to choose our Turkey. Grace and Freddie loved running in the orchard with the turkeys as you can see from the photos.

It is really great to spend time with a family who really have as big a passion for food as I have, and I cannot recommend their turkeys highly enough.

I usually cook the Turkey in two parts, much to Tanya’s disgust! I like to roast the breast meat and slowly cook the legs. By roasting the bird whole I find that the breast can overcook while you wait for the legs to cook.

The legs I will cook on Christmas Eve by slowly braising the meat on the bone for 3 hours, I will then pick the meat and layer it in an ovenproof dish with caramelised onions and potato slices. I will then cover with some of the braising juices and finish off in the oven. The “crown” will then be roasted on Christmas day and carved in thin slices.


I will serve roast potatoes, cooked in duck fat until crispy. Sprouts tossed with sliced chestnuts and smoked bacon, buttered savoy cabbage with black pepper and probably roasted parsnips.


I like to do truffle scented gravy made with a reduction of the turkey stock finished with truffle. Cranberry sauce is a must in my house even though it is not my favourite. People seem to love cranberry sauce. I have a friend who thinks that turkeys were invented as a vehicle for getting the cranberry sauce from their plate to their mouth.

Bread sauce is another sauce that would go very well as it does with almost all roasted poultry.

Cheese Board

We like to serve the cheese at the same time as we serve the Christmas pudding. This allows the red wine served with the turkey to go with the cheese. I am a big pinot noir fan so something classic from Burgundy will do the trick. My cheese boards are almost always from the British Isles, in the British Isles we now make cheese which is as good as if not better than the rest of the world. A good mix would be Colston Basset Stilton, Flower Marie, a nice goats log like Ragstone or Ticklemore and finally probably a good cheddar like Montgommery’s cheddar or Lord of the Hundreds.

Christmas Pudding

My mum always makes a fantastic Christmas pudding, we serve it flambéed with any old booze that’s lying about, although something with orange in it would be perfect. Custard goes well but crème fraiche works better to cut the richness.

Chocolates might be too much after the meal but we will probably fine room for a few later.

I hope everyone has a good Christmas and great new year.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


As the last days of summer start to disappear and those long cold nights start to close in, I am in good spirits. The season from early September through to Christmas is my favourite time of year for produce in this country. I really look forward to cooking with root vegetables from squashes to swedes. Those long slow cooking dishes like oxtail in red wine or suet puddings and of course the game season.

What Is Game?

I love the game season. It allows chefs to cook something a little different and also offers a little bit of a change on a menu that has featured beef, lamb and pork heavily up until then. The Glorious Twelfth of August is when traditionally the game season starts in the U.K. with people paying big money to shoot red grouse (up to £1000 per day) or to a much lesser extent ptarmigan.

Game broadly falls in to two categories, feathered and furred and can be truly wild or semi wild to not really wild at all depending on what it is and where it is found.

Feathered game starts as I have mentioned with grouse, next comes partridge and then pheasant. Woodcock and snipe are also available from the twelfth but they are much less common. Grouse, woodcock, wood pigeon, wild duck and snipe are truly wild but both pheasant and partridge are for the large part reared from chicks and then released into the wild in readiness for the shoot.

Furred game consists mainly of venison, hare, rabbit, and to a lesser degree squirrel (recently some chefs have been singing their culinary praises so to speak). Venison is the generic term for the meat of all species of deer found in the U.K. Venison can be either totally wild or farmed depending on the time of year and depending where it comes from. Most venison on menus tends to be Red Deer but you can find fallow, roe or muntjac from time to time.

Rabbits and hares can be shot all year round but hare especially is better eaten during the winter months.

Pros and Cons of Shooting

Shooting often gets a bad press. It is often perceived as a sport for "Toffs" done at great cost. While this does probably go on, it is not the norm and the vast majority of people who shoot do it for the right reasons.

Scottish wild deer need to be culled. A wild deer does not die of old age but dies of starvation due to it losing its teeth and not being able to feed in the winter months. Because deer no longer have any natural predators (the last wolf in Scotland was said to be killed in 1743) the only thing that can now check their numbers is Man. Gillies or Game keepers in Scotland regularly cull the deer and it has been known for the army to be bought in to cull the deer from helicopters in years of high population growth. Surely it is better for people to regularly shoot the oldest deer for food rather than either let them starve to death or be shot from helicopters?

Grouse, woodcock and snipe which are truly wild are encouraged to flourish by man for the purpose of shooting. Keepers will promote the growing of things like heather and wild berries, upon which they feed and also by killing their predators like foxes and weasels. People will say that this is just a method of farming and that the animals should be left to live in peace. This argument only goes so far, the money made from shooting helps to protect the natural habitat which might otherwise be ruined. It is also worth considering that wild game numbers have increased over the years and this must mainly be due to them being promoted and nurtured.

It is perhaps with the most common shoots of pheasant and partridge that the waters of acceptability are most muddied. As I have said above pheasants and partridges for the most part are reared from chicks for several weeks and then released into a controlled environment where they are fed grain from hoppers. They are then released at the time of the shoot. This can be seen as a sort of semi wild farming just for the benefit of someone with a shotgun.

It is certainly true that large shoots organised for the benefit of corporate bankers or `'Toffs`' is a bad thing. It is not right that someone should fire 1000 shells to kill 200 birds in one afternoon and this practise is generally frowned upon by the shooting community, not least as there have been cases of the birds being buried once shot because there is no local market for the meat. Small shoots with ten or so guns where the shooters can effectively eat what they kill or sell what they kill to the local restaurant are a much better bet.

When you compare the lives of even semi wild game to that of farm animals or heaven forbid battery or intensively reared animals then the game birds have a much better life. It is also worth considering that it is thought that up to 15% of game birds escape the shoot and live at least another year of total wildness. This has helped push up the numbers of wild birds who live locally. You only have to drive around rural Sussex near the Ginger Fox to see how many pheasants there are all year round.

Game Cookery

The cooking of game has changed quite a bit since I started cooking some 20 years ago. The hanging of game in restaurants no longer happens due to Health Departments not allowing game to be kept on the premises in the fur or feather. The days of pheasants being hung by the head until the head falls off or until Maggots appear are long gone. Today’s taste is much more for lighter fresher tasting food which doesn’t lend itself to hanging. Venison used to be marinated in red wine overnight before cooking to intensify its flavour but that again is seen as old fashioned with restaurants preferring just to simply cook the venison, brush with mustard, coat with pistachio crumbs and serve pink.

Often, as with most things, simple cooking and bread sauce are all you really need. I have done a couple of recipes below to help get you started and its worth remembering that you can now get game in most good supermarkets.

Pheasant Crumble

Serves 6
For the pheasant stew
1 large cock pheasant jointed
2 rashers streaky bacon diced
1 clove garlic chopped
1 onion diced
Sprig thyme
Bay leaf
50ml Madeira
250ml brown pheasant or chicken stock
Flour for dusting
Little oil for frying
20 button onions
20 small mushrooms

Coat the pheasant in the flour and shallow fry in a dish that can go in the oven. Brown the pheasant and then add the onion and garlic, stir for a few minutes, and add the herbs and madeira. Simmer for 1 minute and add the stock, bring to the boil, season, cover with a lid or foil and place in an oven on 150 degrees for about 2 hours or until the meat comes easily away from the bone. Leave to cool, shred the meat from the bones and set aside in an oven proof dish . Pass the stock and leave to stand. Fry the button mushrooms and onions until golden brown and add to the pheasant meat. Pour the stock over the meat, onion and mushroom mix.

For the crumble topping

100g plain flour
50g butter
20g toasted hazelnuts
4 rashers crispy bacon
Little chopped parsley

Put the flour and butter in a food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, this can also be done by hand. Place a mixture on a baking sheet with Parchment paper, bake in the over on 180 degrees stirring every 5 minutes until the mixture is golden brown. Leave to cool and put in a mixing bowl. Add the bacon, hazelnuts and parsley and season well. Put the mixture onto the pheasant mix and heat through in an oven.

Serve with mashed potato and greens.

Quick Bread Sauce

This is the perfect sauce to go with all feathered game or roast chicken.
1 small onion chopped
400ml milk
1 clove
1 sprig thyme
1 bay leaf
4 slices stale white bread made into breadcrumbs
25g butter

Gently heat the milk with the bay, thyme, and clove. Bring to the boil and set aside to infuse. Sweat the onion in half the butter until soft, add the milk, bring back to the boil and add the breadcrumbs. Take off the heat and mix well, season with salt and black pepper and then add the last of the butter.

Posted by Ben Mckellar

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Do We Eat Enough Seafood?

When you read the papers you get the feeling that seafood stocks are being over fished and that one of our most important food resources is being destroyed. Is this the case or is it that we do not eat enough of the right seafood?

Two thirds of the world’s surface is covered with sea and we are told that we know more about the Moon than we do about our oceans. Man has fished for over 25,000 years and fish has always had a special place in our history right up to the present day with “fish and chips” being still a very popular dish.

At The Gingerman we buy the majority of our fish from a company called P.H.Fish which is based in Hastings. Hastings is one of the oldest fishing ports dating back a thousand years and Hastings boasts the largest beach launched fleet in the UK.

P.H.Fish is a company run by Paul Hodges, he has a catamaran called The Amadeus which goes out almost every day. The Amadeus is a 10 meter boat which is not very big but because of the type of nets they use she is able to land, and therefore sell all that they catch. This is not something that all boats can do with many of the larger boats throwing away up to half of their haul because it has either been crushed in the nets or because they cannot sell the fish on land. P.H.Fish was awarded a sustainability award by the MSC or marine stewardship council for the sustainable methods of fishing.

All our head chefs get text messages from the fishing boat detailing what has been landed and from that they work out the specials boards before the fish arrives on the premises. When we change the monthly menus we speak to the fishermen to determine what is in season and what will be readily available and then write the menus accordingly.
We try hard to introduce lesser known varieties of fish to menus in order to try to take the pressure off fish like Cod and Haddock with different degrees of success. Fish like Pollock, Hake, Gurnard, Whiting, Slip Soles and Coley are all delicious but they need to be cooked well and be treated with respect.

The trouble with lesser known fish is that the public will not necessarily order them in a restaurant as they would Cod or Sea bass. The job of the front of house is to “hand sell” these fish in the same way that they would Ox tail, Grouse or Crispy Pigs Head on the meat side of the menu or a Riesling or Gewurztraminer wine on the wine list. This allows the restaurant to sell more unusual ingredients and for the customer to discover something new. A very good example of this is Monkfish, which 15 years ago was used as either cheap Scampi or cat food but today is one of the most popular and therefore most expensive fish you can get.

So do we eat enough fish in this country? The evidence is probably no but we are improving. We currently export 80% of what we catch to countries like France, Spain and Portugal. Many people I know say that they don’t even like fish. I am convinced that people go off fish when they are young, they don’t like the bones or the eyes looking at them or maybe they were brought up on over cooked fish which let us be honest is pretty awful. The same might be said of Liver with a generation put off by grey grainy overcooked Liver.

My 5 year old daughter will eat raw salmon in a Japanese restaurant (or pink fish as she calls it) without a second thought. She will also tuck into a bowl of mussels without a problem. Is this a case of her being innocent enough to try something without any inhibitions? And if a 5 year old can enjoy raw fish why can’t a 25 year old?

In my book there are 2 general rules when it comes to fish, freshness and simplicity. Buy the freshest fish possible and cook it simply. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall talks of eating freshly caught Mackerel poached in sea water on the beach with his hands from a driftwood plate.

Japanese fishermen often eat a little of their catch raw on the boat while at sea with a little soy sauce and wasabi.

For the home cook fresh fish just fried with a little butter and lemon is as good as it gets. I have written two recipes below for you to try at home. The Tikka monkfish is a great dish if you are not that keen on fish because the monkfish is meaty and has no bones to worry about. The spice gives a little kick but the Raita calms that down. It is also a dish that works as a starter or in Pitta bread for a snack. The Salt Cod Croquettes are simply delicious as either a starter with salad or as a canapé with drinks. Both dishes are very popular at the restaurants.

Salt Cod Croquettes with Wild Garlic and Aioli

Makes about 30 croquettes depending on size
200g cod fillet
Course sea salt (enough to cover the cod)
60g strong flour
150ml water
50g unsalted butter
2 large eggs
4 wild garlic leaves chopped
Pinch cayenne pepper

For the Aioli
2 egg yolks
1 tsp Dijon mustard
150ml vegetable oil
150ml olive oil
2 cloves crushed garlic
Pinch saffron infused in warm water
Juice of 1 lemon

Place the cod on a plate and cover with the sea salt, put in the fridge for at least 6 hours or overnight. Wash the salt off the cod and poach the cod in a little milk, drain the cod and discard the milk. Flake the fish and set aside. Bring the water and butter to the boil together in a saucepan, add the flour and stir rapidly, keep the dough mixture on the heat for 2 minutes and set aside to cool down. Once cool add the eggs slowly one at a time. If you have a mixer then that will work best. Once the eggs are added, fold in the flaked fish, the wild garlic and cayenne. Do not season the mix as there will be enough salt from the cod.

Heat a pan of oil to 170 degrees (or use a deep fat fryer) and drop small spoons of croquette mix into the oil. Fry until golden brown and drain on kitchen paper.
For the Aioli place the yolks, mustard, saffron, lemon juice and garlic in a food processor. Slowly pour both the oils onto the yolks mixture slowly and steadily while the food processor is running until a smooth mayonnaise is formed, season with salt and pepper.

Simply dip the croquettes in the Aioli and eat or Serve several Croquettes with some dressed leaves and a pot of Aioli as a starter.

Posted by Ben Mckellar

Monday, August 23, 2010

Everyone Loves Roast Chicken!

Roast chicken is one of those dishes that most people have learned to cook in their time. It was probably one of the first things I cooked with my mum, along with the beef gravy or maybe a jam tart with left over pastry.

We eat more chicken in this country than any other meat and it is difficult to find a more versatile animal. The pig can offer perhaps more dishes but pigs are harder and more costly to produce and pigs don’t lay eggs!

One of my favourite cookery books by Simon Hopkinson is simply called “roast chicken and other stories” and if you type roast chicken on Google you get 1 million 210 thousand hits.

The most popular restaurant dish in Britain we are told is Chicken Tikka Marsala. I am sure that chicken contributes as much to these sales as the Tikka Marsala element in this dish. Would Mutton Tikka Marsala be as popular?

You can now get many different types of chicken in the supermarkets from the often frowned upon value chicken to the Rolls Royce of chickens “Poulet de Bresse”
The Poulet de Bresse comes from the Bourg en Bresse region of France between Lyon and Geneva. The Poulet de Bresse chicken has its own Apellation d’origine controlee certificate. This means it is protected to the same extent as some of Frances most famous wines.

You can buy 2 value chickens in a supermarket on special offer for £5 but the Bresse chicken will cost about £30 - £35. The price difference is indeed great but is it worth paying the extra?

Generally rare breeds of all animals take twice as long to reach maturity and are half the size of their extensively reared counterparts. These 2 points contribute most to the expense of the raw product. The other and perhaps most important thing to consider is then taste. The more expensive chickens will have a much firmer and more gamey taste than the cheaper version but that might not always suit a pallet that is used to the more tender watery bird.

At the restaurants we buy our chickens from a farm in Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex. This farm produces free range chickens which reach maturity in 16 weeks and is about 3 miles from The Ginger Fox. These chickens are very good quality and have travelled very little in order to be on our menus. In the restaurant business it is always more cost effective to buy whole animals or fish and butcher yourself than to buy joints or fillets (in the case of fish). The problem with this is that you need the skills necessary to deal with whole carcasses and the flexibility of menu to cope with different dishes.

We will buy say 20 chickens at a time and then joint the birds and come up with various dishes in order to get the most out of each bird. Recently at The Ginger Dog we came up with following specials out of our chickens.

The breasts would be plainly roasted and served with a crispy potato cake, buttered runner beans and a roasted garlic cream. The legs we marinated in vegetables, thyme, bay leaf and red wine for up to 5 days and then braised. The cooking juices were then reduced for coq au vin. This dish was placed on our £10 menu and served with mash potato. In the past we have also roasted the legs with “40 cloves of garlic” to recreate the famous French classic bistro dish.

The chicken wings were salted for 2 hours and then cooked slowly in duck fat for 2 hours. The bones were taken out of the wings and then the wings were served with the sautéed livers from the chicken in a salad dressed with Cabernet sauvignon vinegar as a starter.

Finally we made a chicken consommé with the carcasses which we roasted in the oven and then clarified. We served the consommé with some bacon dumplings and a little drizzle of truffle oil.

This practice is the best way to ensure that everything is used up, that little is wasted and that the restaurants can be competitive in this market. This can also be done at home with leftover roast chicken being used in risotto with a stock made from the bones.

Posted by Ben Mckellar

Monday, June 28, 2010

Menu Change

It's that time of the month again.

We generally change our menus every calendar month in all the restaurants. The logic behind this is to keep the food as seasonal as possible and also because as we run small menus, it gives our regular customers something new to try. We think its better to run small menus that change often than have big menus that change little. If a menu has twenty main courses you can usually tell the food will not be as fresh as you want. The most important thing for a good chef is to get produce in daily and then sell it by the end of service that night.

Lots of celebrated and busy restaurants do not change the menu at all or very rarely. When was the last time you went to your favourite curry house or Chinese and found that Chicken Tikka Marsala was no longer on the menu? When we go to ethnic restaurants we generally know what we are going to order before we arrive.

Other restaurants are so well known for certain dishes that customers make special journey just for that particular dish. The Tour d’Argent is Paris is famous for its roasted duck with a sauce made from pressing the carcass in a silver press. The restaurant gives you a certificate telling you which number customer you are in ordering the duck. They have so far sold over one million ducks.

There is another restaurant in Paris that serves just one starter and one main course. Le Relais de L’Entrecote in St Germain will only serve a walnut oil salad to start and Sirloin steak for main course. We went one evening because we just followed the queue which extended onto the street. The only question they ask you about the food is how you would like the steak cooked, as some of you will no doubt know, most steaks in Paris come in shades of rare. The meal we had was great and the atmosphere terrific.

We try to stagger the menu changes at our restaurant so that either Pamela or myself can be there. The Fox menu changed on Wednesday and the others change next week. We try to get all the staff to attend. This is a great opportunity for staff to see what they are going to be serving and also gives them a chance to ask questions on particular dishes, is the chicken free range? where do the scallops come from? are sweetbreads testicles? that sort of thing. It is also valuable for chefs to get some feedback from people who like food before dishes go on the menu.

Most good chefs see a finished dish in their head and then work back from that to create the dish. The dish might look great on paper and work well in the head but until you actually cook the dish you don’t know how it will taste. There are a few basic rules that we try to stick to when writing menus, a soup, a red meat and white meat, a chocolate pudding, a salad and so on.

We get market reports from most suppliers and generally get the heads up when new produce become available. Nurturing good relationships with suppliers is very much part of the head chefs job. At this time of year the food tends to be a little lighter in style with fewer heavy sauces. Peas, broad beans, mint, new potatoes, new season lamb, rabbit, Wild sea trout, berries and stone fruit should all feature heavily. Maybe a chilled sweet corn soup with crab as a starter or chilled raspberry soup with vanilla ice cream for dessert.

At The Ginger Fox tasting we had a near full house turn out which was a surprise in itself considering England were playing Slovenia. Everyone was happy with the menu and hopefully it will be well executed by the kitchen. The Sweetbread starter and stuffed Rabbit main course proved popular with us but we will have to see which dishes sell well with our customers.