The shift from summer into autumn makes me crave hearty food and warm hospitality. I can’t think of a part of England that’s better able to provide either of these than the north-east.
Every time I head to those parts, the stereotype of “the dour Yorkshireman” strikes me as an ironic one – few people are as open-hearted as those I have met in Yorkshire and the north-east of England.
The region is a vibrant and wild part of the country and has a rich culinary heritage, of which its inhabitants are rightly proud. What’s more, it’s home to some truly great chefs: Kenny Atkinson, Anthony Flinn and Andrew Pern. I spent my 40th birthday at Pern’s restaurant, The Star Inn near Helmsley in north Yorkshire – a celebration not only of my middle age, but of cool-climate ingredients from the north, cooked up by a pro.
The first food that springs to mind when I think of the region is, unsurprisingly, yorkshire pudding. It’s up there with Cornish pasties: one of this country’s most famous dishes, epitomising Great British food at its very greatest. I would think it’s called a pudding because it uses a dessert-style batter mix, not unlike a clafoutis.
Unravelling the history behind the names of British dishes is always interesting – I imagine that tartare sauce is so-called because it contains so many of the same ingredients as steak tartare: pickles, capers, shallots, herbs, egg yolks … It’s beautiful alongside some northern-inspired battered fish like the eccentrically named Scarborough woof I’ve included below.
This is a fish that I’ve not known people use anywhere except the north-east. It thrives in the cold waters of the North Sea and, although it’s a right ugly mutt to look at, it tastes great – big, white and flaky like a nice piece of cod. The rugged coastline around Scarborough, Grimsby and Middlesbrough is home to hard-working, active ports dedicated not just to fishing but shipping. My take on battered Scarborough woof isn’t the most authentic, but it’s unique. I use tapioca flour and sparkling water to create a batter that crispens like prawn crackers.
The grouse season is now in full swing, and nowhere do you find better birds than the Yorkshire Moors. Grouse is brilliant for the autumn – it’s strong, red and rare and, thankfully, coming down in price as we move further into autumn. At the beginning of the season, starting on the Glorious Twelfth (of August), it’s hugely expensive. We wait a week or two before we put it on the menu at The Hand and Flowers. Each bird feeds one person, so you’re paying for flavour rather than quantity.
Grouse is also becoming a bit cheaper these days because it’s hung for less time. They used to hang the birds until they were near rotten, then cook them rare. The finished dish tasted wild – a game only for real game fans – but that’s changing fast. You don’t have to eat it with stilton and port, or be an old boy in a three-piece suit and monocle, to enjoy grouse these days. I like to serve it with blackberries, like the recipe below. It’s a plate of autumn – and you wouldn’t eat that dish in any other country but Great Britain.
My north-eastern inspired dessert is a rhubarb crumble, because as outdoor rhubarb disappears for another year, we start to force its growth indoors. Nowhere in the UK is more famous for this than the Wakefield triangle, near Leeds.
Although forced rhubarb officially starts in December, you can get it now, so this recipe will last you well into the spring. It’s grown in huge blacked-out sheds with no light save for a small candle at the top of the building. The rhubarb thinks it’s below ground, so rapidly grows towards the light. In fact, it grows so quickly that you can hear it moving upwards – creaking, crackling. It’s absolutely bonkers.
Because it’s grown so fast, forced rhubarb has a sweeter flavour than its outdoor counterpart. For this reason, I’ve paired it with tangy whipped cheese, which works brilliantly with the crumble and mace (my all-time favourite spice). Together, they taste almost like a cheat’s cheesecake.
I promised you hearty food inspired by the north-east, and here you have it. Now all you need is that warm welcome.
Scarborough woof nuggets and tartare sauce
200g semolina flour, plus a little more for dusting
100g tapioca flour
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
330ml sparkling water
500g Scarborough woof or wolf fish, skin removed, cut into roughly 3-5cm squares
Salt and cayenne pepper
Groundnut, vegetable or other flavourless oil, for deep frying
Lemon wedges, to serve
For the tartare sauce
2 egg yolks
15 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp white wine vinegar
250ml vegetable oil
2 tbsp super-fine capers
4 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 boiled egg, grated
3 tbsp pickled gherkins, diced
2 banana shallots, finely diced
1 First make the mayonnaise for the tartare sauce. Blend the yolks, mustard and the vinegar in a food processor. After 30 seconds dribble in the oil: you will need to pour slowly so it doesn’t split. Keep dribbling it in until thick and glossy, then remove from the processor and put in a bowl.
2 Add the capers, parsley, egg, cornichons and shallots, and then check the seasoning: you could add a little lemon juice and cayenne to finish.
3 When you’re ready to eat, heat the oil in a deep-fat fryer until it reaches 180C/350F. While the oil is warming up, quickly whisk together the batter. Put the semolina flour, tapioca flour and bicarbonate of soda into a bowl. Season with salt and cayenne pepper. Pour in the soda water and whisk to form a loose batter.
4 Dust the pieces of fish in the extra semolina flour and then dip into the batter. Fry for 3-4 minutes or until the batter is crisp and golden. Don’t crowd the fryer. You may need to do this in batches – make sure you let the oil come back up to temperature in between. Use a slotted spoon to remove the fish from the oil.
5 Drain on kitchen paper and season with salt and cayenne pepper. Serve with the tartare sauce and lemon wedges.
Tom’s roast grouse
4 oven-ready grouse
A splash of unscented oil
4 sprigs of thyme
6 juniper berries, crushed
1 tsp picked thyme leaves
For the bread sauce
½ onion, chopped
2 bay leaves
½ tsp coriander seeds
20g dried white, blended breadcrumbs (crusts removed)
Fresh grated nutmeg, to finish
1 punnet of blackberries
1 bunch of watercress for garnishing
For the yorkshire puddings
112g plain flour
1 First make the yorkshire pudding batter: mix the eggs and milk together and then slowly whisk in to the flour. Don’t over-whisk. Lumps are OK. Rest the mix at room temperature for at least 4 hours.
2 Add some vegetable oil to yorkshire pudding moulds. Heat in a preheated oven at 200C/400F/gas mark 6. Add the batter and cook till risen. Remove and set aside.
3 Next make the bread sauce. Bring the the onion, butter, cloves, bay, cream and milk to a boil in a small saucepan, then take off the heat. Cover with clingfilm and leave to infuse for one hour or until cool. Pass the spiced milk through a fine sieve into another saucepan, then bring back up to the boil. Add the blended white breadcrumbs and whisk into the milk, constantly stirring for about 5-8 minutes or until the sauce has reached a nice pouring and dipping thickness. Season with salt, white pepper and a little grated nutmeg, then keep to one side in a warm place until ready to serve.
4 In a large ovenproof frying pan, heat a little oil, then add 20g butter until foaming. Now add the thyme and crushed juniper. Season the grouse, and put in the oven at 200C/400F/gas mark 6 for 8 minutes, basting halfway through. Remove from the oven, and place the birds breast-side up on a rack. Glaze with the juices and cooking butter to glaze the birds. Rest for 8-10 minutes. Blowtorch to give colour, or flash it under a very hot grill.
5 While the lovely birds are resting, warm through the bread sauce and the yorkshire puddings. When ready, remove the legs and breasts from the grouse, season with a little flaky salt and picked thyme leaves, and finally serve with the yorkshire puddings, bread sauce and fresh blackberries and garnish with the cress.
Rhubarb crumble with whipped cheese and mace
300g caster sugar
Zest of 1 orange
1 vanilla pod, split lengthways, deseeded
4 bramley apples, peeled, cored and diced
For the crumble topping
80g soft butter
200g caster sugar
35g ground almonds
10g flaked almonds
For the whipped cream
150g cream cheese
50g double cream
2 tbsp icing sugar
A large pinch of mace
1 Melt the butter, sugar, orange and vanilla in a pan. Add the apples, ¼ of the rhubarb and cook until soft and almost pureed.
2 Add the rest of the rhubarb to the apple, stir and cook for just 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and pour into an ovenproof dish to cool.
3 For the topping, put the cold butter and flour in a bowl, work together with your hands until combined, then add the sugar. Mix for a further minute until it forms little granola-like balls, then fold through all the almonds through.
4 Once fully mixed, pour into a roasting tin, sprinkle over 1 tbsp water and bake at 170C/335F/gas mark 3½ for 20-25 minutes until golden and crunchy.
5 Meanwhile make the sweet cream cheese: whisk together the cream cheese, cream, mace and icing sugar until firm. Chill until ready to serve.
6 Once the crumble is ready, remove it from the oven, turning it down to 160C/325F/gas mark 3, and leave the crumble stand for 10 minutes. Put the fruit mix in a dish and cover with the crumble. Cook for 20 minutes. Serve with the sweet cream cheese.
Tom returns to Cook on 18 October when he will be exploring the ingredients and cuisine of Scotland.
Tom’s Best Ever Dishes returns to BBC2 on Friday October 3 at 9pm.