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Christmas cooking tips and ethical eating advice from Michelin-starred chef Paul Merrett

19 DECEMBER 2012

Paul Merrett has achieved what every chef dreams of: two Michelin stars. He is a regular on some of the nation's favourite TV cookery shows such as Saturday Kitchen, GMTV and Daily Cooks Challenge, and he is passionate about ethical eating.

He recently hosted a 'Flying Visit' event at The Victoria – Paul's own gastropub in Sheen – a farm to fork experience where guests enjoyed butchery demonstrations, mouth-watering and unusual pork dishes, and got to meet a farmer from the Freedom Food approved Dingley Dell farm.

At this time of year, when so many of us turn to the traditional roast turkey or honey roast ham, we ask the chef and writer of The Allotment Chef what tips he has for us this Christmas, and why we should think ethically in the supermarket.
 

paul merrett


 
With Christmas fast approaching, what are your best cooking tips for our readers?
Pan fry slices of cold leftover Christmas pudding in butter and serve with ice cream doused with a shot of rum – I think it's better then the traditional version!

And start saving crusts and forgotten slices of bread – chuck them in your freezer and when needed add to boiling milk spiked with onion and clove for a great bread sauce.

What's your favourite alternative to a classic Christmas turkey centrepiece?
Since I've had kids I've always done a classic Christmas Turkey roast but back in those happy-carefree-pre-child days I used to cook game at Christmas.

I'd buy a selection – one grouse, one pheasant, one partridge or whatever took my fancy. I'd normally roast them and do them with braised cabbage, roasted root vegetables, wild mushrooms and roast potatoes.

Clearly British produce is at the heart of your work. Would you say there are any ethical or health benefits to choosing home grown ingredients?
I think the standards laid down regarding food in this country compare very well with other countries and (perhaps more importantly) I think most chefs in this country practise self governance in terms of maintaining an ethical approach to food and the issues surrounding it. Key of course is communication and that's why I'm always happy to spread the word on behalf of organisations such as Freedom Food.

Many shoppers still avoid going organic when buying meat because of the cost difference. But, as a chef, what are the differences you find when using animals reared in a stimulating, rather than caged, environment?
Animals that are reared properly with respect for their welfare are always superior in taste – but the products don't always cost that much more. I would urge people to look out for labels such as the RSPCA's Freedoom Food on meat, poultry, fish and eggs. The animals will have been reared to strict RSPCA welfare standards.

 

 paul merrett



Which cuts of meat do you think people should experiment with more?
We must start eating all the cuts. So much live-stock is reared for just certain cuts which makes the product more expensive but also questions the ethics of production in the first place. Ask your butcher to sell you some ox tail, or neck of lamb, or belly of shoulder of pork.

What would you say to picky meat eaters who may be put off by the thought of offal?
Its all in the cooking. Liver and kidneys are a good starting point – don't overcook them because they will become dry and bitter. Serve a great sauce, such as caramelised onion gravy and you'll learn to love offal!

Back to Christmas. Are there any family meal traditions that you still keep today when cooking up a feast?
Curry on Boxing Day. Christmas would not be the same in our family without it. I've grown up with spicy food – I was born in Zanzibar – a spice island. My mum makes a fantastic Goan pork belly curry.

What key dishes will you be cooking at home this winter?
I'm currently writing a book about spice so my poor family are suffering endless different versions of each dish! I will try and cook up a few hearty British classics too – I'm a big fan of braised oxtail!

Who did you look up to during your journey to becoming a Michelin star chef?
I was in awe of all the chefs that had achieved Michelin status but I think Marco Pierre White was always the main man!

Your menu at the Victoria scopes a whole range of different ethnic cuisine, but which area would you say influences you the most?
I annoy myself because I don't really know what 'type' of chef I am. I love ethnic food but then again I love French food...and Spanish, and Mexican, I love fine dining posh food but I also love a good Gastro pub......oh next question!

Is there anything you were hesitant to try?
A few years ago I ordered Rocky Mountain Oysters in a restaurant in Arizona. They weren't what I was expecting – I was given a plate of deep fried crispy calve's testicles. We were eating with American friends who know I was a chef so I had to pretend I had realised what I was ordering, so I munched my way through them.

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