What can I make if my holiday kitchen is a dud?
Julia, Telford, Shropshire
“I once took a potato ricer with me to make mashed potato,” remembers Tommy Banks, chef-director of Yorkshire’s The Black Swan at Oldstead, Made in Oldstead and Roots. On coordinating its safe return after leaving it behind, his hosts asked him: “Who on earth takes a potato ricer with them on holiday?” A fair point, though self-catering kitchens can be strange places, where sweetcorn skewers are deemed essential while spatulas are MIA or relegated to a drawer you’ll most likely discover on the last day.
“When I’m cooking, I like to have certain things to hand,” says Roberta Hall-McCarron, chef-owner of The Little Chartroom in Edinburgh. “Packing everything up is a pain, but it will be better when you get there.” For Banks, that means a good knife and a decent frying pan: “There’s nothing worse than a paper-thin pan that’s going to burn everything,” he says. Maybe even more crucial, however, are a few basic ingredients: oil, salt and stock, say. Essentially, plan your meals ahead and equip accordingly.
Fish paté is always part of Hall-McCarron’s holiday plans. “Get some smoked mackerel, chop it down, mix with a little yoghurt or creme fraiche and lemon juice, then serve on toast or with crudites.” You’ll find Banks tucking into fish en papillote (ie, in paper). “If the oven is ferocious, it’ll take only five minutes, and if it’s useless and has no fan, cook it slowly, and it will be soft and delicious.” Pop your fish (small whole fish, fillets, shellfish) and some veg (“onion, tomato and/or sliced fennel”) on greaseproof paper, add booze, butter or olive oil and seasoning, wrap and bake. “Any alcohol will work – white wine, vermouth or even a shot of gin with a little tonic water, for G&T salmon.”
As at home, it’s hard to deny the allure of one-pot dinners when you’re away, especially if equipment is at a premium. For James Cochran, chef-owner of 12:51 in north London, that could mean steamed mussels with cider, bacon and oregano, or black-eyed pea dal with flatbread and a minty cucumber salad. “Sweat onions, garlic and scotch bonnets, then add jerk spicing: garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, cinnamon, cayenne, nutmeg, ground thyme, black pepper … the list goes on.” Tip in black-eyed peas and water, and simmer for a couple of hours. “Give it a light blend, or mash it up and finish with coconut yoghurt and fresh herbs.” Make a big batch, and you’ll have leftovers for another day (assuming, of course, that you’ve remembered to pack some plastic boxes).
And you could abandon the kitchen altogether. “My barbecue is like my right hand,” says Cochran, whose holiday staple is spatchcock chicken. “Dry rub with jerk spices, then burn the hell out of it.” He finishes with a scotch bonnet glaze, but you could use sweet chilli sauce instead. “I’d also roast sweet potatoes, peel and crush them with a fork, then mix with coconut milk.” A side of barbecued pineapple chunks mixed with chilli and white-wine vinegar would also be a good addition.
Self-catering holidays are not the time to get fancy with baking tins, Hall-McCarron says, so when it comes to dessert, think fools. “Whip double cream, add icing sugar and whatever berries you want, then crumble over oaty biscuits – Hobnobs, for preference.” Other biscuits are, of course, available.