Rick Stein talks simple suppers and book inspiration

Rick Stein talks simple suppers and book inspiration

Ian Chaddock

BY Ian Chaddock

10th Nov 2023 Celebrities

8 min read

With his new book, Simple Suppers, acclaimed British celebrity chef, restaurateur, author and TV presenter Rick Stein tells us about his joyful collection of 120 "simple and informal" recipes
We all have those evenings after work where we just don't have the time or willpower to make a big meal. Rick Stein's superb new book Simple Suppers offers easy recipes for midweek, weekends and everything in between, along with stories celebrating the simple things about food and life. 

Catching up with Rick, we wanted to find out the inspirations behind the approach to his new book of simple yet delicious recipes. 

What is the concept of Simple Suppers exactly and how did you come up with it?

I had open heart surgery last year and while I was lying in my hospital bed, I started the book with some sort of memory of what it was like having had this surgery. And having had a really lovely, simple haddock dish before the operation, and then some pretty dreadful roast lamb and mint sauce afterwards, I just started thinking about just doing a book of very simple recipes. The sort of thing that maybe you could find in hospitals that was very easy to make.
It wasn't the whole reason for starting it. Over the years, I've just been trying to simplify my recipe writing. And looking back over the early days, there's enormous expectations from me about what my readers might be prepared to do to bake a dish, like make your own puff pastry or mayonnaise, or all the steps of something like a fish pie. And then talking to people and thinking myself, really, the way that we all do tend to look for ways of saving time. And I think that's much helped by supermarkets who are only too pleased to provide you with puff pastry, shortcrust pastry or mashed potato. I think M&S has the biggest mashed potato factory in the country.
"The recipes are based on simplicity and informality—the way people cook today "
I think the simple criteria has always been if somebody else can make it as well or better, don't make it yourself. Stick to the stuff that you can make better. And so, for example, in a couple of the Indian dishes I've got in there, I've suggested buying in garam masala and in this case from Sainsbury's, or again, M&S because I just find them particularly good. It's sort of like accepting that you can cut corners, but also in every case where I have suggested that, I've put a recipe for mayonnaise or garam masala in the back of the book, in case you want to make it yourself.
I'm actually very often cooking the way everybody else cooks, which is just if you can find a way of making things quicker, you will. And so the recipes are all five to ten ingredients. The time to make the suppers is probably half an hour to an hour, but no more. And all the recipes are on one page. The recipes are all based on simplicity and informality. And even if it's sort of dinner party dishes, they're simple. It's really trying to get in touch with the way people cook today—that's what it's all about, really.
One pot meatballs

Does the idea of making simple meals go back to your childhood? Are there any standout meals in the book from when you were growing up?

Yes, in Simple Suppers there's a recipe—my father's recipe—for roast chicken leftover chicken soup. And there's a recipe that my mother used to cook, saltimbocca, but we're not using veal but instead using flattened out chicken breasts.
There are maybe ten dishes from my childhood in there, which, of course, generally was rather simple cooking. But there's also a nod to the internet, to YouTube, and the way young people cook these days. But mostly, it's the sort of thing that I do when I'm cooking informally. I mean, there's one dish in there, a stir fry—I do stir fries all the time, like everybody else does. And I've called it "quicker than making a sandwich stir fry", right? Basically, it’s just very simple flavourings and getting stuff out of the fridge.
"There's one dish in there that I've called the 'quicker than making a sandwich stir fry'"
The other thing that I really enjoyed in the book was that each recipe has a little intro as to why I came up with it. But then there's a series of what I call essays running through the book, which is just basically for those people that like browsing cookery books, not just for recipes, but for reading them. I've got one on the salt police, and another on the death of the dinner party. It’s me thinking about the way people eat in a more literary—or essay-based way—rather than just the recipes.

Using local, fresh produce is always something that has been very important to you. Was it still important to incorporate that in Simple Suppers?

Yes, a lot of them are just simple recipes. One, I've just happened to be growing a load of tomatoes in my garden, and I've just written a really simple recipe for tomatoes, basil, parmesan and olive oil—just because it's what I do. I think I wrote in that, just how much I think tomatoes and basil work well together. So there are lots of opportunities for me just to do really straightforward things like that. It’s been fun.
"I've just tried to cut out any processes which I don't think are necessary—it's been fun"
It's trying to make cooking processes as simple as possible. You find a lot of recipes, particularly older recipes, you've got maybe onions, garlic and chilli. And the recipe says to fry them all separately. And I say, “well, why?” It’s not really going to make that much difference. And I think a lot of old recipes were done with due respect to whoever was writing, particularly handed-down family recipes. I've just tried to cut out any processes or stages which I don't think are necessary.

Are there any recipes in there that you're particularly pleased with? Maybe that people probably wouldn't think of, or different takes on things?

It’s just picking up ideas from other countries. There's one for a breadcrumb pork with a tonkatsu sauce. A tonkatsu sauce is a Japanese dish and I first had it in Tokyo, eating under railway arches in Ginza in Tokyo, but it's just so simple. I use Japanese panko breadcrumbs with it. You flour, egg and breadcrumb the pork chops, and fry them with a tonkatsu sauce, which you can buy, but you can make much more easily, and in this case, I have said make your own with tomato ketchup, Worcester sauce, soy sauce, Dijon mustard, and a pinch of sugar. The reason I like that dish so much is that you can't help but love it. And you know, it's one of those standard recipes in Japanese restaurants. And it's just totally delicious.
And the other one again, a main course is harissa lamb steaks with chickpea mash and tomato salad. And again, what I like about that particular one is that I'm using harissa to flavour the lamb steaks. Don't put that on a barbecue because you don't want to burn the harissa coating on the lamb, do it under a grill. I like the chickpea mash, which actually is very nice. One of the things I've done in the book, of course, is to say don't bother to soak your chickpeas or your haricots: buy them in tins. And actually, mashed up chickpeas with a bit of flavouring is a bit like mashed potato. You can do endless things with mashed pulses.
Another one I just had fun doing is my ultimate scrambled eggs. It’s just scrambled eggs. But what I'm saying is actually the secret of good scrambled eggs is plenty of butter, so not to just go through the process of scrambling an egg.

Did anyone else influence or inspire you with Simple Suppers?

It's funny because quite a lot of the ideas for this book sort of came from Delia Smith's book, How to Cheat at Cooking.
I met her the other night and just said how much I'd been influenced by How to Cheat. And that I was writing a book called Simple Suppers largely a lot based on her sort of ideas there, which was that she changed from being this very proper, sort of exponent of Great British and French, particularly, cooking and doing it all properly, to how to cheat because she, like me, just realised that you have to take on board the way people cook today.

Two recipes from Simple Suppers:

Extracted from Rick Stein's Simple Suppers (BBC Books, £28). Photography by James Murphy

Puff pastry topped fish pie

600ml whole milk
500g whiting, coley or pollock
300g undyed smoked haddock
2 egg yolks
2 tbsp cornflour
85g mature Cheddar cheese, grated
Splash of white wine
Large handful of parsley, chopped
150g peeled prawns, fresh or frozen and defrosted
320g ready-rolled puff pastry
Milk or egg yolk, to glaze
Salt and black pepper
I love a fish pie but I do realise that there are a lot of processes involved, although the great thing is that when you come to serving there’s nothing to do except take it out of the oven. I’ve made this recipe as simple as possible by not having a proper béchamel sauce or mashed potato, as you would for a traditional fish pie. I made a traditional one for my family, including grandchildren, last Easter assuming everyone loved a fish pie, but that generation were not at all keen. Next Easter I’ll be serving it like this, with a puff pastry top.
Preheat the oven to 200°C/Fan 180°C. Heat the milk in a wide pan, add the fish and poach for 3–5 minutes. Take the pan off the heat, then lift the fish out with a slotted spoon, leaving the milk in the pan. When the fish is cool enough to handle, peel off any skin and gently break the flesh into large chunks. Allow the milk to cool a little.
In a small bowl, mix together the egg yolks and cornflour to form a paste. Gradually whisk in about a ladleful of the poaching milk. Place the pan of milk over a low heat and whisk in the egg yolk mixture, then stir over a medium heat until you have a thickened creamy sauce. Stir in the grated cheese, wine and parsley, then taste and season with salt and pepper.
Add the fish, sauce and prawns to an ovenproof dish, about 20 x 30cm in size, and gently combine. Top with the pastry and brush with milk or egg yolk. Slash the pastry a couple of times to allow steam to escape and bake for 25–30 minutes until the pastry is golden and risen. Serve with peas, broccoli or green leafy vegetables.

Last-minute cheat's tiramisu

150ml whipping or double cream
250g mascarpone, at room temperature
40g icing sugar, sifted
50ml Baileys or Marsala
150ml espresso coffee, cooled
8–12 sponge fingers or 4 trifle sponges
Cocoa powder, for dusting or a chocolate flake, crumbled
Obviously there is nothing that can beat a proper tiramisu, but this is so quick and so lovely and it really does take just minutes to make.
Lightly whip the cream in a bowl until it’s only just starting to thicken.
Whisk the mascarpone with the Baileys or Marsala to soften, add the icing sugar, then fold into the cream.
Pour the coffee into a separate bowl. Dip the sponges into the coffee and then divide half of them between 4 glasses or small bowls.
Add half the cream mixture, again dividing it between the bowls, then repeat the layers of sponge and cream,. Dust generously with cocoa powder or crumbled chocolate.
Refrigerate until ready to serve or serve immediately if making at the last minute.
Rick Stein's Simple Suppers (BBC Books, £28) is out now

Banner photo: Rick Stein (photo credit: James Murphy)

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