We invented ‘The British Bento Box’ and now pub food will never be the same
Multi Michelin-starred chef Jason Atherton helps us inject some Japanese elegance into five classic British grubs
Pub food is one of the greatest things about living in the UK. NHS, pub drinking, not having native animals that want to eat you, pub food. In that order. The best things, right there.
Ain’t the prettiest food on the planet though, is it? No, no, that award goes to our Japanese friends, with their surgically-precise sushi and other assorted bitesized snacks that look like cute baby animals.
But what if we, somehow, someway, managed to combine the beauty of Japanese cuisine, with the artery-clogging genius of British pub food? What then would happen? Would we win a million pounds? Open a hole in space-time?
We did the one thing anybody would do after presenting themselves with this problem: popped on our brave boots, sourced some Japanese bento boxes, enlisted the culinary services of Jason Atherton, super-chef of many Michelin stars and very excellent restaurants from around the world, and took a giant leap into the future of food.
The Sunday Roast
Apologies to your granny, but her recipe for the best pork crackling? Nah.
Element One: Apple-Stuffed Rolled Pork
1 3lbs pork loin roast (butterflied)
1 large onion (diced)
3 tbs olive oil
2 Braeburn apples (peeled, cored and chopped)
8 fresh sage leaves
2 cups thick-cut white bread cubes (crusts removed)
1 beaten egg
2 tbs butter
1 cup chicken stock
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Preheat the oven to 190C, and carefully cut away the fat from the top of your pork joint and set aside (you’ll be using this later).
2. To make the stuffing mixture, heat olive oil in a large pan over a medium-high temperature. Add onion, apples and sage and sauté until softened. Remove from heat and gently stir in the bread, egg, butter, salt and pepper. Add chicken stock gradually until all ingredients have softened. Allow to cool completely.
3. Spoon the stuffing into the pork. Roll the pork over the stuffing, ending with the seam on the bottom and the fat side up. Lightly score any remaining fat with a sharp knife, and tie the pork tightly with butcher’s twine. Season and transfer to a roasting pan.
4. Roast the pork in a preheated oven for about 90 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest for 15 minutes before slicing.
Element Two: Perfect Crackling
Pork skin (from your pork loin)
200ml white wine vinegar
Plenty of salt
1. Preheat the oven to 180C.
2. Cut the skin into small strips, and put them in a large mixing bowl. Add vinegar and lots of salt, until it’s all covered. Mix thoroughly.
3. Transfer the pieces to a wire rack in a roasting tray. Roast for 10-15 minutes, until crispy. Cool, and serve.
Element Three: Goose Fat Roast Potatoes
1.5lbs small red potatoes (peeled and cut)
1 jar of goose fat
4 tsp salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1. Preheat your oven to 220C. Add a generous amount of goose fat to a roasting tray and place inside the oven on the highest shelf to heat.
2. Boil potatoes for ten minutes until the outer edge is fluffy, then drain, cover and leave to steam over the saucepan for five minutes, before tossing them vigorously in a colander.
3. Drop them into the tray with the hot fat, and move them around until they’re all covered. Sprinkle with salt, and place in the oven for 40-50 minutes. Season before serving.
Element Four: Honey-Roasted Carrots
1/2kg baby carrots
2 tbs sunflower oil
2 tbs clear honey
Salt and pepper
1. Heat the oven to 190C.
2. Put the carrots in a roasting tin with the oil and season. Roast for 30 mins, then drizzle in honey, toss well, and return to the oven to cook for a further 20 mins.
Element Five: Caramelised Onion and Cider Gravy
1 large onion (quartered and thinly sliced)
1 tsp brown sugar
2 sprigs fresh thyme
3 tbs all-purpose flour
250ml apple cider
250ml chicken stock
1 garlic clove (peeled)
1 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
1. Melt the butter in a large pan, and add the onion, garlic, sugar and thyme. Cook and stir for 20 minutes on a low heat, until the onion turns golden.
2. Take out the thyme and stir in the flour. Keep cooking until the flour is mixed in, then stir the cider, stock, salt and pepper. Simmer until thick and serve.
Fish & Chips
Build a righteous flavour church using twice-cooked curry-spiced chips, Tabasco-tinged DIY ketchup, minted mushy peas and a curveball coriander yoghurt dip, and worship the majesty of fish and chips in a whole new way…
Element One: Spicy Tomato Ketchup
500g vine-ripened tomatoes (roughly chopped)
75g caster sugar
1 tsp white peppercorns
2 tsp sea salt
3 garlic cloves (peeled, sliced)
1 small bunch fresh basil
500ml tomato juice
Sea salt and black pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 180°.
2. Toss the tomatoes in a large bowl with the sugar, peppercorns, salt and a drizzle of olive oil, then spread them out in a casserole dish and drizzle with more oil. Bake for about one hour, stirring once or twice, until the tomatoes are soft and slightly caramelised. Add the garlic slices, basil and tomato juice, stir and return to the oven for 30 minutes.
3. Use a blender to make a fine purée from the mixture. Pass through a sieve into a saucepan, and bring to a boil. Leave to bubble until thickened and reduced by a third. Add Tabasco and season to taste. Set aside to cool completely, then transfer to a sterilised jar. Keep chilled.
Element Two: Twice-Cooked Spiced Chips
400g russet potatoes
2l of oil (for deep frying)
1 pinch paprika
1 pinch cayenne pepper
1 tsp turmeric
2 tsp garam masala
1 tsp olive oil
1. Heat your fryer, or a deep saucepan of oil, to 180C and preheat your oven to 220C.
2. Slice your potatoes into long batons, then lower them into the hot oil for a few minutes.
3. Combine the spices into a bowl, and add the chips. Mix until well covered.
4. Place the chips onto a baking tray and bake for 25 minutes, until golden and cooked through.
Element Three: Curry-Fried Monkfish Chunks
200g of thick monkfish fillet (cut into bitesized pieces)
2 tsp garam masala
2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp paprika
2 tsp fennel seeds
1. Combine the garam masala, turmeric, paprika and fennel seeds. Add the fish and coat well, seasoning with a little salt too.
2. Heat a thin film of oil in a frying pan until hot and cook the fish in it for four to five minutes, turning once and ensuring it’s brown on all sides. Remove from heat and rest for a few minutes before eating.
Element Four: Minted Mushy Peas
350g frozen peas
1 tbs good white wine vinegar
A few sprigs of fresh mint
Salt and pepper
1. Place the mint leaves in a pan of salted water and bring to boil. Add the peas and cook until tender.
2. Drain and blend in a food processor until a rough puree. Add water if necessary to get the right consistency. Season to taste, and serve warm.
Element Five: Coriander Yoghurt Dip
1 handful of fresh coriander (chopped)
2 large spoons of natural yoghurt
1. Stir the coriander into the yoghurt and season well. Add a squeeze of lemon to taste.
This, any weekday lunchtime, your desk. Imagine the pride as you confirm to your colleagues that yes, you did bosh out a few thyme and caramelised onion scotched quail’s egg over the weekend…
Element One: Thyme and Caramelised Onion Scotched Quail’s Eggs
12 quail’s eggs (room temperature)
500g sausage meat
10 thyme leaves (roughly chopped)
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
75g onion chutney
2 hen’s eggs
50g plain flour
100g fresh breadcrumbs
Vegetable/sunflower oil (for frying)
Tsp sea salt flakes
1. Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Prepare a bowl with cold water and add the vinegar. Use a slotted spoon to lower the quail’s eggs into the boiling water and cook for two minutes. Scoop them out, plunge into the cold water and leave to cool for 20 mins.
2. While the eggs cool, combine the sausage meat, thyme and onion chutney in a large bowl.
3. Spread the flour over a plate, whisk your hen’s eggs in a wide and shallow bowl, and tip the breadcrumbs into a third dish.
4. Carefully peel the quail eggs once cooled. They’ll be soft boiled, use a delicate touch.
5. Divide the sausage mix into 12 patties. Take one and flatten it in the palm of your hand, the place a peeled quail’s egg in the centre and gently wrap the meat around the egg to enclose it. Roll this in the flour, then the egg, then the breadcrumbs, and repeat for the remaining eggs. Place in the fridge for 30 minutes.
6. Half-fill a large pan with oil and heat to 180C. Lower in a few eggs (without overcrowding the pan) and cook for three minutes, or until golden and crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon onto a tray with kitchen paper, and sprinkle with sea salt.
Element Two: Piccalilli
750g cauliflower florets
275ml white wine vinegar
150ml malt vinegar
100g caster sugar
1 tsp ground turmeric
15g dry English mustard
1.5 tbs cornflour, mixed into 3 tbs water
150g silverskin onions
150g cornichons (drained and diced)
Fine sea salt
1. Lay the cauliflower onto a large tray and sprinkle with salt. Cover with cling film and leave in a cool part of your kitchen overnight.
2. The next day, rinse and drain the cauliflower in a colander. Add both vinegars to a wide pot and boil for 10-15 minutes, until reduced by a quarter. Mix the sugar, turmeric and mustard and add to the pot. Stir until the sugar dissolves then simmer for a few minutes before adding the cornflour mix. Boil for five minutes until the cornflour is cooked out.
3. Add the cauliflower and onions to the pan, simmer for two minutes, remove the pan from the heat and add the cornichons. Stir the mixture well, then spoon into sterilised jars and seal immediately (not metal-topped jars - the vinegar will rust them). Leave to mature, ideally for a few weeks, before serving.
Element Three: Black Pudding Bread Rolls
500g strong white bread flour (and extra for dusting)
15g fine sea salt
2 x 7g sachets of fast-action dried yeast
1 large egg (lightly beaten)
550ml soured cream
200g black pudding (skin removed, crumbled small)
2 egg yolks (beaten with 2 tablespoons of milk, for glazing)
Sunflower oil (for greasing)
1. Mix flour, salt and yeast with an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Make a well in the middle of the and tip in the beaten egg and soured cream. Mix on a low speed until it’s soft, moist, and comes away from the sides of the bowl. If your mix is too wet and tacky, add a little more flour.
2. Add the black pudding. Up the mixer speed to medium and then knead the dough for five minutes until smooth, save for the lumps of black pudding. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with thinly oiled cling film, and leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in size (1-2 hours).
3. Knock back and lightly knead the dough on a lightly floured surface, then divide into 50g portions and shape into individual rolls. Arrange on several large oiled baking sheets. Cover with oiled cling film and leave to rise until doubled in size again (1-2 hours).
4. Preheat an oven to 220C. Brush the rolls with the egg yolk glaze, then bake for 12-15 mins, until golden brown and sound hollow when you tap their undersides. Leave to cool before serving.
Element Four & Five: Prosciutto & Cheddar Cheese
1. Buy, unpack, make pretty, incite jealousy amongst co-workers, devour.
Does a truly memorable fry-up include bacon, or pancetta crisps cooked at 165 degrees for 12 mins? Ketchup, or a homemade tomato fondue? A fried egg, or the perfectionist’s slow-cooked-for-1-hour-13-minutes-exactly egg? You know. You know…
Element One: Pancetta Bacon Crisps
5 dry-cured pancetta slices (thin)
1. Lay the pancetta between two heavy baking sheets and cook at 165C for 12 minutes, until crispy.
Element Two: Tomato Fondue
1kg vine-ripened tomatoes
2 garlic cloves
1 bay leaf
Sprigs of thyme
3 shallots, sliced
1tbs tomato paste
1. Blanch the tomatoes, deseed them and set aside.
2. Sweat off your shallots in a frying pan, with the garlic, thyme and bay. Add tomato paste and cook out completely. Add the tomatoes and cook down until the mix is dry.
3. Blend everything in an electric mixer and pass through a sieve. Season with salt, and add a touch of olive oil.
Element Three: Fried Bread Croutons
A handful of diced bread
A large knob of butter
Salt and pepper
1. Heat a frying pan and add the butter. When it’s foaming, throw in the bread and fry until golden and crisp. Season well.
Element Four: Slow-Cooked Egg
1 large organic farm egg (and two extras, in case of breakages)
1. Using a thermometer, bring a pan of water to about 62C.
2. Place your eggs in the water for 70 minutes. Once done, remove the eggs and place into iced water.
3. When you’re ready to serve, place the eggs back into water, no hotter than 60C, for 3 minutes. Crack them into a bowl of warm water, and remove with a slotted spoon to serve.
Element Five: Thyme-Fried Mushrooms
A handful of chestnut mushrooms (wiped clean, sliced thick)
A large knob of butter
1-2 garlic clove (chopped)
2 sprigs of thyme
Sea salt and cracked black pepper
1. Heat the oil in a medium-hot pan, then add the butter. When it’s foaming, add the garlic and thyme sprigs, and then the mushrooms.
2. Stir once, then allow the mushrooms to sit still as they cook. When they’re browning at the edges, stir again and cook for just a few more minutes.
3. Remove the thyme sprigs. Season with sea salt, freshly cracked black pepper and parsley, then serve.
Sausage & Mash
How many sausages do you think you’ve eaten in your time? Couple o’ thou? Couple o’ mil? Damn shame that none of them got to meet Atherton’s boozy ale mustard…
Element One: Sticky Honey Mustard Sausages
1 pack of pork chipolatas
2 tbs clear honey
2 tsp English mustard
2 tsp wholegrain mustard
1. Preheat an oven to 190C. Mix the honey and both mustards in a bowl. Add the sausages, and toss well to coat them.
2. Arrange the sausages - spaced apart - on a baking tray. Slather any remaining honey-mustard mix from the bowl over them, and place in the oven. Cook for 20 minutes, until golden.
Element Two: Creamy Mash
1kg ratte potatoes
350ml whole milk
250ml double cream
1. Put the potatoes (not peeled) in a large pan of cold salted water. Bring it to the boil, then simmer and leave for 20-30 minutes, until the potatoes are tender and there is no resistance when you pierce them with a sharp knife. Remove from heat.
2. Peel three or four potatoes and push through a potato ricer into a large bowl. Repeat with all the spuds.
3. Heat the milk, cream and butter in a pan over a gentle heat, until the butter has melted. Add this to the potatoes, stirring well until you reach your desired consistency. Season with more salt, and serve warm.
Element Three: Guinness and Onion Gravy
2 tbs butter
1 tbs olive oil
2 medium onions (thinly sliced)
2 tbs all-purpose flour
½ cup bone broth (or beef stock)
2 tsp granulated sugar
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1. Melt the butter in a large pan over a medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and the onions and saute, stirring often and until caramelised (about 30 mins). Add the flour and cook until golden brown (2-3 mins).
2. Add the Guinness, broth, sugar, salt and pepper, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes, until thickened.
Element Four: IPA-Battered Shallot Onion Rings
A handful of mixed shallots or small onions (cut into rings)
300g plain flour
1 can of IPA beer
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Heat the oil in a large, heavy-based pan (no more than ⅓ full) to 180C.
2. Add the flour and IPA to a bowl, season, and whisk into a batter.
3. Drop the shallot rings into the batter and coat well. Lower into the oil (in batches) and fry until crisp and golden. Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and rest on kitchen paper. Season again before serving.
Element Five: Ale Mustard
175g yellow mustard seeds
175g black mustard seeds
500ml your favourite ale
1 tbs sea salt
Pinch of crushed chilli flakes
175ml cider or white wine vinegar
6 tbs runny honey
1. Mix the mustard seeds and the ale in a bowl, cover and set aside overnight.
2. Stir in the rest of the ingredients, and blend in a processor until almost smooth.