By Ella Walker
Right now, none of us is able to explore the far reaches of our own town, let alone the far reaches of the continent – however much we might want to. TV viewers though can watch chef James Martin travel from the sandy shores of Northumberland to the rugged Northern Irish coast.
The restaurateur and Saturday morning telly chef’s latest series and accompanying cookbook, James Martin’s Islands To Highlands, sees him track up and down the UK, from the microclimates of the Channel Islands (for Jersey Royal potato season) to the game-filled landscapes of Scotland.
“We do take it for granted,” says Martin, 47, speaking several weeks before the coronavirus pandemic broke. “I don’t think we appreciate what’s on our doorstep.”
During a nine-month spell of travelling, he and his crew got to experience sights you just might not expect of Britain; like the Isles of Scilly – “20 miles off the coast of Cornwall but the beaches are the colour of chalk, it’s just incredible” – and the astounding Shetland archipelago.
“Shetland is like being born with new eyes, it sounds really weird, but the colours, the clarity of what you see is surprising,” says Martin.
Then there were the food producers he encountered along the way. In Northern Ireland he met kelp farmers on Rathlin Island, and a 14-year-old who’s one of the few producers of wasabi outside Japan, with help from his scientist dad.
“To fully understand food, you’ve got to appreciate how difficult it is to produce, and where it’s from, and then you’ll respect it a lot more, and respect the people who produce it,” he explains fervently.
Martin wants us to approach dinner as a pleasure, not a financial corner to cut. “It’s one of the true enjoyments of life, that we all have to eat, all of us”.
Perhaps now we’re all stuck inside, we might spend more time around the dining table together instead. And if so, we can mainline Martin’s travels, and his feeling that “food is my life, I can’t see why people wouldn’t enjoy it.”
Steak with Whisky-Braised Onions and Mustard Sauce
4 onions, peeled
600ml beef stock
100g salted butter
1 garlic clove, crushed
A few pine sprigs, washed and patted dry
1-2tbsp olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
400g rump steak, 5cm thick
150g long-stem broccoli
For the sauce:
2tbsp Scottish grainy mustard
1/2tsp English mustard
2tbsp salted butter
75ml double cream
Place the whole onions in a pan with the whisky and beef stock. Cover and bring to the boil then reduce the heat slightly and simmer for 40 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to lift the onions out of their cooking liquor and set aside to cool a little. Reserve the liquor.
Meanwhile, place the butter, garlic and pine sprigs into a separate pan and place over a low heat to melt the butter.
If not cooking on the BBQ, preheat a griddle pan over a high heat. Cut the onions in half horizontally, then drizzle over the oil and season well. Cook on the griddle pan or on the BBQ, flat-side down, for a couple of minutes until charred. Set aside.
Season the steak all over, then brush with some of the melted pine butter. Cook on the hot griddle pan or on the BBQ for two minutes, then brush with more butter, flip over and cook for another two minutes.
Add the long-stem broccoli to the pan or BBQ for the last two minutes of cooking, again brushing with pine butter. Lift the steak onto a board and rest for four minutes.
To make the sauce, put both types of mustard in a pan with one tablespoon of the butter and 200ml of the reserved onion cooking liquor. Pour in the whisky, then flambe to burn off the alcohol, tipping the pan gently and carefully to ignite. Place over a medium heat and simmer until the liquid has reduced by half, then stir in the cream and season well. Whisk in the remaining one tablespoon of butter to finish.
Slice the steak into 3cm thick slices and place on a platter with the broccoli, then spoon over the sauce. Pull the onions into petals and dot around before serving.
For the biscuit base:
300g salted butter, softened
200g dark soft brown sugar
350g plain flour
For the caramel filling:
1 x 397g jar dulce de leche
250g salted butter
150g caster sugar
For the topping:
400g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), broken into pieces
100g salted butter
Preheat the oven to 170°C (150°C fan)/325°F/gas 3.
To make the biscuit base, put the butter, sugar and both types of flour into a large bowl. Use your fingertips to rub the butter into the other ingredients until the mixture looks really crumbly. Press the mixture into a 23 x 30cm loose-bottomed cake tin (no need to line) and use a palette knife to even out the surface. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove from the oven and cool in the tin on a wire rack.
To make the caramel filling, combine the dulce de leche, butter and sugar in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Whisking the mixture, bring to the boil (be careful as the mixture will be extremely hot).
Pour evenly over the biscuit base, cover and leave to set for at least four hours or overnight at room temperature.
To make the topping, put the chocolate and butter into a medium heavy-based pan and gently heat. Once everything has melted, whisk to combine. Cool slightly, then pour over the caramel and level with a palette knife. Cover, then leave to set overnight at room temperature.
Cut into 12 squares to serve.
James Martin’s Islands To Highlands is available now