Jack Stein on cherry-picking Rick's recipe ideas and having insects on the menu
Jack Stein, son of veteran TV and restaurant business foodie Rick, is a chef in his own right, and is celebrating his debut cookbook. Ella Walker finds out more
JACK Stein is frank about the premise of his debut cookbook – he pretty much nicked it off his TV legend and traveller-cum-chef extraordinaire dad.
"I've basically stolen one of Rick's ideas that he didn't really capitalise on," says Stein, wryly. "You can't plagiarise within your own family, I've discovered."
The 36-year-old is Rick Stein's middle son, and chef director of the Stein empire. Based in Cornwall, he's responsible for developing and implementing menus across the family's restaurants, and now he's preserved a slew of his favourite recipes – some borrowed, some adapted, some all his own – in Jack Stein's World On A Plate, his debut cookbook.
The idea he lifted from his dad was to collect ideas, magpie-like, from his travels and then reproduce them with British produce.
"We've travelled the world and found these amazing recipes and ingredients," says Stein, "but what Dad does when he comes back to England is, he does them with local, British ingredients."
It's a kind of fusion cooking Stein calls "very iconoclastic – it doesn't really have any rules, this book; it's just whatever I think works". As a result, he's clear: "If you're a purist, this book's not for you."
There's nothing wrong with borrowing flavours – but some culinary greats can get sniffy about it
"People with a great culinary history, like the French and the Italians, can have a big problem with it," he says, of cherry-picking and mixing flavours from different cuisines. "What Britain and America are doing now is getting to their level in terms of provenance of food, quality of ingredients and understanding the seasons, and the Italians and the French have been doing that forever."
For three months a year, setting off in December, the whole Stein family would travel the world together. The other nine months, Stein's parents were busy running their Cornwall restaurants. They "were virtual strangers to their three offspring", he writes in the book.
He slurped oysters in France for the first time aged four, witnessed the poverty of India at 11, and went on to work in kitchens in Sydney, Paris and Switzerland – but the cuisine that's most surprised and intrigued him is that of Spain.
"I know it's not very far away, but when you're long-haul and you land in Singapore or Bangkok, and it's night-time and you're having a beer and all these crazy flavours, that's what you go for. But," he continues, "I always thought Spanish food was just tapas, and a bit of paella." That changed on a recce trip to San Sebastian with his dad for Rick's Spanish series. "It was like, this place is mental!"
They ate at cult wood fired restaurant Etxebarri (in the world's top 10 restaurants) and Restaurante Arzak, famed for its Basque food, all the while gorging at tapas and pintxos bars.
"In one day, we did more incredible eating than I've ever known and we didn't even scratch the surface of San Sebastian, let alone Spain," says Stein.
Argentina and Brazil are next on the list – although he's just become a first-time dad, to baby son Milo, so fatherhood and his TV show, Born To Cook, are the priority right now. "I surf and the surf's great down there," he adds.
When we talk on the phone, he's actually looking out at the surf, the waves concealing his beloved Cornish crabs. "I love crab, it's very sustainable, there's heaps of it down here," he says. "Just above the reef where I'm sat now, you can go down with a pole and stick it in a hole and get your own."
But even the son of Rick Stein can be fussy with food sometimes. "We all were a bit," he admits, when asked if being a fussy eater was even an option growing up in Padstow. "Mum and dad were at work and because they were away so much, we were often with our gran and aunties and uncles, and childminders, so we did push the boundaries." They were "shown quite short shrift for being fussy", however, and if anyone kicked off at dinner, they'd be 'thrown out'. "I'd get thrown out a lot," says Stein with a laugh.
These days, there's almost nothing he won't try, from locusts and crickets (including a "delicious cricket marmite") while surfing in Mexico, to a tarantula in Laos ("which was weird, I don't like spiders at all, that was horrible"). He's pragmatic about eating insects though; after all, it's "normal for most of the world's population, they're just a bit strange when you first see them".
He thinks we're on track for a battle akin to "VHS and Betamax, or CDs and mini discs and mp3s" when it comes to which will most impact western diets: eating insects, or going down the lab-grown meat route. "Lab-grown meat will probably win," he says. "We shouldn't be eating as much meat as we are for the environment, but everyone likes meat, therefore, [it's] the obvious way.
"I know they've already made a burger out of lab-grown meat," he continues. "I wonder if insects might be the one that almost made it..."
Spider disgust aside, there's little he actively hates, except for an absolute classic: "If people ask at a restaurant, 'Have you got any allergies?' I say, 'I don't like quiche'."
:: Jack Stein's World On A Plate by Jack Stein, photography by Paul Winch-Furness, is published by Absolute Press, priced £26. Below are three recipes from the book for you to try.
COD WITH CHARD AND CHARRED SWEETCORN
4 cod fillets with skin on (180g each)
2tsp sea salt, plus more as needed
30ml vegetable oil
A knob of butter
200g chard, cut diagonally
A drizzle of olive oil
For the corn vinaigrette:
2 ears of sweetcorn
1tbsp sunflower oil
1tsp sea salt
1 banana shallot, minced
1tsp English mustard
A sprig of thyme
50ml cider vinegar
200ml extra-virgin olive oil
A pinch of garam masala
1tsp dark soy sauce
Season the cod fillets with sea salt. Heat the vegetable oil in a non-stick frying pan to a medium heat and cook the fillets skin side down for two to three minutes, until the tops begin to change to white in colour. Add a knob of butter to the pan, flip the fish, turn off the heat and leave the fillets to finish cooking in the residual heat. Check the temperature with a probe; it should read 50C. Once the fillets have reached this temperature, remove them from the pan and leave to rest. Do not clean the pan.
Meanwhile, make the corn vinaigrette. Husk the sweetcorn and cut the kernels from the cobs. Place the kernels in a bowl, along with the sunflower oil and one teaspoon of salt, and toss to coat. Transfer to a baking tray, place under a hot grill, on the middle shelf, and grill for about 15 minutes, turning occasionally, until the kernels start to blacken.
Place the minced shallot in a bowl. Add the mustard, thyme, cider vinegar, extra-virgin olive oil, garam masala and soy sauce, and stir together. Then add the charred sweetcorn to the mixture and stir. Set the vinaigrette aside.
Put the pan used to cook the fish back on the heat. Deglaze with two tablespoons of water, then add the corn vinaigrette to warm it up. It should take one minute.
Place the chard leaves in a saucepan along with water to a depth of 5cm. Cover the pan with a lid and steam the chard over a high heat for one minute. Once wilted, add salt and olive oil to taste. Remove from the heat.
Divide the chard among four plates, dress it with the vinaigrette and place the cod fillets on top.
CHARRED BROCCOLI, BROAD BEANS, ALMONDS AND RANCH DRESSING
1 head of broccoli
2-3tbsp olive oil
1tsp sea salt
4 turns of freshly ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves, peeled but left whole
500g broad beans
75g flaked almonds
Juice of 1/2 lemon
For the ranch dressing:
1/2tsp red miso paste
75ml soured cream
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1tbsp white wine vinegar
A handful of chives, finely chopped
A handful of parsley, finely chopped
Preheat the oven to 200C Fan (220C/Gas Mark 7). First make the dressing: Mix all the ingredients together – except the herbs – until combined. Now stir the herbs through. Keep in the fridge until needed.
Cut off the broccoli stem and cut it into small pieces; break off the florets and slice in half to make smaller pieces. Mix one tablespoon olive oil and the salt, pepper and garlic cloves in a bowl. Add the broccoli pieces and stir to coat (stir in a little more olive oil if necessary). Place them on a baking tray and cook in the oven for around 10-15 minutes; then turn them over and cook for another five to 10 minutes until they are starting to brown and crisp.
While the broccoli is cooking, place the broad beans in a bowl, cover with boiling water for one to two minutes to soften them, then drain. Heat the remaining olive oil in a frying pan until hot, then fry the broad beans for about five minutes until crisp but not too browned.
In a dry pan, toast the flaked almonds on a low heat until starting to colour. Add the butter and allow to foam for 30 seconds, then tilt the frying pan and spoon the foamed butter over the almond flakes. Remove from the heat and drain on kitchen paper.
Mix the broccoli and broad beans together and squeeze the lemon juice over; season with more salt if needed. Place in a bowl and top with ranch dressing and toasted almonds.
CORNISH CHILLI CRAB
2kg boiled brown crab
4tbsp groundnut or sunflower oil
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2.5cm fresh root ginger, finely chopped
3 medium-hot red Dutch chillies, finely chopped
4tbsp tomato ketchup
2tbsp dark soy sauce
2 spring onions, cut into 5cm pieces and finely shredded lengthways
A handful of chopped coriander
Put the crab on its back on the chopping board, so that the claws and softer body section face upwards, then simply twist off the main claws, leaving the legs attached to the body. Now put your thumbs against the hard shell, close to the crab's tail, and push and prise the body section out and away from the shell. The legs should still be attached to the body. Remove the small stomach sac situated just behind the crab's mouth and pull away the feather-like gills ('dead man's fingers') which are attached along the edges of the centre part; discard these.
Using a teaspoon, scoop out the brown meat from inside the shell; reserve.
Chop the body into quarters and then cut the main claws in half at the joint. Crack the shells of each piece with a hammer or the blunt edge of a large knife.
Heat the oil, garlic, ginger and chilli in a wok for one minute to release their aromas.
Next, turn up the heat and fry off the brown crab meat, then add the ketchup, soy sauce, Marmite and 150ml of water. These all add savoury and sweet notes to the finished dish. Now add the remaining crab in its shell and stir-fry the crab for two minutes. Remove from the heat and finish with spring onions and chopped coriander.
Serve immediately – with lots of finger bowls and napkins, as this is a messy dish.