Life

Stealing rosemary and making carrot hummus: Kitchen hacks from River Cottage

Ella Walker soaks up the foodie expertise on a two day cookery course at TV chef and restaurateur Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage in Devon

Students on one of River Cottage's two-day cookery courses

HAVING facts, tricks, tips, hacks and pure knowledge fired at you while you're folding focaccia dough, roasting carrots, filleting plaice, snacking on coconut macarons and trying to remember to keep an eye on a hunk of braising beef on your hob, might sound stressful.

And it would be, if it wasn't River Cottage's Connor Reed relaying said knowledge. The sous chef works in the kitchen and teaches cookery courses at Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's farm base near Axminster, in south-west England, and we got to see him in action on a two day cookery course, covering bread, veg, meat and fish.

Here's just a small smattering of his kitchen-based wisdom...

ON UTENSILS...

A spoon is the greatest kitchen utensil (Reed often has one tucked up his sleeve). "Spoons work for everything, stirring, tasting, smushing, chopping..."

Measure liquids on scales: "It's way more accurate than faffing trying to fill a measuring jug up to the right line."

You don't need a citris squeezer: "Just halve your lemon, hold it skin side down and stick a fork in it. Wiggle the fork – you'll get the juice and you should be able to catch the pips."

ON FORAGING...

:: Blackcurrant leaves "have so much flavour in them" – and make a great flavouring for panna cotta.

:: Steal rosemary: "It's everywhere. There's a Tesco near me where they sell it for 70p a packet, but the carpark is lined with the stuff."

ON FISH...

:: "You're looking for wet eyes and colourful gills," when it comes to buying the freshest possible fish. And if you're picking up plaice for dinner, if it's got orange spots, "it shows it wants to mate."

:: Don't over-prod your fish when pan-frying. "Put the fish in, skin-side down, and leave it to form a crust to stop it sticking to the base of the pan." Then it won't fall apart. Only half cook your fish in the pan, "the residual heat will keep cooking it, even once it's on your plate."

ON VEG...

:: Shop-bought gnocchi is disgusting – and making your own is easy. "Crush two cooled, pre-boiled potatoes with your hands, add one egg, a handful of cheese and 100g plain flour. Knead lightly together and form into a long sausage. Chop into 2cm long sections. Add to boiling water – they're ready when the float. Pat dry with a dishcloth (not kitchen roll, they'll stick!) and crisp up in oil in a hot pan." Serve with a tomato sauce and loads more cheese.

:: Baby courgettes don't even need cooking: "I like to just dress them in warm butter."

:: Carrot hummus is amazing, and does not require chickpeas. "Chop a few carrots, skins on – because that's where the nutrients are – tip them into a shallow oven-proof dish, add a splash of oil and almost cover with water. Roast at 180C until the carrots are tender. Blitz with garlic, tahini and cumin. Eat with flatbreads."

ON BREAD...

:: Remember: "Wet dough means a light loaf." If your dough's too dry, it will be tough when you come to eating it.

:: If you're kneading bread with a dough hook on a mixer, stick with "three minutes on a low speed, three minutes high. If you're doing it by hand, 15 minutes should be enough."

:: "You can never have too much olive oil on focaccia," – always dizzle on more than you think is reasonable. Same goes for the salt on top.

:: "Make it – nothing beats homemade bread. Shop-bought stuff is full of chemicals."

ON MEAT...

:: "Ask your butcher for bones and a pig's head – if they haven't got them, it means they're not a real butchers because they're buying pre-cut meat in instead of butchering animals themselves."

:: Follow the crocodile principle when braising meat. "Your cut or joint should be poking out of the braising sauce like a crocodile's head."

:: "Meat is meant to colour," so when you're searing and sealing it in the meat, make sure it goes nice and golden before taking it out of the pan.

:: "Season meat heavily" – it can take it, and you want a crust on it.

:: Two Days At River Cottage cookery courses cost £430 per person. See rivercottage.net

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