Life

This is how you cook potatoes and pork chops right

You can now recreate the food of famed London restaurant, The Quality Chop House, at home. Ella Walker finds out more.

Chef Shaun Searley from The Quality Chop House
Ella Walker

YOU think you know potatoes, and then you discover what The Quality Chop House does to them.

Chef Shaun Searley began putting confit potatoes on the London restaurant's menu back in 2013, but they weren't a guarantee to begin with – you might have been in luck on any given day, or crushingly, you might not.

Then punters cottoned onto these crisp, boxy, deep-fried layered potato inventions, striped with mustard dressing, and refused to give them up, meaning the Chop House kitchen is now utterly "held ransom" by them. If Searley takes them off the menu, or heaven forbid runs out, "it causes mayhem. We can't not have them in," he says wryly.

He's explaining this – let's be honest, quite welcome – problem, in the porch-sized kitchen of the Farringdon restaurant, where one of his chefs can thinly slice and layer a tray of these golden bars of starch in 30-45 minutes. A normal human? You're looking at an hour-and-half's work, he reckons.

But at least you can now actually make them at home too, thanks to the restaurant's new, eponymous cookbook. It's an ideal development if you don't live in London but need a confit chip fix. Or if you do live in the city but are too ashamed to return to the Chop House night after night, after night...

Ostensibly a recipe collection, the book also tells the story of The Quality Chop House, which has been a restaurant in various guises (including a "meatballs only" one, prior to its current incarnation) for 150 years. It's all vintage crockery, wood-panelled church pew booths, original ceilings and black and white chequered tiles you want to tap your feet on.

Will Lander and business partner Daniel Morgenthau took over the Grade-II listed Victorian building in 2012 and wrote the book together, alongside Searley. It's mostly a restaurant but it also has what Lander calls "tentacles", including a wine bar, shop and butchers.

William Lander (r) and Daniel Morgenthau (l) from The Quality Chop House

"We were slightly in awe of it," he says of the building itself, but that's not a feeling you need adopt when attempting Searley's recipes.

"We're trying to translate what a team of eight chefs can do with six hours, into what a parent with two screaming kids can do in 40 minutes, and make it work for them," Lander explains.

"What we really didn't want to do was a slightly self-reverential book – 'Look at all these great recipes, exactly from our menu!' I'm not sure that's useful, or interesting."

Instead, they've tried to rethink them for a domestic setting, and woven in the importance of their suppliers.

While some of the dishes are a little more "cheffy and more ornate", Searley's cooking is "certainly not about over complexity" says Lander. And Searley agrees, saying the Chop House's food is about "simple but not simplistic" cooking.

They take something simple and everyday, like a potato or a chop, and elevate it. So the book might detail nine or so steps for cooking a pork chop, rather than the one step you might think there is, but, says Lander: "We like to think that if you follow that, you're rewarded."

And their chops are really something. Back in the kitchen, Searley is explaining fat-to-muscle ratios, and why you ought to focus on thickness when you're picking a chop, rather than weight – it's the thickness that stops it drying out. And the 2-3cm wedge of yellow-white fat holding it all together?

"You want to spend 10 minutes just on that," he says, rendering it down in the pan until it's completely burnished.

It's only 11am, but as he slices the finished chop into wide strips, everyone in the buzzy kitchen leans over to grab a bite. Turns out chops make quite an amazing late breakfast.

On the top of the stainless steel pass there's a notebook Searley jots down recipe ideas in. He flicks through and says, satisfied: "If it's not crossed out, it worked."

He laughs when asked how he feels about sharing his recipes with the world, and notes with a grin: "I didn't share all of them!" He was persuaded on some though, like his capezzana (olive oil) ice cream, which his wife had suggested he keep to himself. So use it wisely, people!

"Choosing this career, you don't leave your emotions at the door," muses Lander, considering the reputation cheffing can have for being gruelling, high pressure work. "It's an emotive industry. When you're in the kitchen, on the restaurant floor, you have to give quite a lot of yourself, you can't just go through the motions.

"But it's worth it," he adds with a smile. And it's difficult to not get emotional over those confit potatoes.

:: The Quality Chop House: Modern Recipes And Stories From A London Classic by William Lander, Daniel Morgenthau & Shaun Searley, photography by Andrew Montgomery, is published by Quadrille, priced £30

:: HOW TO COOK A QUALITY CHOP HOUSE PORK CHOP

Ingredients: (Serves 2)

2 Mangalitza pork chops, 4cm thick

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 90C.

2. Use a sharp knife to remove the rind from the pork chop but leave on the thick layer of fat – you'll be rendering it down and the resulting hot fat means you can caramelise the meat perfectly.

3. Score the fat. Place a dry frying pan over a low heat and lay the chop in the pan, fat-side down, to render for 10 minutes. You should end up with a good centimetre of cooked fat on the chop, as well as about a centimetre of hot pork fat in the pan. Increase to a medium-high heat. Lay the chop sideways in the pan and cook it for two minutes on each side; you want to turn the chop four times in total - so, cook one side for one minute, turn, cook the other side for one minute, turn and repeat. You should have a deep, caramelised crust on both sides after these four turns.

4. Remove from the heat and take it out of the pan. Rest for three to four minutes, then pop it into the preheated oven to cook for 10-15 minutes. Rest for another 10 minutes and serve.

5. It will cut like butter and eat like butter – and the fat will be insanely delicious.

:: HOW TO MAKE THE QUALITY CHOP HOUSE'S CONFIT POTATOES

Confit potatoes from The Quality Chop House: Modern Recipes and Stories from a London Classic

Ingredients: (Serves 6)

1kg Maris Piper potatoes

125g duck fat

1tbsp salt

Oil, for frying

Maldon salt, to taste

Mustard dressing (see below)

For the mustard dressing:

425g Dijon mustard

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1/2tsp cider vinegar

375ml vegetable oil

Method:

1. Make the mustard dressing. Mix the mustard, lemon juice and vinegar in a large bowl, then whisk in the vegetable oil until emulsified. Store in squeezy bottles in the fridge until you're ready to use.

2. Preheat the oven to 120C and line a standard 1.7-litre terrine mould with baking parchment.

3. Peel and wash the potatoes, then use a mandoline to slice them as thinly as possible. In a large bowl, toss the slices thoroughly with the duck fat and salt. Layer the potatoes in the mould, one slice at a time, until you've built up multiple tiers. Once you've used up all the potato, cover the top with baking parchment and cook for about three hours until the potatoes are completely tender.

4. Place a small baking tray or plate on top of the baking parchment covering the potatoes, along with a few heavy weights (we find tins work well) and leave to cool, then refrigerate overnight to compress.

5. The next day, remove from the tray and cut the potato into 3x3cm pieces.

6. Heat enough oil for deep-fat frying to 190C, either in a deep fryer or a heavy-based saucepan. Fry the pieces for about four minutes until croissant-gold. Sprinkle over some Maldon salt, drizzle with mustard dressing and eat immediately.

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