BBC Food blog
Would you eat ant larvae, deep-fried scorpions or grilled palm weevils? Most people turn their noses up at this kind of thing, some get an overwhelming sense of nausea, and one (usually very cool) BBC channel controller ran squealing across the room when I dropped a roasted giant water bug into his hands. This is a pretty normal reaction here in the UK, where our entomophagy is restricted to munching the regurgitation of bees (honey), cochineal bugs (pink-purple food colouring E120) and the involuntary munching of insect fragments in flour. But I think that insects have been given a bad press by I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here (few people eat them uncooked, for starters) and I’m going to try to change your mind about bug-munching. Here goes:
There are some surprisingly delicious bugs around. My favourites are dry-fried Burmese bamboo grubs, which have an extraordinary enlivening sweetness similar to Jerusalem artichokes. Next best are Mexican chappulines (grasshoppers roasted with chilli, salt and lime), which make a fantastic sour-spicy snack to eat with a cold beer. Fat-bottomed ants are available in the UK as a gimmicky snack, but they pack a fantastic pungent taste similar to smokey bacon.
Save the planet?
Insects are tremendously efficient at converting vegetation such as leaves (much of which we can’t get any nutritional value from) into edible protein. The ratio of energy intake (usually in the form of grain) to protein output for beef is up to 54:1 compared to 4:1 an upwards for insects, and that grain is grown on land that could, theoretically, be used to grow more resource-efficient food for humans. As the world population heads towards nine billion by 2045, entomophagy could be a potential solution to some of the worlds food issues.
Much of the world already eats insects
Insects already have a long and noble history as foods in many places around the world. When you venture past the cosy borders of the UK you find that they are available in markets from Thailand to South Africa and across much of Central and South America. They command a high price in Mexico, where edible flies and ant eggs are highly prized.
They are healthy
Most insects contain little fat, lots of protein and oodles of iron and calcium.
You’ll eat them eventually - may as well start now
Insect protein is cheap to produce. Animal protein will become more expensive as it begins to better reflect the cost of production and the load it makes on the planet’s resources. Eventually we’ll see bug-burgers in the shops and you’ll buy them not because you prefer them, but because a bug-burger will cost £5, while a beef burger costs £25. Oh, and they are likely to become the food of choice for spacemen.
And the downsides? Well, some religions forbid the eating of some insects, with kosher rules being some of the most explicit (although Leviticus famously points out that locusts and grasshoppers are OK). In the UK, edible insects are calorie-neutral (it takes more energy to collect a bucket of bugs than you gain by eating them). In the future, though, we could farm them in the UK or offer poorer countries an income from exporting them.
So would you? Have you? And why shouldn’t we eat insects?
P.S the title of this piece is taken from Vincent M Holt’s wonderful book of recipes and notes on insect-eating. Stefan Gates is a BBC presenter and food writer.
Although I grew up in England, throughout my childhood I spent many summers in France and returned to the country for my training as young chef. One of my fondest memories from my time there is the wonderful smell of freshly baked bread that would waft out from the local bakers as I passed. Traditional baking is still alive and well in France today, and all over Europe for that matter; and with baking being one of Britain’s oldest skills it makes me sad to think that one day this wonderful tradition may die out completely here. I feel passionately that we can’t allow this to happen. Baking in Britain must be revived and I hoped that, in some small way, taking part in tonight’s Great British Food Revival will make a difference.
Bread, in its purest form, is simple to make. It should only have four ingredients; flour, water, yeast and salt. It should have a wonderful crust and a beautiful texture which can’t be replicated in a factory-made loaf. In the main, supermarkets sell substandard loaves, almost unrecognisable as bread - pumped full of additives and preservatives. The reason they do this is simple - because that’s what consumers have come to expect.
This process is far removed from traditional baking which, in my opinion, should be considered an art form. Making ‘real’ bread is a labour of love; the loaf needs to be nurtured and respected. It may take time to create, and is more expensive than a factory-made loaf, but the end results are worth it. As the consumer, the power to make a difference is in our hands. If we were to put our feet down and stop buying factory-made bread, traditional baking would begin to thrive again and freshly made bread - filled with flavour and nutrients - would line the shelves once more.
My dream is for more independently owned bakeries to open up around the country and for people to come together, as a nation, to say no to mass produced factory-made bread. But I think we’re probably still a way off from this yet.
I hope the programme will show viewers that bread can be easy to make and that it is versatile to cook with at home. At the very least, it should inspire people to support their local bakery.
If we sit back and do nothing to turn things around, young people in this country may never be privileged enough to share in the joy of real baking.
So, what do you think? Is bread-making a dying art? Or do you think consumers and traditional bakers can rise to the challenge of keeping the artisan loaf alive?
What would a caber-tossing, hammer-wielding Scotsman want to eat on a chilly September afternoon? Not a consideration I thought I would ever have. Well, that was before I entered the MasterChef kitchen...
For tonight’s MasterChef programme, I was summoned to King's Cross St Pancras railway station along with the other nine remaining contestants. We were instructed to bring warm clothes and, tantalisingly, our passports. As we gathered in the concourse, we speculated as to the nature and destination of our first off-site task: could we be taking the Eurostar to the continent? As we were herded towards the platform, the realisation that we were heading north rather than south dawned – we were off to Scotland, Invercharron to be precise.
The following morning saw us in wellies and whites, standing in a marquee in a huge muddy field, facing a magnificent display of the finest Scottish fare – whole salmon, venison, beef, langoustines and loads of veg. The task? Each team of five contestants had to produce 60 portions of two different main courses and 80 portions of dessert. The catch? We were feeding the competitors at the Invercharron Highland Games and by the look of them, they like their food. Purées, fondants and jus weren't going to pass muster. We’re talking hearty fare, and lots of it.
With Kennedy, the only Scot left in the competition, on our side, we felt we had the advantage, and we decided on venison with neeps and tatties (can you really get more Scottish than that?!) and a hearty fish pie. Pudding was a pear and blackberry crumble with custard. We were confident that the prize of cooking with Tom Kitchin in Skibo Castle was ours for the taking.
There were a couple of minor concerns, the first being that we were cooking in a field kitchen with limited equipment and for large numbers, something none of us had done before. Another concern was that Tim, the Yank, didn’t know what the neeps and tatties in his dish actually are! But with Kennedy by his side all should have been well.
Then, disaster - Kennedy sliced the top of his finger off with a potato peeler - and, as the loose flap of skin fluttered in the wind, so did our chances of winning the task. It quickly became apparent that there was nowhere near enough neeps and tatties to accompany the venison, and we had to persuade people to go for fish pie instead. There was a glimmer of hope: the other side’s langoustine broth was really unpopular - perhaps not the ideal choice for the day’s customers.
Decision time and we heard the dreaded words that we lost and had to head back to the MasterChef kitchens for an elimination challenge. Now it became clear why we needed our passports, as we were sent on our way in double-quick time. Deflated and exhausted, I wasn’t sure what disappointed me the most - the fact that I faced elimination, or missing out on the chance to cook with a Michelin-starred chef. When I heard the winning team reminiscing about their experiences in Skibo Castle with Tom Kitchin, I knew that I let a fantastic opportunity slip through my fingers.
When I was subsequently eliminated from the competition in the cook-off challenge, I left the MasterChef kitchen for the last time with a heavy heart, but hugely proud of what I had managed to achieve and full of anticipation for what the future holds. My dream of my own country pub is now becoming a reality – I’ll see you there!
What Scottish dish would you have made in the competition faced with the Scottish fare of salmon, venison, langoustines and local vegetables? Take a look at all the recipes from the series.
Peter Seville was a contestant on BBC One’s MasterChef.
Most people are scared of patisserie or baking. There is no need to be, as revealed in tonight's episode of Raymond Blanc's Kitchen Secrets. The only difference from other types of cooking is that patisserie is an exact science and often requires precise amounts in order to obtain the best results each time. For example, the difference of 2-3g of yeast less in a dough will result in a heavier dough that will not rise as much.
So the first secret is to invest in a good pair of electronic scales. Also invest in a probe, which will give you the internal temperature of the food: crème caramel cooked at 74C/165F will give you the perfect crème caramel experience, meltingly delicious. Also you'll find that a Victoria sponge requires a temperature of 86C/187F.
My mother has always taught me to respect food. So here are a few baking tips that do just that:
* Many recipes tell you that in order to pre-bake a tart you need to line it with greaseproof paper and beans, bake it blind, then remove the beans and paper and finish the cooking. Here is a much better way: the secret is to line your tart ring with dough, and let it rest in a refrigerator for 4-5 hours. The dough will lose its elasticity, crust lightly and can be baked directly from the fridge to the oven and will not retract while cooking.
* When baking delicate pastry, such as choux pastry, turn off the ventilated (fan) part of your oven and add 20 percent more cooking time. The force of the heat from a ventilated oven is likely to split open the choux pastry.
* When buying puff pastry avoid pastry made with margarine or hydrogenated vegetable fats, which contain unhealthy trans fats. For the ultimate glaze for puff pastry or short-crust pastry, combine one organic egg, one egg yolk and one teaspoon of single cream.
* The best investments you can make for baking and pastry-making are a wooden peel, a baking stone and various sized metal rings. The peel, covered with greaseproof paper, will allow bread and pastry to slide directly onto a pre-heated stone, giving you the perfect crust to pastry.
* When baking bread, add water into a hot tin in your oven; it will provide steam which will leaven the bread, and result in a beautiful crust and colour.
*By adding a tiny amount of sugar to fruit (20g/¾oz sugar for 200g/7oz fruit) when macerating, you will increase the flavour by about 30-40 percent in my opinion. As the sugar permeates the fruit it will soften and enhance. A little dash of lemon juice or herbs will also improve the flavour.
* You must try macaroons, they are so easy to make. The only difficulty is that you will need strength to stir the mix - that is where a man is helpful! By pre-heating the baking try, you will kick-start the cooking of the macaroons, giving extra rise and creating the ‘collarette’. This is a sign of a great macaroon.
* Pre-cook your crumble topping first to prevent the seam from the fruit making the crumble soggy and indigestible. It will be delightfully crunchy. (By the way, did you know that the French have, at last, discovered crumble? Across France - in homes, villages, brasseries and three-star Michelin restaurants alike - one will hear the noise of crumbling; it is marvellous!).
Finally a word on chocolate
Here is a quick and easy recipe for chocolate tempering which you must all try. Melt two-thirds of your chopped chocolate up to 55C/131F. Immediately add the remaining third of chopped chocolate and stir until it reaches the temperature of 32C/90F. At this precise moment the miracle happens. At 32C/90F the cocoa butter within the chocolate will crystallise giving the chocolate a fine crackling texture and a beautiful shine. All sorts of moulded shapes can be achieved, such as my chocolate coffee cups (link opens as PDF).
Have you tried Raymond's kitchen secrets at home and do you have any useful tips for making your baking look professional?
Raymond Blanc is the presenter of Raymond Blanc's Kitchen Secrets. Get the recipes for tonight's episode on cakes and pastries.
Eggs tend not to cross my mind when I'm devising a menu for a special occasion. I generally start with a piece of meat or fish as the "hero piece" around which a dish will be conceived. Eggs tend to be used more incidentally - as a functional ingredient rather than an inspiration. Recently, however, I was made to think about them in a completely different way.
20,000 amateur cooks applied for the latest series of MasterChef. The numbers were gradually whittled down through a long and rigorous process of application forms, interviews and auditions. 20 of us finally donned the coveted white aprons and filed into the studio kitchen. At the front stood the familiar figures of John Torode and Gregg Wallace who, after what felt like an eternity, told us that for our first challenge we would have one hour to cook a single plate of food from the selection of ingredients provided. So far, so expected, but then John and Gregg delivered the killer blow.
Having been an avid fan of the programme for years, I was all ready for an invention test. I had rehearsed as much as possible by imagining what ingredients might be provided at that time of year (Gregg, as we all know, is a big fan of seasonality), and what dishes I could create with them. What I hadn't prepared myself for was the compulsory inclusion of an egg. The only advice we were given was that if we were even thinking of cooking an omelette, we should find the door and take ourselves home.
The other shocking realisation was that we had no oven. All thoughts of soufflés and sponges were quashed as we took stock of the single gas ring, barbecue-style grill and hot plate. We were given 10 minutes to select our ingredients; 10 panic stricken minutes during which ideas flew in and out of my head, the terror of being the only person in the room not to come up with a dish at all numbed my mind and finally, blissfully, a hint of an idea took hold, grew and provided my solution.
In hindsight, it's easy to think of countless dishes we could have chosen to cook. Eggs provide the answer to so many problems in the kitchen. They thicken, glaze and rise; they emulsify, enrich and bind; they are self-contained, but can be separated to provide component parts - each of which can be used in a myriad of ways.
After a frantic and unforgettable hour, 20 plates of food paid testimony to the versatility of the egg. They were incorporated within pasta, hollandaise, frittata, mayonnaise and meringue; they accompanied steak; topped haddock and coated rice noodles. Eggs play such a fundamental role in so much of what we produce in the kitchen. It was utterly appropriate that our MasterChef lives should start with them, for once, taking centre stage.
How do you like to use egg in your cooking? And if you watched the show, what did you think of the results of the Invention Test?
Annie Assheton is a contestant on BBC One's MasterChef.