Rick Stein’s Cornwall

Delights of the sun, sea and kitchen

Finally! I thought to myself, seeing that one of my favourite actual chefs (meaning qualified, competent and experienced) was going to let us in on what he had known as his home since he was 6 years old. 

Cornwall at last!

My pleasure in seeing that one of the world’s most widely-travelled and frankly, surely the most self-aware chefs, was going to let us all in on what he knew best:  The cuisine, customs, ingredients of his ‘almost-native’ Cornwall.

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While not having been born there, Stein, like neighbour Dawn French, would never say to anyone that they were Cornish.    But his keen eye and curiosity about ingredients and their uses has served him to become one of the better sources of Cornish culinary know-how.

The riches of the Cornish coast, extending from the Tamar River and Plymouth, down to the Penzance, and back up around to his now-famous fishing village of Padstow with it’s enchanting harbour and estuary, are charmingly opened up in this series by our Rick.

Picking Saffron in Cornwall

Above:  Picking Saffron in Cornwall with a mate

For those of us who were his vicarious companions during his long leisurely river barge excursion down to Marseille or watching him make his way through markets in South-East Asia, his return to Cornwall in many ways tops them all.

It is his familiarity with the sea and it’s produce that makes Stein shine past his usual humble self.

Speaking with undeniable authority, he explains (below) his abiding adoration of the saffron muffins he made from the saffron he picked.

And the scone-like buns themselves:

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Going out with a friend on his lobster boat, no part of the life of the lobster, how the young are seeded back into the ocean by hatcheries, is missed. They also point out which ones will ultimately be the most delicious!  

The vast breadth and depth of his knowledge of ingredients proves what a competent and instinctive chef is he.  

Enter the Sea Berries

In episode nine or ten, I forget which, when confronted with the common sea buckthorn, marketed as “sea berries”, he tried picking a few with the farm owner, only to be stuck severely on his thumb by the powerful thorns.

Determined, Stein returns to his kitchen with a nice punnet of the fresh buckthorn berries, and decides to get his revenge.   A mad smile comes across his face as he presses the parboiled berries through a chinois, consigning them to a harmless pulp.  Or perhaps a healthy pulp, since the little anti-oxidant-laden berries have roughly ten times the amount of vitamin C.

This is only one of several examples where Stein proves he knows his ingredients.   In this case, the Cornish berries are most correctly paired with seared duck breast, loosely based on Vietnamese cuisine. 

Watching the man construct the sauce, I was mesmerized.   He made no mistakes.   The right amount of crushed lemon grass, handled perfectly.   Then he knew to break the star anise exactly right.   The shallots in the pan were just beginning to turn from caramelised to pointing, as he deglazed with his seaberry and orange juice.   The smell must have been wondrous.

It is so rare for me to have the privilege of watching a chef that cooks similarly to my own personal methods.   Whilst that may seem a bit self-important to say, the point is that I immensely enjoy the validation of his techniques, being so uncannily close to those I’ve developed.   He merrily doused the dish vigorously with ample fermented fish sauce.   I just love the man.   Go Rick! 

The finished dish:

The result was the clever fusion of Cornwall and the old Vietnamse royal capital of Huế.   Okay, I might have shaved a block of dark palm sugar instead of adding white sugar to the sauce.   But why would he run to the store for a television segment – nobody really cares.    He also seared that duck breast far better than I usually manage.

Now, that was just one minor example of how Stein’s deep understanding of so many international cuisines come together in this series. 

In exploring the various fruits, vegetables, sea food and meats throughout Cornwall, Stein really stops and listens to the growers.  His kind demeanour and patience always yield two or three bits of information that only a keen producer would know.    It is his ability to ask the right questions and then be quiet that make Stein indeed atypical of many better-known chefs on the world stage.   Basically, he’s the opposite of Wolfgang Puck or Gordon Ramsey.    More ears, less mouth.

His style is simple but sophisticated, here poached pears with clotted cream:

The overall ethos of the series is 100% Rick Stein – relaxed, ready for a bit of humour, not too full of himself —  and a deep appreciation for the good things in life. 

I find nothing more genuinely relaxing and fulfilling than another fresh new episode of Rick Stein, now in his “near-native” Cornwall.

Above, a rather delicious-looking Cornish briam (roasted vegetable traybake)

Once you’ve had your fill of food, history and the bounty of the Cornish fields and farms, why not a pleasant walk with Julia Bradbury through Cornwall and Devon?   Read my review of her treks through this magical piece of paradise here.

Rick Stein’s 15-episode series appears on BBC TWO, as well as BBC ONE, and of course on BBC iPlayer so you can catch up on all the episodes so far.

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The duck, refined:

Here is Rick’s duck breast with a sea buckthorn, chilli and ginger sauce recipe as seen on Rick Stein’s Cornwall.  I love the chilli, but obviously modify to your own tastes.

Sea buckthorn berries are quite tart of like sour orange with hints of mango or pineapple. A chef friend of mine thought they were more like passionfruit on the aftertaste.  The berries ripen between August and December and can be found in many coastal areas around the south-west. There is almost zero chance of me getting out to navigate the nasty thorns, so I would recommend that you order frozen online.

Ingredients

    2 x duck breasts (approx. 150g each ), skin scored in a criss-cross pattern

    Rapeseed oil, for frying

    100g sea buckthorn berries

    500ml freshly squeezed orange juice

    5cm piece fresh root ginger, peeled and finely chopped

    1 large garlic clove, finely chopped

    1 lemongrass stalk, finely sliced

    2 spring onions, white section sliced on the diagonal and green parts sliced

    1 bird’s-eye chilli, finely chopped (seeds included)

    2 star anise, broken

    1 tbsp nam pla (Thai fish sauce)

    1–2 tbsp caster sugar (optional)

    salt and pepper

For the greens

    1 tbsp rapeseed or vegetable oil

    1 large garlic clove, chopped

    4cm piece fresh root ginger, peeled and chopped

    1 small head spring greens, finely sliced

    3–4 stalks curly kale, woody stems discarded, leaves finely sliced

    2 tsp soy sauce, to taste

Method

    Season the duck breasts well with salt and freshly ground black pepper, then fry them in a pan lightly brushed with rapeseed oil. Cook for about 4–5 minutes or until the skin is browned and some of the fat has rendered.

    Turn over and continue to cook for a further 2–3 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside, covered with kitchen foil, to rest for 5–10 minutes. Do not wash the pan.

    Put the buckthorn berries in a different pan with the orange juice and cook over a medium heat for about 5–6 minutes, or until soft and pulpy. Pass through a sieve and discard the seeds. Set aside.

    Pour away any excess duck fat in the frying pan and add the ginger, garlic, lemongrass, the white parts of the spring onions, chilli and star anise and fry until softened and fragrant. Add the orange and sea buckthorn berry juices and simmer to reduce the volume of liquid and intensify the flavour. Add the nam pla and sugar, to taste.

    Slice the rested dusk breasts on the diagonal and add to the pan to cook through in the sauce. Throw in the sliced green spring onion tops and allow to wilt.

    For the greens, heat the oil in a wok, then add the chopped garlic and ginger. Stir-fry for a minute, then add the spring greens and kale, keep them moving as they start to wilt for a minute or two. Season with soy sauce.

    Serve the duck and sauce alongside the wilted greens.

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