English food at its best is hearty, simple, delicious fare. The foods and cooking of England are steeped in history and heritage yet the modern face of British food presents a dynamic and thriving cuisine, now followed intensely around the globe.
1. The Sunday roast – and all the trimmings
Once, most families in the UK would sit down together for a big roast lunch every Sunday. This doesn’t happen so much now but the Sunday (or any other day of the week) roast is still a very popular meal. Beef, chicken, lamb, pork or, especially at Christmas, turkey is roasted in the oven. It’s served with a selection of vegetables like roast potatoes, carrots, cabbage, roasted onions, Brussels sprouts, peas, as well as tiny sausages wrapped in bacon called ‘pigs in blankets’ and gravy made from the meat juices (‘the trimmings’).
Roast beef is traditionally accompanied with a peppery horseradish sauce, English mustard and Yorkshire pudding (a batter of eggs, flour and milk which rises up in the oven). Roast pork is often served with an apple sauce, while roast lamb tastes delicious with a mint sauce or redcurrant jelly.
The next day, people fry up the leftover vegetables to make ‘bubble and squeak’ and eat it with slices of the cold meat.
2. Fish ‘n’ chips
Brits have been eating fish and chips since the 19th century. This is street food, best eaten with the fingers, which used to be served wrapped in a piece of white paper and newspaper. Top 10 UK foods – British Foods: Fish and ChipsThese days the local chip shop or ‘chippie’ is more likely to hand it over in a polystyrene dish and with a little wooden fork. The fish, usually cod, haddock or plaice, is dipped in batter and deep-fried; the chips are cut thicker than French fries (more like American ‘home fries’) and deep fried twice: once to cook the potato; second to crisp up the outside. Eat sprinkled liberally with salt and malt vinegar, and as an accompaniment perhaps a pickled egg or onion, a giant pickled cucumber called a ‘wally’ or some curry sauce.
Most of the traditional desserts, puddings, ‘sweets’ or ‘afters’, as they’re called in the UK, are not for those on a diet. In apple crumble, apples are covered with a crumbly flour, sugar and butter mixture and served with custard made from eggs, milk and vanilla. Bread and butter pudding is made from sliced bread interlaced with dried fruit and baked in custard. Spotted dick is a steamed suet pudding with dried fruit and served with custard. Trifle is a cold pudding made from layers of sherry-soaked sponge cake, fruit, custard and cream. Summer pudding is sliced bread layered with fruits, berries and fruit juice, and eaten with cream. Get the picture?
Top 10 UK foods – British Foods: PiesThere are so many different pies from around the UK: cottage pie (minced beef with a mashed potato topping), shepherd’s pie (using lamb instead of beef), steak and kidney pie made with a suet-based (beef or mutton fat) pastry case, pork pie (famously made in Melton Mowbray) Top 10 UK foods – British Foods: Pork piewhich is eaten cold, and the Cornish pasty – meat, potato and vegetables wrapped up in a semi-circular pastry case which is a meal in itself.
5. ‘Full English’ breakfast
No one in the UK would eat this breakfast every day but most people admit to indulging every now again. A ‘fry up’ may consist of fried or grilled bacon, a sausage or two, a fried egg, baked beans (tinned beans in a tomato sauce), grilled or fried tomatoes, a slice of fried bread (or toast), perhaps some slices of fried black pudding (sausage made from pig’s blood), and fried mushrooms – eaten in any combination, with a dollop of either brown sauce or tomato ketchup on the side. Other traditional English breakfasts to try are smoked kippers, scrambled egg on toast, kedgeree (a rice and smoked haddock dish from the days of the British Raj) – or just a bowl of cornflakes and milk.
Haggis is a traditional Scottish dish, which is always eaten on Burns Night, a celebration of Scotland’s national poet Rabbie Burns, Top 10 UK foods – British Foods: Haggisauthor of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and the poem ‘Address to the Haggis’ which is recited at the start of Burns’ Suppers on January 25th. A haggis is the stomach of a sheep (or an artificial casing) stuffed with a mixture of chopped sheep’s heart, liver and lungs, oatmeal, onions, suet (fat), stock and seasoning. It’s eaten with ‘neeps and tatties’ (boiled and mashed swede and potato) and washed down with a dram (glass) of Scottish whisky.
7. The British banger
Unlike European sausages, most British sausages (‘bangers’) are made from fresh meat rather than smoked or cured and then grilled, fried or baked. Sausages are usually made from casings filled with pork or beef and flavoured with herbs and spices and come in long ‘links’ or strings. The classic Cumberland sausage, originally from what is now Cumbria in the north of England, is a long, coiled sausage made from chopped pork, and seasoned with pepper. Chipolatas are thin sausages. Popular sausage dishes include ‘toad in the hole’ (sausages baked in a dish of batter) and ‘bangers and mash’ (sausages served with a pile of mashed potato and eaten with English mustard and/or an onion gravy).
The two most famous British cheeses are Cheddar and Stilton. Cheddar takes its name from the West Country’s Cheddar Gorge caves where it was once stored. It’s a hard, yellow cheese with a Top 10 UK foods – British Foods: British cheesenutty flavour and often enjoyed in sandwiches, grilled on toast or eaten with a hunk of bread, salad and chutney in pubs as a ‘ploughman’s lunch’. Stilton, on the other hand, is traditionally eaten after a formal meal with a glass of port. Made in north of England, it’s a creamy pale cheese with blue veins radiating from the centre of its famous cylindrical shape. Other cheeses to look out for include the Welsh Caerphilly, Wensleydale, Red Leicester, Double Gloucester and Cornish Yarg.
9. Lancashire hotpot
This stew, which originated in the north west of England, is made from mutton or lamb and vegetables, topped with sliced potatoes. It’s simple to prepare and cheap to make, but cooked long and slow so that the meat is succulent and tender, it tastes delicious. It’s often eaten with pickled red cabbage or beetroot. Other similar stews are scouse from Liverpool, Irish stew from Ireland and cawl from Wales.
10. Cream tea
The cream tea is a teatime treat associated with the South West of England, especially Devon and Cornwall and served in cafes and tearooms all over. It consists of a pot of tea – Earl Grey in preference – drunk black with lemon or with a dash of milk, and scones. These are dense, bread-like cakes made from flour, butter and milk, served with strawberry or raspberry jam and clotted cream, a rich yellow cream with a crusty top. Simply cut the scone in half, spread it with jam and clotted cream – and enjoy.