I started writing this on route to Chicago many thousands of feet up in the air a couple of weeks back, and it is pure tardiness and a need to get this story just right that has been delaying me posting the story of that night and the event. It has taken me a couple of weeks to finally put fingers to keyboard and get the post finished. They do say that good things come to those that wait, and just as we waited patiently for some little tasters and morsels from Chef Bains on that evening, I hope that you will forgive the wait for this tale?
A food event at an EON electricity showroom was not something that I was anticipating happening in my lifetime, and an EON food event with a double Michelin starred chef was even more unlikely, but that was where I found myself recently sitting in the EON Open House at 33 Lister Gate on the front row staring up at Sat Bains. Right there before my very eyes he was cooking away with one of his young chefs Liam Nichols who had adopted a red EON shirt for the evening.
This whole event was part of EON’s Simple Suppers campaign which I had read about in the Nottingham Post and heard about on Radio Nottingham. There were three sessions, “how to make breakfast on a budget”, “lunch for large parties”, and “evening meals”. I went to the last session on Evening Meals. I should disclose at this point that I did get an invite to attend but without any obligation, as with everyone else there I did get to taste some free food, but we didn’t receive any free electricity as a kicker to write something nice about the event. Shame really I had a big bag with me to carry my electricity home.
The first ‘lesson’ was how to make good use of a cheap cut of meat using a pressure cooker in this case to make Braised Oxtail. I have to say that Sat Bains made it sound very simple but I am still not that sure about using a pressure cooker, so we asked if we could use a slow cooker instead and which was the most economical and easier. There didn’t seem to be much difference, except that the pressure cooker was quicker and the message was also that pressure cookers are great for cooking food quickly while also retaining the vitamins and minerals that can be lost when food is cooked using other methods. According to the recipe instructions it was going to take 45 minutes in the pressure cooker, as opposed to anything between 2-4 hours in a normal casserole. As far as I understood the pressure means that the temperature is not that much higher inside but the food cooks quicker so that means it costs less to do. Something like that, I think you need a scientist of some sort to explain it properly but I guess you use less electricity, but also you have less time to sit in the kitchen drinking wine waiting for it to be ready if you like to cook that way.
I was really quite interested in seeing how the Oxtail turned out, or perhaps I should rephrase that and say I was more interested in tasting it. I want to say it was divine, but I am not that kind of writer so I will be more restrained and say it was delicious. The flavor of the broth upon which the oxtail sat was somewhat amazing, I really couldn’t see how those flavours had developed so quickly and so well. Ok so there was probably some really good stock being used here, the recipe says us white and brown chicken stock (I didn’t even know there were two kinds) .
So where did that flavor come from? Sat Bains explained as he was cooking the dish that a lot of it comes from the sealing of the meat. To sear or not to sear is an age old question with some conflicting answers. As we watched Sat sear each side of a portion of oxtail, my companion leant in to whisper that Delia says searing or browning your meat off is a total waste of time, of course I have no verification of that as a actual fact that she did say that and I don’t really have the time to hunt down old tv programs on YouTube to locate the snippet where she actually did say that. But then Sat came up with the most beautiful analogy I have heard for some time. He told us that the effect of searing your meat before putting into a casserole or in this case a pressure cooker had similarity to making a cup of tea. If you want a ‘weak cup of tea’, or a lighter flavor the sear the meat just a little. If you brown the meat or sear it a lot until well browned it is like brewing a strong cup of tea as the meat releases it’s flavor richly and slowly over time during the cooking process from all that caramelisation of the outside of the meat.
That was a good thought and I have told it to a lot of people since.
The next dish that we were treated too was a Baked apple with Pine custard, yes you read that correctly Pine Custard!
Many moons ago while I was an undergraduate plant ecology student at the Polytechnic of Wolverhampton we were taught how to identify members of the pine family such as Sitka spruce and other pine type trees by crushing the needles and sniffing them. Many of those needles when crushed gave off a citrus aroma, sometimesy orange, occasionally closer to grapefruit. So it was a sudden jolt into the brain synapses when I saw Sat pull out a small bag of what I described to my companion as bits of Christmas tree. He was using the natural citric flavonoids in the needles of a Douglas Fir to infuse flavor into the custard that he was preparing to accompany the apple dish. Now that was something that was kind of left field. Now I am not going to tell you that this is another money saving tip on behalf of EON presenting a new way of recycling your Christmas tree, but it makes you think a bit more about how we can use things that are commonly available. Either way it really did give a terrific and different taste and tag to that custard.
This is where sitting on the front row had its benefits as you might be able to see from the amount of apple I got in my bowl. As I was murmuring contentedly Sat Leant across the counter and dropped a few more pieces my way. (any of that oxtail left while you are at it, I wondered)
While Sat cooked and we watched like hungry Labradors awaiting a treat he was very obliging in answering any questions and telling us stories a few that stood out in my memory were these;
On the subject of Local food versus good food, I was intrigued but not surprised to hear Sat explain that while they prefer to use locally sourced produce wherever possible in the resturant, they will not waive up quality or flavor in that pursuit. If the local produce is not good enough then they will source further afield to ensure the best flavours. In a similar question on the subject of local sourcing he was asked if he was still doing his signature local dish from food ‘sourced around the restaurant’? He explained to the rest of the assembled mass that this dish was called the NG7 2SA and is so named as this is the restaurant’s postcode and all the main ingredients are foraged from the fields surrounding area depending on what is available at that moment in time. So you might get horseradish or nettle or something from the nearby hedgerows. OK that is really local, and in this case I don’t expect though that Sat would be sourcing better tasting nettles though from the South Coast if the ones in his backyard were not good enough.
Another question on the day was about his famed Duck egg 62°c which is the one Sat cooked on the Great British Menu, he was slightly self deprecating saying that he would have only given it 7 out of 10. I think he was joking, when he cracked one of his big beaming smiles at us all.
This event was a lot of fun, not only did we get to see a top chef in person, and face to face, but we got to taste some delicious food. I think that it wasn’t that complicated to replicate in principle, but getting the best ingredients to make it truly awesome might not be so easy. I am not sure that my neighbor is going to be happy about be plucking needles from their tree. I also now know where the EON Open House is (I didn’t tell anyone that we have a gas cooker and no-one asked).
The EON open house is at 33 Lister Gate in Nottingham, you most probably won’t be blessed with any of Sat Bains treats when you call in but if you smile and are nice then you might get a cup of tea or coffee (disclaimer there was no mention of biscuits).
Sat Bains can be found at Resturant Sat Bains on Lenton Lane in Nottingham or in the local hedgerows hunting for NG7 2SA ingredients