A regular to our shores, Rick Stein’s new cookbook Simple Suppers has just hit our bookstores.
It speaks volumes that when the Matilda’s were scheduled to play the Brits in the World Cup in August, the affable British chef Rick Stein took a long moment to declare his allegiance when asked who, in his heart of hearts, he wanted to win.
“Well I love watching it and I love the Australian pride in their team and to see the women play in a way that just enjoyable as the men—but perhaps without the ego. I think if pushed, I will have to go for the old country. But that would cause an argument with my dear wife Sas and my step-daughter Olivia.”
It’s a testament to Rick’s near adoption of Australia as home that he was caught in such a test of loyalty (and no doubt he took the Brits’ win with a huge dose of humility as Australia reeled from the loss). For while the globe-trotting chef is an international fixture, Aussies get to claim him for several months each year as he tends to his two culinary businesses here—Rick Stein restaurants at Mollymook and Port Stephens.
For some 20 years, he has been making regular trips down under, usually spending the summer here from December to February before returning for a few weeks in March and then August.
“Goodness, let’s not think about my carbon miles,” he says.
Another thing that makes him almost Australian is his wife Sarah (Sas) whom he met in the 1990s when she worked as his publicist. She was based in Sydney at the time, now the couple split their time between Australia and Rick’s home base in Cornwall.
While Rick faces the pressures of running the Bannister’s business in Mollynook, where he oversees staff (some of which are from his restaurant in Cornwall) and inspires many of the dishes, he admits rather guiltily that his time there feels more like a holiday.
Landing in Australia for a three-week stint in August, he is as much in demand as when he first advised he was taking a stake in the Australian restaurant scene more than 10 years ago.
The Bannisters Gourmet Getaway Packages at both The Jackson Ranch and Port Stephens properties quickly sold out as they include a four-course dinner with wine pairings with Rick and Sas, and then a masterclass with Rick.
He loves the interaction with fellow foodies and preaches the same culinary sermon he’s been preaching since his cooking career took off and he became known as a master of seafood.
“I really do hate to quote myself but I said early on in my career, ‘There’s nothing more exhilarating than fresh fish freshly cooked. And that’s really what I’ve stuck to – trying not to work too hard, and taking delight in a piece of fish that’s perfectly fresh, and while you can sex it up a little bit, always keeping the fish as hero.
Not that Rick can’t cook beyond seafood.
His latest book Simple Suppers was born out of open-heart surgery last year, where being up close and personal with hospital food prompted him to focus on “simple recipes that can’t be buggered up.”
Like the stir-fry he makes regularly quicker than he can put together a sandwich—aptly entitled “Quick as a Sandwich Stir-fry”, it’s a dish he never gets sick of and which is perfect for a mid-week fridge cleanout as it includes cooked rice, left-over chicken or some other protein and pretty much any vegetables found lurking around in the crisper—along with a few flavourful tweaks.
“In this book I am not trying to be a clever bugger, and I can do meals in as little as ten minutes, using everyday supermarket products such as mayo and pastry. Ideally things use only a handful of ingredients and absolutely take under half an hour to recreate.”
This cookbook actually makes perfect sense for a chef who has always chosen a pared back recipe over froths and foams and emulsions.
And while Rick is a celebrity chef who could command a table at any restaurant anywhere in the world, he has built his reputation on an unpretentious appreciation of good tastes, no matter where they are.
A little Chinese place on Military Road in Sydney, where he has a house, serves exemplary dumplings, and he can’t help but thinking about his next visit.
“Often I really just want to enjoy a good feed”.
When I ask him to recount one of his most cherished food memories, he points to a spontaneous stop for black risotto at a seaside village in Croatia while filming Venice to Istanbul and enjoyed with his late producer/director David Pritchard.
“It was so simple but so good. And while the Italians never put Parmesan in any seafood, I got talking to the chef and he said ‘bollocks’ and so it was a moment of change and learning a secret and we enjoyed it with a red wine which was entirely fitting and if you look closely at the photo of the day you can see the I have a sort of black lipstick from the risotto.” And he sends me the photo to prove it.
Simple Suppers was published last week. And to get you in the mood, we have two simple recipes for you to try out.
Gnocchi with tomatoes, prawn and basil
300g raw prawns in the shell (defrosted if frozen)
40ml olive oil
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
250g cherry tomatoes, quartered
150ml chicken stock or water
Pinch of chilli flakes
Small handful of basil leaves, shredded
Salt and black pepper
Using a pack of ready-made gnocchi makes this a really quick supper. Peeling the prawns and boiling up the shells takes a few moments but it’s well worth it to extract every bit of their wonderful flavour. Peel the prawns, cut the meat into small pieces and set aside. Put the heads and shells in a pan with half the oil, half the garlic and half the tomatoes, then fry gently for 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock or water and boil until the liquid has reduced down to 4 or 5 tablespoons. Pass this through a sieve, taste and season and set aside until ready to serve. Cook the gnocchi in a pan of salted boiling water until they pop to the surface, then drain. Heat the remaining olive oil in the pan and add the rest of the garlic and the chilli flakes, then the prawns and remaining cherry tomatoes. Cook for a minute or so until the prawns are hot (and have turned pink), then stir in the gnocchi. Season with salt, pepper and shredded basil. Divide between 4 bowls
Last-Minute Cheat’s Tiramisu
150ml whipping or double cream
250g mascarpone, at room temperature
40g icing sugar, sifted
50ml Baileys or Marsala
150ml espresso coffee, cooled
8–12 sponge fingers or 4 trifle sponges
Cocoa powder, for dusting or a chocolate flake, crumbled
Obviously there is nothing that can beat a proper tiramisu, but this is so quick and so lovely and it really does take just minutes to make. Lightly whip the cream in a bowl until it’s only just starting to thicken. Whisk the mascarpone with the Baileys or Marsala to soften, add the icing sugar, then fold into the cream. Pour the coffee into a separate bowl. Dip the sponges into the coffee and then divide half of them between 4 glasses or small bowls. Add half the cream mixture, again dividing it between the bowls, then repeat the layers of sponge and cream,. Dust generously with cocoa powder or crumbled chocolate. Refrigerate until ready to serve or serve immediately if making at the last minute.
This is an edited extract from Rick Stein’s Simple Suppers, BBC Books, $60. Photography by James Murphy