Thomasina Miers: How to make the most of home cooking
In her new book, Home Cook, the Wahaca restaurant founder and former Masterchef winner shows you how to fit good food into busy lives
When I sat down to write Home Cook, I wanted to compile an utterly practical cookbook, based on the hundreds of meals I have prepared, usually on the hoof, for family and friends. It's meant to be a toolbox to help those short on time to weave good food into their lives and eat in a healthy, enjoyable and relaxed way – with recipes that are delicious rather than exercises in showing off.
There's too much pressure put on cooking these days. In the age of Instagram, we are bombarded with images of Michelin-starred chefs' dishes that could be art installations. But those dishes require 15 chefs on a line to create them – it's not real life. Immediately after I won Masterchef, I felt such a pressure to produce amazing food for my guests that I suddenly became scared about asking friends round for dinner – something I always did without any fuss before I entered the competition. My flatmate at the time – River Cafe’s current head chef Joseph Trivelli – told me I should just cook the homely food I loved eating, and people would love it.
He was right. If, as a host, you're so stressed about a recipe, getting it just right and pleasing people, it'll be that stress your guests will come away remembering – not the meal. I gradually started hosting again and I clearly remember one occasion when a friend, who loves food but was broke at the time, came over. When I told him we were just having pasta and pesto, he visibly deflated – the 'master chef' was serving him something from a jar. But I’d made the pesto myself, with masses of basil and parmesan, and I'd made a salad with sprouts and toasted nuts, and we started with some bruschetta I'd pulled together. Simple food, prepared with love, in a relaxed environment. And he went away delighted with what he'd eaten.
Over 150 years ago, Mrs Beeton taught people how to make the most of ingredients in her Book of Household Management. That tradition fell away but I think it's more relevant than ever. Just by re-thinking the very word 'leftovers' you will open up a whole new world of flavour and delicious, fast and healthy food. Every little bag of leaves or jar of paste or spice mix you've squirreled away has flavour in it that could transform a simple plate of pasta or go into a soup. Not only does this make financial sense, but it creates a flow to your meals throughout the week, with one dish inspiring and providing ingredients for the next.
Take smoked mackerel – it's such a good staple to keep in your fridge. I love to mash it up with creme fraiche and chives and put it in a baked potato, with grated cheddar over the top. I have a mackerel udon soup recipe in Home Cook, inspired by the udon master Junya Yamasaki, as well as smoked mackerel rillettes (with creme fraiche, olive oil, lemon juice and chives). You can have it for breakfast or brushed with miso and butter, grilled a little and served with an avocado salad (see below). It is incredibly versatile. It can seem a stiff, inert fish when it's cold from the fridge but warmed through, it becomes something soft and pulsating with flavour. And, like avocado, it's packed with all the good oils that are so great for your health.
I like flavoured butters – the umami flavour of the miso in this butter is so moreish. Miso paste comes in three types, of increasing potency: white, yellow and red. If you prefer a cleaner flavour, go with white, but yellow has a bit more body to it. The butter also contains Turkish chilli flakes, which are rubbed in oil and dried in the sun. They have a lovely roasted quality to them and a mild, rounded heat that subtly transforms a dish without being overpowering.
Once you've tasted miso butter, you'll be addicted, so double or triple the amounts in the recipe and keep it in the fridge for your next meal. For an ultra-umami experience, cook mushrooms in it – chestnut, Portobello, shiitake, whatever you fancy – and serve them on some good sourdough bread.
Miso-smoked mackerel with avocado salad (serves two)
For the butter50g miso paste30g butter, softened2tsp Turkish chilli flakes
For the salad120g mixed sprouted seeds1 large, ripe avocado, peeled and dicedJuice of 1 lime2tbsp sesame oil2–3 smoked mackerel fillets2 slices of sourdough toastSmall handful of parsley leaves, finely choppedLime wedges, to serve
First make the butter by beating the three ingredients together and seasoning to taste with salt and pepper if needed (go easy as both the miso and fish are salty). At this point you can roll the butter into a log – you may get a little messy – and chill in the fridge or freezer if you have time, but don’t worry if not as it won’t affect the recipe.
Put the mixed sprouted seeds in a sieve and rinse well under cold, running water. Drain and dry thoroughly with a clean tea towel. Toss the avocado with the sprouts, lime juice and sesame oil then season lightly with salt and pepper.
Preheat the grill to high. Line a baking sheet with foil and place the smoked mackerel on top. Put a slice of the butter on top of each fillet and grill for a minute or so until the butter is melted and bubbling.
Toast the bread and spread with a little more of the miso butter. Top with the mackerel, sprinkle with the parsley and serve with a pile of the avocado and sprout salad, with lime wedges on the side. If you are avoiding bread, just flake the mackerel into the salad and add some toasted pumpkin seeds.
THOMASINA MIERS, trained at Ballymaloe Cookery School in Cork, Ireland and in 2005 entered and won MasterChef. Two years later, she opened the first of her chain of Wahaca restaurants, inspired by her favourite Mexican state, Oaxaca. She writes a weekly column for The Guardian and has recently published her seventh book, Home Cook (£25, The Guardian Books and Faber & Faber), available now at a discount from bookshop.theguardian.com