Jamie Oliver, Up To His Elbows In Mashed Potatoes With 'Comfort Food'

Jamie Oliver, Up To His Elbows In Mashed Potatoes With 'Comfort Food'

2:46pm Dec 29, 2014
Jamie Oliver
David Loftus

Jamie Oliver is a food superstar — he has produced and presented hugely popular TV programs on cooking, notably The Naked Chef and more recently Jamie's Food Revolution. He has written more than a dozen cookbooks, many to accompany the TV shows. He has written about English food, Italian food, fast food, American food and school food, and has campaigned for a healthier diet for kids, built around introducing children to a wider range of things to eat — including the dreaded vegetables.

But his latest book is about plain, homey comfort food. "[It's] the best food in the world," Oliver tells NPR's Linda Wertheimer. "It's food that has a very wide scope. It's completely subjective. It's often food that makes you feel like you've had a big hug. ... It's often not like what we would call super clean, health food, super food — it's often food that has, you know, a little bit of carbohydrate in there that kind of gets all those lovely happy hormones going, and just makes you feel complete and full."


Interview Highlights

On the international recipes

People expect me to introduce them to things ... so I literally just went onto Instagram and did a big question out, you know, what's your favorite comfort food and what country you come from. We got, I think, it's 14,000 responses in 3 1/2 hours. ... We kind of picked out the dishes that kept coming up. I know it's a very crude way to do it, but for me it felt close to my audience, and it meant that I was being introduced to foods I've never, ever heard of.

On how the cooking is part of the comfort

Fresh fast food can be fantastic, because it's wok-frying and grilling, and it's very dynamic and in your face, but there's something lovely about comfort food where it gets put away in this thing called an oven, and you just have to leave it. ... A pie is just the most wonderful thing, as all Americans know. But when that comes out of the oven, my God! You know, ribs, beautiful ribs — they just take time.

On his favorite comfort food for a cold, quiet afternoon

Shepherd's pie was a real pleasure to write in this book. ... I just decided to go back into the history books, you know, two-, three-hundred years ago. And I actually realized that the really old traditional recipes didn't just have the potato on the top of that lovely stew, with the veggies and the gravy. Actually, the potato went on the bottom and the sides and the top — which no one in Britain, I'd ever seen done before. So I started playing with this recipe, which is 300 years old.

So it's just basic mashed potato — and then you just act like a kid, which is what comfort food is all about, and push it to the bottom and sides. You don't have to be a chef, you don't have to roll anything out. And then you put that stew in, and you top it, you put it in the bottom of the oven so it's getting crispy on the bottom and the sides as well as crispy on the top. ... and I've never seen all four of my kids — 'cause every bit was crispy, but also soft — the whole thing was attacked, from every angle. And when that bowl was clean, I knew that that recipe had to go in the book.

On this book and eating healthy

I try and eat really well and clean, and kind of like focus, Monday to Friday, lunch. And then Friday night, Saturday, Sunday lunch, this is when comfort food comes into its own. This book is basically how I eat every weekend.


Shepherd's pie
David Loftus

Shepherd's Pie

Serves 8–10
6 hours 30 minutes plus cooling
508 Calories

ROAST LAMB

1 small shoulder of lamb, bone in (4 1/2 lbs)
Olive oil

FILLING

4 red onions
4 carrots
4 stalks of celery
1 medium rutabaga
a few sprigs of fresh rosemary
1 heaping tablespoon all-purpose flour

TOPPING, SIDES & BOTTOM

5 1/2 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes
2 good pats of unsalted butter
3 oz cheddar cheese
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
1 cup fresh bread crumbs

Preheat the oven to 325F. In a snug-fitting high-sided roasting pan, rub the lamb all over with a little oil and a good pinch of sea salt and pepper. Add a splash of water to the pan, then roast for 4 hours, or until the meat is tender and will fall away from the bone. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the pan, then lift the lamb out onto a board, take all the meat and crispy skin off the bone and roughly chop it, reserving the bones. Skim away any fat from the pan and pop it into a clean jam jar. Add a splash of boiling water to the pan and stir around to pick up all the lovely sticky bits from the bottom. Keep it all to one side.

For the filling, peel and roughly dice the onions, carrots, celery, and rutabaga, then put them into your biggest frying pan on a medium-high heat with 2 tablespoons of reserved lamb fat. Strip in the rosemary leaves, then fry the veggies for 20 minutes, or until lightly caramelized, stirring regularly. Stir in the flour, lamb, bones, and pan juices, then pour in 6 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then put the lid on and reduce to a gentle simmer for 40 minutes, or until you've got a loose, stew-like consistency, stirring occasionally. To guarantee intense gravy and a tender but dense filling, remove and discard the bones, then place a large coarse sieve over a pan and, in batches, spoon the lamb stew into the sieve. Let the gravy drip through, and after a couple of minutes, when you get a dense pile of meat and veggies in the sieve, transfer that to a bowl, leaving the gravy in the pan. Separately freeze half the cooled meat and gravy for another day.

For the topping, sides, and bottom, peel and roughly chop the potatoes and cook in boiling salted water for 12 to 15 minutes, or until tender. Drain and leave to steam dry, then add the butter, grate in half the cheese, season to perfection with salt and pepper, mash well, and cool completely. Preheat the oven to 400F. Use a little reserved lamb fat to grease the inside of a baking dish (10 x 12 inches), then pick and tear over the rosemary leaves and sprinkle with half the bread crumbs — they'll stick to the fat and add an incredible crunch. A handful at a time, press the cooled mashed potatoes into the dish, covering the bottom and sides with a 1/2-inch-thick layer. Spoon in the filling and a couple of spoonfuls of gravy, smooth out, then top with the remaining mash, pat it flat, scuff it up with a fork, and pinch it at the edges. Grate over the rest of the cheese, scatter with the remaining bread crumbs, and drizzle lightly with oil. Be sure to bake on the bottom of the oven for 1 hour 10 minutes, or until crisp and golden. Warm your gravy through (reducing, if desired), then serve the pie with loads of seasonal greens or peas and lots of condiments.

From Jamie Oliver's Comfort Food by Jamie Oliver. Copyright 2014 Jamie Oliver. Excerpted by permission of Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Jamie Oliver is a superstar of food. He has produced and presented hugely popular television programs on cooking - notably "The Naked Chef," more recently, "Jamie's Food Revolution." He's written more than a dozen cookbooks - many to accompany the television programs. He has written about English food, Italian food, fast food, American food, school food and even campaigned for a healthier diet for kids built around introducing children to a wider range of things they might consider eating, including vegetables. Jamie Oliver joins us from London to talk about his newest book "Jamie Oliver's Comfort Food: The Ultimate Weekend Cookbook." Welcome to our program.

JAMIE OLIVER: Thank you very much for having me - very exciting.

WERTHEIMER: Now maybe you better just define comfort food. What is the Jamie Oliver version of comfort food?

OLIVER: Comfort food is literally to me, and I think to most people on the planet, the best food in the world. It's food that has a very wide scope. It's completely subjective. It's often food that makes you feel like you've had a big hug. It's stuff you really look forward to. It's often not, like, what we would call super clean, healthy food, super food. It's often food that has, you know, a little bit of carbohydrate in there that you kind of get all those lovely, happy hormones going and just makes you feel complete and full.

WERTHEIMER: How did you collect all of the international recipes? I mean, there are recipes from Egypt, recipes from Greece.

OLIVER: What we did is I literally just went onto Instagram. I did a big question out. You know, what's your favorite comfort food? Tell me about it, and what country you come from. We got, like, I think it was 14,000 responses in three and a half, four hours. Then, literally, manually, we printed it all out, stuck it on the wall by country. And then it was, like, kind of, you know, the greatest hits. We kind of picked out the dishes that just kept coming up. And I know it's a very crude way to do it, but for me it felt close to my audience. And it meant that I was being introduced to foods I had never ever heard of.

WERTHEIMER: Now you are at considerable pains in the course of introducing people to these recipes to say that many of them take a lot of time - that it's, you know, it's an afternoon's work or whatever and that that is part of the comfort. Now how do you figure that?

OLIVER: So you know, comfort food for me often it involves stews and pot roasts and, you know, sort of second-class cuts of meat that need to be sort of slow cooked. And, you know, sometimes people say, oh, it says six hours. And I'm, like, yeah, but you don't have to sit there cooking for six hours. You know, it's about 5, 10 minutes at the start. And then, you know, you just let the oven do the work. You know, go to the park, go shopping, go to the pub. Do what you've got to do. And then come back and enjoy something spectacular. But there's something lovely about comfort food where it gets put away in this thing called an oven, and you just have to leave it.

WERTHEIMER: What is your favorite big fat comforting dish? Maybe sort of think about something that you would eat as a very late lunch or an early dinner on a quiet, cold Sunday.

OLIVER: Obviously the book is full of quite a few of these - shepherd's pie was a real pleasure to write in this book. You know, I'd always kind of made a good shepherd's pie. But I just decided to go back into the history books, you know, 200, 300 years ago. And I actually realized that the very old traditional recipes didn't just have the potato on the top of that lovely stew with the veggies and the gravy. Actually the potato went on the bottom and the sides and the top which no one in Britain, I'd ever seen, done before. You know? So I started playing with this recipe that was 300 years old and probably more...

WERTHEIMER: Playing with it is a good word because there's a picture of you in the book sort of like a mud pie. There you are with your hands in the mashed potatoes pushing them against the side of the bowl.

OLIVER: Absolutely.

WERTHEIMER: Up to your elbows.

OLIVER: Well, it's basic mashed potato, and then you just act like a kid which is what comfort food is all about and push it to the bottom and sides. You don't have to be a chef. You don't have to roll anything out. And then you put that stew in. And then you top it. And you put it in the bottom of the oven, so it's getting crispy on the bottom and the sides as well as crispy on the top. And then eventually sort of, you know, 40, 50 minutes into cooking that little bit of residual gravy has to find a way out so it sort of punches a hole through the top of that incredible pie. And it's just an amazing thing. And I kind of knew it was amazing because I've got four kids. There's like a little army of Oliver's there. And I've never seen all four of my kids attack because every bit was crispy but also soft. The whole thing was attacked from every angle. And when that bowl was clean, I knew that that recipe had to go in the book.

WERTHEIMER: Let me ask you about desserts. I went to the dessert section first because Brits have a very special place in my heart for incredibly sweet, gooey desserts like golden pudding, which you unaccountably left out. I went right past the marshmallows and the peanut butter-and-jelly brownies and stopped at the bread-and-butter pudding that is made with cake instead of bread and flavored with marmalade and chocolate. Now if you actually ate that, wouldn't it kill you?

OLIVER: (Laughter) Well, I haven't yet found a dessert on the planet that's healthy - sugar, cream, butter, flour, eggs. I mean, it's only going to go one way. But no, in actual fact, I mean, I think that it's a connotation of the classic bread-and-butter pudding. You know, we get a lot of panettone's at the after Christmas these days. And they don't know - people don't know what to do with them. So I think it's nice to give them that little tip of how to turn something that they've got into something really, really good. You know, what's quite nice about it is even if you make it badly, it still works really, really well.

WERTHEIMER: There's a lot in this book that goes against the religion of Jamie Oliver which is eat reasonably, don't, you know, don't be a complete pig. This is a book for the complete pig.

OLIVER: I wouldn't say this is a book for the complete pig, no. I think I try and eat really well and clean and kind of, like, just focus Monday to Friday lunch. And then Friday night, Saturday, Sunday lunch - this is when comfort food comes into its own. And that's when I do that. I mean, this book is basically how I eat every weekend. You know, this is for someone that loves food and has the common sense to realize that you shouldn't eat a burger every single day or have cake with every meal. You know, it's basic stuff, really.

WERTHEIMER: Jamie Oliver's newest cookbook is called "Jamie Oliver's Comfort Food." Thank you so much.

OLIVER: Thank you, my love. Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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