Four classic recipes everyone should know

Whether it’s a hearty beef bourguignon or sweet meringues, these dishes are sure to delight

Fish soup with Aioli and croutons. Photograph: Emma Jervis

Fish soup with Aioli and croutons. Photograph: Emma Jervis


We all have dishes we like to cook over and over, but at times the classics become corrupted by habit and laziness. We are all guilty of falling back on them a little too often because we know they will impress, and in the process they lose their appeal.

However, the classics play an important role. We should see mastery of a classic dish – such as roast chicken – not as an end goal, but as a foundation to build on, to expand and complete our kitchen arsenal – with essential skills and increased confidence in the kitchen.

For our family, the classics play a very important part in our emotional life too. They provide comfort, reassurance and they never disappoint. However, for my children, being my greatest critics who bore easily, the classics are honoured but innovated. We can take or add to a dish but the essence will and should always remain.

The best advice I was given by one of my mentors when I worked at his restaurant in Bristol was: “Learn to cook the classics well and all will be well for you.”

These are my fall-back dishes. They are nearly always on my menu – some we just can’t take off, both because they’ve served us well over time and because they offer the greatest comfort in their familiarity.

Fish Soup

This soup has been part of my cooking life for 30 years. I do play around with this recipe a little depending on what’s available and sometimes I spice it up a little. Making it a day in advance will improve the flavour substantially. The secret is a good quality homemade stock (one made from shellfish in the summer will give you a totally different dish).

Serves 4

200g of very fresh fish, skinned and cubed
Olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 stick of celery, finely chopped
½ cucumber, finely chopped
1 tbsp parsley, stalks and leaves
2 sprigs of thyme
½ tsp saffron filaments
1 x 400g can tomatoes, chopped with their juice
¼ bottle of dry white wine
600ml fish stock
1 lemon, juiced
Salt and pepper


1. Heat a large saucepan and add a good splash of oil. Sweat the onion and celery for at least 10 minutes. Season well with salt and pepper.

2. Add the garlic, cucumber, herbs, saffron, tomatoes, stock and wine, bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes. Add a good squeeze of lemon juice, taste and add salt and pepper if needed. At this stage you can cool the soup down and store in the fridge until needed.

3. When ready to eat, bring back to the boil.

4. Add the prepared fish and remove from the heat – the fish will cook in the heat of the soup.

5. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.

6. Serve with grated mature Coolea cheese, plus a dollop of rouille sauce or aioli (I like both here) and croutons (recipes below). 

Aioli (garlic mayonnaise)

Makes 750 ml / 1¼ pints

2 cloves of garlic
2 egg yolks
Squeeze of lemon
300ml (1pt) olive oil
Salt and pepper


1. Pound the garlic to a cream with a little salt in a mortar and pestle, or chop very fine with a knife and with the back of your knife mash it to a paste.

2. Beat the egg yolks with the lemon juice in a bowl and add the garlic paste.

3. Whisk in the oil, a few drops at a time at first, then continue whisking and adding the oil in a steady stream. Add salt and pepper, taste and adjust seasonings.

4. Alternatively, put all the ingredients except the oil in a food processor or blender and mix well. Dribble in the oil while the motor is running. Taste and adjust seasonings.


You will find this much easier to make than the Aioli recipe as there is less chance of it separating. If you want to make a simple version or would like to skip the eggs and/or bread, double the quantity of roasted red peppers and whizz with the chopped chillies, garlic and mustard and slowly add the oil.


1 thick slice of bread
Fish stock or water
2 cloves of garlic
1 roasted red pepper
2 small fresh red chillies
2 egg yolks
1tsp dijon mustard
250ml olive oil


1. Remove the crusts from the bread, soak in fish stock (or water), then squeeze dry. Finely chop the garlic. Skin and deseed the red pepper. Deseed and finely chop the red chillies.

2. Put everything into a food processor along with the egg yolks and mustard. Slowly add the oil until it has all been incorporated and the mixture is thick. Taste for seasoning.

Garlic Croutons

I used to do this the hard way by frying slices of bread in olive oil and then rubbing garlic into the hot fried bread. They’re really lovely this way and you will find you will have most of them eaten before you even get to sit at the table. Then I discovered an easier way while having bouillabaisse in Marseille: Take two slices of day-old bread, cut into large cubes and bake in a medium oven until golden. Allow to cool and serve with peeled whole garlic cloves. Each person can then rub the garlic into the croutons as needed before adding them to their soup.

Mushroom Caviar. Photograph: Emma Jervis
Mushroom Caviar. Photograph: Emma Jervis

Mushroom Caviar

This is a classic from Jane Grigson’s The Mushroom Feast and we serve it with toasted walnut brioche.

Serves 4 to 6

2 tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions
500g mushrooms
Salt and pepper
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsp sour cream
Chives, chopped fine


1. Chop the onions very fine or put them into a food processor and process them to a rough mush. In the same processor bowl, add the fine grater attachment and feed all the mushrooms through, including the stalks, or chop finely by hand.

2. Heat a medium sized frying pan on a moderate heat and add the oil. Cook the onions until almost soft.

3. Season the mushrooms well with salt and pepper. Add them to the pan and cook for six to eight minutes. If the mushrooms exude a lot of juice, turn up the heat so the final result is moist but not wet.

4. Remove from the heat and add the lemon juice. Allow to cool and add the sour cream and chives to taste.

5. Serve topped with extra sour cream and chives and toast on the side.

Beef Bourguignon. Photograph: Emma Jervis
Beef Bourguignon. Photograph: Emma Jervis

Beef Bourguignon

This takes a little effort but is well worth it. I would recommend you double the recipe while you’re making it and freeze some portions for a later date. Nothing beats having dinner ready after a long walk, and what better than this classic dish? I like to have this with fresh pasta, so I always have a supply from Iago’s in the freezer.

Serves 4 to 6 people

1kg topside, chuck or any other braising steak, cubed
Half a bottle of red wine
150g streaky unsmoked bacon, diced
2 onions, peeled and sliced
3 cloves of garlic
Bunch of parsley with stalks
3 sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp seasoned flour
Beef dripping or olive oil
1 tbsp tomato puree
150ml meat stock
Bouquet garni

For the garnish
250g small mushrooms
12 shallots or baby onions


1. Place the meat in a bowl with half the wine, the sliced onions, garlic, parsley stalks, thyme and the bay leaf and mix well. Cover with a plate and leave overnight in the fridge to marinade.

2. The next day, drain the meat and vegetables in a colander, saving the marinade juices. Separate out the pieces of beef and toss in the seasoned flour.

3. Heat a frying pan over a medium heat and add one tablespoon of fat or oil and the diced bacon. Cook over a very low heat until the bacon fat starts to run. Add the marinaded onions and garlic and cook over a medium heat for five minutes. Transfer to a casserole pot.

4. In the same frying pan, brown the floured meat cubes on all sides in some more oil or fat. Add them to the onions and bacon as you go (you should end up doing the meat in two batches).

5. Add the tomato puree to the frying pan along with the marinade, stock and the remaining wine. Bring to the boil, scraping the pan to loosen any bits. Pour it over the meat.

4. Bring the casserole pan to the boil and taste, adding a little more salt and lots of black pepper. Cover with parchment paper and a tight fitting lid and cook in a slow oven at 140C for 2 to 2 1/2 hours. For the last hour of cooking, check the meat every 15 minutes for tenderness.

5. While this is all happening, cook the shallots in a little oil for 10 minutes until they are just soft through, and season well with salt and pepper. Next, cook the mushrooms in a hot pan with a little oil, salt and pepper until cooked through.

6. When the beef is ready, top with the onions, mushrooms and plenty of chopped parsley.

7. Serve with fresh pasta and garnish with a little more chopped parsley.

Brown Sugar Meringues. Photograph: Emma Jervis
Brown Sugar Meringues. Photograph: Emma Jervis

Brown Sugar Meringues

This is one dessert that never fails to impress. Make with the best eggs and sugar and you can’t go wrong.

Makes 12 full-size meringues

100g caster sugar
100g dark muscovado sugar
120g egg whites (about 4)


1. Set the oven to 70C / gas mark ¼.

2. Mix the two sugars together. Separately, whisk the egg whites until they hold stiff peaks and add three-quarters of the sugar, one tablespoon at a time, whisking well before adding the next spoonful. Continue to beat until the mixture is smooth and shiny. Gently fold in the remaining sugar.

3. Spoon the mixture onto a baking sheet lined with parchment in 5cm rounds or in 10cm nests, building up the sides if you want to fill them with cream or fruit.

4. Bake slowly in the oven for three hours, until the meringues are dry and crisp.

5. Serve sandwiched together with cream and a raspberry couli.

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