Skip the turkey and give thanks with American diner food
Simon Delaney has written a cookbook about US diner food, a good option for a Thanksgiving feast if you’re saving the turkey for Christmas
Catch it if you can: Simon Delaney on his love affair with American diner food
“I found the food I love most when I first arrived in the home of the Stars and Stripes: America. There I not only found food that appealed to my ’home-cooking’ palate, but also portions that blew me away.”
Simon Delaney, actor, presenter and MasterChef finalist, has written a cookbook, and it’s an homage to his favourite type of place to eat, the classic American diner.
“I’ve been lucky to film across the US, from New York to Dallas to Los Angeles. And wherever I was there working, I found myself spending more and more time in my favourite type of eatery: the diner,” he says
“I love them. I love the diner vibe. Because while I’m away working, I’m travelling alone, so I’ll spend my time in a diner, reading or writing, tucking into a classic turkey burger and constantly aware of the activity around me.”
On this day of days for the American turkey, you won’t find a recipe for the bird in Delaney’s book. So, if you’re saving your turkey appetite for December 25th, but would still like to mark Thanksgiving by cooking and eating a US favourite, try one of these three recipes.
Simply Simon’s. The Diner Cookbook, by Simon Delaney, is published by Black & White Publishing, £16.99
BUTTERMILK PANCAKES WITH CRISPY BACON AND MAPLE SYRUP
This dish is an absolute staple on every diner menu from Cape May, New Jersey, to Fresno, California. It’s also Mrs Delaney’s go-to diner breakfast dish. She doesn’t even bother looking at the menu any more. It’s one of the most popular dishes on a diner’s breakfast menu, and I think it’s because of the contrasts of flavours and textures on the plate. You start with the soft, fluffy buttermilk pancakes, and then crunch through that crispy bacon, all topped off with that silky maple sauce. Hungry? Let’s get cooking . . .
225 g plain flour
2 tbsp caster sugar
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 free-range eggs
300 ml buttermilk
50 ml milk
50 g butter, melted
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp rapeseed oil, for frying
8 slices smoked streaky bacon or pancetta
2 tbsp soft brown sugar
Knob of butter, to serve
Sieve the flour, caster sugar and bicarbonate of soda into a bowl. Separate the eggs: put the whites into another bowl, and add the yolks the flour mixture.
Add the buttermilk, milk and melted butter to the flour mix, and mix well. Don’t worry about leaving a few small lumps, this isn’t MasterChef, and it gives the pancakes a nice lift. Whisk the egg whites with the salt until you have stiff peaks. Gently fold the egg-white mix into the batter. Heat a frying pan and brush with a little oil (I like to use rapeseed oil).
Add a ladle of batter to the pan (should be the size of the palm of your hand) and cook until you start to see small bubbles dimple the top of the pancake. When you see the bubbles, flip. Cook for another 30 seconds, until golden, and then remove the pan from the heat and set aside the pancake. Repeat until all the batter is used.
Throw a tea towel over the pancakes to keep them warm. This recipe should get you about 12 in total.
Now the bacon: sprinkle the slices with the brown sugar (not too much) before frying, then place them in a hot pan and cook until crispy.
To serve, stack the pancakes (as many as you dare!) and put the crispy bacon on top, drizzle with maple syrup and, for an extra sneaky treat, add a little knob of butter over the top.
This recipe has been approved by Mrs Delaney.
LOVE ME TENDER MEMPHIS RIBS
Who doesn’t like a rack of ribs? That tender, sweet pork smothered in a tangy barbeque sauce that seems to get better with every bite. Delicious. This a dish that can put a diner on the map. There are of course joints in the US that just do ribs, and nothing else. One place that springs to mind features in my favourite TV show of the past few years, House of Cards. Freddy’s Ribs is the sanctuary that Frank Underwood (played by Kevin Spacey) sneaks into, day or night, to seek some peace and a (paper) plate of Freddy’s world-famous ribs. I’ve always rated Spacey as one of the finest actors of our generation, but I reckon the ribs the props department provided on the shoot days must have been the real deal, as the joy that rolls across Spacey’s face as he tucks in can’t be faked, even by one of the greatest. My recipe has an Irish twist, using stout to cook the ribs in.
50 g muscovado sugar
1 tbsp smoked paprika
1 tbsp ground cumin
Half a tbsp garlic powder
Half a tbsp chilli flakes
4 full racks of baby back ribs
200 ml Guinness
500 ml passata
1 tbsp treacle
To start, let’s make the rub for the ribs. In a large bowl, add the sugar, the paprika, the cumin, the garlic powder and the chilli flakes. Pop the ribs in there and rub the mix all around them, making sure the ribs are fully coated. Ideally, try and let the ribs sit in the rub for a couple of hours before cooking, to let all of the spices work their way into the meat.
Preheat your oven to 150°C.
Place the ribs on a raised rack and place the rack into a deep baking tray. Pour the Guinness into the tray underneath the ribs and cover the whole thing with tinfoil. Pop this into the oven and cook for 2 hours. This is low and slow cooking at its finest!
After two hours, remove from the oven, take the ribs out and set aside. Pour the cooking juices into a pan and cook over a medium heat to reduce this down by half. Add the passata and the treacle and reduce again until you end up with a nice thick mixture that we can use to glaze our ribs.
Using a pastry brush, glaze the ribs with the sticky reduction and pop them under a high heat on the grill, so we can get a good char on them. This will only take a few minutes. Repeat the process again with glaze.
To serve, stack the racks of ribs onto a large serving dish and drizzle over the rest of the glaze. Finger-licking good, as they say . . .
CHUCK BEEF BURGER MONTEREY JACK CHEESE AND HOT PASTRAMI
When you mention the word ‘diner’, the word ‘burger’ normally pops into your head soon after. A good burger is truly one of the great dishes of the world. There are a few things that I wanted to feature in my burger, some of my favourite things. One is fried onions, a must for me on a burger: they add a lovely sweetness to the dish. The buns: brioche, of course. One of the things I love about eating a burger in a diner in the States is that when you pick it up, the bread almost collapses around the burger. The burger is the star, not the bread. But if you go with brioche buns, it’ll be worth it. Then the hot pastrami: my favourite deli sandwich filler, and amazing on a burger. Then, the small matter of the cheese. I’ve gone for a Monterey Jack cheese, a creamy melting cheese that’s a perfect companion for hot beef. And speaking of the beef, I’ve carried out a ridiculous amount of research into the perfect burger beef. What you’re looking for is an 80/20 mix of beef to fat. I’ve gone for chuck beef: a great cut of the meat and gorgeous in a burger. Your friendly neighbourhood butcher will provide you with the perfect burger meat; just ask. Finally, there’s the burger sauce, a little zing to spread on the buns to accompany that meat and cheese, and this sauce recipe cuts through it beautifully. Hungry yet? Let’s cook . . .
For the burgers:
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp Chinese five-spice
960 g minced chuck beef, with 20% fat (your butcher will sort this for you)
Salt and pepper, to season
For the burger sauce:
1 tsp smoked paprika
100 ml hoisin sauce
2 tbsp mayonnaise
2 small gherkins, chopped
Juice of half a lemon
8 slices Monterey Jack cheese
16 thin slices pastrami
A couple of knobs of butter, melted
1 medium red onion, finely sliced
4 brioche burger buns
2 beef tomatoes, sliced
1 small head of Baby Gem lettuce, washed
Preheat the oven to 175°C. We’ll kick off by making the burger mix. In a bowl add the Worcestershire sauce, the Chinese five-spice mix and the minced beef, and season well with salt and pepper. Don’t be shy with the salt: these burgers can take it! When you have the spices mixed well into the beef, divide the mixture into four 240 g balls. Wet your hands with cold water, and then take the meatballs and shape them into burger patties about 1 inch thick. When you have all four done, pop them onto a lined baking tray, cover them and let them sit in the fridge for about 30 minutes to firm up.
While these are in the fridge, we’ll make the burger sauce. In a small bowl, simply mix together the smoked paprika, hoisin sauce, mayonnaise, chopped gherkins and lemon juice.
Now to cook the burgers. If you have a griddle pan, put it over a medium heat. The griddle pan is great to get those beautiful marks on the burger, but if you haven’t got a griddle, a standard ovenproof pan will do. Take the burgers out of the fridge and let them come to room temperature before you cook them. Add a little olive oil to your pan, get it nice and hot, and pop the burgers in. We’re looking to get a nice char on the outside of the burger, so cook them for about 2 minutes on each side. Place the pan into the oven and cook for about 6 minutes or until done. I like my burgers medium, but go with what you prefer.
When ready, take the burgers out of the oven, but leave them in the pan. Place a slice of cheese and a couple of slices of the pastrami over each of the burgers and pop them back into the oven, and turn the oven off! This will heat the pastrami and melt the cheese (a sentence I’ll never tire of saying).
In another small pan, add a drizzle of olive oil and a knob of butter and sweat down your onions until coloured and soft. When done, drain on kitchen paper.
To serve: spread a little melted butter on the brioche burger buns and heat them in your pan for a minute. Next, spread some of your burger sauce on both halves of the bun, and then layer on some lettuce, a couple of slices of tomato and the fried onions. Add the burger, cheese and pastrami, then skewer the bun top on with a burger skewer (yes, there is such a thing), and enjoy.