You know all those cookbooks we own but don’t actually use? Now we know why. According to a new survey, Brits stick firmly to classic dishes they know by heart – and simply add their own, sometimes oddball, twists.
Kitchen brand NEFF has taken a peek into Britons’ culinary habits, asking 1500 people about the meals they cook most often. And the findings are intriguing. Our favourite five dishes are traditional classics: curry, in pole position, is dished up on average five times a month, followed by a good old roast (four times), spaghetti Bolognese (three times) and fish pie (twice). So far so predictable. But what is interesting is how we cook them.
According to the survey, only seven per cent of home cooks think it’s important to follow a recipe; the rest of us cook freestyle or use a recipe as a general guide. What’s more, we add our own flourishes. Heard of a ‘capsule wardrobe’? It seems that we also keep a ‘capsule larder’ of favourite condiments and spices on hand, ready to toss in the pot to make meals our own.
Take curry for example – it seems that Brits have their own ideas on how to make it. Around 12 per cent of us think a dash of Worcestershire sauce goes well in the mix, while other common additions include egg (six per cent), honey and peanut butter (nine per cent) and even cola (two per cent).
The Sunday roast isn’t spared from experimentation either. More than 70 per cent of us are ditching roasties for mashed or sweet potato, while 17 per cent add a splash of chilli, soy or oyster sauce to gravy. We’re re-interpreting Italian cuisine too, adding inauthentic spices like paprika and chilli powder (23 per cent), tomato ketchup (13 per cent), hot sauce (six per cent) and green vegetables (nine per cent).
Some of us are really discovering our inner foodie, pouring Guinness into gravy, cooking roast potatoes with marmite, tossing coffee and chocolate into chilli con carne, and garlic into scrambled eggs.
So what to make of all this messing about in the kitchen? While it’s frustrating and a little baffling as a cookbook author that most Brits don’t follow recipes, the findings are encouraging. Many of us obviously love the process of cooking from scratch – huzzah! What’s more, we’re cooking intuitively, unafraid to go off-piste and experiment with flavour. For me, this is what the joy of cooking is all about.
Best of all, the survey shows there’s a gap between ‘foodie fads’ and what people are actually cooking: only five per cent of us are inspired by images on Instagram and so-called social media ‘influencers’. Instead, our culinary creativity is born of necessity; half of those surveyed say they cook to use up ingredients in the fridge or cupboard, while a further 23 per cent said meals are designed to save money.
In my opinion, this is the best way to cook – and precisely how many of the tastiest dishes are born. Guinness in gravy or marmite in the roasting pan might sound odd to some, but they actually make sense, providing an umami hit that adds depth of flavour to a dish. Cooking isn’t about rules anyway; even individual cuisines are an amalgam of global and cultural influences that have evolved over time.
One suggestion? I’m as fond of a bowl of spag bog or a roast dinner as the next person, but maybe we could consider expanding our culinary repertoire beyond the classics? There’s a whole world of dishes out there ready to throw Marmite into, or a splash of brown sauce. How about we experiment with those too?