Saturday July 12, 2008
English food leads the world in the variety and richness of its tracklements, ie tasty little relishes. Most cuisines work on the basis that you start with tasty food, whereas we traditionally boil up some tasteless food and then add a powerful, overwhelming taste on the side of the plate. These tracklements are the underarm deodorants of traditional cooking.
English mustard is basically napalm with colouring. Its function is remarkably similar in that it is designed to burn away the inside of your digestive system so that you won’t notice anything that comes after it. That’s why it’s so popular with British beef, which used to be little different from the part of the animal used to make shoes. By contrast, French mustard tastes like the mouth of an aged French lover.
All roast dinners have their traditional accompaniments. Mint sauce is commonly associated with lamb. This is like having your after-dinner mint during dinner. Horseradish is the English vindaloo and its consumption is a traditional test of manliness in remote rural communities. The only antidote to the bite of the horseradish is the firm application of a yorkshire pudding compress to the affected area.
Redcurrant jam has never made it on to toast. Similarly, you don’t hear about marmalade on roast pork. If you find yourself having onion marmalade for breakfast, something has gone terribly wrong in your life (although there are some legitimate cross-dressers, such as Marmite, which swing between toast and stews).
British cheese and pickle should, in fairness, be called pickle and cheese. For the French, the notion of cheese being in any way secondary to its condiment must seem as surreal and barbaric as shaving one’s legs. Chutneys are generally embalming fluid thickened by apple and sultanas. Like pillboxes, they are relics of wartime. Indeed, there are some jars of chutney that have been in continual circulation in bring and buy sales since the war.
Tomato ketchup is the lubricant on the slippery slope to obesity. It’s highly likely that anything you put ketchup on is also likely to be bad for you. People often imagine that a dose of ketchup counts as one of their daily fruit and veg, but sadly it qualifies about as much as a pear drop.