Nathan Outlaw admits that he only really has three passions in life: his restaurants, cookery books (he has a library of many hundreds) and music (likewise, mostly vinyl). So when he started to put together his latest cookbook, which, unusually for a chef, he writes, styles and recipe-tests all himself, he was nervous. “By the fourth book, most chefs are just banging it out,” he says. “I don’t want it to be that fourth album, which is basically the shit one, mainly instrumental, because you couldn’t think of any words.”
The 39-year-old Outlaw, though, had an advantage most cookbook authors don’t have. At his five restaurants – two in the Cornish village of Port Isaac, a pub along the coast in Rock, one in London and one at the ultra-luxe Burj Al Arab in Dubai – he focuses on the superb, deceptively simple presentation of fish. Similarly, his first three books have been essentially pescatarian. This left a few ingredients he’d never got round to featuring: not least meat, poultry and vegetables.
These take centre stage in Nathan Outlaw’s Home Kitchen: an encyclopedia of dishes aimed at everyone from the teenager leaving home for the first time to seasoned domestic cooks. “Some people think I can’t or don’t cook meat,” says Outlaw, more bemused than irked. In fact, he had a Michelin star for a decade offering meat and seafood, before deciding to specialise in fish in 2011, winning a second star for his main operation Restaurant Nathan Outlaw soon after. “Actually, I didn’t touch fish other than fish fingers and fish and chips until I was 19,” he says, wincing at the memory. “That’s when I started to work for Rick Stein.”
If there’s a more affable person working in hospitality than Outlaw, who was born in Kent but moved to Cornwall half his life ago, I’ve yet to meet him. On some level he must be ambitious – you don’t stumble into an international restaurant empire. But, when we meet in Port Isaac, he behaves as if life couldn’t be more simple: he wakes up, calls Callum, a friend who catches crab and lobster, and a few other local fishermen, and works out how best to prepare whatever they’ve brought in that day.
He laughs a lot during the two hours we spend together, but never harder than when he tells the story of how, back in February, when Restaurant Nathan Outlaw had just reopened after its six-week winter break, there was a Thursday night when no one booked for dinner. Chefs, certainly not ones with multiple Michelin stars, rarely admit such things. “We closed and went to the pub,” he says.
But there must be an ego; with chefs, isn’t there always an ego? Does Outlaw feel under-appreciated? “Honestly, if we put this restaurant in London, in the right place, you’d never be able to get in it,” he says. “But life would just be too fast. I like the fact that in November we’ll have an evening where we do two or four covers, or we might not have any and we have to shut. It’s good, it keeps your feet on the ground. Getting through the winter in Cornwall is not easy for any business and certainly not for us, because we don’t lay people off. So we’re always looking at how to lose money carefully.”
Outlaw learned early on he could not rely on reviews. From 2003, when aged 25 he opened the Black Pig in Rock, his first restaurant, to today, he’s had just two in the national press for his Cornish establishments: one in the Guardian and a rave from Jay Rayner in the Observer.
“That’s it,” says Outlaw. “Do you know what? I’m happy about that! People used to talk about elBulli and the French Laundry. If you were coming from Barcelona, or from San Francisco, and you’re driving to those places it takes a couple of hours. But if you drive five hours from London, you get to Port Isaac. It’s a long way.”
There is an unfussiness about Outlaw, a man who drives a dirt-caked Honda Civic. This made his partnership last year with the “seven-star” Burj Al Arab an unlikely fit. He understands that; in fact, when he was first called by the hotel’s general manager he thought a friend was playing a practical joke. But Outlaw went to Dubai and was dumbstruck by the abundance and freshness of the produce. He asked where the ingredients came from and was told, “Wherever an Emirates flight goes.” That meant daily deliveries from Japanese fish markets, Rungis in Paris and the best sustainable Nordic seafood.
Before he signed, he had one niggling fear. “I told them that my style is simple and it doesn’t have the wow factor for certain people,” he recalls. “I can’t start putting dry ice on stuff, because it’s not what I do. If I see someone blowtorch a fish, honestly … A blowtorch is for a plumber to bend pipes, not for a chef to cook fish. If that’s the way cooking’s going I’ll give up tomorrow.”
He means it: at Restaurant Nathan Outlaw they cook with fire and pans; there’s not a sous-vide oven in sight. For Home Kitchen, Outlaw went even more basic. His first three books had been created in a professional kitchen with his team on hand. This time he relocated to a flat above the Mariners, the pub he part-owns in Rock, and cooked every dish on a knackered electric stove with ancient coiled-element hobs. “The flat’s a proper shithole,” says Outlaw. “It was hard, hard work. So I know even if you’ve got the shittiest stove at home, you’ll be able to achieve these recipes.”
Help with chopping came from his two children – Jacob, aged 13, and Jessica, 11 – and his friend Danny, an odd-job man. Recipes were rejected if they were too fussy: “My wife, Rachel, would say, ‘I haven’t got time for that. I’ve got to get the kids to rugby.’”
Outlaw’s lack of pretension is shown in his recipe for sticky toffee pudding – well, it’s not technically his recipe but Jessica’s, who won the Amateur Sticky Toffee Pudding Championship in Padstow with it. As well as appearing in Home Kitchen it also, brilliantly, features with only a few minor tweaks on the menu at the Burj Al Arab. “If something’s good,” reasons Outlaw, “it doesn’t matter where you serve it.”
With that, Outlaw is needed back in the kitchen, which is where – despite the potential for him to become a restaurateur more than a chef – he spends most of his days. He’s adamant that he will never stop cooking and there’s hereditary evidence that he means it. Outlaw’s father was 15 when he started working in food: now 62, he is still the pastry chef at Outlaw’s at the Capital in Knightsbridge. He gets up at dawn every day, commutes to central London from Maidstone and makes all the bread and scones for the hotel.
“My legs ache, my knees ache, my back aches,” sighs Outlaw. “But I’ll never retire, never. I shouldn’t say this, but I look forward to someone being ill, because I actually get called in to cover the work.”
Outlaw looks out of the panoramic windows of his restaurant. A white sheet of fog had obscured the view all morning, but it is finally clearing to reveal the epic coastline of north Cornwall. Outlaw is especially cheery today because the crab and lobster fishermen were finally able to go out after two weeks of bad weather and he can put their catches on his menu again. The only thing disturbing the tranquil scene is the kitchen’s booming soundsystem: Fleet Foxes, Martha and the Vandellas, Blur. Is that always on?
Outlaw nods: “When we first opened it was rigged up so that whatever was playing in the kitchen was on in the dining room. I was just putting on what I wanted and there was a couple times when we had a few comments. Metallica didn’t go down too well in a two-Michelin-starred restaurant. So they sacked me off that.
“But I want this place to be relaxed,” he goes on. “If someone said it was pretentious or over the top, I’d be horrified.”
Pork chops with tomatoes, sage and broad beans
You can’t beat a good, tasty pork chop. I’ve created this as a summer recipe but you could easily adapt it to autumn or winter by using pumpkin or root vegetables. On a warm summer’s day you can cook the chops on a barbecue. Buy the best quality chops you can find; it will make all the difference.
pork chops 2, about 200g each
olive oil 2 tbsp
chopped sage 1 tsp
red wine vinegar 1 tbsp
shallot 1 small, peeled and chopped
For the tomatoes and broad beans
extra virgin olive oil 50ml
baby onions 12, peeled
ripe plum tomatoes 3, stalk ends removed, halved lengthways
dry white wine 75ml
broad beans 200g (1kg unpodded weight)
sage leaves 4, finely sliced
For the potatoes
new potatoes 200g, washed
unsalted butter 50g
mint leaves 4, finely sliced
Trim the pork chops of any excess fat if necessary. In a large bowl, mix the olive oil, sage, wine vinegar and shallot together. Add the chops and turn to coat, then place in the fridge to marinate for 4 hours.
Half an hour before cooking, take the pork chops out of the fridge to come to room temperature. Preheat your oven to 180C/gas mark 4.
Oil a large roasting tray and add the baby onions and halved tomatoes, cut side up. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Add the wine to the tray and cook in the oven for 20 minutes.
At the same time, put the potatoes in a pan of cold water, making sure they are covered, and season with salt. Bring to a simmer and cook gently for 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat a frying pan or griddle over a high heat. When hot, add a drizzle of oil then place the pork chops in the pan. Cook for 3–4 minutes until the underside turns golden. Turn the chops over and cook for another 4 minutes. Remove the chops from the pan and set them aside on a warm plate to rest.
Remove the tomatoes from the oven; keep warm. Once the potatoes are done, remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl. Add the butter and mint to the potatoes and toss to mix. Bring the potato water back to the boil, add the broad beans and cook for 3–4 minutes. In the meantime, reheat the pork chops if necessary.
To serve, arrange the roasted tomatoes and baby onions on a platter or divide equally between 2 warmed plates. Drain the broad beans and add them to the roasting tray with the potatoes, sliced sage and a little more olive oil. Give them a good mix and spoon equally over the tomatoes. Add the pork chops and serve.
I call this “English salad” because as a kid this was the only salad I knew. It was always on the table at home and all the ingredients were either grown in the allotment or greenhouse, or bought from the local greengrocer. The dressing was salad cream – never vinaigrette or mayonnaise.
raw beetroot 4
malt vinegar 100ml
free-range eggs 4, at room temperature
full-flavoured salad tomatoes 6
spring onions a bunch, trimmed and sliced
radishes a bunch (or 2 bunches if they are small), halved
button mushrooms 6, finely sliced
fresh cut mustard and cress 1 punnet
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the salad cream
free-range egg yolks 2
English mustard 2 tsp
caster sugar 2 tsp
lemon juice 2 tbsp
light olive oil 100ml
double cream 150ml
To make the salad cream, put the egg yolks, mustard, sugar and lemon juice into a bowl and whisk for 1 minute. Gradually add the olive oil, drop by drop to begin with and then in a steady stream until it is all incorporated. Slowly whisk in the cream and season with salt to taste. Cover and refrigerate until required.
To cook the beetroot, put them into a pan with the malt vinegar, cover with water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 25–30 minutes until tender.
In the meantime, bring a pan of water to the boil. Gently lower in the eggs and cook for 6 minutes. Remove the eggs and refresh in ice-cold water. Leave until cold, then peel away the shells.
Once the beetroot are cooked, remove from the pan, and leave until cool enough to handle, then peel away the skin.
Peel and slice the cucumber and place in a large bowl. Cut out the stalk end from the tomatoes and slice each one into 8 wedges. Add to the bowl with the spring onions, radishes and mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper and toss gently to mix.
Scatter the tossed salad veg over a large serving platter. Cut the boiled eggs in half lengthways and arrange across the salad. Slice the beetroot and lay the slices on the salad. Add drizzles of salad cream and scatter over the mustard and cress. Serve the rest of the dressing separately for everyone to help themselves.
Pea and ham soup
This is a really quick recipe, and such a tasty one. There’s nothing wrong with using good-quality frozen peas here and they’ll give you a consistent result. If you want to cook your own ham or ham hock, use the cooking liquor for the soup rather than the stock listed below. If you are buying your ham ready cooked, ask your butcher to slice some thickly off a cooked ham or ham hock rather than opting for the thinly sliced stuff.
olive oil for cooking and drizzling
unsalted butter 70g
shallots 2, peeled and chopped
garlic cloves 2, peeled and chopped
potato 1 large, peeled and finely sliced
vegetable or chicken stock 1 litre
frozen or fresh peas 600g
mint leaves 30
cooked ham 400g good-quality, shredded
finely sliced mint 2 tbsp
Heat a saucepan over a medium heat and add a drizzle of olive oil and the butter. When hot, add the shallots and garlic and sweat over a gentle heat for 3 minutes. Add the potato and stock, bring to a simmer and season with salt and pepper. Cook at a gentle simmer for 10 minutes until the potato is soft and tender.
Add the peas and mint leaves and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 2 minutes if using frozen peas, or 5 minutes if using fresh. Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4.
Transfer the soup to a blender and blitz for 2 minutes, or use a stick blender to blend until smooth. Pour the soup back into the pan and return to a simmer. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary.
Place the ham on a baking tray and warm through in the oven for 3–4 minutes.
To serve, divide the soup between 4 warmed bowls and scatter over the warmed ham and sliced mint. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil.
Braised brill steaks with fennel, garlic and white wine
This is a pretty forgiving way of cooking fish – give it a few minutes longer in the oven by mistake and the texture shouldn’t be ruined. Sometimes all you need is fish cooked simply and eaten as cleanly as this. All I would serve on the side are some new potatoes tossed with chopped dill. Turbot or large hake steaks can be cooked in the same way.
brill steaks 4, about 200g each, de-scaled (ask your fishmonger to do this)
olive oil for cooking
white onions 2, peeled and sliced
unsalted butter 200g, softened
garlic cloves 8, peeled and sliced
fennel bulbs 4, trimmed and quartered, any feathery fronds reserved
white wine 500ml
bay leaves 4
lemon wedges to serve
Preheat your oven to 180C/gas mark 4 and have the fish steaks ready at room temperature.
Add a good drizzle of olive oil to a large ovenproof sauté pan or shallow flameproof casserole and place over a medium heat. When hot, add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, for 4 minutes. Add half the butter, followed by all of the garlic and fennel. Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring from time to time. Add the wine and bay leaves and cook for a further 5 minutes, again stirring occasionally.
Rub the remaining butter into the brill steaks and season all over with salt and pepper. Lay the fish steaks on top of the vegetables and pop the dish into the oven. Cook for 10–12 minutes until the fish is just cooked through.
Serve immediately, scattered with any reserved fennel fronds. Serve lemon wedges on the side and new potatoes tossed with dill, if you like.
Sticky toffee pudding
Of all the recipes for sticky toffee pudding I’ve ever come across, this one is the best. I like it because it isn’t too sweet and it’s simple to make. Jessie, my daughter, won the Amateur Sticky Toffee Pudding Championship in Padstow with this recipe, so it must be pretty good. My pastry-chef friend Claire Clark created the recipe and Jessie has added a few tweaks of her own.
pitted dates 175g
bicarbonate of soda 1 tsp
unsalted butter 50g, softened
caster sugar 175g
large free-range eggs 2, beaten
self-raising flour 175g
For the sauce
double cream 350ml
soft dark brown sugar 50g
black treacle 1 tbsp
good-quality plain chocolate 50g
Preheat your oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Grease a terrine or similar mould, about 26cm x 10cm, or 4 individual moulds (about 300ml capacity).
Put the dates and water into a saucepan, bring to a simmer over a medium heat and cook for 10 minutes. Add the bicarbonate of soda and remove from the heat. Allow to cool.
Using an electric hand whisk or stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Slowly whisk in the eggs until fully incorporated, then add the cooled dates with their liquid and fold in. Finally fold in the flour, using a spatula or large metal spoon.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared terrine or individual moulds and spread evenly.
Bake for 30–35 minutes, or 15 minutes for individual puddings.
Meanwhile, to make the sauce, put the cream, brown sugar and treacle into a pan and stir over a medium heat until the mixture comes to the boil. Remove from the heat and whisk in the chocolate until it is fully melted. Keep warm.
Carefully turn out the pudding(s) and cut into slices (if you’ve baked the pudding in a terrine). Serve with the hot sauce and pouring cream.
Bitter chocolate, fudge and sea salt brownie
This brownie is served in all of my restaurants and in the pub too, so if you’ve been to one of my places you may well have had it before. The nice thing about this recipe is that you can alter it and add different fillings, like some nuts or dried fruit in place of the fudge, and it will still work. Super, simple and naughty!
unsalted butter 225g
good-quality dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids) 275g
golden caster sugar 400g
large free-range eggs 6
plain flour 200g
flaky sea salt 10g
vanilla fudge 150g, chopped
For the salted caramel sauce
caster sugar 125g
double cream 80ml
unsalted butter 45g
sea salt a good pinch
Flaky sea salt to sprinkle
Preheat your oven to 165°C/Fan 150°C/Gas 3. Line a 20 x 30cm baking tin with baking parchment.
Put the butter, chocolate and sugar into a bain-marie or a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water (making sure the base of the bowl isn’t touching the water) and leave to melt.
In another bowl, whisk the eggs until light and fluffy. When the chocolate mixture is melted, remove the bowl from the heat and let cool slightly if necessary, until warm not hot, then carefully fold it into the eggs.
Sift the flour over the chocolate mixture and fold in, then add the sea salt and chopped fudge and fold gently to distribute evenly.
Pour the mixture into the prepared baking tin and bake for 20–25 minutes or until the brownie is set but still slightly soft in the middle. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
While the chocolate brownie is cooling, make the salted caramel sauce. Melt the sugar in a heavy-based pan over a medium heat and cook to a golden brown caramel.
Immediately take off the heat and pour in the cream (the caramel will bubble and splutter as you pour, so be careful). Whisk in the butter and salt, then leave to cool.
Once cooled, cut the brownie into squares using a sharp knife and drizzle over the salted caramel sauce. Finish with a tiny sprinkling of flaky salt.
Extracted from Nathan Outlaw’s Home Kitchen by Nathan Outlaw (Quadrille, £20). To order a copy for £17, go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010