Chef out of water

Apparently, Nathan Outlaw still can't quite master the art of roasting a chicken.

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This is a man who has a two Michelin star restaurant, was mentored by Rick Stein and has written four cookery books.

And he can't roast a chicken?!

"It always turns out differently every time," says the Kent-born, Cornwall-based chef, with a laid-back, self-deprecating laugh.

Don't be taken in; Outlaw can handle chicken, he just doesn't do carbon copy, identikit chickens - but when you're best known for your seafood, who cares?

His latest book then, Home Kitchen, is something of a detour. "I wanted to write a book that covered all the bases if you had no other cookery book - a book that had all the recipes you needed for life."

It features some fish, of course, but is also packed with nostalgic classics like toad-in-the-hole, soups, risottos, how to do a proper Sunday roast (yes, chicken included), plus desserts - including his daughter's sticky toffee pudding - which is to be expected when Outlaw's last-night-on-earth meal is, without question, trifle.

Throughout the writing process, he had his children (Jacob and Jessica) in mind, imagining the kind of cookbook they'll need when, eventually, they go off to university or college.

"If they took this one book," he says, "there'd be enough in there for them to survive."

It's a very tasty safety net too, considering that cooking is no longer taught comprehensively in schools.

Outlaw, 39, explains he's "fortunate enough to be old enough to have done cookery lessons at school", but says it's disappointing how children tend to get just a term of Food Technology classes each year now, and are rarely taught basic kitchen skills in detail.

"It's not really like it was," he muses. "We all have to eat to survive, so you need to eat well, it's a no-brainer really, but it seems to be something that's a little bit lost in schools now."

After honing his filleting skills alongside Gary Rhodes and Stein, at just 25 - an age that doesn't seem quite so young when you consider he was cooking for paying customers at 14 - Outlaw launched his first restaurant, The Black Pig. Within a year, he was also a first-time dad (to son Jacob) and the recipient of a Michelin star.

"It's a bit surreal at first," he says, recalling what it feels like to be awarded a star - his Port Isaac-based Restaurant Nathan Outlaw currently holds two, the only UK seafood restaurant to do so. "The thing with the whole Michelin process is that you don't know anything about it; you don't know when they've inspected, you can't talk to anyone - there's no feedback form or anything like that! So it's nice to know you've been recognised for what you're doing, but it's more for all the guys that work with me, because they work really hard to maintain a certain level."

According to online food publisher Great British Chefs' recent survey of 5,000 foodies, people are becoming increasingly adventurous when it comes to the foods and ingredients they're willing to try. Outlaw says he can definitely see that culinary confidence reflected in his restaurants (he's got four in the UK and one in Dubai).

"People are far more educated about food, they seem to want to know more about what's on the plate," he explains. "When I started cooking, you had your usual meat and fish, but now people would know what gurnard was, for example, they're quite happy eating mackerel next to something like turbot or cod. People are much more open."

However, while people are more experimental ordering off a menu, "there's a lot more work to be done at home".

"It's difficult, because I think sometimes people end up at fish counters and supermarket meat counters, and they go with the safe option they know. I do understand that," says Outlaw. "The excuse I used to get was, 'I can't eat any fish because I live in [landlocked] Oxford', or something like that, in middle England, but now you can get fish on your doorstep at home as quick as I can get it into my restaurant.

"The more education people get and the more they see different things being cooked, we'll start to see people eating other species of fish."

Not that he minds people scoffing the usual battered cod and chips though, and he happily admits: "I love fish fingers!"

But even a seafood virtuoso like Outlaw can can be fazed occasionally. "The most bizarre thing I've ever eaten is probably these really big frogs in Singapore," he remembers. "They were alive and they cut them up in front of you and then stir-fried them. It was a bit weird, although tasty - everyone always says it tastes like chicken, haha - but it was a bit odd that it was just plucked out of a little tank, then cut up and chucked into a wok.

"You didn't want to think about it too much!"

Keen to dive in and cook some fish? Try one of these Outlaw recipes at home...

GRILLED SARDINES WITH PAPRIKA MAYONNAISE

8 whole sardines

2tbsp of olive oil

Salt and pepper

For the mayonnaise:

2 egg yolks

1/2 lemon, juiced

200ml of olive oil

1 handful of French parsely (or flat leaf), finely chopped

1 handful of chives, finely chopped

1 handful of parsley, finely chopped

1tsp smoked paprika

Salt and pepper

For the pickled vegetables:

300g of shallots

300g of carrots

300g of red pepper

150ml of white wine vinegar

150ml of white wine

150g of sugar

150ml water

For the pickled vegetables, thinly slice the shallots, carrots and red pepper (discarding the core and seeds). Combine the vinegar, white wine and sugar in a bowl, add 150ml of water and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Add the vegetables, mix well and set aside to marinate for one hour at least.

To make the mayonnaise, whisk together the egg yolks, two teaspoons of the lemon juice and some salt and freshly ground black pepper in a bowl until smooth and creamy.

Add about two teaspoons of the oil and whisk vigorously to incorporate. Continue adding the oil very slowly in a thin stream, whisking continuously, until all the oil has been incorporated. Stir in the herbs and paprika to taste and set aside.

To cook the sardines, preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6, and heat a chargrill pan until very hot. Rub the sardines all over with the olive oil and season with salt and black pepper.

Cook the sardines for one minute on each side, or until browned, then transfer to a rack in the oven for a further four to five minutes, until cooked through. Alternatively, you could cook the sardines on the barbecue before finishing in the oven.

Place two sardines on each serving plate. Drain the pickled vegetables and pile them on the plates next to the sardines. Finish with a dollop of smoked paprika mayonnaise and serve.

BAKED POLLOCK WITH A CHEDDAR AND HERB CRUST

4 pollock fillets

75g of white breadcrumbs

1 garlic clove

4tbsp of parsley

1tbsp of dill

Salt and pepper

25g of butter, melted

50g of cheddar, finely grated

Olive oil

Preheat the oven to 220C/gas mark 7. Season the pollock with salt and pepper on both sides and lay skin-side down on a well-oiled baking tray.

Put the breadcrumbs, cheese, parsley, dill and garlic into a bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add the melted butter and mix well with a fork. Divide the mixture between the fillets and press on top of each piece in a thick, even layer.

Drizzle over a little olive oil and bake for 10-12 minutes (eight minutes per inch of fish thickness) or until the crust is crisp and lightly golden, and the fish is cooked through.

Lift onto warm plates and serve.

MACKEREL, TOMATO AND SAMPHIRE SALAD

2 mackerel fillets, gutted, filleted, pin-bones removed

4 slices of smoked streaky bacon, large dice

8 cherry tomatoes, halved

2 little gem lettuces, leaves separated

110g samphire

10 basil leaves, torn

Salt

Olive oil

For the tomato stock:

8 vine tomatoes, ripe and roughly chopped

2tbsp of white wine vinegar

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 tbsp of sugar

1 red chilli, de-seeded and chopped

Salt

For the mayonnaise:

3 free-range egg yolks

1tsp English mustard

1tsp white wine vinegar

300ml of light olive oil

50ml of double cream

For the tomato stock, place the tomatoes, vinegar, garlic, sugar and chilli into a bowl. Season with salt and stir until mixed. Spoon the tomatoes into a large piece of muslin cloth and hang over a bowl in the fridge for at least six hours or overnight. Reserve the liquid collected from the tomatoes.

For the mayonnaise, mix the egg yolks, mustard and vinegar together in a bowl until well combined. Slowly add in the olive oil until the mixture thickens and then whisk in the cream. Add 150ml of the reserved tomato stock to the bowl.

Pour the contents of the bowl into a saucepan over a low heat, whisk continuously until heated through. Allow to gently simmer.

Meanwhile, place a frying pan over a medium-high heat and add a dash of oil. Once the pan is scorching hot, add the bacon and fry until crisp, remove from pan. Add the mackerel fillets, skin-side down, add the bacon back to pan and cook for one minute.

Add the cherry tomatoes, drizzle with a little oil and a sprinkle with salt, cook for a further three to four minutes. Remove the mackerel and tomatoes from the pan and set aside.

Add the lettuce and samphire to the same pan and cook for one minute.

To serve, ladle the warm mayonnaise into the middle of the plate, add the bacon, tomato, and lettuce mixture on top. Finish with the mackerel and small drizzle of olive oil. Sprinkle the torn basil leaves and serve.

Recipes courtesy of Great British Chefs. For more inspiration, visit www.greatbritishchefs.com

Nathan Outlaw's Home Kitchen by Nathan Outlaw, photography by David Loftus, is published in hardback by Quadrille, priced £20. Available now

THREE OF THE BEST... Seafood utensils

Enamel Mussel Pot, currently reduced to £29.95 from £34.95 (cuckooland.com)

Sainsbury's Home BBQ Fish Grill, £6.25 (www.sainsburys.co.uk)

John Lewis Fish scaler, £6.50 (www.johnlewis.com)