Any modern pub landlord who wants to please his customers stocks an eclectic range of moreish morsels. Alexandra Henton gets her teeth in training. And follow our best bar snacks recipes to recreate these brilliant bites at home
A pint in one hand calls for a moreish morsel in the other. A modern pub landlord who knows how to please his customers will have an excellent stock of bar snacks to hand. Alexandra Henton takes to the stool and picks the best bites.
If a brew has come to hand rather than a pint, read The Field’s essential guide to afternoon tea. We have the best spots in town and in the country. Or follow our simple recipes for serving tea in a farmhouse kitchen after a day in the field. Or follow our best bar snacks recipes to enoy these moreish morsels at home sans stool.
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Enjoy the best bites to have with a pint in the comfort of your own home with The Field’s best bar snacks recipes. No need to venture to the pub after a long day in the field. Set up camp by the Aga, pint in one hand, something delicious in the other. Or package up and snack on the hill, in the pigeon hide or at the point-to-point picnic.
THE BEST BRITISH BAR SNACKS
Every time you raise a glass of something hoppy in one hand it engenders a desire to scrabble for something equally appealing with the other. It used to be a scampi fry, a jar of whelks or even a buxom wench. But either they no longer hit the mark or are less sanguine. So choose from the growing assortment of great British goodies available next time you place your order at the bar.
Traditionally, anything piggy- or potato-based has partnered a pint at the pub. And no one is keener on both than Rupert Ponsonby, co-founder of Mr Trotter, purveyor of pork scratchings. “The pig passion began on my wedding day. My mother-in-law thought that flowers were a waste, so bought us eight piglets instead,” says Ponsonby. The other founders, Tom Parker Bowles and Matthew Fort, worked on Market Kitchen and repaired to the pub after filming for a pint and a packet of scratchings. “That was where we realised that although crisps had moved on, pork scratchings had definitely not. We wanted a scratching that didn’t just taste of fat and hardness but definitely of pig, British pig. And could be eaten without losing any teeth,” Ponsonby says.
It took six months to find the right sort of pigs and someone who shared their passion for gastronomy to produce the scratchings in the Black Country, home of the crackling snack. About 95% of the scratchings produced in Britain are from Danish bacon. And Continental porkers are not covered by the same strict standards as their British brethren.
“Working out how to create a scratching with a different texture was a challenge,” says Ponsonby. “But we stuck at it, with great results. We cook and dry ours three times.” This gives a lighter scratching, almost popped, with none of the claggy fattiness, sometimes piquant with monosodium glutamate, that I have often found lurking in a bag. Mr Trotter’s come in three flavours: original, mustard and jalapeño chilli. Ponsonby, who once curated a seven-course pork scratching menu (using them to top a fish pie is a novel idea) is partial to the mustard. “But it depends on your mood,” he confides. “They go particularly well with Mr Trotter’s beer, too”.
“The most important thing is that we make a very, very good packet of crisps,” says Alex Albone of Pipers Crisps. A Lincolnshire potato farmer keen to diversify after foot and mouth, Albone joined forces with two other farmers to found the company. “We started making crisps on Good Friday, 9th April, 2004,” he says. “There seemed to be an opportunity around where food came from and after meeting David Lee-Wilson, who made sea-salt in Anglesey, producing a crisp that used his salt seemed the obvious thing to do.”
“We built a factory, learnt how to make crisps from some experts. And when they left we kept on learning,” he recalls. “We had a huge amount of local support and loyalty to begin with. It really helped.” Pipers now processes 3,500 tonnes of potatoes a year and its product can be found behind the bar of good pubs countrywide. The potatoes vary according to season. “At the moment we are using Taurus,” Albone says. “But we will use Rosetta, Lady Clare, Saturna and other varieties throughout the year. The most important thing is that we use the very best available, currently, from Cornwall in July and mostly from Lincolnshire and Yorkshire for the rest of the year.”
Originally, it was the provenance of the potatoes and flavourings that gave Pipers crisps their appeal. But it is taste that keeps the spuds spilling into packets. “Taste is everything,” confirms Albone. “Ten years on, provenance is part of so many brands. Even Lidl is doing provenance. Our most important factor remains the taste.” The crisps have a unique texture, less brittle than some and more tooth preserving than others. There are eight flavours and Albone is keen not to complicate things. “We sell our crisps to nice people. We have a great events team who are at Badminton, the Game Fair, CarFest and Burghley. And we’re stocked in Fortnum & Mason,” he says.
A PERSONAL TOUCH
Devon-based Burts, maker of potato chips, marked its 18th birthday on April Fool’s Day. What started in a railway siding is now a substantial factory exporting hand-cooked crisps from the south-west to 44 countries and a
substantial number of pubs. The company is proud of its Devon roots but making the best crisps remains its main preoccupation. “We believe in producing potato chips with real taste, proper crunch and made by real people,” says Simon Knight, the sales and marketing director.
The personal touch comes with every packet; the name of the fryer is stamped on each bag. “We use natural ingredients with strong provenance credentials and work closely with local suppliers from the south-west to create delicious and authentic seasonings,” says Knight. Burts is known for quirky flavours such as Firecracker Lobster. The flavouring for its Devon Roast Beef comes from The Well Hung Meat Company’s organic beef.
“Our customers like to supplement a bag of crisps with a well-pickled egg,” says Sue Tyley, founder of Purely Pickled Eggs. The retro snack is back, with Tyley and her team using British free-range eggs and well-concocted vinegar combinations. “Pickled eggs have been around for a long time,” says Tyley. “Charles I ate them and there was once a street in London called Pickled Egg Walk. It was the best thing to do with eggs in a time of glut.”
At university we frequented one of the less- salubrious pubs for its well-marinated seafood and eggs. My husband has even pickled his own on occasion; our colours are planted firmly in the pro-camp. “But it is an emotive subject” Tyley warns. “Pickled eggs are like Marmite. Love them or hate them.”
The company started two years ago and has had a great response from the show and festival circuit, pubs, farm shops and online. There are nine flavours and the new Posh Bites (quail’s eggs in champagne vinegar) are available this summer. Perfect for picnics. Sound as a starter, too.
SCOTCH EGGS: A PIGGY EXTERIOR AND RUNNY YOLK
For those who prefer a bar snack with a piggy exterior the Handmade Scotch Egg Company has cracked it. “No one else seemed to be making Scotch eggs when we started in 2003. My wife Penny and I would sell them at farmers’ markets, and meet excellent producers and get ideas for new varieties. It was important that all of the products we used were well sourced and the best quality avail-able,” says founder Neil Chambers.
Scotch eggs taste delicious whether you’re sitting in a bar or scoffing them on the stand at the Game Fair. Packed in a pocket they make a fine piece on the hill. “Our memorable Black Watch (black pudding) Scotch egg is the Game Fair best seller,” says Chambers. “People make a beeline for it. But we still make more classic originals than anything else.” The Scotch eggs are hand-cooked, no more than six in a fryer. “We produce 25,000 a week but still in an artisan way. And we won’t supply the supermarkets,” he says. You can find one of the 40 incarnations at any of 400 stockists nationwide.
BRITISH CHARCUTERIE AND POSH PEPPERAMI
If the eggy part holds little appeal stick to pure pork with Serious Pig’s salami. Company founder George Rice is evangelical about his “posh pepperami” and the British charcuterie industry. His snack revelation came while sitting in a pub in London contemplating a bag of nuts. “We were talking about British charcuterie, and everything just clicked into place,” says Rice. “It is unusual to find a product where you can’t buy a better version. But when we investigated snack salami that was very much the case.” Learning the complex art of charcuterie is a five-year process so Rice developed the product with Trealy Farm and Native Breeds’ Graham Waddington. “We didn’t want the final version too salty, like French charcuterie,” he says. The result is delectably moreish, although the added-chilli version requires a quick pint to quell the heat. “The explosion in craft breweries and craft beer goes hand in hand with the rise of British charcuterie. They make perfect partners,” Rice maintains.
Snackingham, Serious Pig’s newest product, is a pork biltong with a distinctly tangy flavour. The meat is not minced, as for salami, but diced then cured and seasoned and pushed into a casing, dried and sliced. “It’s like a very lean salami,” Rice says, “but it doesn’t have the sweet taste that comes from the fat in salami (you need 25% fat for a sweet salami). It has been a labour of love perfecting it but I have stuck with it as it is so damn good.”
Next time the landlord is pulling a pint of his finest take a good look at what is on offer behind the bar. The best pub proprietors will either be making the snacks themselves or stocking some well-sourced, well-produced, appetising alternatives.
Mr Trotter: www.mrtrotter.com
Pipers Crisp Co: www.piperscrisps.com
Burts Potato Chips: www.burtschips.com
The Handmade Scotch Egg Company: www.handmadescotcheggs.co.uk
Purely Pickled Eggs: www.purelypickledeggs.co.uk
Serious Pig: www.seriouspig.london
ARCHIVED CONTENT FROM 2012
Mike Robinson finds the best British bar snacks.
Many of us like to accompany an evening drink with a snack or two. The Spanish call these tapas; the French, hors d’oeuvres. We seem to be saddled with the word “nibbles”. Call them “bar snacks” instead and you tap into a much-loved yet underrated seam of British food. Food producers, food writers and chefs are celebrating bar snacks and raising their game.
Mr Trotter’s pork crackling came about because food writers and broadcasters Tom Parker-Bowles and Matthew Fort would repair to the pub after a day’s filming and muse over why pork scratchings were made from Danish pigs, raised with lower welfare standards than in Britain, and not half as good as they could be.
The duo teamed up with beer expert Rupert Ponsonby and a manufacturer in the Midlands, which is the home of this porky snack. Using British pigs and a different cooking method, Mr Trotter’s has been a hit since it launched last November. “Longer cooking transforms it from something that’s hard-topped with wet fat into something totally other,” says Ponsonby. “It’s not like a pork scratching but more like a Sunday roast.”
The crackling is sold online and at Selfridges, Fortnums, Harvey Nichols, around 50 pubs, 200 garden centres and the farm shop at Chatsworth House, where the Duchess of Devonshire is said to be a fan. You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear but you can turn her rind into an aristocrat’s snack. “The market is far bigger than anything we ever dreamt,” says Ponsonby. “The bizarre thing is the biggest new takers are women.”
Another classic Brit food making a welcome comeback is the Scotch egg. This has become a byword for nasty, chilled picnic food. But the dish has long and distinguished roots. It probably goes back to a mogul dish, nargisi kofta, or “Narcissus meatballs”. The Brits developed a taste for it in India and co-opted it, as with kedgeree and curry.
Gastropub chefs are now championing the freshly cooked Scotch egg, the outside crispy and the yolk slightly runny. Crucially, they are served warm or at room temperature rather than fridge-chilled.
A website, Forever Eggsploring, reviews Scotch eggs with forensic attention and a passion for bringing the dish back to its former glory.
Chef Richard Corrigan puts a salt-cod purée around his. Heston uses quail eggs and Japanese breadcrumbs. Others put grain mustard and herbs such as tarragon into the sausage mix.
One of the best Scotch eggs in London is found in The Harwood Arms, part-owned by Field food writer Mike Robinson. An acclaimed game specialist, The Harwood Arms uses trimmings from its venison dishes for the outside of its egg. “It’s one of those things that is very moreish and delicious if everything’s right,” says chef Barry Fitzgerald.
Also on the bar snacks menu are carefully pickled onions, cauliflower-cheese croquettes and honey-roast nuts with rosemary. Peanuts, they ain’t.
Greasy peanuts are a default snack but delicious home-roasted nuts are simple enough – you just have to take care they don’t burn. Put them in a single layer in the oven, shake them around often and take them out when they start to smell toasty.
There are some bar foods that you might think were beyond redemption. It takes quite a few pints before most of us want to dip into the pickled egg pot. But food writer Valentine Warner in his excellent book The Good Table even champions these. He puts them in a mix of malt and cider vinegar flavoured with bay leaves, peppercorns and juniper berries.
Which brings us to the final bastion of bar snackery: the crisp. Posh crisps are everywhere but one company using regional flavours in an interesting way is Kent Crisps.
Roast Beef and Spitfire Ale crisps incorporate the local Shepherd Neame brew, and the Sea Salt & Biddenden Cider Vinegar flavour makes use of another celebrated local producer’s tipple, while Ashmore Cheese & Onion gives a county spin on a classic combo. Most unusual is the Oyster & Vinegar using British shellfish extract in the flavouring.
The crisps were launched to help raise money for Quex Park, an estate just west of Margate, where the potatoes are grown and where a museum showcases the game trophies of Major Percy Powell-Cotton and other family collections of archaeology, weapons and ceramics.
It’s all a very long way from those packets of plain crisps with the little blue twist of salt.