Making food much more fun

Undated Handout Photo of Anne Burrell. See PA Feature FOOD Burrell. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Handout. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature FOOD Burrell.
Undated Handout Photo of Anne Burrell. See PA Feature FOOD Burrell. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Handout. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature FOOD Burrell.

DELICIOUSLY fun American chef Anne Burrell is currently appearing on the Food Network channel. The wild-haired cook tells Sarah O’Meara how to set the culinary bar a little higher when cooking at home

WITH her mane of white, fluffy hair, loud voice and red Christian Louboutin heels, American chef Anne Burrell seems rather more rock ‘n’ roll than your average TV chef.

With a background in Italian cooking, she loves to laugh her head off in the kitchen while simultaneously whipping up a three-course meal.

Sadly, after a case of food poisoning, the former top chef-turned-presenter sounds somewhat growly on her second morning in Britain, but the voice only adds to her cool persona.

Burrell explains her style of foodie TV, soon to be broadcast for the first time on Food Network UK, is a little different to the “stand and stir” format of many chef-driven food shows.

“I think I bring a fun perspective. I’m a little bit rock and roll, but I also want to have fun with cooking. I encourage people to be less uptight in the kitchen,” says the 41-year-old.

It’s true she seems utterly relaxed on camera, giggling and laughing as she plunges her hands into bowls of meat to produce delicious-looking meatballs, while describing in a twangy East Coast drawl just how much fun she’s having.

“I like to teach people why they do things, not just how, so they learn something without knowing they’re being taught.”

On her show, Secrets Of A Restaurant Chef, Burrell reveals the concise, easy-to-master techniques of a top-level chef – the skills which first came to the public’s attention six years ago when she was asked by top chef Mario Batali to join him on Iron Chef America as a sous chef.

The show, which is based on a Japanese cult programme and is a huge phenomenon in the States (and growing in popularity here), puts chefs to the test.

In each episode, top chefs have one hour to cook and improvise a multi-course meal, and Burrell says the contestants’ commitment is intense.

“Batali asked me to be on his team and appear on TV for the first time on that show, which was wild and it scared me.

“Afterwards you just see yourself on film and think, ‘I look gross, I sound gross’. Yep, I was totally freaked out. Then Food Network came to me about doing my own show... and well, when the producers come calling, you say, ‘Yes’ and try to forget your fears!”

In her own show, Burrell’s natural energy and happy-go-lucky demeanour bring basic dishes such as wild mushroom risotto to life, and she uses her own experience of high-end cooking at top restaurants in New York to help people translate their favourite restaurant experiences into amazing meals.

Currently focusing on filming new episodes while writing her first book, to be released this spring, Burrell says she doesn’t mind being manically busy.

“I’m fortunate to have found a field that satisfies me so completely and I’m eager to spend more time in the UK,” she says.

“The first thing I do when I visit is have fish and chips and mushy peas, and then treacle pudding with toffee sauce. I’ll then have dreams about the pudding! I’ve also had scotch eggs and meat pieces since I’ve been here. Oh my gosh ...”

Burrell believes the key to great cooking is to relax: “Make sure you’re in a place where you feel comfortable cooking. Food is like a dog, it smells fear.”

Here are two of Burrell’s recipes to try ...

Gulf shrimp jambalaya

(Serves 6-8)

900g medium gulf shrimp (prawns), peeled and deveined, shells reserved

Extra virgin olive oil

450g andouille sausage, cut into rounds

2 green peppers, seeded and cut into 1/4in dice

3 ribs celery, cut into 1/4in dice

1 Spanish onion, cut into 1/4in dice

Sea salt

Pinch crushed red pepper

3 cloves garlic, smashed and finely chopped

800g tinned diced tomatoes

1tsp cayenne pepper

250g long-grain rice

2 fresh bay leaves

1 bundle fresh thyme

5 spring onions, whites and greens thinly sliced, for garnish

FOR the shrimp stock: toss the shrimp shells in a large pot and fill with water. Bring the water to a boil, turn off the heat and let sit for at least 15 to 20 minutes, although longer is fine. Strain the shells and discard.

Coat a large, wide pot with olive oil and bring to medium-high heat. Add the andouille and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the sausage starts to brown. Add the peppers, celery, and onion to the pan, season with salt and a pinch of crushed red pepper. Cook for 7 to 8 minutes, or until the mixture has softened and is very aromatic. Toss in the garlic and cook for 2 to 3 more minutes. Add the tomatoes and cayenne. Stir in the rice.

Add 1 litre of the shrimp stock, bay leaves, and thyme bundle. Season with salt and taste it to make sure you are on the way to something delicious. Cover and cook over medium heat for 25 minutes.

Stir in the shrimp and cook for another 5 to 7 minutes or until the shrimp turn pink. Serve garnished with chopped spring onions.

Apple and prune stuffed pork loin

(Serves 8)

Extra virgin olive oil

4 slices bacon, cut crosswise into lardons

1 small red onion, cut into 1/4in dice

Sea salt

2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2in dic

180g prunes, quartered

2 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves picked and finely chopped, divided

225ml brandy or Calvados

1 (1.3kg-1.8kg) boneless pork loin

250ml chicken stock

COAT a large saute pan lightly with olive oil. Add the bacon and bring the pan to a medium heat. When the bacon is crispy and has released a lot of fat, add the onions and season with salt. Cook the onions until they are soft and aromatic, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the apples, prunes, and half the chopped rosemary.

Cook the apples, stirring occasionally, until they start to soften, about 5 minutes. Pull the pan off the heat and add the brandy. Return to the fire and flambe, or let the alcohol just burn off. Remove from the heat and let cool.

Lay out a length of cling film about 2ft in length. Spoon the apple mixture onto the cling film and make a log down the centre that is about the same length as the pork loin.

Roll the cling film tightly around the apple mixture and twist at the ends to secure. The log should be about 1 inch in diameter.

Place the log in the freezer and let it freeze solid. This can and should be done ahead of time.

To stuff the pork: Insert a long, thin knife into the centre of one end of the pork loin; repeat this process at the other end.

Wiggle the knife back and forth to create a place big enough to accommodate your frozen stuffing log.

After cutting with the knife, you can use the handle of a long wooden spoon to make sure the incision goes all the way through the pork loin.

Preheat the oven to 190C.

Get the stuffing log from the freezer and remove the cling film.

Slide the stuffing log through the pork loin – it might need a little encouragement but it should go the length of the loin.

Season the outside of the pork generously with salt and sprinkle it with the remaining chopped rosemary.

Coat a roasting pan with olive oil and bring the pan to a high heat.

Add the pork to the pan and sear it on all sides until it is brown

Remove the pork to a plate and ditch the fat in the roasting pan.

Add the pork back to the pan and pour in the chicken stock. Place it in the oven for 25 to 35 minutes, depending on how you like your pork.

For pink meat, remove it from the oven when a meat thermometer reaches 54C. Turn it over halfway through the cooking time. Remove it from the oven, cover it with foil, and let it rest for 15 minutes before carving.

l Secrets Of A Restaurant Chef bis on weekdays on Food Network.