Like many chefs who suddenly found their income switched off when the UK was forced into lockdown, Simon Hulstone, chef-patron at Michelin-starred restaurant The Elephant in Torquay, turned to offering his customers takeaway dishes as a way of helping his restaurant survive the pandemic.
It hasn’t been easy – all of Hulstone’s staff are on furlough, meaning that the chef is the sole person in his kitchen – but he has managed to create a successful side business that does an impressive 300 covers a week.
“Takeaway was something I’d never planned to do, it was out of necessity,” he says. “You have to adapt and overcome. It’s bringing in vital cash that we need for when we look at reopening, whenever that may be.”
The Elephant has been producing two-course meals that while Hulstone says are not quite restaurant quality, are not far off the mark. Recent menus have featured assiette of Iberico Pork with roasted apple, crispy potato terrine and cashew coleslaw, with a steamed lemon curd sponge pudding and Devon strawberry coulis; and new season lamb and rosemary steamed pudding served with pease pudding, glazed carrots and crispy sage and a dessert of elderflower and lemon trifle, pistachio custard and raspberry gel.
Hulstone prepares the dishes on the day which are then available for pick up from the restaurant. “It’s a little bit soul destroying serving food in plastic containers,” he admits. “You look at pretty pictures on Instagram and it’s never going to look pretty in a container. But people are going home and taking photos of it and saying ‘look were a Michelin starred chef for the day’ and it’s heart-warming.”
Frozen at sea fish
As part of Hulstone’s dish creations in lockdown, he has been using Norwegian frozen at sea fish, which he says offers him both the quality and the flexibility he requires in these uncertain times. He has developed two dishes using Norwegian frozen at sea fish – one using cod, the recipe for which appears on the opposite page, and one using haddock, the recipe for which will feature in a later issue.
“A lot of chefs probably wouldn’t use frozen at sea fish,” he says. “The misconception is you get this soggy mess when you defrost it. But the reason you get that is because people defrost it incorrectly.”
Norwegian frozen at sea fish comes already portioned, filleted and boned. All that is required, says Hulstone, is to take as many frozen portions as you need and place them in a tray in a fridge for at least 12 hours or overnight so that they gradually thaw – a process he calls tempering. Under no circumstances should chefs run the fish under cold water, he counsels. When the fish is fully tempered, it will be indistinguishable from a non-frozen piece of fish, he says.
“The fish is quick frozen at sea within hours of it being caught so it is fantastically fresh. The quicker it’s frozen the less ice particles get into the fish.”
While The Elephant is located by the water, Hulstone says he has no problem with sourcing some of the fish he uses in the restaurant from Norway’s pure, clear waters. “We eat absolutely tons of cod and haddock, and a third comes from Norwegian waters. We’re a massive consumer of Norwegian seafood and don’t realise it. And it’s sustainable, which is also massive for me.”
The frozen element of the fish is also ideal for the restaurant’s takeaway service. “At the moment, for me doing takeaways, I don’t know how many covers I’m going to be doing so this sits perfectly for me,” he says.
“I never know if I’m going to get deliveries from my fishermen, so this sits in the freezer and I’ve got multiple options. I can take out as many or as little as I need to, so if I get 60 orders, I can take out the equivalent fillets from my freezer. I’m not wasting anything, I know the portion size is perfect, and it’s cost effective.”
Hulstone has used Norwegian frozen at sea cod for his first dish, which he describes as hinting of the transition from spring into summer. The simple preparation sees Norwegian cod simply pan-fried and then served with fresh spring vegetables.
For more information on Seafood From Norway click here
Pan-roasted Norwegian cod, pea sauce, asparagus and potato gnocchi
Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 15 mins
2 fillets of Norwegian frozen at sea cod (scaled and pinboned)
1kg peas for sauce
Salt to season
1 bunch asparagus
100g fresh peas
50g wild garlic
500g fresh potato gnocchi
1 Temper the fish. Place the frozen fish fillets onto a tray and place in the fridge and leave overnight or for 12 hours. Do not run the fish under water.
2 Take the defrosted fish and remove any bones. Slice it into a good sized portion with the skin on. Cook it in a pan for four to six minutes depending on its thickness until the skin in crispy. Set aside and leave to rest.
3 Blanch the fresh peas and asparagus in salted boiling water for a few minutes.
4 To make the pea sauce make a caramel with the sugar, add the butter allow to brown. Add half peas and the cream and then blend with a hand mixer. Add the rest of peas, blend the mixture again and then pass it through a sieve. Season the sauce to taste.
5 In a pan, heat a few knobs of butter and cook the fresh gnocchi for a two to three minutes, until golden brown, seasoning with salt and pepper.
6 Thinly slice the wild garlic. Add some butter and a splash of water to a pan, add the pre-blanched peas and asparagus and cook for about a minutes. Add the wild garlic and take the pan off the heat.
7 Place the gnocchi in a bowl and top with the cooked spring vegetables. Pour on the pea sauce and then
place the cod on top. Add a squirt of lemon juice and a drizzle of lovage oil and serve.