Caroline O’Donoghue talks to Erskine about slow cooking,
- December 10, 2019
- carol adams
Caroline O’Donoghue talks to Erskine about slow cooking, slow cookers and the best drunk comfort food.
Even if you have been following Gizzi Erskine’s career for a few years, you might walk past her new book, Slow, without clocking it’s hers. Since her first book, Gizzi’s Kitchen Magic, in 2010 (plus her subsequent TV appearances on Channel 4’s Cook Yourself Thin and This Morning), Erskine’s face has hardly ever fallen out of the UK food scene. Her distinctive beehive, cat-eye and rockabilly style have led her to being billed as everything from “the punk Nigella” (although, food-wise, she’s closer to Delia) to “the missing sartorial link between Lily Allen and Pearl Lowe”. You get so used to seeing pictures of Erskine that picking up Slow: Food Worth Taking Time Over comes as a surprise. Chiefly, because there’s no evidence of her trademark beehive, at all. The tasteful illustrations picked out in blue and white seem to subtly communicate one thing: that we are ushering in a new era of Erskine.
“I don’t want to be inhibited by the fact that I was once on telly,” says Erskine, who makes it clear that she is the driving force behind this shift away from using her image. “I’ve gone into the media, I’ve been recognised for various things, and we can’t take away the fact that I have a certain look. But I guess the feminist side of me said, ‘you know what, I’m more than all of this. I’m really good at my job’.”
“And look, I created a lot of these problems for myself,” she says, knowingly. “I’m not having a pop at the media. This is me saying: this is part of who I was. I do have an interesting look. I do love rock ’n’ roll. I’ve put myself in a position where that’s what’s been more important than other things, or taken precedence over my talent. But I feel like I’ve proven myself with all the other stuff I’ve achieved, particularly the writing.”
With this very deliberate re-brand, it feels very fitting that her new book is filled with roasts, ramens and ragus. It’s up to its neck in stews and puddings, an absolute bible of comfort eating. In other words, the brown food that has fallen by the wayside for not having the same Instagrammable cachet as a lilac macaroon or a bowl of poke.
“But isn’t that the best food!” she says, passionately. “And I see beauty in it. You take a piece of ox cheek and you get that lovely sticky sauce that lacquers over and becomes really shiny.”
“But I get it. We’re in that world where punchy colours and vibrancy are what translates really well on camera. I worked as a food writer for a long time, so I’ve always been interested in food trends. I know how to make something ping on a plate. But it’s not about it looks, it’s how it tastes.”
From the get-go, Erskine is clear that these are not quick or even necessarily easy recipes. In fact, she’s a bit sick of the fascination with “quick and easy” within food culture.
There’s often this thing where people feel like the great British public aren’t capable of technique. Fuck that, it’s not the truth
“I was getting asked all the time to do ‘quick and easy’ recipes. I was just like: you know what, I really enjoy cooking. I really enjoy the process of cooking. I enjoy buying ingredients. I enjoy the quality of ingredients. Why are people so obsessed with this need for speed?”
“I get it, we’re all very busy, we all want to have more time on our hands. But I love to cook. Spending time, making a stew, making a ragu for pasta. And you know what, the best thing about making a ragu is making really delicious fresh pasta to go with it. Really challenging ourselves. There’s often this thing where people feel like the great British public aren’t capable of technique. Fuck that, it’s not the truth. Let’s not patronise people. This is the food that the great British public was brought up on, actually, and I may be adding in a few more interesting techniques or whatever but this is the stuff that most of us grew up with. Even chefs.”
With that admission, I bashfully tell Erskine that my slow cooker has been collecting dust for a year. Like so many people, I could never quite get my slow-cooker food to taste like anything other than thin gravy, and it takes up too much counter space for it to live anywhere but the cupboard. In fact, sometimes I forget I even own one.
“God, but people swear by them!” she says, in surprise. “The second I started telling people about this book, people went mad, there’s that much of a slow-cooker movement. You just put everything in, go to work, come home and your dinner’s ready. The slow cooker is a great way of working cooking around modern life. There is a bit of an underground subculture of slow cookers. They’re very cool, and a lot of cool people are using them.”
Still unconvinced, I instead ask Erskine about food territory I’m more comfortable with. Namely, sandwiches and drunk food.
“The best sandwich is an egg mayo. But you’ve got to have it with capers, watercress, loads of black pepper and loads of mayonnaise,” she says, and there’s a slight pause as she registers my silent disbelief. I’m pretty sure she can hear me thinking – egg mayo? Who picks egg mayo as their best sandwich?
“But I also love a sausage sandwich with really cheap bread, a thick layer of butter, and ketchup and brown sauce.”
For my final question, I ask Erskine the only food question I truly care about: it’s 2am, you’re a bit pissed but not so pissed that you’re going to get a kebab. What do you make yourself?
“Oh, my God, you know what I’m going to have? A Pot Noodle thing. Well no, not a Pot Noodle, but one of those lovely Shin Cups? Something like that. And I might put a poached egg in there and some kimchi, some spring onions and sesame seeds.”
“Christ,” I say, more impressed with this than the egg-mayo incident from earlier on. “That sounds great.”
“Oh! And a bit of parmesan cheese!”