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Making the credit crunch tasty

PUBLISHED: 14:43 10 July 2008 | UPDATED: 15:18 20 February 2013

Everyone's minds are turning towards saving money...

Everyone's minds are turning towards saving money...

Celebrity chef Tony Tobin reveals how you can still eat fresh, healthy produce without breaking the bank

Celebrity chef Tony Tobin reveals how you can still eat fresh, healthy produce without breaking the bank

If you visit Europe at this time of year, you'll find that every city is sprinkled liberally each morning with people studying their morning paper while sipping the black, pungent espressos of their favourite pavement cafés. The air is full of the swoosh of steam from Gaggia coffee machines, the singsong of 'mercis' and 'pregos' and the rustle of newsprint. This daily media consumption is an expansive activity, usually taking up most of the reader's round silver table as well as their available brain space.

We don't see this phenomenon nearly so much in England. Maybe it's the lack of pavement cafés - although you wouldn't guess it from the way that the coffee franchise juggernaut is rolling inexorably through the towns of Surrey at the moment. I saw a headline on a billboard in Reigate recently that contained the simple headline: 'Coffee war'.

Wow - sounds serious. I don't want to be in the way when the foaming skinny lattes start flying in that particular conflict. Anyway, my view is that the reason we don't see many people reading newspapers - as they take a well-earned break from the front line in the battle of Frappuccino Hill - is simply that the news is too bad.

Has your credit been crunched? Has your Northern been rocked? Has your Darling stripped off your 10p band before wantonly ruffling your tax credits? Yes, whichever way you look at it, we're officially hard-up at the moment and with every headline heralding financial doom and gloom, it's no wonder our coffee tables are newspaper free! So, the big question for me this month (as I step seamlessly into the role of a Robin Hood chef trying to protect the food on your table) is this: once the government has had its way with your hard-earned readies, what are the best ways to fend off the kitchen bailiffs?

I will start by passing on a chef's secret: but only if you promise that it is strictly between you and me. One of the most fulfilling parts of any chef's work is creating dishes on a tight budget. I have said before in this column that the easiest way to be sure of great food is to buy the very best ingredients and keep it simple. That will always be true but if a middle fillet of beef is out of your price range right now, don't despair. A much more economical cut can form the basis of a rich, tasty and succulent dish so long as you're prepared to put some effort in.

Contrary to most people's expectations, cuts like 'shin of beef' actually have far more flavour locked inside them than your typical sirloins and ribeyes. The quid pro quo, however, is that the meat needs more cooking time to achieve tenderness and release its taste. It can't simply be pan fried and served up as you would a fillet - it needs braising or softening in a rich casserole. To mix a sporting analogy, a steak is like a tennis player who can achieve glory alone but a shin or a pork belly is like a rugby prop forward who needs a whole team of sauces and veg to attain greatness.

For chefs, bringing out flavour on a budget is part of the alchemy of cooking - and we love it much more than just turning a steak over in a pan! I have introduced a set menu for £19.50 at both of my restaurants in Reigate and Banstead. It changes every fortnight and doesn't feature fillet steak or suckling pig but I get huge enjoyment from finding ways to tease fantastic flavours out of quality, middle-priced cuts of meat and untrendy fish so that people can get real taste sensations from three courses that cost less than £20 a head.

Naturally, when it comes to cooking on a budget, meat is not the be-all and end-all. With your veg, you can make substantial savings by buying produce that is in season rather than courgettes that have been flown in from Australia so we can all believe that everything is available all year round. To become a good veg shopper, don't go into town with a recipe in your head and then buy all the ingredients you need. Half might be out of season. Go to a greengrocer or supermarket and buy the good value in-season veg and then build your meal around them. I suspect that this approach could cut most families' non-meat grocery bill in half each month - but at the same time, your family will be more likely to be eating locally sourced and environmentally sound food that is often very tasty too.

In short, tomorrow morning when you're not reading the depressing headlines and the Bank of England is secretly swapping your mortgage for government bonds, don't get too down. When it comes to food, you can still eat like a prince when times are tight so long as you're prepared to shop around and leave your oven on a little longer.

Tony's magical marinade

This month's question comes from Sarah in Surbiton who has cheered me up with the perfect early summer question. She has asked me for my favourite marinade to use with barbecued stuff. Well, this is a recipe for an amazing marinade I use that features - believe it or not - apricot jam! It is absolutely delicious and can be used with chicken, pork, lamb and even fish. My only warning to you when barbecuing is to cook until you are absolutely sure it's cooked all the way through. It's too easy to eat sausages that look blackened on the outside but are near enough raw on the inside to poison you. Better to enjoy your summer with a little bit of carbon between your teeth than spend a week in bed!

How to make it ...

l 3 cloves garlic (crushed)
l 1 bayleaf
l 1 tsp fresh thyme
l 1 whole red chilli
l 1 tsp turmeric
l 1 tbsp paprika
l 1 tsp cayenne
l 2 tsp ground cumin
l 2 tsp ground coriander
l 2 large tbsps apricot jam
l 6 dried apricots
l Juice of 3 lemons
l Salt and pepper


  • Probably the simplest method that has ever appeared here!
  • Just place all ingredients for the marinade into a food processor and whizz on full speed until smooth.
  • Then plaster your raw meat with it and leave it in the fridge, preferably at least overnight, to let the flavour soak in.
  • Make sure the meat you are using is not too thick - lots
  • of surface area is important to anything being marinated.

Tony Tobin has been a regular on the BBC's Ready Steady Cook for over a decade and runs two acclaimed restaurants in Surrey: The Dining Room in Reigate and POST in Banstead.


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