Ben Quinn’s Open-fire English Breakfast Recipe
Let’s get one thing out of the way. There are some pretty unsavory stereotypes and assumptions out there about British food. The reality is, the country’s cuisine is more nuanced, diverse, and, importantly, delicious than it often gets credit for.
Come all ye skeptics to the pulpit of Ben Quinn. With his adventurous catering business Woodfired Canteen and community-focused brick and mortar outpost, simply called Canteen, Ben takes a thoughtful and loving approach to even the simplest dishes. A major component of his cooking is live fire. It’s here that the assumptions one might draw when first meeting Ben start to crumble.
Tall and broad, he cuts quite a figure, like the former rugby player he is. He’s often photographed with a hatchet in hand, given his preference for cooking over an open flame. For anyone else, these traits could form the kind cartoonish notion of masculinity Ben rejects. In an industry disproportionately dominated by men, his heroes are women—his current and former co-workers, his wife, the family members he spied on in the kitchen as a child.
The common thread is that everyone Ben looks up to embodies a trait he’s dubbed “quiet awesome.” It’s a modest form of badassery and a humble reverence for craft that stands in opposition to the self-important chest-thumping rampant in a generation of chefs often more focused on getting a TV deal than providing a service to their communities.
Another head fake comes when Ben says he’ll be teaching us how to make a traditional English breakfast. If you’re picturing bacon, blood sausage, eggs, toast, and beans like we were, you’re way off course. Instead, Ben walked us through how to make a kedgeree. Originally brought to the UK hundreds of years ago by British soldiers stationed in India, the dish has evolved and become a staple. Ben’s version includes wood-fire smoked mackerel, eggs, basmati rice, and plenty of curry powder (get the recipe for yourself below.) We dig in, the conversation cut off by full mouths, as we stare across the Atlantic Ocean from the rocky edge of Trevaunance Cove. Quiet. Awesome
Open-fire Smoked Mackerel Kedgeree:
(For 4 hungry people as a decent size breakfast)
• 8 fish filleted, v cut. Mackerel works for us.
• 200g of basmati rice
• 2 large onions
• 2 tbsp of your favorite curry powder
• a handful of raisins
• cider vinegar and olive oil to taste
• salt, sugar, and pepper for seasoning
• peas in the pod- around 200g
• 150g of overripe tomatoes
• A couple of hot chilies
• 4 or 5 boiled eggs
Ben’s method, in his words:
“Fire! Get it going! you want a nice combination of coals and smokey logs. I think a solid 30 mins of burn time will give you a steady bed to cook the rice and a few hand-sized logs put on just before you smoke the fish.
Start with the rice, you’ll need a heavy bottom pan with a tight-fitting lid. Get this hot but not smoking and add the rice, toast it for a few minutes and then add the oil and curry powder. stir this for a minute or so then cover with twice as much water than rice, pop the lid on and leave to simmer.
While the rice is going, position your fish on a grill and season up with salt.
Place the onions straight into the coals around the pot and turn every three minutes or so.
After 10 mins of the rice bubbling away add the pods of peas to the coals and let them char up. At the same time, you can start the tomatoes off by positioning them on logs that haven’t yet burned through. this can take a little patience! you want them to split and hiss but not burn.
Check the rice for doneness. if it has a slight bite, it is time to cook the fish. Simply place it straight on a combination of smoking wood and hot coals. get the skin going first and wait to see the flesh starting to cook through before you flip it. At this point remove the peas and put the tomatoes with the chili into a vessel with the cider vinegar, raisins, salt, and sugar.
Once the rice is done and the fish ready its time to bring it all together.
Stir the rice with lots of excellent olive oil, season it with salt and pepper. Take the charred onions and squeeze out the soft flesh into the rice. Flake the fish onto the rice and pop the peas and place on the dish along with 1/2s of the boiled egg. Finally, finish the dish with the tomato chutney mixture and a good glug of oil.”