Ahead of his upcoming demo, Ed Smith tells us why it’s high time side dishes stepped into the limelight
I think we should take a different approach to the way we plan and think about mealtimes.
Specifically, we should pay the sides more attention, rather than focus only on a show-stopping butcher’s cut or prize catch from the fishmonger.
We can do this in three ways.
The first is to begin with the trimmings. Instead of spending all your brain power on what’ll go in the middle, use the sides to inspire the rest of your cooking. This is actually a much more freeing way of doing things. The assortment of green leaves, vegetables, fruits, grains and pulses available to us now is immense—almost never ending—and these ingredients change with the season, so there’s always something new to inspire.
Moreover, you can do a great deal more with vegetables than you can with protein: the flavour and texture of kale or potatoes, even, can vary massively depending on how you treat them. Chicken, on the other hand, always tastes like chicken.
One stop shop
Try, then, heading straight for a side dish and seeing what happens after that. At my demo next week, I’ll do this with judión beans from Brindisa, which I’ll mix with the first of summer’s courgettes and a simple Kalamata olive tapenade. This side is pretty much a one stop shop (though I suppose some crisp gem lettuce or peppery rocket would go well alongside) and to me provokes thoughts of simple pan-fried white fish, oily pink fish, or perhaps poached chicken breasts.
My second suggestion for paying the sides more attention is precisely that: just think about the accompaniments a bit more! Of course, there are times when that slow-braised beef shin or baked sea bass are foremost on your mind. But your whole meal will benefit from those things being served next to well-chosen side dishes. Match the sides to your centrepiece, and never neglect them.
So for the demo, I’ve already decided I’m keen for an onglet steak (it is a Wednesday lunchtime, after all), but I’d like to match that with some interesting and complementary, yet still relatively easy, side dishes. Which means a simple romesco sauce and new season potatoes with pickled samphire and sorrel.
The third way to re-think things is to ponder whether, in fact, side dishes are all you need. So many people’s response to my cookbook, On the Side, has been “I love side dishes—if I could only order those in a restaurant, I would.” And perhaps they’re right; the approach fits with an increasing preference or trend of small plates and mezze eating.
Traditional sides like caponata, ratatouille and cauliflower cheese are easily meals in their own right. To those I’ll add tomato tonnato—a ridiculously moreish, tomato-based version of vitello tonnato, which makes the fruit, rather than veal, the star of the show—just in time for summer.
I’m really looking forward to the demo and would love to see you there. There’s more about what makes a good side dish, plus 140 recipes, in my book On the Side: A sourcebook of inspiring side dishes, which is out now. Signed copies will be available at the demo.
Join Ed for tips, tastings and recipes on 7th June in the Market Hall, 12:30-2pm