There are a thousand and one recipes for flashy scrambled eggs. Scrambled eggs with asparagus, with salmon and probably with chicken tikka, god help us! But this is all meaningless is one cooks revolting scrambled eggs – and believe me, many do.

This is what scrambled eggs SHOULDN’T be:

* They should not resemble yellow cat litter
* They should not be in one solid chunk
* They should not run round the plate in a thin stream
* They should not have great lumps of white in them

All of these I should not have been served over the years, and yet I have found all these and many more worse examples placed in front of me.

This is what scrambled eggs SHOULD be:

* Soft
* Slightly creamy
* Warm
* Fresh

And it really is not very difficult to do – so read on.

For one person:

  • 2 or 3 eggs
  • Knob of unsalted butter
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Pinch of Parsley
  • 1 tbs Double (Heavy) cream at room temperature – optional

Break the eggs into a bowl and remove any stray bits of eggshell – well, you don;t want your guest hitting you, do you?

With a fork (not a whisk, or an electric anything, or some special device from the telly, just a fork!) beat the living daylights out of the eggs so they are properly mixed and just a little bubbly. Give them a quick grind of salt and pepper. Note, make sure the pepper is not too chunky!

Take a small non-stick saucepan or frying pan and heat to medium heat. Add the knob of unsalted butter and spin round the pan quickly till mostly melted but still butter colour – err on the side of not melted enough rather than burn the poor stuff. Add the eggs and with a wooden spoon get stirring – gently.

Note I said stirring, NOT beating! Being violent with your eggs will turn them to cat litter very quickly. What you are looking for is a just set state. In an ideal world you get this so right that there is no reason what so ever to add the cream. Part of the trick here is not to cook the eggs too hot – that will give you a thick omelette rather than soft and creamy eggs.

Once you have got them slightly softer than you want them, take the pan off the heat. If you want to use the cream, add a small splash now and stir in. Turn the eggs out onto a warmed plate and serve. If you get it right, the time it takes to get to the table should have finished the eggs off beautifully.

Eat with a fork and try not to make over satisfied slurping noises.

Tonight while in London I had the interesting experience of going to a Nandos outlet in Victoria. We were on our way to see Billy Eliot, a most interesting show which I should talk about, but not here. Victoria is being reconditioned, to say the least, and the new glass towers are home to an assortment of the chain restaurants that are all but taking over our towns. Companies such as Zizzis, Bella Italia, various Mexican outlets and, or course, Nandos. The sudden growth of these kinds of food outlets could be explained in several ways, but certainly they are trying to fill a space between MacDonald’s and the high quality independents. But are they doing more than that?

The one thing that is fast becoming obvious is that many people from our islands really would not know good food if you banged them round the face with it. Instead they rely on being told what counts as good food – erm, by the retailer.

So, Nandos boast on their menu that all their chicken is grade or class A – wow! But what does that mean?

The A/B Classification of chicken refers to what the dead bird looks like. A Class A chicken should have a good shape with no broken bones and very little blemishes or bruising.

  • Can it be injected with water? Yes.
  • Can it be bred in cramped conditions? Yes.
  • Can it be factory produced? Yes.
  • Can it come from a low quality hibred breed? Yes.
  • Can it be tasteless? Yes.

And this is all possible because the grading or classing is to do with the PHYSICAL quality of the carcass only. all the cheap chicken you buy in Tescos, you know that stuff that tastes like blotting paper, that is class A.

This is a story that is true right across the restaurant world. More and more chains are opening up, often themed like Nandos, but what they are serving is not the authentic, loved cuisine from a region of the world, but a mass produced, sanitised version.

A couple of days ago we dined at the new Sam and Maxies in Milton Keynes – in one of the newer districts of the town centre. Apart from the fact that the service was awful, the ribs were dry, the calamari would have made one of those rubber super balls look useless and fries were dead on arrival. A chap across the Aisle sent his squid back, and I don;t blame him.

The trouble with these places is they are “cooking by numbers” formula food. Much of the food like sauces, some of the cuts, etc is prepared centrally. The cooks then have to assemble the food using instructions. They need little training for this, they just have to do it.

The trouble is, when it does not go perfectly to plan there is no fully trained, highly experienced chef to solve the problem, or even spot the problem – and it goes out as rubbish. Often quite expensive rubbish.

We tried Giraffes a few weeks ago. I went for the scrambled eggs and smoke salmon which was rather nice. The others went for the hamburgers costing 8 pounds. I tried a little. It was not quite as good as the hamburgers I make at home out of cheap minced beef – though it was more salted.

Even Wagga Mamas, one of the more reputable chains, falls for the same tricks. I had one of their curries at one time. (Later I saw the chap get the pre-packed curry sauce out of the fridge!) You could taste the powdery texture of less than fresh spices in the curry sauce, which is quite unacceptable. But this curry cost the best part of £10.

These outlets are invading our shopping malls, airports and town centres. They will pay way over the odds for premises and pay months in advance making them very popular with local planners and at the same time, driving out the independents. If we blame Wimpy and McD’s and others for lowering the culinary tone of our high streets, these abominable outlets are finishing the job.

We are turning into a nation of the bland, and we are just letting it happen.

cheeseshopFor a rat who has short legs and no recourse to a driving licence, the proximity of food supply is possibly more critical than to other critters. In my case, if I do not have a close and regular supply of cheese I will starve! No, I will! Really! Cheese is life blood to rats and mices. It defines the reason for our existence, and keeps us close by. All right, I admit it is a bit of a luxury and too much is probably not such a good thing, but the short legs argument still counts. So it is with deepest depression that I witness how local food supply is shutting down in favour of the not-so-local supermarket.

This is course nothing new. The Supermarket has been a leech on our society for many years now, though I believe it is only recently that we have really been starting to sit up and take notice.

The supermarkets are businesses, first and formost. They exist to make money for their owners, just as any other business is. They are not there for the benefit of society, or their employees for that matter. And nor should they be – that is not their roll. But there is also an argument that says that when a business grows so big that it is able to manage society, that it automatically has a duty to protect that society.

From 3 inches up, the idea of protection if formost in a rat’s mind. Like a little business, we can’t battle those that are bigger than ourselves, we can but dodge. And although it is nice to think that if all us rats got together we could stand on each others shoulders and nip someone in the nose, in reality we would be too busy squabling for it ever to happen.

Supermarkets are that big person, but they pay but lipservice to the idea of responsibility – as do all big businesses. Today there is the statistic that the number of petrol stations in the UK has just fallen below the level of 1912. One of the main reasons for this is the growth in supermarket petrol. Now, why, one wonders, would a food store wish to sell petrol? Cheap petrol at that. Is it because it is a good and beneficial service to their customers? Is it another way to make moeny by being in competition with more traditional petrol stations?

Well, no and no. Supermarkets make suprisingly little money from the supply of petrol and it is arguable whether people were desperately short of petrol before the supermarkets came along. So why do they do it?

Supermarkets succeed for two main reasons – convenience and the lack of competition. Food supply is, for obvious reasons, vital to people, and rats. When you are as small as a rat you have trouble with the idea of being any smaller! Supermarkets offer a great convenient way of getting all your food at one hit – and that is very attractive to people, especially if they have a car. However, many people, and this includes carless ones like rats, also like wandering around their local high street. It is a nice thing to do and you get the opportunity of being selective – especially if you have more than one of anything, like two butchers, two greengrocers, etc.

Now, that is a nuisance to a supermarket. Because of thier physical size and need for loads of parking, they dont squeeze into the local high street very well. So, their only recourse is to close the high street down. How do you do that? You compete with services outside of your initial remit so that people have less and less choice but to come to you. And petrol is a perfect target. Undercut the local petrol stations and people have one more reason that they HAVE to come onto your site. Now all you have to do is to reduce the price even further if they spend money in your store and you have them.

So next time a supermarket boss or Kevin Hawkins form The British Retail Consortium tells you that it is a Myth that supermarkets are killing off local retailers and therefor your high street, take a look around and come to your own opinion.

Oh, by the way, the BRC has a section on their website about “Influencing Goverment.” They include this scary image to show how influential they really are. You know, we let them get this powerful!

Scary image from the BRC

I have to admit that as a fish lover I am not immediately attracted to the idea of fish and chips. Over the years I have tried it from time to time and, despite people telling me that “this is the best chippy ever,” have found the food tasteless, greasy and an insult to almost all marine life!

I like my fish to taste of fish, not batter. I like potatoes to have texture, not soaked in fat. And curry sauce makes me want to hide in the Amazon jungle.

However, there is a time when fish and chips should be appropriate and a recent visit to Southend-On-Sea seemed to pretty much fill the requirement.

I had been a warm day, not too hot, and we had doen the pier, a bit of the ammusements, paddled in the mud and whatched the tide come in – and it moves at a fair old speed too!

Now seemed the time to brace ourselves for the fish supper. Walking along the sea front, my nostrils were assaulted by the stench of over hot fat, sticky batter and cheap vinegar. Several times we stopped by a Fish and Chip stall, only to be scared off by the thick, battery portions that we being hefted out by the diners. And at an average of nearly £6 for a small portion, we were going off the idea rapidly.

Heading west past the pier (slowly being rebuilt after the fire in 2005) we thought we had run out of shops till we noticed this place called Marriots.

This quiet little restaurnant and takeaway had nothing immediately to recommend it other than the fact that it seemed to be surviving on a quiter part of the sea front. The menu was the normal mix of fish and chips, dodgy roast dinners, burgers, pies and mugs of tea. Again, nothing to go on. But we were hungry, the clouds were smothering out the sunshine and we needed to make a descision.

“4 small cod and chips please!”

Fist thing we noted was that the chap went to the frier, pulled out 4 fresh fillets of cod, battered them immediately and fried them in fotn of us. The next thing we notices was that his price was nearly half that of the rubbish we have witnessed the other side of the pier.

This was a little more promising.

And the promise was born out. The batter was crisp and delicate. The fish was fresh and definitely fish! And the chips were fluffy and dry.

It was delightful, and so far from that rubbish that most people think is “good honest fish ‘n’ chips.”

So, if you are in Southend, or fancy the trip, get your self to Marriots! You will love it!