Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall reveals diet recipes to make meat a treat

Make meat a treat: Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall reveals how to reinvent your diet with a string of mouth-watering recipes

Reducing my meat intake — which I began to do about a decade ago — was, in hindsight, one of the key steps to where I am today: enjoying a diet full of fruit, veg and good wholefoods, writes TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

Reducing my meat intake — which I began to do about a decade ago — was, in hindsight, one of the key steps to where I am today: enjoying a diet full of fruit, veg and good wholefoods.

But let me be clear: you can still eat better forever even if you choose to keep meat on the table. Select meat carefully and make eating it less of an everyday occurrence.

If you’re going to eat red meat, then keeping your consumption to a maximum 70g a day, or 500g a week, is sensible. The simplest way is to have meat-free days.

We do this at home, and soon I aim to have entire weeks that are meat free.Replacing meat with processed products is not ideal. Good fresh veg, along with pulses, nuts and seeds, is far better than veggie nuggets, for example.

When I do eat meat, I take a ‘nose-to-tail’ approach. Offal like liver and kidney is nutritious, and an ethical choice if it comes from organic or free-range animals, because it means a fuller use of the carcass.

So, if you eat meat, include offal from time to time. However, too much can lead to excessive levels of vitamin A.

As for ‘white’ meat, such as chicken and other poultry, it’s often seen as the healthy option. But we still shouldn’t eat piles of it as most of us already eat enough protein.

You’ll notice I recommend organic meat — and that’s because not only does it represent a better life for the animals, it’s better for us, too. Organic livestock rearing often correlates to higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, from being grass-fed.

Fish, too, is fantastic. Those who eat it — particularly oily fish — have less heart disease and strokes, mainly due to its omega-3 content. Also try white fish and shellfish. Mussels are mostly sustainably produced, and bursting with omega-3s.

However, farmed salmon and trout are fed largely on fishmeal made from wild fish, and sourcing this is often unsustainable.

When in doubt, look for fish with the blue MSC eco-label ‘tick’.

Gardener’s pie

This recipe takes the good old shepherd’s pie and makes it much more veg-centric. The meat is still there, but it shares the limelight with lots of lovely plants.

Serves 5–6

  • 4 tbsp olive or vegetable oil
  • 300 g chestnut mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 400 g lamb or beef mince
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 3 medium carrots, chopped
  • 1 celery stem, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 300 ml tomato passata
  • 300 ml hot veg or chicken stock
  • 800 g potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled, cut into bite-sized chunks
  • 2 x 400 g tins Puy, brown or green lentils, rinsed and drained, or 450 g cooked lentils
  • 1 rounded tbsp kimchi, roughly chopped, or a dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive or rapeseed oil
  • Sea salt and black pepper

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large saucepan. Add half the mushrooms and fry ‘hard’ until they release their juices. Keep going until these have evaporated, and the mushrooms are golden brown. 

Tip them into a large bowl and repeat with the remaining mushrooms, adding a touch more oil. 

Add to the bowl. Fry the mince, again over a high heat, until any moisture has evaporated and it is turning a good brown colour. Add to the mushrooms. 

Heat another 1 tablespoon of oil in the pan then the onions, carrots, celery and garlic. Sweat over a medium-low heat, stirring often, for 10 minutes, or until softening. 

Return the mushrooms, mince and any juices to the pan. Add the passata and stock. Bring to a simmer for 25 to 30 minutes, until the carrots are tender. Now preheat the oven to 190 c/fan 170 c/gas 5.

Gardener’s pie

Put the potatoes into a large pan, cover with water and bring to the boil, then simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes until tender. Drain and leave to steam in a colander for a few minutes.

Stir the lentils and chopped kimchi or Worcestershire sauce into the mushroom and mince mix. Season and taste, then transfer to an oven dish. Tip the cooked potatoes back into their hot pan.

Trickle in the oil and add a little salt and pepper, then mash roughly. Spoon this on top of the mince and mushroom mix in the dish.

Put the pie into the oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes until the topping is golden brown.

Baked fish & veg parcels

Cooking fish this way is a real River Cottage favourite. You can use fillets of almost any fish, and vary the veg and seasoning according to what you have to hand. 

It all cooks together to form a delicious pool of fragrant juice that will spill out of the parcel on to your plate.

Serves 4

  • 500 g courgettes (4 medium)
  • 400 g carrots
  • Bunch of spring onions, trimmed
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • Few sprigs of thyme, leaves picked and chopped
  • Small bunch of parsley, leaves picked and chopped (optional)
  • 3-4 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 fish fillets (150g to 200g each), such as hake or coley, or sustainable (MSC-certified) haddock or cod
  • About 200 ml white wine or cider, veg stock, or tomato passata
  • Sea salt and black pepper
  • Cooked whole grains (30-60 g per person) to serve

Preheat the oven to 200c/fan 180c/gas 6 and have ready a large baking tray with a rim (so no juices can escape). Tear off 4 large sheets of greaseproof paper or foil.

Cut the courgettes into thin ribbons or fine slices, using a mandolin, swivel veg peeler or a food processor fitted with a thin slicing blade. Put the courgettes into a large bowl. Ribbon or slice the carrots in the same way and add to the courgettes.

Finely slice the spring onions and add these, too, along with the garlic, thyme, parsley if using, and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Season with a pinch of salt and a twist of pepper.

Toss together well. Pile the veg in the middle of each sheet of paper or foil, dividing it equally.

Baked fish & veg parcels

Place a fish fillet on top of each pile and season it with salt and pepper. Gather up the edges of the paper or foil and bring them up around the veg and fish. Pour a good splash of wine, cider, stock or passata into each parcel. 

Crimp the top edges of the parcel together. With foil, you’ll be able to seal the package completely; with paper, you can just scrunch it up so the fish is mostly covered.

Place the parcels carefully on the baking tray. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until the fish is cooked through and the veg is just done (it will still be al dente). 

Bring the parcels to the table and serve with cooked whole grains, such as brown rice or bulgur wheat, to soak up the juices.

Veg variations: Try swapping fennel, asparagus, or petits pois for courgette. Halved cherry tomatoes can go in too!

Spicy fish fingers with tomato & bean salad

I often coat my homemade fish fingers with just seasoned, beaten egg, rather than with flour and egg and breadcrumbs to both simplify the process and cut back on the refined carbs. It works a treat.

In this spicy version, I’ve used curry powder, too. I serve these delicious fish bites with a well-seasoned tomato and bean salad, instead of the inevitable tomato ketchup – it’s more filling and much better for you!

Serves 4

  • About 600 g skinless white fish fillet, such as pollock, coley, sustainable (MSC-certified) cod or haddock
  • 2 tbsp curry powder
  • 2 eggs
  • Vegetable oil, for frying

For the tomato and bean salad

  • 500 g ripe, sweet tomatoes (any size)
  • 1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 400 g tin white beans, such as haricot or cannellini, drained and rinsed
  • ½ cucumber (about 200 g), diced into 1 cm cubes (optional)
  • 1 medium-hot fresh red chilli, deseeded and sliced
  • A small bunch of parsley, leaves picked and chopped (optional)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar or raw cider vinegar
  • Garlic (about ¼ clove), finely grated
  • Sea salt and black pepper

Start with the salad. Roughly chop the tomatoes or, if you’re using cherry tomatoes, just halve or quarter them. 

Put them into a large bowl and add the rest of the salad ingredients, seasoning with a pinch of salt and a twist of pepper. Tumble everything together gently then leave to sit while you make the fish fingers.

Cut the fish into large fingers, allowing 4 or 5 per person. Place the fish on a large plate and scatter over the curry powder, a pinch of salt and a twist of pepper. Turn the fish in the spices to coat it evenly. 

Spicy fish fingers with tomato & bean salad

Break the eggs into a bowl, season with salt and pepper, and beat together. Put a large, non-stick frying pan over a medium heat and add enough oil to cover the base in a thin film. Have ready a plate lined with kitchen paper.

When the oil is hot, dip a piece of fish into the egg to coat, let the excess drain off, then lay it in the hot frying pan.

Repeat with the rest of the fish, cooking it in a couple of batches and adding an extra dash of oil to the pan if needed.

Fry the fish fingers for 2-3 minutes on each side, until cooked through.

Lift out onto the paper-lined plate.

As soon as all the fish fingers are done, bring them to the table, along with the tomato and bean salad, and tuck in.

Cooking meat and fish

If you lack confidence with fish, go for the freshest on sale. And once you’ve mastered a recipe, it can be repeated with most varieties.

A healthy portion of meat is about half the size of your hand, or two medium sausages 

Baked chicken & veg curry

This Thai-inspired aromatic tray of chicken has oodles of sauce and plenty of veg and nuts. With two chicken pieces each, it makes a filling dinner for four without rice or bread. Or you can up the veg by 50 per cent, accompany with brown rice and it will serve six.

Serves 4

  • 1 tbsp coconut, olive or vegetable oil
  • 1 chicken, jointed into 8 pieces (or 8 portions, such as thighs)
  • 2 medium or 1 large aubergine (400 g), cut into chunky cubes
  • 12 large shallots or 6 banana shallots, peeled and halved
  • 200 ml coconut milk
  • 400 ml chicken or veg stock
  • Thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, grated
  • 4 garlic cloves, grated
  • 1 -2 medium-hot green chillies, sliced
  • Grated zest and juice of 1 lime
  • 2 lemongrass stems, halved
  • 300 g green beans, trimmed
  • About 50g cashew nuts
  • Sea salt and black pepper
  • Handful of coriander and/or basil leaves, chopped, to garnish

Preheat the oven to 200 c/fan 180c/gas 6. When it is hot, add the oil to your largest roasting tray and put it into the oven for a couple of minutes to heat up. 

Baked chicken & veg curry

Take the tray from the oven and carefully add the chicken pieces. Use tongs to turn them over in the hot oil so they are coated then place, skin side up, and season with salt and pepper.

Return the tray to the oven and bake for 20 minutes.

Take out the tray and add the aubergine cubes and shallots, turning them in the chicken juices with a spoon and nestling them among the pieces of chicken. Return the tray to the oven for 20 minutes. 

Meanwhile, put the coconut milk and stock into a saucepan. Add the grated ginger and garlic, chilli(es), lime zest and lemongrass stems. Bring to a simmer, stirring, then turn off the heat and leave for a few minutes.

Take the chicken out of the oven. Scatter the beans in between the chicken pieces and add the cashews. Pour on the coconut liquor (and lemongrass). 

Return to the oven for 20 minutes. Scatter over the chopped herbs, squeeze over the lime juice.

Extracted from Eat Better Forever by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, published by Bloomsbury on Thursday, £26. ©2020 Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. To order a copy for £22.88 go to mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3308 9193. Price valid until January 15, 2021. 

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