If you want British food at its finest, or should I say British country food at its finest, then you should head straight to St. John Restaurant near London’s Smithfield Market. If Gavroche has provided London with its finest French cooking and River Café its Italian, then Fergus Henderson holds a dazzling candle to what were once the foundations of our national cooking heritage. In a gastronomic world increasingly captured by television chefs, Fergus is a doggedly serious chef, not a passing circus act. He has the quiet skill to make the traditional feel like it’s ahead-of-the-curve contemporary.

When I went to interview him for our magazine, In Search of Taste, we sat down, mid-morning, to a large glass of Madeira (or as Fergus called it “a sharpener”) as he meandered away from my list of questions almost immediately. Modern architecture, rugby, mutton, Jasper Johns, Fernet Branca and French cigarettes, amongst numerous additional topics, moved swiftly from A.O.B to main agenda in the blink of his eye. When Fergus weaves a net, all threads count.

His earlier glacial stare began to warm as he set forth his underlying rationale for a lifetime at the stove, which for him always began with a kitchen-stock assembly. Chicken, Duck, Goose, Veal, Fish or Vegetable, we covered the sweep of pastures and oceans with forensic detail. His exaltation on the carefully curated liquids bordered on spiritual epiphany. If he had taught Religious Instruction back at my time in school, I might well have become a devout Christian by the sixth form. He pointed out that stock is fundamental but should always be uncomplicated, “retain your shells, bones and giblets, and you’re half way there”.

Once I had mastered the arcane technique of quietly simmering water, for it requires no greater skill, I could not be restrained from constructing stocks whenever a passing carcass appeared. Making stock, or broth, could not be simpler. Nowadays I yield to no one, including Knorr, in my defense of homemade stock.

Anthony Bourdain called Fergus’s first cookbook, Nose to Tail Eating (1999), “a cult masterpiece, an obscure object of desire…yearned for, sought out, searched for” and I detail part of the section on stock from that publication here. I use more chicken stock in our kitchen than any other, so I include his instructions as follows –


You can simply use the carcass of your roast chicken, or ask your butcher for chicken bones. Chicken wings are particularly good for stock, as are the giblets and neck if your chicken comes with them.

It does not take too much trouble to have the right stock vegetables: onions (with skin on, chopped in half), a bulb of garlic (with skin on, chopped in half), carrots (peeled and split in half lengthways), a leek (split lengthways and cleaned), fennel, celery, red onions (cut in half with skin on if you want darker stock), mushroom peelings if available, a bay leaf, herbs, or simply the stalks if you have picked some parsley, and peppercorns.

Apart from your choice of meat, the other essential ingredient is water; you want to cover your stock ingredients with enough to allow for skimming (which is vital throughout) but not so much as to drown any possible flavour. Bring to a simmer, but not to a rolling boil, as this will transfer the surface scum back into the stock.

This should take approximately 1½ – 2 hours