Tim Lewis recipes by James Cochran
James Cochran has never been happier. A wildly inventive and ambitious cook, he trained for almost a decadeunder the chef Brett Graham, first at the Ledbury and then the Michelin-starred Harwood Arms. In 2018, on his first appearance, he won the ultimate prize on the BBC’s Great British Menu: the champion of champions. And experience, he thinks, has taught him restraint at his Islington restaurant 12:51. “I used to have 23 dishes on the menu, and it was intense,” says Cochran. “Covid maybe opened my eyes and made me think, ‘I put myself under so much pressure’. Now it’s just a dream.”
There’s good news for the rest of us, too: Cochran has supplied five summer recipes for OFM. Raised in Whitstable, Kent, by a mum from St Vincent and a Scottish dad, he wanted to pick dishes that nodded to his background. But mainly he chose food that would be fun to eat outdoors on a sunny day. “We’ve all been cooped up for so long,” says Cochran. “And I just think they’re great elements that can be taken to the beach, or to the park, or in your back gardenanywhere now we can have friends round. With my style of food, it’s important it packs a lot of flavour and you can look across the board and there’s a lot of punchy flavours going on. there.”
One particularly irresistible offering is his barbecue jerk chicken with burnt scotch bonnet salsa. “Jerk chicken is super close to my heart,” he says. “I’ve had mad reviews from Fay Maschler and Jay Rayner for that. So this recipe is just bringing my buttermilk fried chicken, but to barbecued jerk. If we have nice weather, then that’s great to put on the barbecue.”
Some of the dishes come from 12:51, but Cochran’s adamant they won’t be too much of a stretch for home cooks. “If I can be honest with you: half the chefs in my kitchen are not even chefs,” he says, laughing. “One was a banker who came to Great British Menu just for the meal and got super-hammered. Now she works three days a week at 12:51. So if you’re asking whether these dishes can be put across by anybody following a recipe then, yeah, they can be.”
Like most in hospitality, Cochran has experienced a topsy-turvy 18 months: when we speak he has Covid, and 12:51 has been forced to shutter for 10 days. But in the early stages of the pandemic, he pivoted better than most, turning his more formal restaurant into the delivery service Around the Cluck. The star of the show was Cochran’s fried chicken: brined for 24 hours, marinated in buttermilk for 48 hours (“so it’s double tenderising it”) and then coated in semolina and tapioca flour to give it the perfect crunch and keep the juices in. “I’ve not stopped working,” says Cochran. “Well, until now.”
Around the Cluck was such a hit there has been clamour to make it permanent. (It did a good turn, too: raising money for those displaced by the eruption of La Soufrière volcano in St Vincent in April.) For now, Cochran is unsure whether he will make it an official spin-off restaurant. “My background is in Michelin-starred restaurants, but I’m not too bothered to be honest with you,” he says. “I’m old enough now, I’ve nothing to prove with what I cook.”
Watermelon, mint and barbecue feta salad with grilled king prawns
A simple but deliciously zingy marinade really makes these prawns sing and they’re done in a matter of minutes. The salad is so fresh and works like a dream with the warm prawns. Watermelon and mint are a match made in heaven, while blackening the feta really adds oomph.
mint 1 bunch
olive oil 50ml (plus a little extra)
feta cheese 200g
garlic 2 cloves
bamboo sticks soaked in water
large king prawns 12, ask the fishmonger to leave the heads on but remove the shells and devein them or buy the best-quality, pre-prepared king prawns you can from the supermarket – they’ll work just fine
Quarter the watermelon, remove the skin and slice to about 1cm thick. Lay it out on a large serving plate and season with a little salt.
Pick the mint leaves, tear them roughly over the watermelon and drizzle with a little olive oil and the juice of 1 of the limes.
Barbecue the feta until it is charred, or grill it on high until it is completely black – don’t be afraid to really char it. Then crumble the cheese over the watermelon slices and mint. This can be done a few hours in advance and kept in the fridge.
Peel and finely grate the garlic and add it to a bowl with the zest and juice of the remaining lime. Mix this with the 50ml of olive oil to make a marinade for the prawns.
Use the soaked bamboo sticks to skewer the prawns – 3 to 6 per skewer, depending on size, and season them.
Barbecue the prawns for 1½ minutes on each side or grill them in the oven on a high heat for 1½ minutes on each side, then lay them in the marinade to soak up all the flavours.
Serve them while still nice and hot with the watermelon and feta.
Barbecue jerk chicken, burnt scotch bonnet salsa, wet polenta, salad of peas, courgettes, parsley
Barbecue jerk chicken, burnt scotch bonnet salsa, wet polenta, salad of peas, courgettes, parsley. Photograph: Romas Foord/The ObserverAdvertisement
This fiery and fragrant charred chicken and zesty salsa is offset by a cooling salad and rich polenta, to bring heat but not blow your socks off. Don’t be afraid to really get some strong colouring on the chicken. Jerk should be black on the outside but, don’t worry, brining the chicken will give you delicious, moist meat under all that crispy, smoky exterior.
vegetable oil 100ml
jerk seasoning 6 tbsp
chicken thighs 4
chicken drumsticks 4
scotch bonnet chillies 4
beef tomatoes 4
red onion 1, diced
limes zest and juice of 4
coriander 1 bunch
frozen peas 300g
parsley 1 bunch, finely chopped
unsalted butter 50g
parmesan cheese 50g
salt and pepper
Mix the vegetable oil and jerk spice in a large bowl or container and, using your hands, thoroughly coat the chicken, really rubbing the marinade in. Ideally, leave it to marinate in the fridge for 24-48 hours (it’s worth it) but for a minimum of 4 hours – the longer the better.
Leave the scotch bonnets and beef tomatoes whole and either barbecue or stick them under a grill on a very high heat until completely black on the outside.
Dice the tomatoes and scotch bonnets and add to a bowl with the red onion and the zest and juice of the limes, season with a pinch of salt, the chopped coriander and a little glug of olive oil to loosen it up.
This can be done a few hours in advance and kept in the fridge.
Quarter the courgettes and season with salt and pepper. Then either barbecue, griddle or grill them at a high heat to give a little colour to the outside. Chop them into 1cm pieces.
Run water over the frozen peas to defrost and mix them with the chopped courgette and parsley. Check for seasoning.Advertisement
If using a barbecue, cook the chicken for 16-18 minutes on each side over a medium heat and get a nice charring on the outside. Or, put it on a baking tray and cook it in the centre of the oven at 180C fan/gas mark 6 for 30-40 minutes, depending on the size of the drumsticks.
Bring the milk to a simmer, season with a pinch of salt, whisk in the polenta and cook, stirring, on a low heat for 15-20 minutes or until the polenta comes away from the sides of the pan. Add the butter and parmesan and mix. Check seasoning and finish with a grating of parmesan.
If you are oven cooking, finish the chicken off under a very hot grill to char – really blacken the skin, don’t be scared. Rest for 3-4 minutes before serving. Plate up a few bits of chicken each, though you’ll quickly be diving back in for more. Leave the salsa on the side so people can make up their own minds about how much of a scotch bonnet kick they want to have.
Chilled courgette soup, goat’s curd, dukkah, mint
Chilled courgette soup, goat’s curd, dukkah, mint. Photograph: Romas Foord/The Observer
It’s light, it’s refreshing.
salt and pepper
mint 1 bunch
room temperature water 100ml
goat’s curd (or goat’s cheese) 100g
dukkah 50g, available from most supermarkets
Top and tail the courgettes, then skin them until you have removed all the green bits – this is the part you need – and finely slice them. (Don’t waste the white middles, keep them and add them to a salad.)
Heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a very hot pan and add the finely sliced green bits of courgette, season well with a pinch each of salt and pepper and 10 mint leaves and fry for a minute.
Stirring all the time, add room-temperature water a little bit at a time to steam the courgette pieces for about 3-4 minutes until they are cooked through.
Empty the pan into a blender and blend for 2 minutes. Transfer to the fridge straightaway and leave until chilled.
Put the soup in bowls with the goat’s curd or cheese broken into it in small chunks and, just before serving, add the dukkah to give a bit of crunch and texture, and scatter a few mint leaves on top.
Tomahawk pork, roast garlic puree, hispi cabbage with dried shrimp butter, crushed new potatoes with sage and crispy onions
Tomahawk pork, roast garlic puree, hispi cabbage with dried shrimp butter, crushed new potatoes with sage and crispy onions. Photograph: Romas Foord/The ObserverAdvertisement
Say goodbye to uninteresting pork, say hello to the tomahawk. Juicy and succulent, this thick cut banishes any notion of dryness and is full of flavour. It’s all about the baste and rendering down the fat. Follow the simple steps and it’s just as good as any steak. The richness of the pork is perfectly matched by the umami of the dried shrimp butter.
hispi cabbage 1, quartered
unsalted butter 200g (and a bit more for basting), at room temperature
dried shrimp 50g, available online
new potatoes 400g, unpeeled
sage 1 bunch
tomahawk pork chop 1 (around 750g boneless or 1kg bone in – you can get this from your local butcher – call ahead and order it or opt for two smaller but thick chops, the best quality you can afford)
For the garlic puree
garlic 1 bulb
double cream 300ml
good quality crispy onions 10g
salt and pepper
Blanch the cabbage in boiling water for 2 minutes, remove and refresh it in cold water until completely chilled.
Squeeze out all excess water and, using tongs, hold the cabbage quarters over your open gas flame on the hob. Make sure to wear kitchen gloves and hold the cabbage away from your body. Alternatively, put it under the grill at a very high heat, turning the cabbage until it is blackened all over; around 10 minutes should do it. Season with a little bit of salt.
Mix 100g of the butter with the shrimp; either use a blender or crush the shrimp by hand and then mix them into the butter. Spread this mixture liberally over the hispi cabbage and leave to one side.
Place the new potatoes and 20 sprigs of sage in a pan of cold water and bring them to the boil. Simmer until cooked through, around 10-15 minutes.
Drain the potatoes and, while they’re still hot, use a fork or masher to crush them down and season with salt and pepper.
Gently melt the remaining 100g of butter in a frying pan and chop the remaining sage into the butter to infuse, then mix the potato in with the sage butter and keep it warm until ready to serve.
Preheat the oven to 180C fan/gas mark 6.
Roast the whole bulb of garlic on a tray in the oven for around 20 minutes or until it’s completely roasted and soft. Let it cool slightly, then squeeze the flesh out of the skin into a pan with the cream and milk. Bring to boil and reduce down, right until the cream and milk might split, then take the pan off the heat, add salt and pepper, blend until smooth and pass through a sieve.
You can make the puree in advance, then keep it in the fridge and reheat on the hob for 10 minutes before serving.
Season the pork heavily with salt and pepper, then place it in a hot pan. Seal it really well on both sides until there’s a nice caramelisation, pop a knob of butter in and baste.
Put it in the oven on a rack with a tray underneath and cook for 18 minutes. The chop should feel firm and slightly bouncy to the touch but not hard. If it is still soft to touch, cook for a few minutes more. Let it rest for 10 minutes and carve into 10-12 slices before serving.
Put the shrimp butter-covered hispi cabbage in the oven for 4 minutes or until the butter is melted. Scatter the crispy onions over the top of the cabbage and serve with the sliced pork, crushed potatoes and garlic puree.
Mascarpone cream, hibiscus syrup, black pepper, summer berries
Mascarpone cream, hibiscus syrup, black pepper, summer berries. Photograph: Romas Foord/The ObserverAdvertisement
Simple cream and berries are really lifted by aromatic hibiscus. It’s sweet and creamy, as you’d expect – but also brings an added complexity. The black pepper offers a punchy point of difference, making this one a real winner. And it can be whipped up in no time at all.
mascarpone cheese 250g
vanilla extract 2 tsp
icing sugar 3 tbsp
whipping cream 125g
hibiscus tea bags 2
caster sugar 100g
summer berries of your choice (blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, redcurrants and blackcurrants) 200g
Drain any excess liquid off the mascarpone and place the creamy cheese in a bowl with the vanilla extract. Mix them together until smooth. In a different bowl, use a sieve to sift the icing sugar over the whipping cream. Whip the cream and sifted icing sugar until thick peaks form.
Add the whipped cream to the mascarpone and gently beat or fold until light and velvety – do not over beat it – and put the mixture in the fridge until ready to use.
Gently crack the peppercorns, tear open the teabags and add both to a pan with the caster sugar and water. Bring to the boil and then simmer for 5 minutes on a medium heat until it’s reduced by half. Pass the liquid through a sieve to remove the bits.
Chop any larger berries in half and serve them over a big dollop of the mascarpone cream with a good drizzle of hibiscus syrup on top.