Tony Singh 'Cooking shouldn't be scary, if you mess up you're going to eat the evidence anyway'
The Sikh chef tells Keeley Bolger why good food is as much about simplicity and the company you keep as pricey ingredients and overly elaborate recipes
Forget fancy terrines and delicate jus, if you want to impress chef Tony Singh, just heat up some baked beans and offer him some sparkling company. While the Scottish chef – one half of BBC Two's The Incredible Spice Men – has tucked into some of the finest food in the world, for him, fancy fodder is nothing without good people to enjoy it with.
"Food is half of a good meal," explains the Edinburgh-based chef, who starred in the cookery series with his pal Cyrus Todiwala. "You could have a basic cheese sandwich, or a roast chicken which is a little bit dry, but if you're in the right company, who cares?
"Food is about sharing. You're nurturing the body and the soul if you're with the right people."
In addition to this, food culture, for Singh, is about being as accessible as possible, which is why his new book, Tasty, includes plenty of recipes which use common shop-bought condiments like mayonnaise, chilli sauce, Worcestershire sauce – and, of course, his beloved baked beans.
"I know lots of people view food as fuel and, yeah, it is fuel, but we're fortunate enough to be able to choose what we eat and drink," says Singh, who enjoys breaking the bread with his four children and wife Bechan.
"But not to the extent where it's divisive, you know. When you get foodies who say you can only have foraged this and foraged that, I'll tell you the truth, you can have beans out of a tin. As long as you're cooking, I think that's great."
A lot of people might have picked up a tin of beans and jazzed it up thanks to Singh's TV series, which he is hopeful will be re-commissioned. That said, he is aware of how sometimes, cookery programmes don't help people out.
"All the cooking on television is a double-edged sword," he explains. "It's very good that it's got people enthused again and looking at stuff. But on the opposite side of that, people are quite anxious because it can be quite technical."
Keen to take away the mystique surrounding cooking, Singh is a big advocate of using store-cupboard ingredients and just having a crack in the kitchen.
"If you've got that desire to cook something, fry off some onions in some garlic, chilli and spices, throw in a tin of beans and have it," he says.
"It's cooking, you know what I mean? You're going to be putting things together that taste different and better.
"It's like what we did in The Incredible Spice Men on TV. There's nothing to be scared of, because if you make a mistake, you're going to eat the evidence anyway."
And if you fancy eating the evidence, here are three great recipes from Singh's new book Tasty.
Tasty, by Tony Singh, Headline, £20
BAKED SALMON PARCELS
4 tbsps maple syrup
Juice of 1 lime
1 tbsp chopped fresh ginger
1 tbsp chopped coriander
1 tbsp chopped dill
1/2 red Thai chilli, chopped (or 1/2 a regular red chilli)
4 x 170g salmon fillet, skinned and boned
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 red pepper, deseeded and finely sliced
8 spring onions, sliced finely
4 tsps chopped pickled ginger
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 200C/gas mark 6. In a bowl mix the maple syrup, lime juice, fresh ginger, herbs and chilli and put to one side. Rub the salmon with the sesame oil then season each fillet.
Take four sheets of greaseproof paper and divide the spring onions and red pepper between them, putting them in the centre of the foil.
Place each salmon fillet on top and divide the pickled ginger between them.
Bring the sides of the paper up and crimp to create an open parcel, pour on the maple mixture, then seal the tops of the parcels. Place on a baking tray in the oven for 10-15 minutes, or until the salmon is cooked.
Serve the salmon directly from the parcel, so guests get that great aroma when they open up the fish.
BERRY JELLY, OAT CRUNCH & WHISKY CREAM CHEESE
1kg berries (use any berries of your choice), fresh or frozen
100g granulated sugar
A few gelatine leaves
50g clear honey
50g unsalted butter
150g rolled oats
100-120g icing sugar
500g cream cheese
40ml good quality blended
Place the berries and sugar in a large pan over a low-medium heat and allow to soften slowly.
Once soft, strain the berries, return the juice to the pan and bubble to reduce by a third.
Measure the quantity of hot berry juice; you will need one gelatine leaf per 100ml of juice.
Soak the appropriate number of gelatin leaves in cold water. Once softened, drain, squeeze out any excess water, add to the hot berry liquid, and dissolve fully.
Spoon some of the berries into fat tumblers or glasses, pour in the warm berry jelly mix, and chill for at least two hours until set.
Preheat the oven to 160C/gas mark 3.
Place the honey and butter in a pan, bring to the boil, and stir in the oats.
Transfer to a lined baking tray and bake for about 15-20 minutes, or until golden.
Allow to cool then break up into small pieces.
Then sprinkle on top of the set jelly.
Sift the icing sugar into the cream cheese and stir in as much of the whisky as desired. Spoon this mixture on top of the crunchy oats.
Sprinkle over some more oats and/or berries and serve.
NASI GORENG PATTAYA
4 garlic cloves, crushed
2.5cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
4 shallots, finely chopped
1 red Serrano chilli, finely chopped (or 1/2 a regular red chilli)
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp vegetable stock powder (I use Marigold bouillon powder)
100g white cabbage, finely sliced and washed
A handful of mushrooms
400g cold cooked rice
100g frozen petit pois
2 tbsps chopped coriander
Salt and pepper
Chilli sauce, to serve
Heat two tablespoons of oil in a wok over a high heat. Add the garlic and ginger, and stir-fry for one minute.
Add the shallots and chilli, and cook for one minute. Add the garam masala, bouillon powder, cabbage and mushrooms. Cover with a lid and cook for two minutes. Add the rice and keep moving it about until broken up and hot, then stir in the petit pois and leave for one minute. Scrape the mixture into a bowl and stir in the coriander. Leave aside while you make the omelettes.
Heat a large non-stick frying pan for the omelettes. In a small bowl, beat two of the eggs very well with a pinch of salt. Add to the pan and swirl it around to make a very thin omelette.
When the omelette is almost cooked through, remove and transfer to a large plate. Repeat with the remaining omelette mixture.
Gently reheat the rice mixture over a very low heat, or ideally reheat single portions in a microwave. Add one portion of fried rice to one half of each omelette and carefully fold it over.
Slide on to a plate and serve with chilli sauce.