Q&A with Richard Corrigan and Gizzi Erskine

Richard Corrigan and Gizzi Erskine on Cookery SchoolSinking cakes? Flat meringues? Stodgy rice? We all have our own cooking foibles but help is at hand. Richard Corrigan and Gizzi Erskine have joined us for a cookery Q and A, answering all your questions, helping solve your culinary problems and hopefully raising your game in the kitchen.

Richard Corrigan is Chef and Patron of Mayfair restaurant 'Corrigans' and presenter of numerous TV Shows, including BBC2's Full on Food, Saturday Kitchen and Market Kitchen as well as hosting the Irish primetime television series, Corrigan Knows Food, one of Ireland's most popular TV shows. Gizzi Erskine is a food writer, Chef and presenter of Channel 4's Cook Yourself Thin as well as being GMTV's Food correspondent. Richard and Gizzi's new cookery show Cookery School has already started and is airing daily for 10 weeks on Channel 4 at 2.10pm. The show promises to give even the most basic of cooks a comprehensive knowledge of basic skills, which both Richard and Gizzi feel passionate about. Each week the participants are coached by Richard and Gizzi and judged on their results. The aim is to empower and bring out the talent in the participants. 

General cooking tips | Baking adviceRecipes advice | Cooking as a mum | Cooking for specific diets


General cooking tips

Q. Mummytobookie: When cooking spices for a curry, how long do I cook them for without them burning?

A. Richard Corrigan: All you have to do is warm spices through – do not cook them – all you want to do here is to enhance the aroma. If you cook them too much, you will lose this aroma.

Q. Hannahhack: How long before serving something, for example profiteroles, could you fill them with cream? I don't want them to go soggy, but I don't want to spend hours in the kitchen when I want to eat!

A. Richard Corrigan: Fill pastry at the last possible moment – no longer than 50 minutes to serving time. An alternative is sweet pastry cream mix which doesn’t go as soggy as whipped cream.  When I am not cooking for my guests, I am always looking for quick fixes as well – with three hungry kids and a lovely wife to feed!

Cookery School - cous cousQ. Maria2007loveshersheep: My question has to do with freezing meals. There's always the suggestion here on Mumsnet (and elsewhere) that it's a good idea to make larger batches of food, particularly with everyday meals, freeze and reheat them. However, I've had many disappointing experiences with such meals and I generally avoid freezing. Which meals would you say are ideal for freezing and won't lead to disappointment?

A. Richard Corrigan: The best food to freeze would be soup, stews, curries, chilli – which all make ideal family meals.  I prefer not to freeze anything but it is an ideal solution for everyday meals.

Q. Julesjules: Do you salt aubergines before cooking? Do you sift flour? Just interested, I don't bother doing either and haven't noticed any difference. I think it's little things like this which mystify cooking and help convince people they can't do it. What do you think?

A. Richard Corrigan: Yes I do salt aubergines but not too much. If you use organic aubergines, you need less. If you are using the large Dutch varieties, then they have more water content, so it will require a little more salt to remove the water. Yes, I do sift flour, but only when I am baking. Little chef tweaks can be mystifying. I often sit down with my PA to write recipes for magazines, etc, and I use so many chefs terms that she thinks I'm mad – she has to translate it into plain English! You get the same result in the end though.

Q. Hangingbabyofbabylon: Do you remove the 'coral' from scallops? Most TV chefs seem to do this these days and it always makes me shout at the screen 'No, it's the best bit!' What do you think? What about the lovely bright orange roe in a lobster, isn't that just like finding buried treasure?

A. Richard Corrigan: Yes, I do remove the coral, however, I re-use them. I love them cooked lightly and served on toast with a bit of garlic mayonnaise – fabulous, easy food. I never remove the roe from lobster – I definitely agree this is a hidden treasure

Q. taffetasplat: What predictions do you both have for cooking trends in the next year, especially on the ingredients front?

A. Richard Corrigan: My prediction is that chefs will start owning their own land and farms and growing their own produce. This is a natural chain and will save money. With a local farm, you will also save on transportation and your carbon footprint. A smokery is quite simple to do as well and is becoming trendy amongst my culinary friends – I am planning to do this at one of the restaurants this year to smoke my own fish. From an ingredients point of view, I think we shall start to see more nose to tail eating i.e. less wastage of an animal – some cuts are so cheap and recession-proof.

A. Gizzi Erskine: I think Korean food is going to make a big impact. We are seeing a lot more Vietnamese food nowadays but I think that will really explode this year. Ingredients wise, I am obsessed with a brand called 'True Food' that make professional fresh stocks you can buy in the supermarket, meaning that you can make restaurant style food ant home without the fuss. I think we will see more hybrid vegetables. Last year I saw these little baby kales that were a cross between kale and a brussels sprout. They were deelish.

Q. Aristocat: Gizzi - I love Cook Yourself Thin, there are some fantastic low fat recipes that I have tried. What is your favourite food?

A. Gizzi Erskine: That is so good to hear. When we did 'Cook Yourself Thin' we wanted to make a show for real people and their everyday turmoil with food and to show how with a few subtle tricks you could change peoples eating habits for the better. As a classic woman, I change my mind daily about my favourite foods. At the moment I'm all about the slow roast. I try not to overeat carbohydrates and stick to eating as many pulses and low carb root veggies instead, so if you were coming round for dinner I would cook you something like a slow-roasted shoulder of lamb with roasted garlic and flageolet beans. Proper hearty food. But then again I love Asian cooking and adore sashimi and Vietnamese beef noodle soups.


Baking tips

Q. Prettybird: Does using Stork/margarine in cakes really make them lighter? I know the butter makes them taste better. I've recently started using tub margarine again to make biscuits as it means I can make them on the spur of the moment, rather than have to remember to take a block of butter out of the fridge in advance - and it does seem to help with their texture.

A. Richard Corrigan: Yes – I first saw this in Paris 20 years ago. However, butter always tastes better and life is about loving your food. Happy baking!

Q. GreatGooglyMoogly: How do I bake moist cakes? They either come out too dry or undercooked.

A. Gizzi Erskine: Cake baking is a science. You need to have your oven preheated, (and trust it's at the right temperature), to have weighed everything out before you start and, if I'm honest, have some kind of electric appliance to help you on your way, like an electric whisk or table top mixer. To ensure moist cakes you need to make sure there is enough fat in them and the fat has been beaten in to give it that lighter moist texture. I find that most people don't beat the butter and sugar together for long enough. With an electric whisk I would give it a good 3-5 minutes until it's so pale it's almost white. Then add your eggs one at a time so they don't split. Then cook them for as close to the cooking time as possible without opening the oven door. To know when they are ready press the top of the cake and it should be able to hold its structure. Not necessarily spring back like sponge as this could suggest its over. I think cakes are always a spot better a minute under rather than over anyway. 

Q. AlfalfaMum: Why do my cakes always stick to the tin? Whether I use a big round rubbery 'tin' or a bread tin, they stick and break when I try to take them out. Am I cursed?

A. Gizzi Erskine: Gosh, I seriously doubt it. It sounds like a case of relying on modern materials and them not quite doing their job. Are you greasing and lining them? I am a stickler for old habits and I always use a non-stick cake tin, and then butter my tin liberally and finally line the base (and the sides if doing a fruit cake) with baking parchment or greaseproof.

Q. Teddies: Why can't I make muffins that rise? I use self-raising flour and baking powder, I don't over-mix the mixture, I even have a new oven as I used to blame the broken seal on the old one, but, still, all I get are flat fairy cakes.

A. Gizzi Erskine: Is your oven hot enough before you put them in? An oven that has not been preheated when baking is the cause of many baking problems. Also opening the oven halfway through cooking will cause cakes and muffins to flop so never open the door before a couple of minutes before the cooking time is up. Do you put your mixture straight in the oven? Leaving it around can cause it to implode on itself. Otherwise, maybe old flours or raising agents, not beating enough air into them, even a dud recipe? Also the right tin can make a difference. For so long I was using a Yorkshire pudding/cupcake tin to make muffins, there the holes for the cakes slanted outwards, but an actual muffin tin is a straight hole with no slant meaning it will rise better...? 


Recipe advice

Q. Pipplin: I'm looking forward to spring. What would you cook to really feel like spring is finally here? Could you possibly make it ok to eat in pregnancy please? ps Lovely show, it's very refreshing.

A. Cooking School Chicken chasserRichard Corrigan: Thank you for your lovely comment about the show – don’t think I have ever been called ‘refreshing’ before, you have made my day! With regards to your question – a chunky spring vegetable soup would be my answer. We did this in show one of The Cookery Show, but if you need a recipe, please do not hesitate to contact my team at either Bentley’s Oyster Bar and Grill or Corrigan’s Mayfair. You can substitute stock for a bouillon stock cube to make it easy. Spring vegetables are so vibrant and colourful, and will also give you the nutrients you need for you and baby.

Q. Bacon: With regards to slow cooking using cheap cuts - I'm always on the search for unusual or continental recipes as I find the beef in onion with wine/beer etc too samey. I need more inspiration. As a beef rearer I seem to end up with tons of slower cook beef and, lets face it most of the animal is slow cook. Also, I really struggle to taste the difference between beef cuts whether it is brisket/shin etc.  On the pork side, things like shoulder - all sweet and sours use tenderloin, but what other tasty, rich variations can you do based around the fast cook recipes?

A. Richard Corrigan: Great cheap cuts would be shin of beef and mutton – what about slow-cooked Indian-spiced Mutton – tastes superb. Shoulder of pork, spices and honey and osso bucco of port are my favourites. If you ever need a few tips, please do let us know and we will be happy to help. In the Cookery Show book which accompanies the series, there are tips on meat cuts and getting everything from the animal – nose to tail eating and no waste.

Q. CuriousMama: Gizzi, you make such fantastic recipes that are lower fat. Do you know any using Quorn? I've recently started using Quorn mince but would love a tasty, possibly spicy, dish.

A. Gizzi Erskine: Quorn, as we know, is so low in fat and a great source of protein too. I personally am not a fan as it's a processed food and I try not to eat anything that's been made in a lab, but as a vegetarian wanting to get protein into their diet I think its a great option. You can use Quorn in the same way as you do meat. The minced Quorn would be brilliant in a spiced shepherds pie with a celeriac crust or a scrummy chilli con 'carne' (sans the carne). The cubed Quorn would make a great pie or stir-fry. I would suggest playing around with it and seeing what you can come up with, but if you are a meat eater and want to be eating pure foods, then turkey and chicken are the best substitutes to red meat and also venison is really low in fat! 

Q. Sexydomesticateddab: Gizzi like your approach to food and dishes on cook yourself thin. What things can I make with Basra Date Syrup? I like buying 'odd' ingredients at supermarkets/ethnic shops but a little stumped on this one - is it like treacle/malt extract?

A. Gizzi Erskine: I know of this syrup but have never used it, but will definitely give it a go now I've been asked about it. You may well see it on the next series of Cook Yourself Thin. Immediately I think it would work well in cakes, maybe a low fat sticky toffee pudding or over bananas in your porridge, but without trying it - don't hold me to that! 


Cooking as a mum

Q. Guacamole: This is not a cookery question as such but I watched the footage this morning of the appalling treatment of ducks on a farm in Norfolk. These ducks are sold in Waitrose as 'high welfare, free range'. This comes not long after Happy Eggs were discovered to come from not happy at all chickens. As a consumer, what can I do (without going vegetarian or vegan) to make sure that the animal products I buy genuinely are 'high welfare' and as chefs how do you achieve this?

A. Richard Corrigan: Try to buy local from farm shops (many now do deliveries online too – even farmers have met with the 21st century!). Such love and care goes in to farming (I know first-hand from my childhood) and this reflects in beautiful produce. You will find a much better standard and flavour. Buy GM free also.

Q. Norkybutnice: Not a recipe question as such, but what age would you say is too late to get into a career in cooking? I live in the kitchen at home (my 7 month old lives at my feet surrounded by plastic utensils!) and cooking is the only thing I love doing - I'd love to make a career out of it if possible. Any chance of work experience?

A. Gizzi Erskine: Hahaha! When are you free? No, honestly, to get into food there are no shortcuts. You have to go to catering school and then get trained up in whichever division you like. So many people want to do food professionally and just leap into it because they are good cooks. I was a good cook before I went to catering school too, but I invested the time and money I needed to take me to a professional level. Food is a science and you have to understand that side of it before pushing the creative side. If you really want to do it, then wait till your little one is old enough and get yourself registered at a catering school or college.


Cooking for specific diets

Q. Mangomay: My 2 year old son is allergic to wheat and eggs so we have a real hard timeCooking school citrus sponge when it comes to eating at parties and on holiday. GF flour is easy to come by, but egg replacer isn't. Is there anything else I can use when baking cakes etc that works in the same way?

A. Richard Corrigan: Try www.goodnessdirect.co.uk – they produce egg replacer. This is a tough challenge for you and if you need any recipe ideas please do not hesitate to contact my team at Corrigan’s Mayfair or Bentley’s Oyster Bar and Grill. We deal with dietary requirements in both restaurants regularly so we will be happy to help.

Q. Thereistheball: I love cooking but have been without an oven for almost two years. I am just about to move to a place where I can finally have one. What celebratory (low carb if possible) meals would you cook to test it out?

A. Richard Corrigan: I would go with a slow cooked Indian spiced Mutton shank – you can’t beat it.  Let us know if you need recipe advice and very happy cooking to you.

Last updated: 7 months ago