Drinking while you cook: is it really a good idea?

Date:13-12-2013 08:58:17 read:1

Drinking while you cook: is it really a good idea?

Jake Wallis Simons meets the author of a recipe book for drinkers, and learns that cooking while 'on the sauce' can be a vast improvement

Jake Wallis Simons (left) joins Milton Crawford, author of The Drunken Cookbook, for a drinking and cooking session Photo: Rii Schroer

Is it really wise, I hear you ask, to seek advice from a man who dresses like the Mad Hatter, specialises in getting tipsy, and goes by the name of “Milton”?

Normally, the answer would be no. But this is Christmas.

More alcohol is consumed over Yuletide than at any other time of year. Although the drunkards make the headlines, the vast majority is enjoyed by responsible people who are simply getting into the Christmas spirit.

And much of it is knocked back in the kitchen.

“This time of year is ideal for drunken cooking,” says Milton Crawford, author of The Drunken Cookbook (£7.99, Square Peg), when we meet in east London. “The inspiration for the book was people getting together and having a jolly time. Drunken cooking is very gregarious.”

Not that he advises getting drunk in order to cook, you understand. But if one midmorning sherry leads to another on Christmas day…

In 2010, Milton released The Hangover Cookbook (£7.99, Square Peg), a collection of hangover cures that sold more than 100,000 copies. That was how we met; we got rather blottoed and tried the recipes the next morning so I could write about them (he now refers to that painful episode as “method journalism”).

Although most people see hangovers as pure suffering, Milton believes that they can make you more creative. He also sees the benefits of tipsiness when it comes to gastronomical endeavour.

“People get fixed into a routine of cooking the same recipes, particularly over Christmas,” he says. “Alcohol adds a bit of punctuation into your life and allows you to try something a bit different.”

Jake Wallis Simons (left) and Milton Crawford get stuck in

Bonkers as it sounds, his latest book offers recipes designed for inebriated cooks.

The first section contains a set of tests to diagnose how far you are along the road to Bethlehem, including the “one-legged standing test” and the “reflex ruler test”.

The results enable you to choose between recipes that are “toil” (difficult), “fussy” (medium), or “cinch” (for when you’re well and truly ding dong merry).

It would be churlish not to put it to the test. After a bottle of white burgundy, we cook a simplified Arnold Bennett Omelette (classed as “toil”).

The original dish, a smoked haddock affair with lashings of Parmesan cheese, was created by chefs at the Savoy for the novelist and named in his honour. Milton’s version is sans complex sauces.

“Christmas lasts longer than just one day,” he says as we cheerfully poach a fillet of haddock in milk with bay leaves and peppercorns. “You need to feed people on Christmas Eve and on Boxing Day, and that’s when you need high-impact ideas. My version works if you’ve had a few drinks and can’t manage anything complicated.”

I find separating eggs difficult enough while sober. For Milton, however, it is no problem. Whether this is because he is the better cook or the better drunk – or both – I can’t quite tell.

By the time we finish, we are well into our second bottle of vino. I scoop a mouthful of omelette straight from the pan. It is delicious, hitting a spot I didn’t know was there (see recipe below).

Then Milton drops a filleting knife. No damage is done, but it was close.

“Drunken cooking can lead to both happy and unhappy accidents,” he chuckles.

As we embark on the second recipe – baguette, butter and plum jam pudding – he shares an anecdote.

“I’d been out for Christmas drinks, and I drunkenly decided to stir-fry some chestnuts,” he recalls. “I put them in a frying pan but forgot all about them. Ten minutes later it sounded like small arms fire was coming from the kitchen. I couldn’t get in to turn the gas off, as chestnuts were exploding.”

This, reader, is the voice of lived experience.

The second bottle is almost empty. We have sliced a baguette, spread it with butter and jam, and arranged it in a baking dish. The effect is rather lopsided, but we agree that it has charm.

Milton makes a custard somehow, and sloshes in some brandy; we mix it up and shove it in the oven. When it’s ready he glazes it with jam, which I find very impressive. And it is delicious.

Lastly comes a recipe for the properly tiddly: steak haché sliders on brioche.

We open a third bottle and bumble along, seasoning some good mince, mushing it into round(ish) patties and frying it. Several discs of toasted brioche, a few dollops of chutney and some slabs of bleu d’Auvergne later, we have 12 mini burgers, meaty, tangy, satisfying – and easy enough to make while ratted.

The kitchen is in carnage. Milton suggests leaving the washing up for tomorrow (it contains knives), and finishing the bottle instead. I declare that this is a very fine idea.

‘The Drunken Cookbook’ by Milton Crawford (Square Peg, £7.99) is available from the Telegraph Bookshop for £7.99 + £1.10 p&p. To order call 0844 871 1514 or visit

Simplified Arnold Bennett Omelette

Difficulty: hard ('toil')

200g smoked haddock, skin on

250ml milk

1 bay leaf

12 peppercorns

5 eggs

100ml crème fraiche

small handful of tarragon, finely chopped

small handful of chives, finely chopped

knob of butter

75g grated Parmesan

salt and pepper

2 handfuls of watercress to serve

This has a reputation of a rather difficult dish for the average domestic cook, which would make it impossible to achieve while drunk. But when stripped back to its basics – a creamy, cheesy, smoked-fish omelette – it certainly doesn’t have to be so hard. This version has been simplified as much as possible by eliminating the complex sauces. While something may be lost in doing this, remember: this dish was developed by chefs at the Savoy hotel. And let’s face it, not all of us want to faff around pretending to be on MasterChef when there’s fun to be had outside the kitchen, and alcohol to be drunk. It also includes tarragon to give it a more distinctively French flavor that seems doubly appropriate when matched with white Burgundy.

METHOD: Poach the haddock by simmering the milk in a saucepan with the bay leaf and the peppercorns for 8-10 minutes. Remove from the pan, drain well and flake the fish from the skin onto a plate, checking for bones, and set aside.

Separate one of your eggs and whisk the egg white in a bowl until you have soft peaks, then gradually fold in the crème fraiche and the tarragon. Set aside while you make the omelette. Whisk the remaining eggs in a bowl and season with salt, pepper and chives. Add the knob of butter to a heavy frying pan over a medium-high flame and, when melted and beginning to bubble, add the eggs to the pan. Use a slice to stop the omelette from sticking to the sides and cook until there is just a little residual runniness on the top.

Scatter the flaked haddock on top and pour the whisked egg white and crème fraiche mixture over the fish so it covers the entire omelette. Cover with the Parmesan and place under a hot grill until golden brown. Serve with watercress and a glass of Burgundy.

Baguette, butter and plum jam pudding

Difficulty: medium ('fussy')

1 slightly stale baguette, thinly sliced

50g butter (and extra for greasing)

5 tbsp plum jam

50g sultanas

2 large eggs

2 large egg yolks

40g caster sugar

1 vanilla pod, halved

300ml double cream

300ml full-fat milk

75ml French brandy

2 tbsp soft brown sugar

Cream or vanilla ice cream to serve

This gloriously indulgent pudding is packed full of calorific treats (like most of the best desserts are).

Method: Preheat your oven to 180C/350F/gas 4. Grease a small, shallow, rectangular baking dish. Spread butter and jam on both sides of your sliced baguette and place the slices in overlapping layers in the dish, adding the sultanas as you go.

Make a basic custard by beating the eggs, egg yolks and caster sugar in a mixing bowl until they are creamy, then scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod into the mixture. Watch your fingers with the knife.

Beat in the cream, milk and brandy. Pour the mixture over the bread slices in the baking dish and leave for 20 minutes so the bread can soak it all up. If you can remember to do so, sprinkle the soft brown sugar on top.

Place the baking dish in a roasting tin and carefully pour boiling water around the outside to create a bain-marie-type arrangement so that the pudding poaches. Bake for about 45 minutes until golden on top.

Remove from the oven and leave to rest for 10 minutes. While it’s resting, glaze the top with the remaining plum jam, loosened with a couple of teaspoons of hot water.

Serve with fresh cream or vanilla ice cream.

Steak haché sliders on toasted brioche

Difficulty: easy ('cinch')

(makes 12 sliders)

600g coarsely minced steak with good fat content (not too lean)

Salt and pepper

Olive oil, for brushing

1 x 400g loaf sliced brioche

Red onion chutney

12 small slices bleu d’Auvergne to serve

The quality of the end product here depends entirely on the quality of the meat. There are no tricks or gimmicks with steak haché – unlike a burger, it is just pure beef.

A slider is a small burger. The advantage when making them yourself is that they make ideal party food, rather than a meal in itself. And they are easy to make while tipsy. Here, the quantities are for a dozen sliders: two dozen morsels of sweet brioche, sharp blue cheese and slightly acidic chutney.

Method: In a large bowl, season the meat well with salt and pepper and mix in with your hands.

Using a circular pastry cutter placed on a plate, press the meat down inside it to a depth of about 2cm-2½cm. Make 12 patties this way.

Place some oil in a small bowl and brush each steak patty with oil on the upper side. Heat a cast-iron skillet, taking care not to burn yourself, and when it’s very hot add your sliders, oiled side down, pressing down a little with the back of a metal slice.

While they’re cooking brush the other side with oil. Brush the brioche with olive oil and toast under a grill until golden, then, using the pastry cutter, cut the brioche to the same size as the burgers.

Spread onion chutney on one side of 12 toasted brioche slices. For rare, cook your patties for two to three minutes on each side so that they’re just seared on the outside. A medium burger will be about five minutes per side.

Place the burgers on top of the chutney side of the brioche, add a slice of bleu d’Auvergne to each, put the hat of the slider on top and skewer with a cocktail stick to keep in place. If you have the hand-eye coordination to do so.

    Ever For Health Copy Rights 2013