Homemade Podcast Episode 15: Simon Majumdar on Hospitality, History, and Heartily Dining Around the Globe
Finding a connection with a place has been a constant theme for food historian and author Simon Majumdar. The son of Indian and Welsh parents, British-born Majumdar didn’t feel that he belonged to Wales or to Calcutta. Yet, as he tells it, traveling to all 50 states didn’t just affirm his decision to become a U.S. citizen — it helped him find that invaluable sense of connection.
Majumdar met Americans and experienced their diverse food cultures first hand, writing about it in Fed, White, and Blue. From catching lobster in New England to roasting hatch chilies in New Mexico, his adventures gave him a well-rounded understanding of what being an American means.
On this episode of Homemade, Majumdar joins host Martie Duncan to chat about sharing meals around the globe, making the most of leftovers, and the foods that take him back to his childhood. Their conversation also covers what fish and chips means to England and what barbeque means to the United States. Download it for free at Apple Podcasts, Spotify and anywhere else you listen to podcasts beginning September 16.
About Simon Majumdar
Simon Majumdar’s hunger for knowledge (not to mention food) has defined his career. This culinary explorer and historian has shared his breadth of information on his podcast, Eat My Globe, as well as on Food Network shows, including "Cutthroat Kitchen," "Iron Chef America,” and “Tournament of Champions.” He is the author of Eat My Globe: One Year in Search of the Most Delicious Food in the World and Fed, White, and Blue: Finding America with My Fork. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Sybil.
MARTIE DUNCAN Welcome to Homemade from Allrecipes. I’m Martie Duncan. Every week on this podcast, we celebrate the idea that some of our favorite dishes have really interesting backstories. And my guest today loves digging into those stories. Simon Majumdar is equal parts food historian and celebrity cook, broadcaster, author, and world traveler.
He's one of the true food nerds, right up there with Alton Brown, Andrew Zimmern, Richard Blais, and my good buddy Justin Warner. You can't have that list without his name. Simon Majumdar is not just a TV judge, which I know that's how most of you know him from either "Iron Chef," "The Next Iron Chef," and, more recently, "Tournament of Champions," Guy Fieri's new show that started airing back in the spring. And he really is a citizen of the world and a student of food and people, too. If you follow him on Instagram, you know he’s also the private chef to his wife, Sybil. Thank you, Simon, for being on Homemade.
SIMON MAJUMDAR Oh, thanks Martie. Thank you for inviting me! It's great to have a chance to talk again, even if it is across the ether rather than face to face.
MARTIE Yeah. I was thinking about when we met for the first time, and, of course, I had known you for quite a long while. But we met for the first time in L.A. I don't know if you remember that or not.
SIMON I do. Gosh, that was a while back, wasn't it?
MARTIE It really was a long time ago, wasn’t it? And it wasn't your L.A. It was my L.A. — Lower Alabama. And we met on a farm for a food event that I think was promoting your book Fed, White, and Blue. I think you were on your book tour.
SIMON That's right. And I was doing a dinner with some local chefs, and we actually did a signing on the farm just outside of Spanish Fort. Am I right?
MARTIE That's right.
SIMON And I had had a great time. I always remember that my wife and I, we went around the country promoting the book. And we went to all kinds of unusual places. I remember doing demos outside of a flower shop in Oxford, Mississippi. I remember all kinds of weird stuff that happened. I mean, it was great fun.
But we ended up at this farm where we thought, well, we're just going to sit here for an hour. No one's going to come. It's a farm. And then we'll come back and do the dinner, but we won't sell any books. But ended up with lots of people turning up to buy books and having a chat. And we had a great time. We had a really good time. And it was our anniversary. The day we met was actually my wife and I's anniversary. I think it was our fifth anniversary. And I still remember that a local who I've got to know a little bit over the years, Pete, Panini Pete...
MARTIE Panini Pete, our good mutual friend,
SIMON Lovely guy invited us to his restaurant out on the water, and that's where we had our anniversary meal. And I still remember sipping on a martini as the sun went down and being very happy indeed. It all seems like a billion years ago now for lots of reasons.
MARTIE It truly does.
SIMON We had a great meal, though. What I loved is that we worked with so many of the local chefs. And so just to be able to spend the whole day in the kitchen of the farm with them making food for, what, 40 people or 50 people or however many it was, was a real, real joy.
MARTIE All right,so you have three books. I'm very fascinated with all of them for different reasons. But the one we are talking about right now, Fed, White, and Blue: Finding America With My Fork, you traveled to all 50 states for that book. I haven't even done that. So, what I want to know is, why you decided you needed to do that prior to becoming a U.S. citizen.
SIMON First of all, I think it was important for me to become a U.S. citizen. I was a green card holder. I could have stayed here and worked and, you know, I'd have paid taxes. I'd have done everything. But I don't feel I would have contributed anything kind of meaningfully without becoming a citizen. Because I think, then, not only do you have rights but you also have responsibilities.
Something we should all think about now, without wanting to get political, I think citizenship of any country — and I'm a dual citizen of Britain and the United States — is you have responsibilities as well. And I wanted to have that kind of, that duty.
MARTIE And connection, I imagine.
SIMON Yes. One of the things I found, you know, my father was Indian. My mother was Welsh. And I was always considered kind of neither one nor the other. If I was in India, they go, "Well, you're not Indian." If I'm in Wales, they go, "Well, you're certainly not Welsh." And so, trying to find a connection with somewhere, I think, has always been very important to me.
I think most people, when they think of me, probably just think of me as British, which is fine, you know? I'm very proud of being British. And certainly the accent has got me some work along the way, I'm sure. But for me, just as when I'm researching my food history podcast or researching anything that I do, I wanted to do due diligence. So I'd been to a lot of states in the United States already. I used to come over here on holiday.
The United States was always a country that I adored. I always loved coming over here and seeing the different aspects of it. But I wanted to go and finish that job and find out more about the people. And I did that through the notion of food. Because obviously, that's what we do, you know, both of us. And so I went on social media and I said, "Where should I go? What should I do? Who wants to invite me to come and experience something that you do as an American citizen?"
So what I loved about that was, to me, it really exemplified just how varied this country is. You can be a person with Vietnamese heritage who's come to Houston after the Vietnamese war. You can be a Basque in Bakersfield. You could be someone going back to the Mayflower. You could be, obviously, Native American going back thousands of years. Or you could be just about anything in the United States. And really for the book, I was very fortunate.
One day I was sitting next to Richard Petty watching the Daytona 500 in his pit tower. And a few days later, I'm out on a lobster boat with one of our mutual friends, Michelle, up in New England. The next week, I'm in New Mexico roasting hatch chilies. The next week, I'm in California picking grape, whatever it was. At one point, hosting a kosher barbeque festival in Kansas City with a wonderful guy, Rabbi Mendel Siegel.
So all of these things were thrown at me in the nicest possible way. And I think it gave me, I think a unique view of what it means to be an American. And I hope it gives me a much more rounded view. Again, particularly now we're coming up to an election, all these things. And I hope what it gives me is an ability to sit down with people who are different politically, different religiously, different all kinds of ways. And just realize that they're all still Americans.
MARTIE You know, Simon, I think the great connector is food. No matter what your background is or wherever you come from, people always are proud to share their food heritage. And they’re proud to share their family recipes, too.
I did a road trip for my book about beloved Alabama restaurants. And in the front of the book there are these stories from famous folks about the food they crave. And people always ask me, "How in the world did you get all those quotes from those really famous people?" And I said, you know, if you call up somebody like Chuck Leavell, for example, who was one of the Allman Brothers, and for the past, I don’t know however many years, he’s been the musical director for the Rolling Stones. And if you call him up and say, “Can I talk to you?” the answer I probably no. But if you call him and say, "I want to know your favorite food memory or favorite food tradition or craving," they’ll talk to you. And they’re proud to share that.
SIMON And that's not just true in the United States, but my great memories of food around the world aren't just driven by fine dining, for want of a better way of expressing it. When I've been across France and Italy and Spain and Southeast Asia, I've eaten in some of the best restaurants in the world. And I feel very grateful, very fortunate to have done it. But those aren't my best experiences. My best experiences are really sitting down with those wonderful folks on a train in Marrakesh or around in a courtyard sitting around a big communal plate of food in Senegal. That's where I get really excited.
MARTIE For your book, Eat My Globe, it was your one year to go everywhere and eat everything. So let's say I went, I don't know, to Senegal or Marrakesh, one of those you just mentioned. What would I eat? What would that even be like?
SIMON Well, the first thing that you find is, in both those cases, extraordinary levels of hospitality. So it's all about the guest. And sometimes we can forget that in the United States. I remember in Marrakesh being on the train and it was one of those little old-style compartments. And a family got on, about seven or eight of them, and they were all speaking in Arabic. And one of them said something to me because I have darker skin. And they said something in Arabic. And I just said, yeah, I kind of shrugged. And then they said, "Well, do you speak French?" Because it's Morocco, and they also, you know, speak French. And I said, "Well, yes, a little, you know, from school." So immediately, the entire family, switched to French so I could be part of the conversation. So it's that kind of level.
And then what happened was they said, "Did you have food?" Well, I had kind of mistaken — the length of the journey was about eight hours. And I had half a pack of Pringles and a bottle of Diet Coke. And suddenly they brought out all this amazing food, making sure that all the best bits of food, the roast chicken, the cheese, the fish, whatever it was, ended up in front of me.
Similarly, in Senegal, I was sitting in the courtyard of the person who I met there, and his parents and his sisters had made this dish called thieboudienne, fish and rice, and it's rice with scotch bonnet peppers, and it's just delicious, delicious, delicious. But you all eat from a big round plate. Huge round plate. And the mother, who was then in her 80s, was pushing all the best bits of fish and peppers to my side of the plate the whole time to make sure that I got it.
So, as much as the food was delicious, and it really was and I crave it, it was that beautiful hospitality that touched me. Breaking bread is the key. I always say, if I said it to you before, you can't have an argument with someone with a mouthful of ribs.
MARTIE No, you can't. So true. You said once that barbeque was America's greatest contribution to the world’s culinary scene, that was the one thing that America's brought to food that is unmistakable. Why did you pick barbeque?
SIMON First of all, it speaks to American history because obviously you have the history of slaves coming up from the Caribbean who brought their own cooking of pork. So you have that history, and that history goes back through the Caribbean to West Africa. So you have real, real antecedents to that way of cooking. And then also, as you move around the country, the way that it altered because of the people who were cooking it.
So you go to Texas, which was primarily Germans and a lot of butchers, and so their barbeque was notionally very different. So rather than pork, whole pork, whether it's chopped or whatever you do with it, they were doing beef. And then you start looking at beef, which wasn't indigenous to the United States. It was brought here by colonists, and so, how they started using beef there. Because it was wild. You had all these herds causing problems. So they started killing and slow-cooking them and developing this rather delicious style.
And then you get the great movement after emancipation, and you get the movement of African Americans around. And they're taking barbeque up to Chicago, and barbeque up to Kansas City where the stockyards are. So, apart from the fact barbeque is just bloody delicious in all its styles, it also, to me, speaks to American history more than any other food. And I could literally go on for days talking about the history of not just the cooking of it but what brought it to that point. What brought Memphis to their style? What brought Kansas City to its style? What brought the Carolinas to its style? The origins of mustard and tomatoes and vinegar and all those things that we argue about as barbeque fans.
MARTIE Now I have to ask you your most memorable barbeque experience that you've had here in the States.
SIMON The kosher barbeque festival. And the first one I went to was in Overland Park. Rabbi Mendel, you'll see him, the barbeque rabbi, who now owns a barbeque restaurant down in Florida. And what I loved about that was that this is obviously a very different community with different rules because of their religion — but who were absolutely welcomed into the kind of barbeque world. They were just part of the team.
I went to host it and be part of it, and all the food had to be prepared on the Thursday and put into coolers. Because Friday, obviously, was the beginning of the Sabbath. And then cooking couldn't begin until the rabbi had come out on the Saturday night and gone, "There are three stars in the sky, and the Sabbath had finished."
MARTIE And they had done the blessing.
SIMON Done the blessing. And then they started cooking. But they had to use all communal spices because, again, they had to be certified kosher. But, what I loved about that was, once he obviously gone through the things that they needed to do, once you heard they started cooking at the first beer bottle kind of popped, it was like any other barbeque competition that you'd ever been.
MARTIE You're listening to Homemade. I'm Martie Duncan, and we'll be right back after the break.
Welcome back to Homemade. Today, my guest is Simon Majumdar.
Simon, I mentioned in the opening that you're also the private chef for your lovely bride, Sybil. I have loved following along with you during the lockdown. You cook for her every day. I want to find a Simon to cook for me.
I follow you on Twitter, too, and Instagram, and you have made some beautiful pantry dishes. And I think a lot of people have followed along for inspiration because we're kind of getting sick of our same old recipes. The pantry cooking that you've been doing really takes our normal pantry staples and elevates them. Recently you did the stuffed peppers, for example. How did you take that to another level, not the same old boring stuffed pepper?
SIMON Well, I think a lot of it is inspiration, again, from my travels. So, I look at flavor profiles and I try and recreate those. What I like to do is just literally open up the fridge and go, well, what have we got? I made creamed corn the other day. I love creamed corn.
MARTIE Me too.
SIMON But I'm now going to turn it into a like a soup because I've got a little bit of that left, some stock that I made. So I'm really passionate about not wasting food. We live in a country where we waste a third of everything we buy. And what makes it even worse is we live in a country, as rich as we are, where people will die every day of starvation. And to me, that's shameful, shameful on all of us. And again, that's not political. It shouldn't matter how you vote. That's shameful. No child that this country should ever be without food, ever.
So every day I look in the fridge. I'll go. I've got you know, today I've got some tomatoes, I've got half a cucumber that's looking a little ragged at the back of the crisper. Well, I know I could do something with that, whether it's put it in yogurt and make a tzatziki with it — whatever it is.
MARTIE OK, I want to roll back a second to when you were talking about that soup, the corn soup. So you made some creamed corn and now you're going to turn it into a soup. Can you walk me through how that recipe might go?
SIMON So I make my creamed corn in maybe a slightly different way. So I'll make quite a rich bechamel sauce. And then I will use lots of corn, and I'm a great believer in frozen, and particularly if you're at home right now, frozen and cans. And sometimes we go, oh, well, you know, we should only use — again, because we're spoiled. I love to have canned stuff and frozen stuff, and I use it all the time. And I think you can add flavors to it.
So I make the bechamel. It's going to have, you know, a little bit of nutmeg, So the flavors are in there. I have half an onion, some garlic, a pinch of rosemary, some tarragon. I'm going to have some stock. And the bechamel. I'm gonna poach all of that together. I'll probably put some broken up bits of chicken. I have a little bit of chicken there. So it's going to be like a chicken and sweet corn soup, almost. I'll put the chicken in later. I'm going to blitz the heck out of it. Pass it through a sieve two or three times. Probably add a bit more stock so it'll loosen up, a tiny bit of cream, so it will be a very smooth soup, like a cream of corn soup, and then add flecks of chicken. I have a little bit of bread that we made, and so I've got some croutons. Just float that on the top. And what I do with the croutons is I’ll toss them in olive oil, a little bit of added powder, garlic powder. Shove them in the oven till they get really crunchy. Bang! And then just float those on the top.
MARTIE Mine never make it to the soup, though. I eat 'em before I even get them on there. They're just so delicious. I love making croutons. And like you said, so they get really crispy and so good.
For those of you who haven't listened yet, Eat My Globe, Simon's podcast is in its fifth season, and it's fascinating. It's just fascinating.
SIMON I love, love, love the work that I do with the Food Network and judging and, occasionally, when they asked me to cook on a show. And I love my demos that I do around the country, as you do. You know, all the great things. But by the nature of those shows, they're shorter, whether it's half an hour or an hour. You don't have as much time to kind of express the things that I'm really passionate about, and food history is probably number one.
So I started this two years ago now, Eat My Globe podcast. I just started writing. I wrote the history of fish and chips one day when I was at home and I was bored. And I then connected with the Department of History at UCLA, and we decided to do this podcast together. So now, we've done lots of episodes. We do the history of tea, we've done the history of gin. We've got one coming up on dieting in ancient Rome. We've done the history of champagne. We've done...
MARTIE And chocolate.
SIMON Chocolate. We're particularly passionate about dining on the Titanic because the whole notion of dining on the Titanic tells you about the class structure and how people were treated on the Titanic. And then we've interviewed some amazing people.
MARTIE Yes, you've had on documentary filmmaker Ken Burns. I absolutely loved his series on country music and the one about baseball. And you’ve also interviewed my former Food Network Star mentor, Mr. Alton Brown.
SIMON That interview with Alton was one of my favorites because it was after we'd filmed "Good Eats." So we were sitting on the set of Good Eats. And I basically said to Alton, "Whenever we film together, whether it's 'Iron Chef' or 'Cutthroat Kitchen,' we spend all of our time talking about people and food history." So I said, "Well, why don't we do that? Why don't I challenge you to name five people from food history who deserve to be remembered but aren't. We'll just have the conversations we always have, except luckily this time..." Because it probably would have been crazy without a martini in front of us. So we did. We sat there for an hour and a half, maybe two hours, just talking about five people. We had great fun on the set of "Good Eats."
The Ken Burns one was really interesting because I'm doing an event in New Orleans, and I come back to the hotel after the event and was watching PBS and there was Ken Burns being interviewed. And I just put something on Twitter going we should feel very fortunate we live in a period where Ken Burns is making films and we get to hear him talk about them. And so he kind of emailed me after that or tweeted me and said, "Oh, I'd love to be on your podcast." And it's like, oh, it's Ken Burns! And I said, "Well, I'm not sure what we'll talk about in terms of..." He's historian, obviously, but I don't know of that connection with food.
Turns out that Ken Burns owns an amazing restaurant. I mean, just classic food, like fantastic coq au vin, like a really perfect martini, everything that we had in this tiny little restaurant. Ken Burns is one of these people who operates at a level of excellence. And everything he does comes from that point of view. So the restaurant is perfect. And when you meet people like that, we mentioned Alton, another one who operates from a level of excellence like that is Guy Fieri. Everything they do from how he treats the crew, how the crew react to the people that come in. And I'm a fairly two-year member of the kind of "Guy's Grocery Games" family. But the thing you notice immediately is when you come in, just that everybody operates at a level of excellence. And when you're in that the presence of people like that, it's really extraordinary. Because it, hopefully, rubs off on you. And I feel very fortunate that I can spend time with people who are kind of that good.
MARTIE And yet, they’re still trying to up their game, even though they're already that good, they're always working hard to take it to the next level.
SIMON Always. Guy did that with "Tournament of Champions."
MARTIE So early on we talked a little bit about you being a food historian. What's your personal food history, Simon? Did you grow up in a home where people cooked?
SIMON So my father from Calcutta in India, very food-obsessed culture across India, but Calcutta definitely. My mother was from Wales. But food in Wales was always delicious, but it was more functional. So she grew up post Second World War with rationing. It was more about feeding you. But what they also had was wonderful things like great baking. I've never eaten baked food as good as my Welsh grandmother and my mother. Pies and cakes and breads. Because they filled you up. But it was a real way of expressing love for someone, to walk in a house and have bread baking. That's why they pump bread smells around supermarkets. So we did, and all of our conversations were about food.
My mother passed away about 16 years ago. My father passed away last year. So all our talks with each other were all kind of signposted by what we ate. My father would go, "Well, I don't remember. I'm 86. I can't remember what you're talking about." And I go, "Yeah, you do. We ate this." And he goes, "Oh, I know exactly where we were." He could tell you everything about it.
I mentioned that my brother — we used to come over to the United States to eat barbeque. That was our holidays. My wife and I, all of our trips, before all of this lockdown craziness, we were in the Philippines where her family are from, and then in Tokyo for 10 days. It was all based on where we were going to eat. The whole time. To me it's so central to everything that I am and do.
MARTIE You know, I grew up in a cooking home, too, and I feel very much the same way. Although my experience has not been nearly as global as yours, I have spent a great deal of time in the U.K. And anybody who knows me will know that if there is fish and chips on the menu, I'm ordering it. I’ve heard you say many times that fish and chips would be your final meal if you had to pick one.
MARTIE I'm a giant fan of Heston Blumenthal, and I’ve heard you say his chips — meaning fries, y'all — which are cooked three times, are the world’s greatest chips. So give us a quick tutorial on the perfect fish and chips. Your memories of it go way, way back to having fish and chips as a kid and getting 'em in a paper bag from the chippy. Tell us a little bit about all that.
SIMON So a lot of it is about the context of fish and chips. So fish and chips has an amazing history. It actually comes from religious persecution. So in the 1800s, you had Jewish Portuguese who were thrown out of Portugal, who fried fish, and they ended up in London. And then a little while later, you had Belgian Huguenots who fried potatoes and they were thrown out of France, and they ended up in London. And they intermarried in the East End of London, kind of Jack the Ripper territory, and that's where the first fish and chip shop opened. So I love the fact that, first of all, the most British of dishes was created out of British tolerance towards people who were under religious persecution. So I love that.
It's cheap. It was nourishing. It could feed people. It was also healthy in the sense that, because it was fried, it killed off all the bacteria. And you're talking about Victorian times when things weren't perhaps as sanitary as they might be now. So, it had that element, and people could eat it off the go. So it was for workers. It became so popular that it was the only food during the Second World War that Churchill did not ration. He knew the impact on the morale of Great Britain would be so devastated by not going on Friday to go to the fish and chip shop. So it became a huge thing.
And for us on a Friday, in the north of England, going to the chippy and standing in line and getting your fish and chips wrapped up — and I would always get mine wrapped up rather than open. Because if you wrap them up, they'd put a few extra chips in there, so I wanted more chips. And I've cooked fish and chips at fish and chip shops, and I try to explain to people, you can get fish and chips at lots of different levels. If you go to a gastro-pub or a pub, you get one style. And that's what I've done on my video. If you go to a chippy, it's a very different style.
So, the triple-cooked chip that Heston Blumenthal does, that I do, is basically, take a potato — and he does it over three days. My life doesn't go to do three days of fish and chips, but you could do it over the afternoon. So you cut finger thick chips, that's the key. Not like the little fries because they'll disintegrate. But, like, thick chips. Like a steak fry, almost. You parboil it. So just for three or four minutes in boiling water. You take it out, you lay it on kitchen towel, paper towel, and you refrigerate it. Let it completely dry.
The next stage, once you've got to that point, is you then fry it at 325 degrees for about three or four minutes. Again, just till it blanches almost in the oil and goes a little bit kind of blond, not golden, but blond. You then take that out. Lay those out again, crank up the oil, 350, 375, and then you fry them for another two or three minutes.
And what happens through this process is that you get these extraordinary crunchy chips, and the inside is soft and pillowy and really delicious. But particularly, then, when you splash a little bit of malt vinegar — and our malt vinegar was very important because the acid works really, really well.
SIMON You'll always get a few little bits and pieces of the potato that just kind of fry in the oil, that and they're really crunchy.
MARTIE Really crunchy.
SIMON Really crunchy. And when you used to go to the chip shop as a kid, they weren't doing triple cooked chips. But if you were a little kid like, say, four or five years old, you with your parents and you were a little bit impatient, the people behind the counter in the fish and chip shop would bring out a little cone of paper and they'd have filled it with these little bits of crunchy chips and also the batter from the fish.
MARTIE Oh man!
SIMON And they'd put some salt and vinegar and they called it scraps. Or in my part of the world, they called it scraps. They'd go, "Oh, do you want some scraps while you're waiting?" And it was like a little freebie for the kids, and you'd eat this. And so, now, you know, you have that Proustian thing. You talk about eating a dish or smelling a dish and you just go back in your memory? So if I have those little crunchy bits of chips while I'm cooking for other people, I'll put them to one side, put a bit of vinegar on them and eat them. And immediately, I'm 56 now, but immediately it's 50 years ago, and I'm standing in a chip shop in the north of England.
So I think great food has that ability. Yes, it should be delicious in its own right. But its ability to take you back — I guarantee you will have a smell of something and immediately you'll think of your grandmother or somebody you love in your life through food.
MARTIE So a quick question about the fish in the fish and chips. It’s usually haddock or cod. I know you like cod and I like cod, as well. Is there a big difference? Or does it even really make a difference which fish we use?
SIMON A lot of it was where you were in the country. So it was what big shoals of fish came in to where your trawlers went out. In the north of England, you had cod, obviously, but a lot of the chip shops up there had haddock. In the south, it tended to be cod as well. But you also had skate. You had other things.
So one of the key things about making a great batter is you want it to kind of puff away from the fish. So the fish really steams inside the batter. It shouldn't cling to it. It shouldn't be greasy. There's some history to it. So, one of the things I found doing some research, is back in Victorian times, they would actually put a pinch of turmeric, which you think of as from India. But obviously, this was by the ports, in London, where you see turmeric in medieval recipes. So it's not that unknown. But a little pinch of it. And actually, it works. It works at your apple pie. It works in any pastry. It gives it this beautiful golden color, and you don't taste it. But it gives your pastries of any type, it gives it just a tiny pinch, and it's really remarkable.
MARTIE No, so, just a teensy pinch, is that for just color? Or is that for flavor as well?
SIMON No, flavors. And there's other things I do always put a little miniature vodka into my batter.
MARTIE I saw where you do that. And the point of the vodka is to...
SIMON The vodka evaporates at a quicker temperature than just water. And so, it helps give you a crispier batter. Now, a lot of people when I talk about it go, "Well, fish and chip shops, wouldn't they do a beer batter?" Well, beer was too expensive. You drink beer. So I don't mind a beer batter, but I don't make it very often. For me when I'm making it: egg, flour, baking powder. And sometimes I'll add a little cornstarch or Japanese rice flour.
MARTIE Rice flour's great because it does give a real crispy batter, doesn't it?
SIMON Yeah, it's like tempura.
MARTIE Yeah. It lightens it up a bit. And then one thing you don't talk about, but I have to have, besides a malt vinegar, of course. Mushy peas! I love mushy peas, and I want to have mushy peas with my fish and chips.
SIMON Well, you're a very rare American. Most Americans I know are rather off-put by them. I love them.
MARTIE I love them.
SIMON And again, they have a great history. Because these were often dried peas. So it's a particular type of pea, the marrowfat pea. You have to soak them. But these were often in ships, in the ballast, in sacks. So they were helped to balance the ships. So during winter when the ships couldn't go out and people basically were starving, they would take these peas, soak them, and they'd make a soup out of them or they'd make mushy peas. With fish and chips, a big thing of mushy peas with vinegar on top of it is one of my favorite things.
MARTIE I was in the U.K. last year at Heston Blumenthal's casual restaurant. You know, the one in the Berkshire, in Bray. And they do a beautiful mushy pea.
SIMON Oh, yeah.
MARTIE They keep it so bright and so vibrant and green. It’s got some whole peas and then the mushy pea. And I think it's got a little bit of mint in it, too.
SIMON Yes, it does.
MARTIE And maybe a touch of lemon? To me, that combination of the fish and chips with and the mushy peas, a little bit of malt vinegar, and then a nice cold lager. That’s my favorite. I love it. That brings me to a question I want to ask you. What dish defines your holiday table? What dish has to be a part of the menu for your holiday to feel complete?
SIMON For me, the big holidays in the United Kingdom. Christmas is obviously a huge one. But the one that I really loved was Easter. And my mom would always cook lamb on Easter, of course, the paschal lamb, the Easter lamb. And she would always cook a huge, like, shoulder of lamb. And shoulder of lamb to me is one of the most delicious dishes in the world because it's a little fattier. The outside skin goes crunchy and crispy if you rub it down with a bit of oil, flour and oil, lots of salt, pepper. And so for me, a big thing of like roast lamb with a mint sauce made out of fresh mint, a little bit of sugar and vinegar and salt. And then really good, because of the time, new potatoes. The first potatoes that are coming through, almost like little fingerlings, just boiled with butter on top and a bit of salt, just super simple. One of the things I struggle in the United States, if I'm not ordering in is to get really good lamb.
MARTIE Simon, we have had such a great time getting to know you and a bit more about your own personal backstory today. You're such a wealth of information. You're really one of our best food educators. And you shortcut things for the rest of us. I encourage everybody to listen to Simon's podcast, Eat My Globe. You're gonna find something that really interests you and the next thing you know, like me, you'll have gone through twelve episodes. It's really wonderful. Simon, I appreciate you being with here with us on Homemade today.
SIMON It was my very great pleasure. And, you know, it was a great opportunity to chat again. And there's never a time in life when I don't want to share my enthusiasm about food with someone else who's equally as enthusiastic.
MARTIE Ya'll, this is Simon Majumdar. And thank you again for being on Homemade.
SIMON Take care.
SIMON Bye now.
MARTIE: Simon Majumdar is the author of several books, including Fed, White, and Blue and Eat My Globe. His podcast is also called Eat My Globe, and you can find it where you found this podcast. He’s also on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook at @SimonMajumdar.
MARTIE We’ve got a great show coming up for you next week with Chef Anne Burrell. She’s the host of Food Network’s "Worst Cooks in America." You definitely don’t want to miss that one. She’s one of my favorites. And if you haven’t already, take a minute or two to subscribe to the podcast. That way, all of the new shows will show up, just like magic, on your phone.
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This podcast was recorded in Birmingham, edited in Atlanta, and can be found wherever you get your podcasts.
Homemade is produced by Allrecipes with Executive Editor Jason Burnett. Thanks to our Pod People production team: Rachael King, Eliza Lambert, Tanya Ott, and Maya Kroth.
Thanks for listening! I’m Martie Duncan, and this is Homemade.