Stein’s at Home

THERE surely comes a point in every Rick Stein At Home meal when someone, somewhere, says: We could have got all this stuff at the bloody supermarket for less than half the price.

And if that’s not swiftly followed by someone else saying: “Hang on, what exactly did Rick Stein cook here – then you’re probably doing it all wrong.

In our own Rick Stein home movie I can report Mrs Mackenna is now peering under the grill at bubbling hake skin, snipping the corner of microwave-in-the-bag spuds, stirring piperade, flipping the lid on a tub of serrano ham crumb, and announcing: this is actually quite stressful.

As I’ve just got home from work (honestly) I immediately spring to help by getting a) in the way and b) tossing in such useful comments as, “Rick will let you cook your own lobster dinner for only ninety bangers” while wondering out loud if this may be the culinary version of that old Ikea trick where they give you a picture, a saw, some screws and a tree and claim it’s a wardrobe.

Nobody laughs. Oh well, let’s fast forward to the tasty bit. The sourdough bread’s been toasted, the leaves from Padstow Kitchen Garden tossed in the supplied vinaigrette (not enough of it for me) and we’re sitting eating all this with smoked mackerel pate. Hey, it’s a smoked mackerel pate, a reasonably good one certainly, with some okay bread and a big bag of leaves but no foodie envelopes are being stretched here.

I should probably reveal at this point that this meal is being provided free, on account of last week’s meal – delivered in a slick box by DPD – being a culinary car crash.

Firstly, the bag of rice in it had opened and was scattered all over the bottom of the box. Secondly so was half the black bean, garlic and ginger sauce and, best of all, someone from the Rick Stein corporation had phoned that very afternoon and warned we, umm, better eat the mussels that very day. In fact, we looked at them and declined to eat them at all.

Then we phoned back (they answer the phone fast and are very professional) and to cut a long story short tonight’s box was despatched by way of actually perfectly reasonable compensation.

We did eat the sea bass last week though, with the bok choi (supplied in a plastic bag as though it had been plucked straight from the shelves of a local greengrocer) sprinkled with crisp shallot and cashew nuts and you know what: it was pretty damn good.

Tonight, as we plate up that grilled hake, its skin appropriately seared and coloured, cheffily smear a lemon and pimenton mayonnaise around the piperade like it’s Masterchef-at-home week and cut into firm white flesh, we come to exactly the same conclusion as last week: this fish is really, very fresh. It’s simply a pleasant, light dish and that piperade (Rick’s contribution) manages to be sweet yet tangy with a pronounced and succulent yet wholesome pepper flavour.

Okay, the boiled spuds aren’t really necessary and the sticky toffee pudding with Cornish clotted cream for afters needed a minute less than recommended in the microwave, but it’s all brought to your door for £40 for two.

Joking aside, it’s hard to criticise the very easy to prepare starter and dessert because these are the things that travel best. And Smart Alickery aside, how else could you supply fish for the best results?

Yes, I could have gone to the local fishmonger, and grocer. I could even have followed a Stein menu on the internet and I would have saved some money, though not any time. But we wouldn’t have had any of that celebrity chef fairy dust (lightly) sprinkled over the process, nor would we have enjoyed eating it whilst watching His Rickness on the telly sauntering round France in his Porsche, while someone makes sardonic comments.

Menu: Sea bass with hot sweet and sour sauce, grilled hake piperade, even lobster, it’s all about the fish. Get the simplified Rick Stein experience in the comfort of your home with only the, er, cooking to be done. 4/5

Atmosphere: Tense at times, mainly because there’s quite a few things to do and someone wasn’t doing any of them. 3/5

Price: Of course you can buy everything cheaper, and possibly fresher, locally, but Rick has manfully resisted the temptation to over-charge and at £40 for two delivered it’s not bad. 4/5

Service: Delivered by DPD, first order went badly wrong, second was without a problem. 4/5

Food: You will wonder at how big the Rick Stein input is, but the fish is extremely fresh, instructions very professional and somehow it’s greater than the sum of its parts. 8/10