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How to add a pinch of perfect to your picnic: Top chefs reveal their perfect bank holiday banquets, from the dreamiest dishes to what you should leave out
- Award-winning chefs, authors and food judges share their picnic tips and tricks
- Finest foodies also share their memories of the feasts they will never forget
- Provide their essential items, their signature dish and nuisance food for picnics
Small and perfectly formed, or sprawling spreads shared with friends and family. Whatever the size, all good picnics should make you feel as if you’ve packed a holiday into a hamper.
Part of the skill is in knowing what to take, and what to leave at home. Here, our finest foodies share their memories of the feasts they will never forget and their tips for an occasion to remember.
Award-winning chef and Great British Menu judge
Richard Corrigan, award-winning chef, says eating outdoors is one of the finest pleasures
I’ll never forget the picnics I had with my dad out in his boat. He was a great fisherman but, honestly, when we weren’t eating I’d long to get off that boat.
Once he was on it he’d never get off. We might set off at 6am and finally come in at 9pm.
I was about seven when I first went out with him, we’d fish for wild trout on Lough Sheelin, County Meath and for lunch he’d cook us a perfect brown trout over a few embers. He made a potato salad which I still make now, with onions and extra vinegar.
Outdoor eating is one of the finest pleasures. Occasionally, I’ll leave my restaurant in London and pop a few things from the kitchen in a box or bag, ideally plenty of dressed crab — my favourite picnic food — plus bread, butter and a chilled bottle of Chablis. Or I might have some smoked eel.
I take it to Hyde Park when there’s a concert that I can eavesdrop on. Let me tell you, this is the greatest free treat in London.
You don’t get to see the band or musicians, but you can hear every note, which is just as good.
ESSENTIAL: Maldon sea salt and an old fashioned ‘butterhead’ lettuce salad.
NUISANCE FOOD: Spanish hams (Iberico, Serrano) and pate — they sweat, it’s a waste.
SIGNATURE PICNIC DISH
Potato Salad — serves 2:
500g waxy potatoes, peeled
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
4 tbsp white wine vinegar
2 tbsp chopped white onion
2 hardboiled eggs
Cook the potatoes in boiling water until they are just tender enough to pierce through with a knife. Drain them, allow them to cool then place in a bowl and mash to soften the edges.
Season with the salt and pepper. Put the vinegar in a small saucepan and heat until it simmers. Continue to cook until the volume is reduced by half. Cool, add the onion then stir it properly into the potato.
Chop the hardboiled eggs, scatter over the salad, and serve.
NEVER LEAVE HOME WITHOUT: Big serving spoon and fork.
Bake-Off judge and founder of Leiths School of Food and Wine
Prue Leith, Bake-Off judge, says her signature picnic dish is guacamole
My best picnic memories are hardly gastronomic. When my son was at Eton, 30 years ago, someone told me that the thing to do was to go to the June 4 celebration, taking a picnic which you could eat in Agar’s Field.
I had no idea what any of that meant, but a picnic in a field sounded good, so I bundled a rug (actually an old bedspread quilt) into the car, made a pack of smoked salmon and cream cheese wholemeal sandwiches and a yogurt pot of Eton Mess for each of the family.
That’s my favourite picnic. Delicious, easy to eat, and no washing up.
But when we arrived we realised we’d missed the point. Agar’s field was packed with Range Rovers and Bentleys.
Out of these cars came picnic tables, tablecloths, linen napkins, crystal glasses, buckets of champagne, vases of flowers and even the odd butler.
Canopies and pagodas were erected, while several families had caterers. No one else was driving a clapped-out Subaru and dressed in shorts.
We crept away to the bank of the river, under a willow tree, perfectly placed to see the main event, the Procession of Boats.
It was a heavenly day, as we knocked back champagne and watched the adolescent rowers standing upright in narrow racing eights, holding their oars aloft and then shaking the flowers off their boaters before serenely rowing down the river, the petals drifting in their wake.
A romantic, eccentric, wonderfully English sight.
ESSENTIAL: My favourite drink — half ginger ale, half fizzy water (or prosecco), elderflower cordial, lemon juice, mint and ice.
NUISANCE FOOD: Hot supermarket BBQ chicken — it goes tepid, soggy, greasy and, left in the sun, it’s positively dangerous.
SIGNATURE PICNIC DISH
My Best Guacamole — serves 4:
2 avocados, roughly chopped
2 ripe tomatoes, skinned, deseeded and chopped
1 large clove garlic, crushed
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp balsamic glaze
Sea salt and ground black pepper
6 basil leaves, shredded
Mix the garlic, oil and balsamic together, season with the salt and pepper and mix with the avocado and tomato pieces. Tip into a container and sprinkle with the basil.
NEVER LEAVE HOME WITHOUT: A wet J-cloth in a plastic bag. Wasp-Ease. A corkscrew.
Top chef and restaurateur
Mark Hix, top chef and restauranteur, said his most recent picnic with the founder of the Pig hotel was a delight
I picnic often, and remember every one of them as being perfect, but the most recent was a delight.
I was in Hampshire with my friend Robin Hutson, founder of the Pig hotel group. We always cook on our picnics. I took a rib of Hannan’s aged beef and cooked it on the barbecue — it was blue-ish rare on the inside, absolutely outstanding.
I made a version of the Sicilian dish caponata and we ate it with burrata, a creamy, richer version of ‘Buffalicious’ mozzarella, made in Somerset.
Robin always brings the wine — often a good red so there’s no need to faff about chilling it.
Food aside, the making of a great picnic is about good company — just one friend or many more, as long as they’re convivial and the scenery is pretty.
Because I like to cook when I picnic, I need the Land Rover nearby for the equipment — I’m not one for walking miles with a backpack full of food.
ESSENTIAL: A spice mix to season meat and fish.
NUISANCE FOOD: Supermarket sausage rolls — not worth the extra weight.
SIGNATURE PICNIC DISH
Cardoon caponata with burrata — serves 4:
1 cardoon stalk* (300g)
2 medium aubergines, cut into rough 1cm cubes
3 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, sliced thinly
4 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 heaped tbsp capers
1 heaped tbsp raisins
1 tbsp sugar
50ml red wine vinegar
1 tbsp grated dark chocolate (80-100 per cent cocoa solids)
To serve: toasted pine nuts, flat parsley leaves
* Or use 4 celery sticks, pared of strings and chopped
Cardoons are cousins of artichokes but you use the stalks only. Pare the leaves from the stalk, then pare lengthways to remove the ‘strings’. Cut into 3cm dice then simmer in boiling water with a pinch of salt and sugar to soften them.
Drain, refresh in cold water then set aside. Meanwhile, salt the aubergine pieces and leave in a colander to sweat for half an hours. Rinse and pat dry. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan/casserole and fry the onions until soft. Add the aubergines and cardoons and cook for a few minutes until they colour a little then add the tomatoes. Cook until bubbling then add the capers, raisins, sugar, passata and wine vinegar.
Simmer until slightly reduced then finish by stirring in the chocolate. Season with salt and allow to cool. Place the burrata on top, then scatter pine nuts and parsley.
DON’T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT: An Easy Stove.
Top outdoor tricks
● Burn sage bundles on the barbecue or firepit to keep the mozzies away.
● Place a shower curtain under your picnic rug to avoid damp bottoms.
● Wrap sandwiches in grease-proof paper tied up with string and write ingredients on the outside.
● Fill egg boxes with charcoal — a portable, clean way to light the fire.
● Take a ball of string to secure wine bottles put in a stream or pond to cool.
● Make night-time feasts glow with lightweight LED strings — they last for ever.
● Use upside-down paper pastry cases to protect drinks from flies.
● Pack undressed salads individually in lidded cups or old jam jars.
● Forgot the corkscrew? Use your sharpest house key, pierce at a 45-degree angle, then slowly lever cork out.
Cookery book writer and baker
Cherry Menlove, cookery book writer, reminisces on her favourite picnics
The sun, high in the sky over the South Downs. Acres of grass to lay on, beautiful old oak trees to give shade, unlimited space for the children to yell their lungs out; chilled glasses of wonderfully tasty English fizz.
These are the memories that come flooding back when I think of my favourite picnic.
We started at midday in the glorious grounds of Petworth Park, a National Trust property in West Sussex near my bakery, Cherry’s Deli, and went on until very, very late. I cooked lots of my special picnic pies, enough to feed everyone — with seconds.
The children munched on a fresh harvest of tiny tomatoes — perfect no-prep food. It was June and warm enough that we didn’t need jackets and the sun didn’t go down until late in the evening.
Each person I’d invited was able to come and everyone’s children, including my own, were on their absolute best behaviour. If I have one wish this summer, it would be to repeat it all again.
ESSENTIAL: Focaccia. Easy to tear and share. Bottle of English Fizz.
NUISANCE FOOD: Pre-dressed salad (ends up as pond sludge).
SIGNATURE PICNIC DISH
Petworth Picnic Pie, pastry for 8-10 quiches — serving 4 each:
Use 8-inch pie tins.
500g plain flour
500g wholemeal flour
500g butter or margarine
6 cherry tomatoes
Handful of grated cheddar
Half a courgette
3 stems of tenderstem broccoli or asparagus
Fresh basil, mixed herbs.
200ml of semi-skimmed milk
2 large free range eggs
Put all of the flour and butter into a mixer and mix until a breadcrumb like consistency. Add a few tablespoons of water until the dough sticks together in a ball.
Roll out the dough until it’s 2cm thick and place it in the quiche tin. Allow the pastry to flop over the sides and don’t worry about it being too neat and trimmed. You want a slight crust as this give the pie texture and stops it from being too sloppy when baking.
Sprinkle cheese on to the pastry in the base of the tin. Add the courgette, tomatoes and broccoli or asparagus chopped, olives cut in half and fresh basil leaves placed evenly around the other vegetables, three large pinches mixed dried herbs.
Whisk the eggs into the milk and pour in to the pie dish covering the ingredients. Bake at 200c for about 15-20 mins until browned on top.
NEVER LEAVE HOME WITHOUT: Biodegradable wet wipes.
Author and food writer
Alex Hollywood, author and food writer, says food taste better in the fresh air
I grew up by the beach in Kent so picnics were mandatory! When I had my son, it was only natural we’d carry on this great tradition.
I firmly believe food tastes better in the fresh air and we have many happy memories; sitting together with friends at Westgate-on-Sea on the big blue beach blanket with the candy-striped windbreaker, small toes wiggling in the sand and eating delicious offerings from my large Victorian wicker picnic basket with the cups and plates all neatly stored inside.
When I pack for a picnic, I use up whatever’s in my fridge. My sticky wings with soy, lime, maple, orange juice and ginger are always a huge hit, perfect for little fingers, and I like to pack a tin of my squidgy brownies, a couple of punnets of strawberries, slices of Grandma’s fruitcake and a litre of homemade frozen lemonade because no great picnic is complete without fruitcake and lemonade, is it?
ESSENTIAL: Mint, can be put into salads, grilled wraps or drinks.
NUISANCE FOOD: Pre-sliced tomatoes, they make everything limp en route.
SIGNATURE PICNIC DISH
Grandmother’s Pain Farci —serves 4:
1 sourdough loaf
6 slices of ham or chicken
10 pitted black olives
200g ricotta or cream cheese
100g sun-dried tomatoes
Slice the top off the sourdough and hollow out the middle. Stuff tightly with layers of whatever you have, dried ham, roast chicken slices, chargrilled vegetables, mozzarella, brie, sun-dried tomatoes, basil or rocket.
Replace the ‘lid’ and squash it down with a chopping board; then wrap and chill overnight. Slice up when you arrive.
NEVER LEAVE HOME WITHOUT: A rubbish bag!
TV chef and food critic
Tamasin Day-Lewis, TV chef and food critic, says other people’s picnics always tasted better as a child
When I was a child, I always thought other people’s picnics tasted best. It didn’t matter whether it was a cold sausage or soggy tomato sandwich, there was nothing quite like opening up the picnic tins with a fierce wind ripping through the dunes in the wild west of Ireland’s County Mayo, and seeing what delights had been packed for us by the cook at Old Head Hotel.
My three children’s summers have been spent in Mayo, too, where the most sublime picnic is all about gathering driftwood on the beach, netting shrimps from rock pools to cook over the fire in an old tin can filled with sea water and dipping them into home-made mayonnaise — delicious.
Or I take a cold box with dressed crab, curried mayonnaise and salads and strawberries and cream to eat with lemon drizzle cake. Equally memorable.
ESSENTIAL: Bars of Golden Crisp, milk chocolate.
NUISANCE FOOD: Avoid ready-made food as it doesn’t quite cut it.
SIGNATURE PICNIC DISH
Curried mayo for crab, seafood, or a dip for crudités:
1 egg yolk
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 clove wet garlic
¼ tsp mild chilli powder
¼ tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp garam masala
Lemon juice + lime juice if you have a lime
1 tbsp full-fat Greek yoghurt
1 heaped tbsp mango chutney
1 tbsp fresh dill finely chopped, or coriander if you prefer
1 small medium red chilli, or green if you like less heat
2 spring onions finely chopped
Stir the egg yolk together with the mustard and squished garlic with a wooden spoon in a bowl.
Add the three spices and then begin by dripping the olive oil in, a drop at a time as you stir, until it has emulsified and thickened and you can pour it in and stir a little faster.
After roughly ¼ pint, you should have a very thick emulsion. Squeeze in up to half a lemon, stirring as you go, or half and half lemon and lime juice. Dollop in the yoghurt and mango chutney and stir in.
Add the other ingredients, stir and taste for seasoning. If you are not going to eat it for a while, pour a thin layer of olive oil over the surface, pat down a piece of cling film onto the surface, cover with a secure top and stir in the oil before eating. This makes sure the top doesn’t form a skin.
NEVER LEAVE HOME WITHOUT: Chilly’s flask — keeps soup hot or drinks cold for 12 hours.
All you need to get going…
Large Indian magenta Mandala circular rug with fringe
£38 – etsy.com
Classic Tweedmill woollen rug with leather carry straps
£98 – anthropologie.com
Wicker hamper for bicycles, with contents for two
£45 – cyclechic. co.uk
Insulated Fortnum & Mason hamper with rug
£115 – fortnumandmason
Portable bamboo cutlery and utensils
£11.99 – etsy.com
Eco-friendly picnic dining set
£54.99 – lakeland.co.uk
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