TOM UTLEY: Why I add Worcester sauce to my spag bol

TOM UTLEY: The woke mob can rant for all they’re worth, but I’ll keep adding Worcester sauce to my spag bol

The sainted Mary Berry couldn’t escape angry censure when she recommended sloshing double cream into her bolognese

Before I write another word, I must issue a trigger warning to all culinary purists, vegans, opponents of cultural appropriation and others of a sensitive, woke disposition who are inclined to take offence at just about anything.

Stop reading right now, the whole lot of you, because I intend to start this week’s column with my recipe for a delicious and comforting version of Hungarian goulash. If you read on, you’ll be enraged. Just don’t say you haven’t been warned.

Right, here goes. For those who are not much bothered about authenticity or cultural integrity, these are the ingredients you will need:

1 knob butter

1lb (or 450g, if you insist) diced British or Irish beef

1 large Spanish onion, chopped

1 tin Italian chopped tomatoes

4 heaped teaspoons hot paprika (origin unimportant)

Salt and black pepper

1 pack tagliatelle

1 pot Greek-style yoghurt

More from Tom Utley for the Daily Mail…

Method: heat butter in thick pan; add the diced beef and turn until brown; throw in the onion and cook until soft-ish; sprinkle on the paprika, pour in the tomatoes; season generously; cover and leave to simmer on the hob for two hours. Dish up on a bed of tagliatelle with a dollop of the yoghurt. Serves four. Perfection guaranteed every time. 

For the sake of variety, you may like occasionally to serve up spaghetti bolognese instead. What is so great about this is that the recipes for goulash and bolognese — my versions of them, anyway — are pretty well identical. Just don’t tell the Hungarians or the Italians.

The only differences are that for the bolognese, you’ll need mince instead of diced beef, spag instead of tag and you can dispense with the paprika and yoghurt.

You may also care to add interest to the bol by throwing in some garlic, chopped mushrooms and peppers, a generous splash of red wine and a dash of Heinz tomato ketchup and Worcestershire sauce.

Enough to say that these two dishes, which make up my entire culinary repertoire apart from beans on toast, have seen me triumphantly through those mercifully rare occasions in the course of 41 years of marriage, including 35 of fatherhood, when I’ve been required to take my turn in the kitchen.

Anyway, I can already sense the purists and politically correct leaping to condemn me for my sacrilegious treatment of goulash and bolognese. For it seems there’s nothing like an inauthentic recipe for a treasured national dish to excite the protective fury of those who see themselves as upholders of culinary truth.

Remember how Nigella Lawson provoked fury by adding cream to a carbonara instead of the traditional raw eggs? Or how Jamie Oliver got into trouble for putting chorizo into paella? As for Gordon Ramsay, those who like to take offence called him all sorts of unprintable names for daring to describe a London restaurant as an ‘authentic Asian eating house’, when it had no Asian chefs and hybrid dishes on the menu.

Even the sainted Mary Berry couldn’t escape angry censure when she recommended sloshing double cream into her bolognese. And what about the time when the late Italian chef Antonio Carluccio laid into the British practice of adding herbs or garlic to the sauce?

Remember how Nigella Lawson provoked fury by adding cream to a carbonara instead of the traditional raw eggs?

He fumed that we shouldn’t even serve spaghetti with bol, declaring that the dish doesn’t exist in his native land. ‘In Italy, it’s tagliatelle bolognese,’ he said.

Well, I’m not sure about that, since I could almost swear I once had spaghetti bolognese in Florence, in those far-off days when we were allowed to travel abroad. But whatever the truth, somebody should have warned Prince William of the strong feelings he would excite when he innocently contributed his own spag bol recipe to a charity cookbook.

Not only did he use spaghetti instead of tagliatelle, but he committed the cardinal sin of sprinkling the finished product with parsley. ‘Not at all right,’ proclaimed Carluccio.

All I can say is that I’ve never had any complaints when I’ve served up my version of spag bol or goulash to my wife and four sons (unless you count the occasional sarcastic comment: ‘What a surprise, Dad! You’ve made spag bol again — or is this goulash?’) 

Indeed, why should we care whether a dish is authentically prepared? All that matters, surely, is that it should smell nice, taste good and have the punters coming back for more.

I flatter myself that my two creations, barely distinguishable from each other though they may be, satisfy all three criteria with flying colours (even if that colour tends to be predominantly orange).

Now along comes a distinguished food critic, cultural thinker, writer and broadcaster to back me up. All right, I dare say that with his more discerning palate, Jonathan Meades — who was restaurant critic for The Times in the 1980s and 1990s — may be harder to please than my four greedy sons. It is even possible that he might identify shortcomings in my two signature dishes.

But we are in perfect accord when it comes to his insistence that in the kitchen, as in literature, excellence is more important than authenticity.

In an interview to promote his latest collection of essays, entitled Pedro And Ricky Come Again, the wordy wordsmith says ‘without cultural appropriation there is only stagnation’ — and that unless customs are refreshed by ‘external influence’ they will merely be passed down ‘from one blinkered generation to the next’.

If I read him aright — and that’s not always easy with him, as viewers who have tried to follow his televised musings on architecture will testify — he is saying that inauthentic ingredients and cooking methods can often improve a dish. (Am I imagining it, or is this a clear reference to my advocacy of adding a dash of Lea & Perrins to bolognese sauce?) 

Aged 74 and now living in France, Meades describes the cultural appropriation debate as ‘essentially frivolous’, arguing that British cooks should focus on ensuring that their French-style cassoulets taste good, rather than fretting about their faithfulness to the dish’s origins, which are rather hard to pin down.

As he puts it himself, in his interview with the culture website Quietus: ‘A cassoulet made in London ought not to worry the guardians of authenticity, because it is attempting the impossible.

‘The authentic cassoulet is made in Auch. No, it’s made in Toulouse. No, it comes from Carcassonne. Hang on, it comes from Au Trou Gascon in the 12th arrondissement of Paris. And what about Chez Philippe, near the Canal SaintMartin? Excellence is worth pursuing. Authenticity is a chimera.’

Indeed, all sorts of dishes we think of as belonging to a particular nation turn out to have their origins elsewhere. For example, the Ancient Egyptians have a strong claim to have invented pizza, while the modern version of it took off in the U.S. long before it became popular in its Italian ‘homeland’.

As for the recipe for pasta, many credit the Ancient Chinese. Vindaloo? Portugal. Chicken tikka masala? Possibly Glasgow. And that quintessentially English dish, battered fish? Brought here by Sephardic Jews, apparently, after their expulsion from Spain in the 14th century.

Jamie Oliver got into trouble for putting chorizo into paella?

The truth is that since the dawn of international trading, mankind has been culturally appropriating recipes, fashion tips, words, religions, artistic genres, scientific discoveries and economic and political systems from foreign societies. It’s only in this deranged modern world that fanatics have come to believe that adopting good ideas is a vile crime.

Well, let them rant for all they’re fit. I’ll carry on adding Greek yoghurt to my goulash and Worcestershire sauce to my spaghetti bolognese, for the eminently sensible reason that I like the taste.

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