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Steven Saunders cooks surf and turf - and talks princesses



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The celebrity chef, of The Willow Tree in Bourn, discusses lobster with his girlfriend, and the latest on his Odessa Project.

Steven Saunders at the Willow Tree, Bourn. Picture: Keith Heppell.
Steven Saunders at the Willow Tree, Bourn. Picture: Keith Heppell.

When I split with my wife last year, I was left with just one pair of shoes, a pair of jeans and pretty much nothing else.

I went to Cambridge on a cold January morning to buy clothes and shoes and I walked into a shoe shop in the Grand Arcade and that’s where I met my girlfriend. So in essence the ex did me a huge favour!

My beautiful girlfriend adores fish and so I thought about cooking her lobster this weekend. Her first reaction was “Yuk, don’t you cook them alive? “

She had never tried lobster before. I tried to explain the process was like cooking a crab but the more I explained, the deeper in it I became, and I ended up by saying, OK, I will just cook a steak.

My girlfriend is a fair bit younger than me and loves learning about food and I love teaching her some cooking skills.

As a compromise she agreed that I should cook surf and turf for me and plain steak for her. Lobster and beef has to be one of my best meals ever.

Years ago, I was on that Desert Island Discs radio show and they ended by asking me: “What would be your dying dish?”

I replied: “A long buffet, miles long, of lobster and steak”

“Why miles long,” they asked?

“Because that way I would live longer!”

Steven Saunders and his girlfriend
Steven Saunders and his girlfriend

Surf 'n' turf was featured in 1962 at the Eye of the Needle restaurant, a revolving restaurant on top of the Space Needle observation centre in Seattle. Reportedly, it had been discovered years before, but the Eye of the Needle made it super trendy.

Personally, the juiciness of fresh lobster coupled with a smoky tender steak is quite simply heaven on Earth.

I remember my mother making lobster thermidor for me when I was just a wee boy for my birthday. She was an excellent cook. The taste of the smooth, creamy, mustardy sauce with cheese bubbly on top of the meaty fresh lobster probably convinced me to become a chef!

As the lobster dinner and the non-lobster dinner was served, we discussed many things, including theodessaproject.com, which is our project set up by me and my business partner Shaina to help Ukrainian refugees find homes and jobs in hospitality.

Our government is not keen to support it because it’s a better scheme than theirs and because they don’t want the refugees feeling obligated or committed to jobs. But most if not all of them want and need jobs to be able to send money home.

On the other hand, the Odessa Project is the most recommended way for them to help find jobs when they get here. When the refugees ask for work, we get contacted - and most of them are asking, so we are busy placing.

If anyone reading needs staff, please contact me.

[Read more from Steven: Secrets of a perfect summer barbecue - good enough for a prince]

One of the refugees that reached out to me was a princess with Russian nobility, who has been living in Kyiv all her life and is loved by the Ukrainian people.

She is in serious danger in Kyiv and needs help urgently like they all do. I reached out to her along with many others and offered support.

When the princess arrives here, she will help us to manage our Odessa Project and help me with my manifesto for Together, which is my new political party. We have some politicians on board. For more information about how Together works, or to get involved contact me below. I would love some support.

My girlfriend was intrigued about who the princess was and where she might be living.

“Here with me,” I said. “Well, not here in the same house, but in the same location.”

“Really? What happens if you fall in love? What will you cook for her? Does she like lobster?”

All of these questions and more.

I said, “There is a book called The Princess and the Lobster. It’s not a book with a happy ending. However, you are my happy ending, darling, so please now try some of the lobster!” “OK,” she said. ‘I will… Omg…. I really love it!’

“Thank goodness. Now we can add lobster onto our shopping list!”

We currently have lobster and surf and turf on our summer menu at The Willow Tree so if you don’t fancy cooking it… just email us and book a table! Simples.

Chef Steven’s Surf & Turf - only for Princesses

Serves two

Steven Saunders' surf and turf
Steven Saunders' surf and turf

Ingredients

  • 250ml milk
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ onion, thickly sliced
  • 3 black peppercorns
  • 50g butter
  • 15g plain flour
  • 50g shallots, finely chopped
  • 120ml dry white wine
  • 3 tsp English mustard
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh tarragon ( optional)
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh chives
  • 1 tbsp double cream
  • 50g Gruyère or parmesan cheese finely grated
  • 1 small lobster ( often called a chix lobster) about 500g
  • 250 g of good aged steak, sirloin or fillet

Method

Put the milk, bay leaves, onion and peppercorns in a small pan. Bring to the boil, then set aside for 10 minutes for the flavours to infuse.

Meanwhile, remove the meat from the cooked lobster and cut it into large chunky pieces. Put the cleaned/ washed lobster shells on a small baking tray and fill with the chunks of lobster meat. Preheat the grill to high.

For the sauce, reheat the milk gently. Melt 20g of the butter in another small pan, stir in the flour and cook for a few seconds. Strain in a little of the hot milk through a sieve and whisk until smooth. Gradually whisk in the rest of the milk, bring to the boil, then add the cream and lower the heat and simmer for five minutes, stirring. You should be left with 200ml sauce with the consistency of thick cream (a bechamel) and now add the mustard and stir well in. Taste and season.

Put the lobster meat back into their shells and pour over the sauce. Sprinkle with the cheese, put under the grill or in a pre-heated oven, cook for five to six minutes until golden and bubbling.

Serve with the steak cooked to your liking, it won’t need a sauce, just a fresh leaf summer salad or some new potatoes on the side. We serve it with truffle fries at the Willow Tree.



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