Let the ingredients be the star

Let the ingredients be the star – words Al Woods

Okay so you have a dinner to plan. You announced this a month back and now the big day looms. You’ve been busy and haven’t had time to plan it out and now you’re running out of time. You really want to impress your guests though and so you’re flicking through recipe books and clicking online. So how do you lay on an impressive dinner if you’re not the cleverest cook in the world?

Well one of the easiest ways to make yourself look good when trying to impress your other half or guests is to let the food itself do the talking. If you go for high quality ingredients and don’t overcomplicate things you can come up with dishes that will really shine out.

The final dish is obviously going to be influenced by the ingredients you put into it. That’s why ready meals are often heavy-in-sauce and over seasoned. They are trying to disguise and overcome the often-low quality ingredients.

Mince beef

The varying quality of minced beef is a good place to start. The stringy grey stuff you can get prepacked on the supermarket shelf might be okay to hide in a lasagne but why not trade up and at least go for mince from the fresh counter which is a different level quality wise. It’s redder and a different consistency even. If you use this in a lasagne, you’ll taste the difference. Likewise, if you try a burger made with these two different qualities of minced beef you will spot the difference easily.


Supermarket salmon can also vary a lot in terms of quality and taste. Yes, you can get it really cheap but you have to trade off what that low cost is giving you. The cheapest salmon is mass farmed and the fish are fed food containing colourants to make it go orange. The better stuff will be farmed to higher standards and be able to swim more freely and so be a healthier fish and hence healthier for you. Organic salmon will be one even better. No artificial colourings and fed its natural food. You can easily taste the difference. Wild red sockeye salmon is top of the line. It is of course more expensive, but again the taste and texture are on another level. When the quality gets this high though you don’t need to do much to it for an impressive dish. Pan fried in butter and fresh herbs will allow the quality of the fish to shine through.


Many people assume chicken is just chicken. Well it might look similar but not all chicken is the same. I bought some free-range chicken breasts in Lidl recently. Once cooked they were so dry and chewy that none of us could even eat them. It was more like shoe leather than chicken. Most supermarket chicken is not that bad to be honest but if you want to taste some really special chicken, or you’re having a dinner party, you have to get out of the supermarket. A good quality butcher who can tell you where the chicken is from is a good start. Free range yes, but where’s it from? Supermarkets sometimes freeze and thaw chicken to help them with transits and shelf life. The problem is it can spoil the texture and flavour. Get some from a local farm however and you will get a taste transformation. You can order great quality chicken such as free range chicken from Graig Farm online. Again, once you have the quality then you don’t need to try too hard to make it shine. High quality chicken legs or thighs in a garlic and herb rub then roasted will taste amazing.

Using quality ingredients increases the initial cost but you save on time and don’t have to spend money creating a rich sauce to smother it in. It’s also much better for you and you’ll find you won’t waste as much because it tastes so good.


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