Can-do style is the recipe for success
Food writer Jack Monroe’s enthusiasm is clear: it bubbles out with every word she speaks – which is a lot, because she sure speaks quickly.
So what is she so excited to talk about? The answer might surprise you – it’s canned food. Monroe really isn’t picky when it comes to tins – whether it’s beef stew, Spam or canned mandarins – and she showcases them all in her new cookbook, Tin Can Cook.
She’s always focused on cooking on a budget of course, and this one is an extension of this theme.
Now, Monroe wants to overturn misconceptions around cans, which she thinks suffer from a “definite PR problem”, all tied up with deep-rooted classism.
She’s well aware of canned food’s dodgy reputation. “You say tinned food to people and they think of post-war rations, Brexit stockpiles or the stuff your nan has at the back of her cupboard,” she says with a groan.
Through developing the recipes for this book though, Monroe realised she too was holding onto a fair few misconceptions of her own. Take canned steak: “I thought I wasn’t going to eat or cook it, because I had these horrible memories of stewed steak,” she says.
“But actually, I took it and turned it into this tender barbecued beef, and then I put it in a curry – because it’s just slow-cooked tender beef underneath all that sloppy gravy.”
Changing her own perception was crucial to pulling off the project. “Once I’d got over my own initial childhood phobias of stuff I’d eaten as a kid and not particularly enjoyed, there was a whole world open to me and I wanted to invite other people into it,” she explains.
So why do tins have such a PR problem? Monroe reckons it’s “definitely a class thing”.
“My parents were both working class and we used loads of tins as kids. I didn’t think it was anything weird, until I started mixing in the food world and every recipe book includes fine grass-fed beef that’s had a massage, extra virgin olive oil or fresh tomatoes,” she says, with a cheeky glint in her eye. “The only time you really see tinned food in a cookbook is the occasional can of chopped tomatoes, and even then it’s with the caveat that chopped tomatoes are ‘fine’.”
What Monroe wants to do with this book is show that no food is only for higher-income people.
For her, the defining example is the cannellini beurre blanc, which she says is “a recipe I’d not cooked myself in seven years as a food writer, because I thought I was too working class to make beurre blanc – I thought beurre blanc was for other people. I want to make the best of everything accessible to everyone, no matter how small their kitchen or how small their budget is.”
Tin Can Cook: 75 Simple Store-cupboard Recipes by Jack Monroe is published by Bluebird, £6.99. Available now.