Have you ever considered what percentage of products stocked in a decent sized supermarket you actually use? Do you think it is higher or lower than the average man or woman on the street? Whether higher or lower, in reality it is probably a very small number.
We shop according to our habits, heading for the aisles and shelves we are used to, where we know we will find the ingredients needed for the repertoire of dishes we are comfortable making. Occasionally we might stray off the beaten track, if we've seen an ingredient listed in a new recipe we fancy, or if some compelling piece of marketing has driven us to try something new. For the most part though, grocery shoppers tend to stick to the relatively small selection of products that they already know. It's the paradox of choice. When faced with so many different things to choose from, we get overwhelmed and go for the most familiar thing we can find.
The next time you happen to have a few minutes to spare while in a supermarket (if that is ever possible!), take a moment to register just how many products there are on the shelves. Wander down unfamiliar aisles and marvel at the number of products that are stacked in neat lines and contemplate how many you have actually tasted. Many of the products you won't even have heard of, let alone know how to cook.
If you are like me then supermarket shopping isn't a pleasant experience. Well if you are like me then ANY shopping isn't a pleasant experience. Apart from Lakeland, maybe. No, pushing a trolley around a crowded supermarket full of screaming children and long checkout queues is not my idea of a good time. I'm in and out like the SAS. I home in on my targets, pay and get out, fast. I don't browse the multiple variants of mayonnaise or the 15 different varieties of vinegar. You won't fine me dawdling near the dairy or vacillating by the veg. Get in, get out, get home.
But maybe I am missing a trick. Maybe by zooming around the aisles of Sainsburys like a heat seeking missile, I am overlooking some incredible ingredient I don't even know exists. After all, somebody must be buying the 95% of stuff I don't buy, just as lots of the stuff I love to cook with will be totally unfamiliar to most.
Like creamed corn.
Although creamed corn is largely overlooked in European dishes, it is very popular in the States, particularly in Midwestern and Southern dishes. For me, creamed corn is an ingredient steeped in nostalgia, not because I grew up in South Carolina, but because it was a key ingredient in my mum's Chicken and Sweetcorn Casserole. I'm not sure where she got the recipe but it was a staple in our house growing up, and she would buy tins of creamed corn from the Chinese supermarket to use in the dish, and in the Chinese classic, Chicken and Sweetcorn Egg Drop Soup. At the time the Chinese supermarket was the only place we could find creamed corn, but now I'm happy to say you can get it in Sainsburys and probably other supermarkets too.
As you can probably tell from the casserole and the soup, creamed corn goes phenomenally well with chicken, or in fact, any kind of poultry. I often serve it with my sunday roast chicken, and alongside richer duck it is a revelation. It brings a lovely sweetness to a dish and adds balance when paired with salty ingredients like bacon or brined meat. It lifts the deep flavours of a meaty broth or the earthy flavours of mushrooms.
So here is my modern take on those two creamed corn classics of my childhood.
To serve 4 you will need...
4 very fresh eggs
80g fancy mushrooms
1 tbsp unsalted butter
½ tin creamed corn
Green of 2 spring onions
2 slices of pancetta or streaky bacon
250ml good quality chicken stock, preferably home made using chicken wings.
Finely slice the spring onion and reserve for garnish. Finely slice the pancetta and fry gently for 2 minutes. Drain on kitchen paper and reserve.
Clean the mushrooms and slice any large ones. In the same pan as you cooked the pancetta, melt the butter and saute the mushrooms to give them some colour. Season and reserve in a warm place.
Bring a large pan of water to the boil and poach the eggs for about 3 minutes, ensuring the yolks stay runny. Drain on kitchen paper.
While the eggs are poaching, warm the creamed corn and the chicken stock. Place 3 tbsp of corn in the bottom of each bowl, spreading it out into a circle. Scatter the pancetta on to the corn. Place mushrooms around the edge of the corn and an egg in the centre. Pour the hot stock around and garnish the egg with spring onion. Serve hot.