Who needs truffle and caviar? With some leftovers, new tricks and a little ingenuity a dish can look and feel fancy, despite its cheaper ingredients. Whether adding some lavishness to lunchtime, or hosting a chichi dinner, here are 11 top chefs’ recommendations for recipes that are budget-friendly and uncompromisingly luxurious.
Pasta with prawn sauce
Asimakis Chaniotis, executive chef at Pied à Terre, London
When we cook prawns in the restaurant or at home I always keep the heads, with a little bit of prawn meat in them – I put them in a box in the freezer. For two, I would use around 10 prawn heads. Sweat down onion and garlic, then add the prawn heads. Caramelise them a bit and then deglaze either with an aniseed-y alcohol like ouzo, or you can use wine. Reduce that, then add tomatoes and simmer for half an hour. I use a stick blender and pulse, rather than puree, to crush the heads a bit. Simmer for another two minutes, then pass them through a sieve, pressing the heads, to get the maximum flavour, and discard the shells. To make it really fancy, top with herring or trout eggs – much cheaper than caviar – and maybe some basil, then a squeeze of lemon or lime juice.
Chickpea and chorizo stew
Monika Linton, founder of Brindisa, London
This stew was devised for the tiny shop we used to have in Exmouth Market in central London. With only a single electric ring to cook on, we wanted a simple but tasty and hearty dish. It’s quick and easy to make, yet it feels indulgent and rich, and is perfect as we enter the colder months. Heat a splash of olive oil in a large pan, add 200g coarsely cut cooking chorizo, 200g diced pancetta and one finely chopped onion, and fry for three or four minutes. Add a glass of red wine, 400ml sofrito sauce and 400ml water, bring to the boil then simmer for five minutes. Add two 660g jars of chickpeas, two cloves of crushed garlic and two tablespoons of fresh oregano, and simmer for a further five minutes. Season to taste, then eat with good bread.
Spaghetti with mussels
Jacob Kenedy, chef patron of Bocca di Lupo, London
This has the glamour of a really good seafood pasta, because it is a really good seafood pasta. I’m amazed at how cheap mussels are when other seafood is so expensive. You can choose to make it with or without tomato; I like to use a bit. Cook spaghetti in well-salted water – not as salty as the sea but maybe as salty as tears. It’s worth investing in good pasta because it doesn’t cost that much more. Cook a bit of garlic and chilli in a pan, then a second later, the mussels. Add a couple of spoonfuls of a tomato sauce, just enough to make the sauce blush. Toss the pasta with the mussels and cook the lot together, adding some good olive oil at the end. You could add a bit of parsley or basil, but I wouldn’t. This is messy and fun, and has as much refinement of flavour as pasta with lobster or clams, but it’s cheap as chips.
Flatbreads with toppings
Roberta Hall-McCarron, chef patron of The Little Chartroom, Edinburgh
You can dress up homemade flatbreads as a starter or a snack to make them look fancy. Flatbreads are quick and easy to make, with bread flour, dried yeast, water, yoghurt, sugar and salt, and here are a couple of ideas for toppings: you can make ricotta easily at home using just milk, cream, lemon juice and salt. Make a piperade – slice onions and peppers and sweat them together with grated garlic. Layer the ricotta, piperade, roasted courgettes and thin slices of salted courgettes, then some chopped toasted hazelnuts. Another option is to make a smoked mackerel paté – mix fillets with some creme fraiche, lemon juice and chives or dill. Put that on the flatbread, then finish it with different pickled vegetables for bright and lovely textures – cucumbers, radish and fennel work nicely – and you can add a bit of fresh apple too. To make an easy pickle, you just need vinegar, water, sugar and a little bit of salt, and you can jazz it up with mustard seeds or peppercorns. It makes you feel as if you’re doing something special at home, but it’s really simple.
Baharat-spiced aubergine parmigiana
Helen Graham, executive chef at Bubala, London
Cut an aubergine finely – one aubergine feeds two – then fry until it’s crispy. Make a tomato sauce with garlic, tomato, a little bit of sugar and baharat, which is a spice mix that packs quite a punch. Layer the aubergine and the tomato sauce, your cheese of choice, and then sprinkle it with parmesan (or grana padano to keep costs down), some breadcrumbs, which could just be some old bread, blitzed up, and olive oil. If you want to make it more substantial, you could add in lasagne sheets. Then you just roast it. It makes a really nice centrepiece, which tastes like more than the sum of its parts.
Pea and mint fritters with garlic mayonnaise
You could do this as a canapé or starter, and it looks really nice on a plate, but it’s so cheap – basically frozen peas, potatoes and onions, and some mint. Boil and mash around 250g potatoes, and caramelise one red onion or some shallots. Put 500g peas into a blender or mash them up, then mix with the mashed potato, onions, a bit of gram flour and some mint, and shape into little fritters. If you want to make it fancy, you can quenelle them – shape between two spoons – then fry. If you want to be really resourceful, you can make the mayonnaise from aquafaba – chickpea water – which you might have saved from another recipe. Add some grated garlic to the mayonnaise, lemon juice and salt and pepper.
Tagliatelle with chicken in cream sauce
Katlego Mlambo, head chef at Kudu, London
Being French-trained, I’m a big fan of butter and cream, and it seems luxurious. A pasta – at the moment tagliatelle is my favourite – with a creamy sauce becomes a blank canvas that allows you to layer on flavours. Fry garlic, ginger and onions, then add about 200ml cream, some mozzarella, a squeeze of lemon juice and some lemon zest to give it a bit of freshness. I like grilled chicken thighs, which have more flavour and don’t dry out as quickly as breast. Marinate them in a quick marinade – olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, ginger – and grill. I like generous slices, otherwise it could look like a mess in the bowl. Toss it all together, then finish it off with some freshly chopped coriander and another squeeze of lemon juice, then parmesan to make it feel more expensive, or any cheaper hard cheese.
Ham hock congee pie
Erchen Chang, chef co-founder of Bao, London
Normally congee – similar to a risotto, but more liquidy – is a cheap, comforting dish, but by putting puff pastry on top and egg-washing it, it is suddenly turned into something different. You can make congee from scratch using any rice, but I would normally use short grain rice. Put a ham hock – one knuckle is enough – and 150g rice in a pot with water or stock. I’ll put in a 1in piece of ginger for flavour, so you can easily pick it out afterwards. Slow cook it for maybe an hour and a half, whisking it to make sure that the rice grain is broken down. Once the ham is cooked, remove and shred it, then return it to the congee. You can add different ingredients – for example, spring onion, or whatever vegetables you have in your fridge. I would add fermented mustard greens – something to give it that sourness. Transfer it to an ovenproof bowl and top with puff pastry, egg-wash it, then pop it in the oven for 20 minutes. You can prepare a big portion to set aside in the fridge or freezer for later, then just put puff pastry on top and pop it into the oven.
Mushrooms on toast
When I was a kid we didn’t go to fine dining restaurants, so if my dad was treating us it would be something like a Beefeater. I’d always order the garlic mushrooms on toast, and this is a fancy version. You can get cultivated “wild” mushrooms in supermarkets, made up of mushrooms like oyster and shimeji. Get a loaf from the baker’s and slice it, then rub with olive oil, sea salt and garlic, and toast – if you have a chargrill pan, even better. Pan-fry the mushrooms in butter with garlic, fresh parsley and shallots. You could add a touch of creme fraiche so they become quite creamy. Put it on the toast, then top with a poached egg, drizzled with good olive oil and a pinch of sea salt and pepper. When you cut into the poached egg, the yolk self-sauces the dish. You’ve just got texture, crunch and a very inexpensive dish, but a real looker.
Pasta alla Norcina
Chris Leach, chef co-founder of Manteca, London
This is a dish from Umbria in the north of Italy, using pork sausage. Use any plain pork sausages – as opposed to something like pork and apple – and just crumble them open, cook in a pan with a bit of crushed garlic and a bit of white wine, then add around 100ml double cream. Finish with grated parmesan or grana padano and serve it with any short pasta, such as rigatoni or penne. The cream makes it feel a bit more luxurious. We serve a version of this at the restaurant with black truffles, but you could use cheaper truffle oil. Just a little drop into the cream, white wine and sausage brings out the porkiness.
Eran Tibi, chef patron of Bala Baya, London
This is one of my favourite things to eat – my mum used to make it when we were kids. Take two or three big scoops of hummus and spread around a plate. Fry a bit of garlic, chilli and any spice mix you like – I like ras-el-hanout – for a couple of minutes, then add a spoonful of harissa and a tin of chickpeas with its liquor. Cook for about 10 minutes, and you get this spicy, umami, delicious chickpea stew. You can add whatever you have in the fridge, like leftover meat. While hot, pour it on top of the hummus. Top it with a soft-boiled egg, a couple of pickles and some good toasted bread. It’s warm, wintry, and the chickpeas get velvety and smooth.