Craig Jackson, head chef at Murrayshall Country House Hotel in Scone, tells Caroline Lindsay about his favourite ingredients to cook with, his love of seasonal produce, and how lockdown has changed the way he thinks about food.
As a child growing up in Perth, Craig Jackson loved cooking, and fondly remembers making mince, tatties and dumplings with his granny.
“I didn’t really get serious about cooking until I was 13 or 14, but I always knew I wanted to be a chef – nothing else really interested me as a job,” says Craig.
“I started working when I was 17 and never looked back.”
Craig has been head chef at Murrayshall Country House Hotel in Scone for 12 years.
“I love the hustle and bustle of the kitchen – no day’s the same in a hotel,” Craig smiles.
“The produce we get to work with is great and we’re constantly learning about new ingredients.
“We have two restaurants, the Brasserie and the Clubhouse,” he continues. “The Clubhouse menu offers good hearty and homely dishes while the Brasserie is slightly more refined in what we deliver.
“We are currently coming up with and developing new dishes and menus through lockdown – essentially great produce cooked well. We see what’s good and in season and plan dishes around the ingredients from there.
“We try to use local where we can but it’s not always easy in a hotel environment – tomatoes for instance, for breakfast.
“However, we do use as many local suppliers as possible and are currently looking at expanding our suppliers to more specialist artisan produce.”
A typical day sees Craig starting at around 10am. “Then I’ll check the deliveries and that the team are good, make sure we have what’s needed for the day ahead,” he says.
“Then we’ll prep for lunch and plan for dinner service, speak with suppliers and order for the next few days.”So what’s Craig’s favourite ingredient to cook with?
“I like working with fish and seafood – there’s nowhere to hide with it,” he says.
“There’s the technical aspect of preparation and filleting, followed by the delivery – if the cooking’s off 30 seconds either way it can ruin the dish.
“Seafood is so open to different techniques and flavour combinations.”
But just because you’re a chef doesn’t mean you have to like everything you cook with and he admits he’s no fan of raw tomatoes. “Also, from a chef’s point of view, I get pretty bored of root vegetables in the winter,” he reveals.
Needless to say, lockdown has had its effects on the hospitality industry and has also changed the way Craig thinks about food.
“Obviously the hospitality sector was closed down first so it’s given me plenty of time to reflect on how I am going to approach food when we do eventually get back in the kitchen,” he says.
“Simpler lighter dishes cooked really well. I think with lockdown, people have been cooking at home more and will really be looking for quality when they can get back to eating out, and so will have a higher expectation,” he muses.
Craig is excited about working with spring’s fresh produce.
“We always look forward to spring for the wild garlic, the start of asparagus, Jersey Royals and great shellfish,” he says.
“But my favourite time of year is probably the end of summer and the start of autumn when you’ve still got all the good summer vegetables but the stone fruits are coming through along with all the wild mushrooms.
“Creating dishes becomes so much easier with that variety of produce.”
Hand-dived scallops with spiced butternut squash
- 5 whole scallops, preferably hand-dived (shells cleaned for later)
- 200g butternut squash, diced
- 100g Jerusalem artichokes
- 1 bulb fennel, diced
- 50g butter
- Pinch cumin seeds
- 1 cardamom pod
- 1 tbsp curry powder
- 100ml coconut milk
- 1 lemon
- Herbs of choice to garnish
- In a hot pan roast the squash and fennel with foaming butter to caramelise.
- Add the curry powder, cumin and cardamoms, cook out for two minutes, season, and remove half and reserve until needed.
- Add coconut milk to the rest, season to taste, puree till smooth, thin down with a little water if needed, season to taste, reserve till needed.
- Bake artichokes at 180C/Fan 160C/350F/Gas Mark 4 for 25 minutes until soft, cut in half and scoop out the flesh, season to taste, reserve till needed. Cut scallops in half.
- In a smoking hot pan, sear scallops for 30 seconds each side, season and glaze with lemon juice.
- Dress scallop shells with crushed artichoke and spiced artichoke.
- Serve five half scallops on top.
- Spoon over the squash and fennel. Garnish with herbs of your choice.
For more information, visit murrayshall.co.uk