The Vintage Chef Olivia Potts

A week of winter dishes from The Vintage Chef

A week of winter dishes from The Vintage Chef
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Chicken forestière

Unlike loads of my other favoured stews, this one doesn’t take hours on the stove or in the oven. I can’t pretend it’s a ten minute start-to-finish dish, but it is one you can start after work and comfortably finish in time for dinner – and after the initial time investment, you can leave it to do its thing.

Recipes differ as to the cut of chicken you use: I’ve used fillets here which are not normally my favourite cut, but here it helps the quick cooking process, and means that you don’t have to faff around with bones when eating. The ‘forestière’ in the dish title means ‘of the forest’ and is really a reference to the mushrooms in the sauce. I’ve gone for a double mushroom hit here: sliced mushrooms, fried off so that they retain their shape and flavour when added to the sauce, and dried porcini mushrooms rehydrated, which give a fantastic depth and a dark, bosky aroma.

The combination of the slightly caramelised onions, the soaked porcini mushrooms, and the booze (I’ve used brandy here, but just use a slosh of whatever you have: sherry, madeira and marsala are all good) do a lot of the flavour-building leg-work that is normally provided by a slow-cook – and the addition of cream gives a glossy thickness to the sauce which will instantly coat the back of a spoon. Follow the recipe here.

Flemish beer and beef stew

I have a particular soft spot for carbonnade à la Flamande – I think because really it is a Flemish version of the beef and brown ale stew I grew up on in Newcastle. Carbonnade à la Flamande is a beef and onion stew that comes from Belgium. It is made with dark belgian beer (ideally Trappist) and is slowly cooked until dark and sticky, with a rich gravy that was made for dunking bread into or swooping chips through. This being a Belgian dish, it is most usually served with frites. It’s best made with beef shin, a cut which will break down and almost melt into the stew as it slowly cooks, but it’s still excellent with any kind of braising beef; the meat will still be tender and full of flavour, it will just retain slightly more of its shape. Read the full recipe here.

Braised lamb shanks

Braising is an old-as-the-hills way of cooking meat or vegetables in a covered pot with a little liquid (this could be stock, wine or water). It’s a slow-cooking technique, one that should render the meat or vegetables extremely tender. It’s also a seriously stress-free way of cooking: once the pot is in the oven, there’s almost no need to touch it, and there’s minimal risk of over- or under-cooking the dish.

Lamb shanks are one of my favourite cuts to braise. When it comes to meat, braising is great for cooking tougher cuts – like shanks, but also the shoulder, neck and shortribs. It breaks down the connective tissues in the muscles; it’s this connective tissue that makes the meat chewy if cooked hot and fast. If cooked slowly, the connective tissue turns into gelatine, making the meat soft and tender – and also gives body to the sauce that forms around the meat, making it rich and luscious. It’s one pot cooking at its very best: the liquid ensuring that the meat and veg cook evenly and slowly, and the meat giving the sauce depth in texture and flavour: a deliciously symbiotic relationship. Find the full recipe here.

Beef Bourguignon

Boeuf bourguignon (in our house simply and blasphemously ‘beef bog’) is one of those dishes I’ve been making for years without regard to a recipe, and haven’t really interrogated. It was, to me, simply a pretty great beef stew with all my favourite things in it: beef braised until tender alongside tiny onions, button mushrooms, and smoky bacon, all cooked in a lot of red wine. Serendipitously and, given the sheer amount of variation of ways to cook this dish, surprisingly, my version is pretty close to Julia’s. I have (I like to think) streamlined a couple of her stages, and reflected the fact that a single chunk of streaky bacon with the rind on is tricky to come by today, unless you have a good local butcher. Julia cooks hers in the oven, and I tend to mine on the hob, as I like to be able to see how much the sauce in my dish has reduced more easily, but if you’re more of an oven-person like Julia, you can simply cook the dish for the same amount of time at 150°C in a fan oven. Follow the full recipe here.


Ratatouille really is a dish that will go with anything: it is as happy alongside a bronzed, roast chicken, or whole leg of lamb, as it is with cold cuts or a slice of cold pie. It makes beautiful leftovers: try reheating it on the stove, then creating divots for eggs to poach in, like a Provençal shakshuka, or pile it onto a baked potato. Sometimes I think I would serve anything with thick, crusty bread, but truly, ratatouille was made for such a thing. Read the recipe here.

Dauphinoise potatoes

Dauphinoises hails from the historical Dauphiné region in South-East France; the region dissolved in 1789 but its potato namesake has lived on. For all its richness, it’s a simple dish – potatoes oven-baked in cream with a little garlic – but one that is host to countless variations: different proportions of milk and cream, homeopathic amounts of garlic or enough to scare away vampires, additions of herbs – thyme, usually – or cheese. Normally, I can’t resist a little lily-gilding, but actually when it comes to dauphinoises, I’d rather keep things simple. I like enough garlic that you can smell it in the air when you pull the dish from the oven, but not so much that it obliterates the mellow flavours of cream and potato. And technically, adding cheese turns it into a slightly different dish – potatoes savoyarde – but rather than being a stickler for authenticity, my objection is that I think it changes the nature of the dish. The thing is, melted, stringy cheese always takes the starring role, no matter how good the other components, and it’s simply not needed here for the potatoes to shine. Follow my recipe here.

Beef Stroganoff

This was a dish which was made for the ruling Russian classes, which sets it apart from the usual cheap and cheerful casseroles. Unlike many stews, which take a cheap cut of meat and cook it slowly and gently until it breaks down, Stroganoff tends to use the expensive cut of beef fillet. Consequently, the meat should be cooked hot and fast, just searing it, so that it caramelises and takes on colour, but remains tender inside, pink and soft. Making sure you get good colour on your beef, onions and mushrooms will ensure a real depth of flavour, and make the most of the cut. Of course the knock-on effect of this is that start to finish, beef Stroganoff takes no more than fifteen minutes to make. But you’d never know it: beef Stroganoff is fast food which tastes like slow food. This is comfort cooking at speed. Follow my recipe here.

Lancashire Onepot

Lancashire hotpot has an advantage over its fellow slow-cooked stews and casseroles: it’s unexpectedly beautiful, with the potatoes radiating outwards to the very edge, burnished where the heat of the oven and the dots of butter have worked their magic. It doesn’t need much to accompany it. I’d go for something simple like cabbage braised and then tossed with salt and pepper, and just a little butter until glossy and pale.

Shepherd's Pie

I’d eat shepherd’s pie all year round, but it’s particularly good for cold nights at this time of year. To my mind, shepherd’s pie only improves on reheating, so as a household of two, I will always make a ‘full-size’ shepherd’s pie following the recipe below – which says it will feed four, but if you are less greedy than my family, would easily serve six. There are few nicer feelings than knowing you have leftover shepherd’s pie waiting for you in the fridge – all it needs is some braised, butter cabbage, generously peppered, and a heavy-handed serving of brown sauce. The brown sauce is non-negotiable; I’ll even let you call it cottage pie, as long as you serve it with brown sauce. Find out my other surprise ingredient in the full recipe here.


This French Savoie dish must be the ultimate indulgence: little waxy potatoes and onions and streaky bacon cooked with butter and white wine and cream, and then baked with an entire reblochon until bubbling and gooey. It’s a perfect dish for New Year’s Eve: one that screams special occasion, one that should be shared with friends. It is richer than Midas and cheesier than Cliff Richard.

For me, there’s only one way to eat this: with a simple green salad, dressed with a sharp, mustardy vinaigrette, alongside a glass of punchy white wine. Follow the Spectator recipe here.

Hasselback potatoes

People are always disproportionately impressed by hasselback potatoes. Disproportionately because they are one of the easiest potato-based sides to make: just a few knife cuts, and tossed in some olive oil. They don’t require the par-boiling or roughing up of roast potatoes, and are less fragile than the simply boiled variety. As well as being handsome, they are buttery-soft inside, with crisp, taught skins, and crunchy bits where the knife has cut – and they have the added bonus of cutting faster than potatoes which remain in tact. The cuts increase the surface area, meaning greater crispness, which can only ever be a good thing when it comes to potatoes – and as they roast, the cuts force the potato to splay, to bloom. Learn how to master them with the full recipe here.

Written byThe Vintage Chef Olivia Potts

Olivia Potts is a former criminal barrister who retrained as a pastry chef. She co-hosts The Spectator’s Table Talk podcast and writes Spectator Life's The Vintage Chef column. A chef and food writer, she was winner of the Fortnum and Mason's debut food book award in 2020 for her memoir A Half Baked Idea.

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