Richard Fox focuses on getting the most
out of stock cupboard basics
From an eating perspective, you could do worse than be stranded on a desert island with nothing more than eggs, butter and flour (and a little milk). Obviously a heat source would be required, and some rudimentary utensils, such as a whisk and a sieve. But after that, you could knock out enough tasty offerings for any time of day to stave off hunger and boredom for some time.
The humble chicken's egg is, in my opinion, the most versatile and useful of all ingredients. Its chameleon-like nature sees it go from solid meal (omelette) to delicious rich sauce (the yolk), without the addition of a single other ingredient. There isn't a cooking method that isn't applicable to it, or an ingredient with which it won't combine.
As far as its favourite partners are concerned, butter must be somewhere at the top of the list. Think of it melted, warmed and then whisked into egg yolks with nothing more than a little squeeze of lemon juice for a quick, easy and delicious hollandaise sauce - enough to transform a simple piece of poached salmon into a gourmet meal.
Add some chopped fresh tarragon, and it will do the same for a steak. But butter doesn't even need eggs to undergo such a transformation: cold cubes added a little at a time to a shallot and white wine reduction will yield a delicious, velvety butter sauce. Infuse this with a few pieces of ginger for a perfect accompaniment to fish cakes, or just a few chopped chives for extra colour, taste and texture. When clarified - to give a clear, golden liquid - it can be heated to a high temperature and will give colour and taste to pan-fried dishes that can't be achieved with any other frying medium. Throw flour into the mix, and you'll never have to buy pastry again.
Making ingredients work across the whole day, however, is the key to profitability from minimal stock. What better place to start than at the beginning with breakfast? Not only does this provide the opportunity to extend trading times, it offers tasty dishes for brunch, lunch and evening service too. I always use free-range eggs, both from a taste and ethical point of view.
They may cost a little more, but make sure you advertise their use on the menu and hike the prices up by a few pence to compensate. From a simple runny-yoked fried egg on toast, to hollandaise-coated eggs Benedict, there's a huge variety of dishes to suit every
conceivable outlet. From a plain omelette, to baked eggs en cocotte; scrambled on muffins, to egg-white pancakes, there's an egg dish to fit every meal occasion.
When it comes to combining our three amigos, a food processor will allow you to knock up short-crust pastry in a matter of seconds. With half fat to flour, a little egg for consistency and some caster sugar, you've got a sweet paste base for the finest desserts. Omit the sugar and substitute the egg for a few drops of water, and you're away with a savoury tart case for all manner of flans.
The great thing about making your own pastry is that you can create bespoke sizes - from bar-top finger food, to cartwheel-sized quiches. The options are quite literally at your finger tips.
When it comes to full-on gut-busting meals, just blend eight ounces of flour with five eggs and a pint of milk for Yorkshire puddings to make your toes curl. Just make sure you have the hottest possible oven, a smoking-hot tin, and don't forget the seasoning. Once again, you can get versatility from offering mini ones baked in muffin tins as starters, or finger food, to plate-sized monsters for an awe-inspiring Sunday roast.
With a decent supply of eggs, butter and flour - and a few other choice ingredients - you'll never be caught short on the menu front.