CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: Ignore the alligators Nadiya, it’s the fried frogs that have real bite
Nadiya’s American Adventure
New Elizabethans With Andrew Marr
Spine-tingling jazz, yes. Thrilling tales of gunfights and adventure under vast skies, of course. Big hats. Soap operas dripping with diamonds and greed. The Deep South of America is the natural home of all these.
But not cuisine. Heading to the former Confederate states in search of delicious food, as Bake Off’s Nadiya Hussain did in her American Adventure (BBC1), is like taking a rocket ship to Mars to sample its party atmosphere. She was there for the wrong reason.
The locals were proud of their specialities, naturally, and it took a nine-year-old named Lola to warn us how bad it really was.
As Nadiya joined a Louisiana family on a boating trip across the bayou or swamplands, to catch catfish and anything else lurking in the murky waters, she was anxious about alligators.
Nadiya Hussain claimed to be enamoured with everything she tasted on her American Adventure, but I have my doubts
Young Lola reassured her. Man-eating reptiles weren’t a problem, she said. Fried frogs were.
‘Frogs are really chewy,’ she explained, pulling a face. It got worse. Beside their swimming pool in New Orleans, a Vietnamese immigrant family were mixing up a crawfish broil.
Hundreds of shellfish and blue crabs were shovelled into a gas-fired dustbin filled with water, and stirred with a canoe paddle until cooked. The result looked toxic, like the detritus left on a beach after a stormy high tide. Nadiya called it ‘mind-blowingly delicious’. I’d call it ‘norovirus in a bowl’.
Nadiya claimed to be enamoured with everything she tasted, but I have my doubts. She didn’t appear to have heard of the Cajun stew, jambalaya (she’s not a fan of country star Hank Williams, then, who had a giant hit with Jambalaya).
Charming rogue of the night:
Barry Cryer paid tribute on his Comedy Legends (Sky Arts) to Leslie Phillips, drawler of ‘Ding-dong!’ and ‘Hello!’ Leslie was also the face of TV ads for a cheap German wine. Marvellous stuff, if you needed to strip some paint.
Before she could try it, or even help out in the kitchen of 93-year-old Cajun chef Alzina Toups, she asked for the pork sausage meat to be replaced with halal turkey.
It seems she isn’t an instinctive traveller. Checking in to a boarding house that floated at the lakeside, Nadiya shivered at the decor — floral curtains, wooden walls and floors, bunk beds and a rocking chair. It looked, she said, like the setting for a horror movie. A pity that, by then, Lola wasn’t around to remind her that Louisiana’s chief problem isn’t maniacs with chainsaws . . . it’s the chewy frogs.
Trying to find a familiar recipe, Nadiya baked a lurid giant bun called King Cake. It was a doughy bagel filled with mashed berries and cream cheese called Chantilly, and topped with sugar sprinkles soaked in food colouring.
A handful of sprinkles congealed in Chantilly is known as King Cake crack. It’s difficult to imagine Prue Leith setting that as a technical challenge in next year’s Bake Off.
The blame for all this lies ultimately with food writer Elizabeth David, celebrated as one of the great influences on 20th-century Britain by Andrew Marr in his New Elizabethans (BBC2).
Before she taught the country to look abroad for inspiration, we were (according to Monsieur Marr) a ‘grey post-war Britain . . . caught between rationing and stodge’. Now look at us — drooling over 3,000-calorie doughnuts and gastroenteritis broth. I’d rather have rationing.
No rationing of BBC resources for Marr, who is so blinded by his own self-importance that he narrated a segment about climate change, pollution and energy waste, while standing on the prow of a multi-million pound Sunseeker yacht.
He then saluted Bob Geldof, Tony Benn, Enoch Powell and Earl Mountbatten as titans of the age. There’s a dinner party you’d want to avoid, whatever was on the menu.