Crispin in Spitalfields chef Naz Hassan on pantry upgrades that have kept him positive over the past 18 months
I’m not going to lie; containment has had its moments when it was really hard. Luckily my girlfriend and coworkers kept me sane (mostly). When the restaurant closed it was a complete change in a lifestyle that I had had for over ten years. It was tough, but it also gave me time to cook and eat with my girlfriend, which rarely happens in a busy full service week. We must therefore seize these small positive points of all this! I went back to all the cookbooks I had never had time to read before; like Matty Matheson, NOMA, and Massimo Bottura. We really got into pickling and fermenting for a while – but it was mostly a lot of curry and fresh pasta at home. We certainly ate our fair share of take out as well – in Hackney there is so much great stuff and always someone doing something completely new so you have to give it a try.
At Crispin, we started making home meal kits in May 2020 and we have continued to adapt with each new change brought by the pandemic. I think this has made us more ambitious with our food and the dishes we can offer at home – we are creating new dishes all the time and we are surpassing ourselves more than ever. It has been an uncertain time for the hospitality industry, but it has made me even more passionate and certain to be a chef. And the Crispin team are all legends.
1. Kaffir lime leaves
These are amazing because they have that kind of citrus note that goes so well in mild curries. That’s why I love Vietnamese and Thai cuisine so much, this little flavor is always there in the background. Plus, it’s a game-changer when you add them to plain rice while you are boiling it. We get ours from F&A fruit from the New Covent Garden market – through the food chain.
2. Yuzo Kosho paste
I use it in absolutely everything from the spiciness of mayonnaise to meat marinades to cheese sandwiches. I take about one tube a week, it turns out to be an expensive habit! I always stock up when I go to my favorite supermarket in East Asia, London Starnight in Hackney. It’s a treasure, I spend hours and hours browsing all it has to offer. There are only about three aisles and I only ever come in for one thing, but I go out with bags of stuff!
Inside this dish is one of the best butters you can buy – The Buerre Bordier. It tastes so fresh you can almost smell the farmyard – in a good way! It’s not “just” butter either, he’s the star of the show – I could eat it alone between crackers and be very happy. And any excuse to take a trip to Dairy. It is quite a special place.
I’m right Italian and ate Nutella almost every day as a kid so it really reminds me of being home in Milan. After any meal, all I want is some brioche with good butter (see above!) Baked in a skillet, sandwiched with plenty of nutella and a pinch of salt. It’s pure comfort food for me.
5. Chili oil
The best thing I discovered during the lockdown was Mama Li in Bethnal Green, it is now our Sunday evening tradition to have a delivery – always the same order; roast pork, crispy duck patties and spring rolls. Honestly this is the best Cantonese take out I have eaten here in London. Everything on the menu is delicious but the highlights are the oils and the condiments. I save the chili oil and cook with it almost every day until my next shot!
The thing that I missed the most during the lockdown was sitting at the pub with some friends. My local, the Pembury Tavern, serves Jupa from the Five Points Brewing Company – so I like to pour a can into a fancy glass and pretend I’m down there! But really, I just watch it from my balcony, with love. Sob.
7. Gray salt
The right salt changes everything. This Celtic sea salt from Paludier doesn’t just season it can change the whole flavor profile of a dish and I’m having a hard time cooking with anything else now. I get it from an independent store down the street that also has good organic fruit and veg and sustainable options.
Naz Hassan is chef at the all-day restaurant Crispin, at Spitalfields. Keep your eyes peeled for Bar Crispin, a new natural wine bar and restaurant, in Soho this summer
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