Features of British Cuisine

A brief history and the main features of English cuisine

English cuisine is a set of common in the territory of England methods of cooking. The country’s culinary traditions are unique, but in many ways coincide with the British approach to creating holiday treats and everyday meals. For this reason, culinary historians separate the cuisines of Britain and England. The former combines Scottish, Welsh, Irish, and English recipes for common dishes. The second reflects the approach to cooking developed in a separate part of the British Commonwealth.

The origins of modern culinary traditions

English dishes served in small pubs or fashionable restaurants in London, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds or Newcastle have ancient origins. Roast and stewed meats, game pies, boiled vegetables, and meat broths were part of the Saxon diet until the Norman conquest of the British Isles in 1066. An extensive description of the foods consumed by the English nobility is contained in The Forme of Cury, a cookbook. The first version of the text was created by King Richard II’s cook in the late 14th century.

The next two centuries were a period of active borrowing of recipes from the Parisian masters by the English elite. The cuisine of the French royal court was distinguished by the lightness of dishes and refined serving of treats.

In the 18th century, curry imported from India made its way to the British Isles. The author of the famous cookery book (The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy), Hannah Glass, used turmeric spice to create a recipe for cooking chicken. Today, chicken curry is actively replacing traditional dishes of the English culinary school in the British diet.

The Victorian era is marked by new borrowings – the English adopted and developed the European idea of light snacks. Thus sandwiches appeared in the diet of the inhabitants of the British Isles.

The next stage in the evolution of British cuisine came in the mid-20th century. With the end of World War II a considerable number of soldiers, who had fought in different parts of the world, returned to the metropolis. The greatest influence on the recipes used by the English was the Mediterranean culinary tradition.

Recent decades have been a period of reinterpretation of classic English recipes by renowned culinary masters. Gordon Ramsay, for example, actively uses spices and sauces of Eastern origin when preparing treats for festive lunches or dinners.

English soups

A basic recipe for making soup is mentioned in a number of English-language sources, including The Forme of Cury and The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, discussed above. In the Middle Ages, soups were viewed by chefs as a combination of boiled meat with vegetables and plenty of broth. In Modern times, the principles of creating the dish changed – it acquired the consistency of mashed potatoes or cream.

The Victorian era made significant changes in the daily routine of the English and their diet. Soup became a dish served for dinner at seven or eight o’clock in the evening. Bread and butter became the unchanging attributes of the service.

Current cookbooks published in the United Kingdom contain recipes for vegetable soups with the addition of a considerable number of additional ingredients:

  • fried bacon;
  • cream cheese;
  • peas;
  • beans;
  • mushrooms.

As a thickener it is acceptable to use croutons that absorb excess moisture. The key features of some types of English soups are shown in the table below.

Soup Origins Description Composition and Cooking Serving
From oat flakes. England, 16th-17th centuries. Creamed oat flakes with broth, milk Pour hot milk over rolled oats, and add broth. The mixture is boiled for 20 minutes, after which the flakes are pureed. The ready dish is topped with cream. To taste, egg whites and butter can be added
Cheese with Chicken Southern Counties, late 18th century Diced boiled chicken with cheese, onions and herbs The chicken fillet is boiled until tender and sliced. Pieces of chicken, grated cheese and soft onions are added to the broth. The dish is simmered on the stove until the cheese is completely melted. Serve with greens and croutons.
Tomato with vegetables London, second half of 19th century Meat broth with tomatoes, asparagus, turnips, potatoes and celery The potatoes and turnips are boiled in broth and pureed, the tomatoes are blanched and finely chopped. Celery, onion and asparagus are fried with a little vegetable oil in a pan. Stir-fried mixture is combined with pureed vegetables. Dressed with cream. Served with greens, brown bread and butter.

Sometimes light soups are served as an accompaniment to the classic English breakfast in hotels. Residents of the British Isles prefer the traditional order of meals during the day, but make exceptions for guests from Europe, Asia and America.

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Main courses and English dinner

The evening meal is considered by the English as the main meal. Late supper can be a plentiful and hearty meal, resulting in a shift in bedtime for children and adults.

Meat dishes and vegetable side dishes are obligatory attribute of a family meeting at the set table. Housewives and cooks pay close attention to sauces. Sour-sweet combinations are designed to emphasize the taste of meat or game and give a zesty aftertaste. See the table for descriptions of classic main dishes of English cuisine.

Dish Origins Description Composition and Cooking Serving
Roast Beef Central Counties, 17th century. Roast Beef. A whole piece of meat roasted over charcoal or in an oven. Often wrapped in a roll and tied with string. Ham or ribs are preferred. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and herbs and coat in a little flour before baking. Serve cold or hot with horseradish sauce. It is decorated with bundles of greens. Yorkshire pudding may be served as garnish.
Beef Wellington. England, late 19th century (a variation of an old French recipe). Beef steak baked in dough. Mutton, turkey or chicken may be used Beef tenderloin is evenly coated with foie gras with the addition of finely chopped mushrooms. The meat is covered with slices of ham. The prepared ingredients are wrapped in puff pastry. Serve with boiled or baked vegetables. Thyme flavored mixture of meat broth and port is used as sauce
Fish and chips England, turn of the 19th-20th centuries, common among European migrants English version of a continental dish. Widely known as fish and chips. Represents a piece of fish baked in batter with large French fries Cod, plaice, merlan, or haddock fillets are used. Pieces 30 mm thick are rolled in corn starch, whipped egg yolk and dipped in batter. Cooked in deep fryer A classic restaurant serving calls for tartar sauce, lemon and herbs

Sausages served with mashed potatoes can be an alternative to meat tenderloin and fish fillets at dinner time. Pork, beef or lamb sausages are roasted over an open fire. Different types of sausage may be included in each serving.

Garnishes in British cooking

The British prefer simple but hearty side dishes. For example, beef Wellington can be served not only with roasted vegetables but also with mashed potatoes. The traditional British pudding is mentioned in many culinary publications of the late 18th century – a recipe that quickly gained popularity among housewives and innkeepers. For the latter the garnish was a way of cutting down expenses on groceries and cooks’ wages. Yesterday’s pudding could successfully supplement an English breakfast served to unpretentious innkeepers.

Some descriptions of side dishes typical of British establishments can be found in the table below.

Dish Origins Description Composition and Cooking Serving
Yorkshire Pudding. Northern England, last third of the 18th century. A baked batter with gravy. The pudding baking dish has shallow sides and a large diameter bottom The batter is made of milk, flour and chicken eggs. The ingredients are beaten well. A baking dish is greased with butter. The mixture is poured on the bottom and placed in the oven. In the 18th and 19th centuries, pudding was baked under a spit with meat, collecting the dripping fat Serves as a side dish in combination with meat. Can be used as a stand-alone dish when topped with sliced sausage or mixed vegetables and minced meat
Bubble-and-squeeze England, turn of the 18th and 19th centuries. A roast of a mixture of cabbage and potatoes. Can serve as a standalone treat with the addition of slices of finely chopped meat Chopped cabbage and carrots are fried in a pan with a thick bottom, combined with potato sticks or cubes. Peas, beans, or asparagus may be added. Complement baked meat (beef or pork). Can be used as a side dish at breakfast time
Mashed green peas The Western Counties of England, mid-18th century Mashed green peas with cream and mint leaves Fresh peas are boiled in salted water along with 2-3 mint leaves. After 5 minutes, the liquid is drained. The peas are chopped in a blender, cream, salt and pepper are gradually added to the mass. Serve with hot or cold meat dishes.

At lunch or dinner, personally served side dishes may be accompanied by boiled or stewed vegetables, served on large platters or trays with shared access for all guests.

Traditional English appetizers

Appetizers are consumed by guests invited to lunch or dinner while the table is being set and waiting for the hot meal. Sandwiches, which gained popularity among the British in the 19th and 20th centuries, are often used as a separate dish. The basic idea of this light snack has not changed significantly in recent decades – different fillings are placed between two slices of bread:

  • slices of meat;
  • fish fillets;
  • sliced sausages;
  • cheese;
  • vegetables;
  • bacon.
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Sandwiches can be served to guests cold or hot. Slices of bread are often topped with butter, mayonnaise, or mustard. The abundant use of watercress allows a savory flavor to be added to the main filling. The bread used in sandwiches is often placed in a toaster oven for a crispy crust. The heartiest snack options involve the use of a fried or boiled egg as the main ingredient.

Pastries, desserts and confectionery

The cuisine of the British Isles is characterized by a regional variety of pastries and desserts. Pudding, a traditional English dish, is created from dozens of different recipes that take into account the tastes of the people of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Sweet dishes appeared in the diet of the English nobility relatively late – in the 16-17 centuries. During this period sugar appeared in the country. The cost of sweetener was prohibitive for the townspeople and artisans. Because of this, confectionery remained the lot of the rich until the first quarter of the 18th century.

People in the countryside made extensive use of berries and fruit from fruit trees. The oldest English recipe for apple pie dates from the first half of the 13th century. The significant growth of the urban population in the 17th and 18th centuries led to an improvement in the quality of food served in pubs and taverns. The demand for desserts and pastries increased. The characteristics of some of the pastries and sweet dishes popular in England in the 18th and 19th centuries are shown in the table.

Dish Origins Description Composition and Cooking Serving
Bread and butter pudding Europe, the recipe came to England in the 17th century. A layered pudding baked in a pot or open mold with thick walls and bottom Slices of bread are generously greased with butter and sprinkled with raisins. The slices are placed in the pot in layers and poured over the custard with vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg or wine. Served as a dessert, served to guests at the end of lunch or dinner. It is consumed with tea and milk.
Chelsea ban Mid 17th century, Chelsea district, London. A simplified version of the classic roll. The bun is twisted into a spiral, which is given the shape of a square. Sweetness is achieved through the use of currants and sugar Prepared yeast dough is supplemented with lemon zest and chopped cinnamon. Currants are mixed with cane sugar and butter until smooth. A spiral of dough is covered with the resulting jam and baked in the oven. The ready bun is glazed. Served with butter and fruit jam for tea.
Shepherd’s pie England, last quarter of 19th century (name), 14th-15th century (recipe) Layered casserole of potatoes with minced meat (lamb), topped with rosemary In a mold, alternating layers of minced meat (or finely chopped meat) and mashed potatoes are placed in succession. The resulting pie is placed in the oven until fully cooked To serve, the shepherd’s pie can be topped with green peas, boiled carrots and greens
Rice pudding Europe, known in England since the 16th century Sweet pudding baked in a pot or open mold A mixture of fine-grained rice, cream, sugar, and milk is created. Cinnamon, nutmeg or vanilla are used as spices. The components are placed in a pot and baked for a long time (up to 4 hours) Dessert dish served with tea. Served with mint and powdered sugar sprinkles

Cheese is another well-known English product served to dinner party guests as dessert. Confectionery slides decorated with cheese slices, fruit, and honey rosettes remain an important part of the holiday table in England. English cheese varieties were the result of combining an insular approach to cheese-making with European trends in animal husbandry. The increase in milk production in the 18th and 19th centuries allowed English farmers to lower the price of cheeses.


Traditional English food is a unique cultural phenomenon. The approach to cooking that was formed in England cannot be viewed outside of the historical context.

Roman times gave the Britons recipes for meat dishes and soups. Migrants from what is now Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands in the 5th-7th centuries brought with them the seeds of vegetables and significantly influenced the diet of all walks of life in England. The Norman conquest of the British Isles was marked by the centuries-long dominance of French cuisine. Colonial expansion into Asia, Africa and the Americas gave the inhabitants of the imperial metropolis new spices and dishes.

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The evolution of English cuisine continues. The inhabitants of the country are conservative, although over time they adopt the culinary ideas of others they like. A trip to England remains a great way to explore the centuries-old traditions of Europe’s most eclectic cuisine.

In addition, cooking is an incredibly interesting topic for people learning English. New terms and vocabulary will allow you to confidently communicate with the staff of pubs, restaurants or bars in a natural language environment. And native speakers will appreciate the foreigner’s knowledge of English etiquette and cultural traditions.

English cuisine

English kitchen

The cuisine of Britain is a phenomenon, which up to now causes a lot of controversy. But most of gourmets agree that there’s nothing for those who like really exquisite delicacies in the homeland of Sherlock Holmes. Meat by-products, highly peculiar puddings, ubiquitous beans, the unfailing oatmeal – all these things hint very unambiguously that it’s not worth making a gastronomic trip to Foggy Albion.

But most critics overlook the fact that English cuisine combines a huge number of culinary traditions of different nations and can boast a history spanning several millennia.

General characteristics

Although British cuisine is not exactly exquisite, it is one of the most nourishing and one of the healthiest. According to the historians, the process of formation of the English cuisine began as early as 3700 BC. In the first century AD, after the conquest of the territory by the Romans, the list of fruits and vegetables present in the diet of the local population significantly expanded. Asparagus, apples, onions, celery, turnips are all foods that appeared in Britain as a result of Roman expansion.

The Middle Ages formed the core of today’s English cuisine. The main ingredients for cooking were milk, fish, meat and eggs, as well as flour.

After the British Empire began to intensively colonize the overseas territories, spices were brought from India to Foggy Albion, and red potatoes from North America. Also in this period began the formation of regional culinary traditions. Today the term “English cuisine” combines Yorkshire, Welsh, Scottish, Irish and English cuisine itself.

For example, the cuisine of England seems rather dull and not very appetizing to most gourmets. It is based on meat dishes. English culinary traditions use not only veal, beef, pork, poultry and game, but also blood and by-products. Meat is usually served roasted or grilled; blood sausages, frankfurters, and pates are also prepared. Also popular are fried fish, primarily trout and cod. Baked vegetables are usually served as a side dish. However, English cuisine is surprisingly unleavened, spicy herbs are hardly used here, and salt is used rather moderately. At the same time, English (in the regional sense) cuisine is famous for its desserts: cookies, rolls with various stuffing, muffins, sponge cakes, pies are to brighten up the impression of London fog.


Scottish cuisine is known for its love of cereals in all forms. Exactly Scottish dish is the notorious oatmeal. They not only make porridge with it, but also add it to soup, stuff meat with it and use for cooking puddings. Also in Scotland are fond of soups – here they are so rich that the consistency resembles goulash.

Fish, both river and sea, occupies an honorable place in Scottish cuisine. Salmon, herring, river trout, haddock, and a variety of seafood are widely represented in the menu. Fish is smoked, salted, marinated, stuffed with rice or vegetables.

Scotland is also famous for its beef (it is here where Angus beef cows of the Aberdeen breed are raised), mutton and lamb. Meat is baked and made into chops, and from by-products they cook Scottish delicacy called haggis, praised by local poets more than once in their poems. It is a lamb’s stomach stuffed with heart, liver, lungs, onions, and oatmeal. The spices make the dish quite spicy, and the oatmeal makes it denser than conventional sausage. Haggis is usually served with potatoes.

One of the symbols of Irish cooking is the potato. It is an ingredient in many soups and pies and is used as a filling for pies. A “chip” of traditional Irish cuisine is colcannon, a dish of mashed potatoes, chopped cabbage, and lots of spices. Potatoes are also used to make boksti – fried pancakes.

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Besides fish (salmon, pike, perch, trout, cod, flounder, herring, etc.) and seafood (shrimp, oysters, and mussels) seaweed dishes are popular in Ireland. They are mixed with mashed potatoes and added to salads.


In spite of the regional differences, English cuisine has a lot of characteristic features that make it stand out among the culinary traditions of other countries.

Minimal use of seasonings, no complicated flavors. The citizens of Foggy Albion are sure that there is nothing better than the natural taste and smell of fresh products.

Fried potatoes with fish is one of the calling cards of English cuisine and the most popular street food in London.


The English love pies. Especially popular are pies with meat and fish, to which onions, mushrooms and spicy herbs are added. Experts are still debating whether one of the most famous English dishes, beef Wellington, should be attributed to pies. The meat, baked in puff pastry with spices, is a regular feature in the British diet.

Pudding is another hallmark of English cuisine. There are many recipes for this dish. The English often joke that “pudding” is not a recipe, but a cooking method, just like boiling, frying, baking, etc. Today the traditional way to cook pudding is in a water bath, but many English housewives cook it in the microwave or oven. Puddings can be sweet and savory, meat and fruit, with nuts, raisins, oatmeal, prunes – in a word, to any taste.

The English love tea. This statement has centuries of history, complicated rituals and ceremonies, the so-called tea moralities, composed personally by Queen Victoria. And, of course, the enormous number of pastries and desserts that accompany any English tea-drinking occasion.

Main courses

Though English cuisine is not considered too refined, the range of dishes it offers is still quite wide.

Meat dishes

English cooks use almost all kinds of meat: beef, veal, pork, lamb, game, and poultry. Roast beef and beefsteak are considered the local national dishes. The former is usually baked in the oven, and the latter is grilled. It is noteworthy that the roast beef has even received a separate ballad in its honor: The famous writer Henry Fielding in his work “Roast Beef of Old England” said that the remarkable nutritional qualities of the dish are due to the British soldiers’ courage and strength.

As a side dish to the meat in England they serve baked potatoes, as well as a variety of sauces and gravies. Particularly popular are tomato and mint sauces. To prepare the latter they pour water on chopped mint leaves, add sugar and wine vinegar. Mustard or Worcestershire sauce, a sweet and sour sauce made from vinegar, spices, sugar, and spicy fish, can also be served with meat.

Meat pies are also popular, with kidneys, liver, and lard added as toppings.

Curiously, the Christmas table underwent some changes after World War II: the traditional stuffed goose, which was the main holiday meat dish, was replaced by roast turkey.


Yorkshire pudding

Puddings, as noted above, are incredibly popular in England. In this case, paradoxically, experts have not been able to come to a consensus on how one of the main dishes of English cuisine appeared.

So, according to one version, the “mother” of the pudding is oatmeal, boiled in meat broth, to which were added prunes, honey and nuts, mixed with beaten eggs and baked in the oven. Some scholars suggest that this was how prosperous housewives of Britain “utilized” the remains of the previous night’s dinner.

A second version suggests that pudding was originally a very strange way of storing large chunks of meat – they were dipped into a mixture of flour and prunes.

Today, puddings in England can be either sweet or unsweetened. In sweet puddings there is little batter, but a great variety of fillings, which can be raisins, nuts, dried apricots, berries, etc. Often sweet pudding is served with custard.

At the same time, pudding can be not only a dessert, but also a second course. A prime example is Yorkshire pudding, which is usually served with roast beef. It is a baked batter made of milk, flour, and eggs in muffin molds.

Fish dishes

Since the English are a maritime nation, fish dishes in their diet are enormous. It is noteworthy that freshwater fish is less common, mostly in specialized stores, and is very expensive.

Fish is used to prepare thick chowder soup, fry it on the grill, and bake it in the oven. Smoked lightly salted herring, called kipper, is also popular. The recipe would baffle any gourmet, unless he or she is British: The fish is cleaned, salted, then smoked in a cold smoke, and then roasted in a pan. Kippers are usually served hot, with potatoes as a side dish.

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Seafood is also popular in England. A variety of clams, crabs, langoustines, mussels, shrimp, squid, and of course, oysters are widely represented in the diet of the British. One of the English delicacies is a dish with a strange name “Angels on horseback” or “Angels on horseback”: oysters wrapped in slices of brisket and cooked on the grill. They are served on toast.


Brits are amazing sweet-tooths. Sweet puddings and casseroles, fruit salads with whipped cream, dried fruit compotes – all this is just a small part of traditional English sweets.

The pastries are worth a separate mention. Gingerbread, cinnamon and cardamom buns, puffs, and pies are served at every tea party by self-respecting English housewives. One of the local delicacies is the so-called “spotted cake”. Its “spots” are a huge amount of raisins, prunes, candied fruits, dates, glazed cherries, nuts and other “goodies” added to the dough.

That said, English cakes with cream are not too popular with gourmets. As a rule, they are very sweet, as well as overly decorated with confectionery mastic.

English fast food

The traditional English fast food is fish and chips. It is literally a national dish because it is on the menu of almost every restaurant in the country, from street cafes to posh restaurants with exorbitant prices.

Fish and chips is cod in a batter made of flour and dark English ale served with fries. Some places also serve pickled onions, vegetable salad, or beans in tomato sauce to accompany the dish.

Useful properties

English cuisine is considered quite healthy and very nutritious. According to nutritionists, its undeniable advantage is a significant amount of meat dishes and seafood, as well as the presence in the diet of vegetables and cereals.

At the same time, tourists with British delicacies are recommended to be careful at least in the first days of stay in the country. The whole point is that puddings and roasts are considered to be quite heavy dishes.

Cooking Beef Wellington

Beef Wellington

Beef Wellington, or Beef Wellington as it’s also called, is one of England’s most popular delicacies. The meat, baked in puff pastry, turns out very tender, juicy and fragrant.

To prepare this dish you will need: 500-700 beef tenderloin, 300-400 g mushrooms, three onions, one egg, a package of puff pastry, a tablespoon of wheat flour, a glass of milk, vegetable oil and butter for frying, and salt and pepper to taste.

Peel the loin and dry it on a paper towel. Fry the beef on all sides in a hot pan with a little oil until it is lightly browned. Remove the beef from the pan, salt and pepper it.

In another frying pan, heat vegetable oil, add butter to it, then fry in this mixture chopped onion and mushrooms sliced into strips. Salt and pepper it.

Chop onion and mushrooms in a blender, add to the stuffing and cool.

Roll out the puff pastry into a 0.5 cm thick layer. Put minced onion and mushrooms in the center, and beef on top of it. Cover the meat with the rest of the stuffing from onions and mushrooms. Beat the chicken egg and smear it around the perimeter of the dough, then pinch the edges.

Bake with the seam side down in a parchment lined baking tin, previously coated with egg on top. The temperature setting is 190 degrees. Approximate cooking time – 40 minutes. If the dough begins to stick, cover it with foil or baking paper.

Prepare the sauce. To do this, fry the chopped onions in a pan, in which the meat was fried, adding butter. When the onion becomes transparent, add 1.5 spoonfuls of flour, stir it up and pour in the milk. Keep it on the stove, stirring until it thickens. Season with salt and pepper.

Take the meat out of the oven and leave to cool slightly. Pour sauce over each portion just before serving.

Cooking an English salad

To cook English salad you need: 120g of boiled mushrooms, 240g of celery root, 120g of mayonnaise, 320g of boiled chicken, two pickles, salt and mustard to taste.

Boil the chicken. After it cools down, separate the meat from bones and cut it into pieces. Dice mushrooms and cucumbers, celery root – julienne. In a separate bowl mix mayonnaise and mustard. Mix the ingredients and add the dressing. Serve immediately after cooking.

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