It all started in 1994 when, in a maverick move, Charlie Bigham quit his job to go travelling in India. Captivated by the tastes, colours, textures and aromas of the cuisine, he decided to set up a food business. By 1996 he had done just that. After perfecting three dishes in his home kitchen – Caribbean Lamb, Cajun Chicken and Salmon with a Dill Sauce – he went knocking on doors and managed to find some upmarket London food shops who were up for stocking him. Then Waitrose were interested. Then Sainsbury’s. Then Tesco. And the rest, as they say, is history.
One notices the packaging first. It’s wood! No, not a box but a tray of thin wood which is oven-safe. These dishes have great shelf-appeal, being somewhat classier than the plastic containers favoured by some of their competitors.
Chicken, king prawns and Spanish chorizo on a bed of paella rice looked very smart in its round wooden tray. Its red hue came from a tomato-based sauce with lobster stock for a full round flavour. One simply covers the tray with foil – and even that is supplied – heat in the oven and serve to a couple of hearty eaters. A little crusty bread for sauce mopping and perhaps a green salad would go perfectly with this dish, as well as a glass of well-chilled white or even rosé wine.
There was plenty of succulent seafood as well as the Spanish sausage. The rice was tender, and the flavour of the sauce was first class. For £8.00 or so, it was a taste of luxury at a very affordable price. It’s ready quicker than waiting for the bloke on a moped, and would be cheaper than even a 3-topping pizza!
Sweet and Sour Chicken with Egg Fried Rice
Charlie Bigham has a whole range of international dishes including one of this nation’s favourite take-away choices. Sweet and Sour Chicken with Egg Fried Rice is presented in the characteristic wooden tray – but in fact there are two of them, one for the chicken and sauce and the other for the rice. There is the folded foil for one of the trays and they both cook at the same time so there is no juggling.
This sweet and sour chicken has a good amount of flavourful sauce with tender meat, and dinner would be ready much faster than phoning your order for a number 27 and a side of number 46. Just collect a box of Charlie’s Chinese food on the way home. Put the oven on and have a shower. Food goes in and cooks while you are having a glass of something reviving. Chopsticks and a brace of bowls are all that’s needed to complete a relaxing night in.