Thursday 18 January 2018

Flavoursome yet gluten-free

Being diagnosed with coeliac disease may not sound like an obvious blessing, but for Naomi Devlin, it sparked a new foodie career path. Gemma Dunn heads to River Cottage to find out what it's all about

Gluten-free fish fingers.
Gluten-free fish fingers.
River Cottage Gluten Free by Naomi Devlin.
Almond flatbread
Naomi Devlin

Since she and her son were diagnosed with coeliac disease almost a decade ago, Naomi Devlin has dedicated her time to making wholesome and flavoursome gluten-free cooking more accessible.

From bespoke teaching days held in her family kitchen in Dorset, to her booked-out cookery classes at River Cottage - the base of operations seen in chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's TV series - she's a woman on a dietary mission, and the latest string to her bow is her much-anticipated debut book, River Cottage Gluten Free.

"I've always wanted to write a cookbook," says the 42-year-old. "I started blogging almost nine years ago after I found out that I [needed to be] gluten-free, so writing has been a cathartic process."

Devlin doesn't have formal chef schooling - but that hasn't held her back, and the knowledge she's gleaned as a nutritionist, along with her honest approach to food and vitality, and first-hand experience of living gluten-free, make up for any gaps.

"Maybe I'd have got there quicker if I'd had some training, but in other ways, because I didn't approach things in the traditional way, I was really open-minded," she reasons.

"I'd often make things backwards," she adds, recalling her early experiments with recipes. "It was a case of me looking at the ingredients and thinking, 'How would this be good?', rather than, 'How can I recreate this dish?'"

It's a formula that seems to have worked: River Cottage Gluten Free is an authentic collection of 120 recipes - from breads to soups and cakes - for anybody looking to cut out gluten without compromising on taste, plus tips on alternative flours, methods of fermentation and baking ideas.

"When people come on my courses, I want them to have a sense that they could go away and do it too. If they don't do it the same as me, that's fine; they can experiment. It shouldn't be precious," says Devlin.

Fancy trying out some gluten-free creations of your own? Here are two tasty recipes from Devlin's new book to try at home.

* River Cottage Gluten Free by Naomi Devlin is published by Bloomsbury, priced €27.99. Available now

Fish fingers

Serves 4


400g sustainable fish fillets, such as cod, hake, pollock, haddock or whiting

150g gluten-free white flour, or rice flour or cornflour

1tsp (heaped) sea salt

2 eggs

175g gluten-free breadcrumbs (you can make your own using shop-bought gluten-free bread. Or, if you're looking for fancier crumbs, there are recipes for brioche, sourdough and baguettes in the book which can be crumbed, or you can use gluten-free oats)

Lard, dripping or groundnut oil for shallow frying

Black pepper


1. Check your fish for any pin bones, removing any you find with kitchen tweezers. Slice the fish into roughly 12 fingers and pat dry with kitchen paper.

2. Get three deep plates or wide bowls ready for coating the fish fingers. Put the flour into the first bowl and season with the salt and a good grinding of pepper. In the second bowl, beat the eggs well with a fork. Put the breadcrumbs into the third bowl.

3. Take one piece of fish and press it into the flour. Turn and repeat to coat both sides, then tap off any excess. Pop it into the egg and turn it over quickly with a fork or your fingers, to coat completely. Drop the fish into the crumbs and use a spoon to cover the fish with crumbs. Using your other hand, turn the fish over to make sure it is fully coated, then set aside on a clean plate. Repeat with the rest of the fish.

4. Heat a 1cm depth of fat in a deep, heavy-based frying pan. When it is hot, fry the fish fingers, in batches if necessary, for a few minutes each side until the crumb coating is golden. Unless your fish pieces are very thick, this should be enough to cook them right through. If in doubt, break one open and check that the fish inside is hot and opaque.

5. Drain the fish fingers on kitchen paper and serve straight away, with a leafy salad, peas or green beans.

Almond flatbread

Makes 1 flatbread


Butter for greasing (optional)

Sesame seeds or poppy seeds for sprinkling on the baking sheet (optional)

4 large eggs, separated

20g ground linseed

100g potato starch

150g ground almonds, coconut flour or ground cashews

250g full fat Greek yoghurt

2tsp gluten-free baking powder

1tsp sea salt

Nigella, poppy, cumin, fennel or sesame seeds for sprinkling on top


1. Preheat the oven to 200C/fan 180C/Gas 6. At the same time, put a roasting tray on the bottom shelf and boil a kettle of water. Generously butter a baking sheet and sprinkle liberally with sesame or poppy seeds, or line with a sheet of baking parchment.

2. Put the egg yolks, linseed, potato starch, ground nuts or coconut flour, yoghurt and baking powder into a large bowl and beat with a balloon whisk or electric whisk until the mixture is smooth, pale and creamy.

3. In a large, clean bowl, whisk the egg whites with the salt, using a balloon whisk, electric whisk or stand mixer, until stiff peaks form.

4. Stir a spoonful of the beaten egg white into the almond mixture to loosen it, then carefully fold in the rest using a spatula, without knocking out too much air.

5. Spoon the mixture onto the baking sheet and gently spread into an oval or teardrop shape, about 2cm thick. Sprinkle with your chosen seeds.

6. Put the baking sheet into the oven and pour boiling water into the roasting tin to half fill it. Bake the flatbread for about 12-15 minutes, depending on thickness, until risen, golden and springy to the touch. This flatbread is best eaten within a few hours of baking.

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