Pages of culinary advice from the world's most famous chefs
Time Out Dubai staff
Dock Kitchen Cookbook Stevie Parle, Quadrille, £25
Stevie Parle runs kitchen affairs at The Dock Kitchen on Ladbroke Grove, and has made a name for himself by being creative with internationally sourced ingredients. Given his background of having worked at The River Café, Moro and Petersham Nurseries, it’s no surprise that he cooks with such confidence and creativity.
His new book, like the restaurant, is a celebration of world cuisines, and recipes are inspired by home kitchen offerings from as far afield as Morocco, the Middle East, Mexico, the Mediterranean, and India. Many of this book’s dishes feature on his menus, such as the chilled Iranian pistachio soup, chicken livers with Lebanese seven-spice mix, or the salt-caramel ice cream. An earthy approach runs through the photography too – the uncluttered, honest images providing a complement to the written recipes.
Parle encourages us to visit ethnic grocers and embrace the unfamiliar - freekah (wheat, picked when unripe and then smoked to remove its husk); pomegranate molasses (reduced, sticky and sweet-sour juice); and gum mastic (an aromatic pine-like resin, often used as a binding agent). But once the ingredients are sourced, the hard work is done, recipes are a snitch to put together.
Chapters are punctuated by the seasons and tend to favour rustic chunky soups, robust stews, grills and spice blends. Dishes served on toast are dressed from a wardrobe of seasonal flavours which includes red chilli chick peas, sea-salty samphire, and fennel-spiced swiss chard. The thorans (South Indian stir-fries) are splendid – top marks for the simplicity of crunchy asparagus fried with mustard seeds, curry leaves and a shower of fresh grated coconut.
Parle’s repertoire is as wide as it is varied. Taste the world with a fragrant pilaf, mezze, tongue-tingling masalas, and such sweet gems as elderflowers fried in grappa batter. This is a great read, and a tribute to the influences that are shaping contemporary British cooking.
Roopa Gulati, Time Out London Issue 2172: April 5-11 2012
The Little Paris Kitchen Rachel Khoo, Penguin Michael Joseph, £20
Rachel Khoo’s decision to move from Croydon to Le Cordon Bleu cookery school in Paris has proved fruitful. Since completing the three-month pâtisserie course she has worked in a cookery book shop, taught baking workshops, and run an underground restaurant in her house. She is now the star of a current Monday night BBC2 series, plus this accompanying tie-in book.
The latest task Khoo seems to have set herself is to dispel the reputation of French cooking as over-fussy, over-stuffy and over-buttery. The tactics comprise the following: for an impression of ease, restrict recipes to a single page. For an air of sophistication, give them bilingual titles. For a sense of allure, get David Loftus to shoot the sumptuous photographs of idyllic Parisian life.
There is an entire genre of cookery books about classic French cooking, but Khoo’s achievement is to create recipes that add twists into the traditional. A number of predictable but not unwelcome dishes appear: boeuf bourguignon, quenelles lyonnaises, crème brûlée, plus a guide to drawing up a cheese board. The two-stage baking method for madeleines turned out very well when I tried it, and betrays her Cordon Bleu background.
Among the twists, the addition of orange zest to the onion topping of a pissaladière went down very well with my taste testers, even if it might raise a few eyebrows. Other intruiging touches include a Vietnamese-inspired pistou, raw rhubarb in a relish for mackerel tartare, beef stew fajitas, and canard à l’Orangina.
The hazy shots of Parisian shop frontages, balconies and Khoo herself may be offputting for some, and the repertoire of the book is unlikely to tempt those already well-acquainted with French cuisine. But with the oomph of a primetime TV series and a handsome cookery book behind her, Rachel Khoo is likely to gain more than a few followers.
Annie Lund, Time Out London Issue 2171: March 29 - April 4 2011
This tie-in to the TV series claims to offer ‘a revolutionary approach to cooking good food fast’. But these meals cannot be prepared in a normal kitchen by a normal cook in 30 minutes. I’ve tried, others have tried, and so far no one I know of has managed it. One hour? Maybe.
I discovered during recipe testing how the time economies are made to approach the 30 minute target. Virtually no allowance is made for rinsing or cleaning, and very little for chopping ingredients; no leeway at all is made for time spent clearing as you go – so your kitchen will look like a bombsite by the time the dishes are ready to be served.
Multiple and occasionally expensive ingredients are used almost recklessly, thereby ramping up the meal cost. The fishcakes meal I tested required three types of fish, including fresh tuna (total cost: £12.05), plus five types of fresh herbs – at nearly a quid per bag at the supermarket (not everyone has pots of herbs growing at home), thrift was not one of the main criteria.
Total cost for that one: around £30 for a meal for four; a rib-eye stir-fry came to about the same.
The recipe editing is also not as polished as you might hope. For the fishcake recipe, it first asks you to put the kettle on, then… that’s the last you hear about the kettle.
But what’s good about this book? It encourages people to cook, that’s what. Better still, it encourages men to get in the kitchen, because this is unashamedly the cooking of New Blokeism.
The results are showy, and done for applause – the results work most of the time, and can look great. They taste not bad too – even the bish-bosh ones that sound as if they shouldn’t work, such as the ‘dan dan noodles’ that aren’t, or the ‘kimchee slaw’ that no Korean would recognise.
Is this approach ‘revolutionary’? No – but it makes great television. And as Gil Scott-Heron once observed, the revolution will not be televised.
Guy Dimond, Time Out London Issue 2098: November 4-10 2010
Gordon Ramsay's Great Escape Gordon Ramsay, Harper Collins, £25
Ramsay’s latest book, a spin-off from the recent Channel 4 series, is inspired by regional Indian home cooking, street food stalls and regal feasting.
The 100 recipes are for curious entry-level cooks as well as experienced hands on the look-out for unusual spice combos, as Ramsay’s gone beyond the curry house in his search for authentic recipes.
There’s a decent spread of coastal specialities, teatime snacks and sweetmeats, relishes, vegetarian staples, meaty masalas, breads and grains. Evocative photography capturing memorable street scenes is interspersed with striking food shots. Mark Sargeant and Emily Quah have worked wonders in standardising recipes, substituting hard-to find ingredients and adapting methods for modern kitchens without detracting from base flavours.
Fish specialities are star players; favourites include Bengali-style mustardy prawn and tomato curry, or garlicky crab claws cloaked in sticky, golden-hued spiced onions.
Although recipes are mainly traditional, modern interpretations are carefully integrated. If you cook just one fish dish, make it sautéed john dory fillets with red curry sauce – I found it simple to make, but saucily complex in flavour, and notable for its toasted fenugreek flavour cut with tart tamarind and coconut.
There are a few hiccups – the inclusion of coconut-stuffed Peshawari naan (a British invention) is tough to justify.
Sourcing the ingredients shouldn’t be a hassle in London, but if you’re out in the sticks, there can’t be many stores that do a line in banana leaves and green papaya. This is a book for aficionados of all things spice: the recipes are properly tested, the instructions clear and the photography is a visual feast. My copy is already smudged with turmeric – a good omen.
Roopa Gulati, Time Out London Issue 2059: February 4-10 2010
Rick Stein's Far Eastern Odyssey Rick Stein, BBC Books, £25 There have been many other TV chefs who have brought Asian cooking to our screens, most notably Madhur Jaffrey, Ken Hom, and, er, Keith Floyd. But few can have done it as affably, as colourfully or with as much infectious enthusiasm as Rick Stein in his latest BBC TV series.
As with the show, the accompanying book is a trip through Southeast Asia, taking in Thailand, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam, as well as the less well known culinary destinations of Cambodia, Bangladesh and Bali.
As well as dishes we recognise from restaurant menus, such as pad thai noodles or satay skewers, there are many which will perhaps be unfamiliar to all but the seasoned traveller, such as the rich Bangladeshi beef shatkora or fragrant Cambodian steamed mussels.
Although there are a few quick 20-minute suppers in here (Vietnamese clams with beer, black beans and ginger stands out), there is also a lot of grinding of spices, preparation of pastes and masalas and slow cooking of aromatic stocks. Stein knows there are no shortcuts to a good curry or pho, as hard as some stir-in sauce manufacturers might try to persuade you otherwise.
The many authentic ingredients require some planning, too: some may be hard to find for those outside metropolitan areas, though there is a list of online suppliers. But with strong Bangladeshi, Vietnamese and Sri Lankan communities in London, we’ve no excuse for not tracking down the elusive shatkora (bitter lime) or some asafoetida (the stinky, pungent spice used in Indian cookery).
This is not a compendium of Southeast Asian cooking in the way that, say, Charmaine Solomon’s ‘Complete Asian Cookbook’ is, but it doesn’t try to be. Instead, the veteran chef’s irrepressible on-screen geniality comes through in every little recollection or scene-setting story which accompanies the recipes, giving them a personality not always found in such endeavours.
The design and photography is lively and vibrant, and, refreshingly for a celebrity chef project, the book only features one snap of Stein himself, focusing instead on the regions and dishes themselves. This quietly echoes the book’s sentiment: that food – through production, cooking and eating – is as central to life in the East as sleeping or breathing, and by trying some of these recipes at home we can hopefully experience some of this passion ourselves.
Euan Ferguson, Time Out London Issue 2038: September 10-16 2009
If you’re dreading the long, cold, and oh-so-dark evenings of winter, Bill Granger’s new book will prove as essential as a large bottle of St John’s Wort. Thought by industry pundits to be ‘the next Jamie Oliver’, Granger’s last book ‘Everyday’ was a hit, even though his TV shows have not been televised in the primetime evening slots.
This book proffers more of the same; it’s themed around holiday cooking but Granger’s food is always so breezily uncomplicated there’s not much to pare back for lazy days. (He does tackle Christmas, but it’s Aussie-style glazed ham and salads, not the innovative ways with turkey and Brussels sprouts you may be seeking.)
Ideas we love: chicken burgers with lemongrass and lime (from the barbie, mate); sweet potatoes with coriander and preserved lemon; green ratatouille; slow-roast pork shoulder with cumin and coriander seeds; hazelnut and fig cake, and a coconut ice cream that demands only three ingredients.
Winter gets a look-in with chapters called ‘Rug-Up-Warm Soups’ and ‘Fireside’, but Aussie expats be warned: the beachside photography may induce homesickness.
Jenni Muir, Time Out London Issue 1938: Oct 10-16 2007
This attractive hardback promises unfussy food that can be on the dinner table quickly. Aikens is a meticulous chef better known for his work in Michelin-starred restaurants, so we needed a bit of convincing that he could do ‘easy’.
For the most part, he can – although sometimes he can’t resist passing stocks and sauces through a fine sieve just for the fun of it, or over-complicating simple dishes such as salade Niçoise. But if you stick to the ‘Fast fixes’ and ‘Light bites’ chapters you should be able to get yourself nicely fed sometime before midnight.
Oddly, there are no timescales given in Aiken’s book, so you’ll have to make an educated guess about how long they’ll take – and do read the recipe carefully well in advance, as many of them require primary ingredients to be marinated hours beforehand.
Aikens has some creative ideas, such as simple sea bass enlivened with a spiky red pepper relish or a livid potato and beetroot gratin. The chapter on leftovers has some excellent tips too, such as pepping up roast chicken with tapenade-flavoured mayonnaise, olives and lemon; or giving leftover fish a new lease on life as an escabeche.
If you’re not so concerned with the quick thing, recipes in the ‘Something for the weekend’ chapter are the place to look for cheffiest, most impressive dishes for friends.
Susan Low, Time Out London Issue 2122: April 21-27 2011
Bryn Williams, chef and owner of Odette’s restaurant in Primrose Hill, honed his culinary skills in prestigious London kitchens under Marco Pierre White, Michel Roux Jr and Chris Galvin. In this, his first cookery book, he goes back to his Welsh heritage, focusing on a selection of the home-grown ingredients that initially lured him into the kitchen.
Jonathan Gregson’s elegant and artful photography sets the tone. Scrubbed wooden boards and worn worktops provide backdrops for glistening food, either in kitchen pans or carefully plated.
His family kitchen staples are a mainstay of the book, but more complex, cheffy dishes also feature. (A detailed multi-stage recipe is given for the braised oxtail and turbot dish that won him the BBC’s Great British Menus competition in 2006, and was served for the Queen’s birthday.)
Singling out 20 of his favourite ingredients or foodstuffs – scallops, salmon, pork, apples, baking, etc – Williams gives five recipes for each. They are graded by difficulty – easy, medium or complex – though most are on the simpler side (a recipe for a bacon and tomato sandwich, for instance). Many have helpful tips at the bottom of the page.
We tested ‘Nairn’s Bara Brith’, a sweet currant bread made with yeast that came out of the oven looking beautiful. A lemony salad of slivered radish and fennel with chives also lived up to its picture and, more importantly, complemented the sweetness of the raw scallops it was served with.
Shoulder of lamb – a fatty joint of meat rendered into soft strands over a five-hour cooking time – was kept moist on a rack above layered potatoes and onion, which gently simmered in lamb stock. We found the top slices of potato became inedibly tough though, while the bottom layers were still somewhat soupy.
Apple flapjacks tasted great, with tart fruit cutting through the cake and preventing it from becoming cloying, but the cooking time (at a low temperature, 160C, for ten to 15 minutes) was unrealistically short and the end result crumbly. (Lemon posset was beautifully simple, set and satisfying, though we passed on the out-of-season strawberry and basil accompaniment.)
These are recipes created by a chef – someone who knows his ingredients intimately and uses recipes as ‘blueprints to inspire’ and extrapolate from. If you tend to use recipes as a starting point and won’t get too jealous reading repeated details of Bryn’s childhood, which was seemingly spent in an idyllic-sounding Welsh larder, you’ll enjoy this book.
Zoe Kamen, Time Out London issue 2116: March 10-16 2011
My Kitchen: Real Food from Near and Far Stevie Parle, Quadrille, £14.99 (paperback)
Stevie Parle, chef and instigator of the popular Dock Kitchen in Ladbroke Grove, has also expanded and collated his Observer organic allotment blog pieces into a first cookery book. This now forms part of a new series from Quadrille that aims to introduce bright new writers on the culinary scene, and is aimed at a younger audience.
Like a food diary, Parle’s engaging book meanders through a year in his kitchen board his Hammersmith houseboat as he concocts feasts for friends from a glut of seasonal ingredients.
Eclectic recipes are gleaned from near – family, friends and old standard cookbooks – but also from his many far-flung adventures across Asia and Europe, embracing diverse cuisines. He takes inspiration from his mentors and former bosses at The River Café, Moro and Petersham Nurseries.
Instructions and knowledgeable tidbits are often illustrated, and recipes range from the quick and simple to more labour intensive. His take on tandoor chicken is for those who don’t have a clay oven. Instead, the chicken’s barbecued, and when we tested the dish it had an intense cumin hit that penetrated through the flesh.
Orecchiette sauce was punchy with chilli, fennel and anchovy but the pasta dough required more liquid than specified to bind it. The recipe given for cherry focaccia was excessively yeasty, but worked well with half the quantity recommended, turning out as a sweet and savoury delight.
As can be with cookery books written by chefs, quantities given in recipes are occasionally optimistically vague and somewhat arbitrary. But Parle’s sheer enthusiasm to give it a go, to experiment with the balances of ingredients with sprinkles, dollops, drizzles and handfuls, is encouraging.
His writing entices the reader to try out new tastes and techniques, consider alternative shops to procure them and then invite friends round to share in the flavourful rewards.
Zoe Kamen, Time Out London Issue 2081: July 8-14 2010
Gourmet Food for a Fiver Jason Atherton, Quadrille, £14.99
With some notable exceptions, cookery books written by restaurant chefs – rather than cooks or food writers – have a tendency to be poncey. They can be full of costly and esoteric ingredients, or over-reliant on fiddly, time-consuming techniques (such as multiple sieving of sauces) that are a turn-off for home cooks. This new book from the acclaimed chef of Maze restaurant [editor's note: since this review was written, Atherton has left Maze and now cooks at his own restaurant, Pollen Street Social] is, thankfully, an honourable exception, and is one that the home cook can enjoy.
Since the financial crash, publishers have been rushing out budget cookery books galore – many harking back to war-time frugality. This book is different, as a quick leaf through the very appealing recipes show. The dishes are elegant rather than spare, and even humble-sounding dishes such as grilled sardines on toast, chilled cucumber soup, and rice pudding look rather indulgent. Nor is the book overtly British, as is the current trend. There are flavours from the Middle and Far East, and from throughout Europe – and there’s not a single pie in sight.
According to the foreword, the fiver in the title is based on a two-course meal for four people, but assumes an already-stocked larder of spices, condiments and store-cupboard staples. Some of these recipes actually cost more than a fiver, even if the main ingredients are bought in season. Most, however, are based on inexpensive types of fish, such as mackerel, pollack or squid; or less-expensive cuts of meat, such as pork belly, chicken thighs or lamb leg steaks.
What this book does exceptionally well is to suggest flavours that work well together, and give detailed advice on how to present and plate each dish so that it looks fabulous. The recipes themselves are fairly concise and clearly written - although some less experienced cooks might struggle a bit with the foamy sauces and quenelles. Glamour on a shoestring budget is the aim here, and that’s something all keen cooks will appreciate.
Susan Low, Time Out London Issue 2068: April 8-14 2010 Buy this book
Fusion: A Culinary Journey Peter Gordon, Jacqui Small, £25
‘Fusion food’ had its heyday in the 1990s, and few were sad to see it go. It’s easy to retrospectively mock the fad with its mix-up of culinary styles, but when done well, fusion cooking is imaginative, creative and exciting.
Few have championed fusion cooking as ably as Peter Gordon, the New Zealand-born chef who launched the era-defining Sugar Club in 1996, and who is now co-owner and consultant chef at Providores. [editor's note: since this review was written, Gordon has also opened Kopapa in Covent Garden.
For Gordon, fusion cooking was never just a trend, but a creative approach to cooking that he’s still putting into practice. Nor is the cross-pollination of ingredients and cooking techniques particularly new, as Gordon points out.
The book is more than just a collection of recipes – there’s a great deal of autobiographical material from the well-travelled Gordon. Turkey, Japan, Spain and Malaysia/Singapore are covered in most detail. The recipes are as cunningly conceived as ever. Gordon’s a master at pulling together strands from various cuisines and weaving them into something that tastes and looks marvellous, but which never lapses into outlandishness.
Recipes such as coffee, star anise and liquorice-braised pork belly with quince and mushrooms; or roast butternut squash with Turkish-style poached eggs with yoghurt-and-chilli butter demonstrate a keen understanding of how and why certain ingredients work well together. The recipes really work too, although you may have to spend some time tracking down the ingredients.
Susan Low, Time Out London Issue 2062: February 25-March 3 2010
The Clatter of Forks and Spoons Richard Corrigan, Fourth Estate, £25
When Richard Corrigan talks about poaching salmon, he doesn’t mean cooking it gently in water. His journey from bogland smallholding in County Meath to celebrity chef with restaurants off Park Lane and Piccadilly is a tale as suited to the silver screen as a cookbook.
The family ate well but was cash-poor and didn’t have electricity until 1973: they spent weeks turf-cutting every August to provide fuel for cooking and heating. At school – which he left before turning 15 – Corrigan was called Bog Man. Tales of these times and learning to cook in Amsterdam and London are bound up with profiles of favoured food producers, culinary musings and, of course, recipes, which run from Irish rusticity to haute cuisine.
Many dishes are familiar from Corrigan’s restaurants, including Bentley’s and Lindsay House. Sheila Keating is credited as writing partner but even so Corrigan’s astonishingly well read for someone who (like a few other well-known chefs) has suffered from dyslexia: ‘…you learn to memorise huge amounts of information,’ he says. ‘You have to. I do believe that ignorance is self-inflicted.’ Colourful, we expected. That this is also an intelligent and captivating book sets Corrigan above many of his TV rivals.
Jenni Muir, Time Out London Issue 2009: February 29-15 2009
Thai Street Food David Thompson, Conran Octopus, £40
A bright orange whopper of a book, David Thompson’s latest work weighs nearly 3kg and fills a man-bag or commuter’s rucksack.
This is a trophy book destined for the coffee table, not so much the kitchen counter. Earl Carter’s photography of Thai street scenes is stunning, and deserves the many double page spreads it gets.
His portraits transport you right there: all that’s missing are the smells and sounds. The photographs dominate the book, but these are interspersed with David Thompson’s words and recipes.
Australian-born Thompson has spent much of the last two decades living in Bangkok, where he has taught himself the Thai language and immersed himself in its food and culture, while researching historical and regional recipes. He is such a recognised expert on the subject that he teaches in Thai culinary academies. You might say he’s qualified.
Thompson’s first book, ‘The Top One Hundred Thai Dishes’ (1993, now out of print), is a masterpiece of clearly explained, easy-to-follow recipes (and is the one from where I taught myself to cook Thai food).
In contrast, ‘Thai Food’ (2002), while far more erudite and clearly the work of many years of meticulous research, is a reference book rather than a practical recipe book. It’s that pink tome which regularly appears near the top of ‘best ever cookbook’ lists – but many cooks abandon it after few recipes, preferring simpler dishes they can find online.
Which brings us to ‘Thai Street Food’. It’s well written, and the research is impeccable. But I’ve tried cooking several of the recipes, and had to cut corners with every one. Why? Ingredients such as coriander root or Asian pennywort are hard to locate in London, and no substitute ingredients are suggested.
The methods, although correct, are hugely time consuming. I’m not going to make my own red curry paste from scratch every time – in Thailand most people buy theirs fresh from the market, they don’t have time to make their own.
So what’s this book for? Inspiration. It clarifies the difference between a Westernised version of a Thai dish, and how it should be done. It describes the history and context of these dishes. It exlapins the importance of the balance of flavours. But above all, it gives you a sense of place, and is a joy to leaf through. If you love cooking Thai food, put it on your Christmas wish list (but get a bigger stocking first).
Guy Dimond, Time Out London Issue 2095: October 14 - 20 2010
Silvena Rowe is a busy lady. She writes and advises about food. She cooks it and touts it on TV. She has plans to open a new restaurant at the May Fair hotel. [editor's note: since this review was written, Rowe has opened her restaurant, Quince.] Now she has brought out a stunning cookery book that travels south from her last two books on eastern and central European food, to champion the cuisine of the eastern Mediterranean.
These flavours of her childhood have been tweaked for modern tastes, with a few typically cheeky nods of immodesty thrown in.
Part story book and part cookery book, ‘Purple Citrus’ interweaves Ottoman cultural heritage with the culinary world it created. Chapters progress through mezze, starters, böreks, pilafs and salads to meat, fish, vegetables and sweets.
The book’s exotic name hints at the aesthetic appeal of the recipes in this book and it doesn’t disappoint. Jonathan Lovekin’s vibrant photography captures the sharp contrasts in textures and colours of Rowe’s recipes: everything is bright and beautiful. The photographs were taken on a trip to Turkey and our only niggle is that, occasionally, they don’t match the recipe instructions. But it is difficult to hold this against them when the recipes taste so good and are so easy to follow.
Basil and kaidafi (shredded filo pastry)-wrapped king prawns, were succulent and crisped by deep frying, with no hint of grease; the bright parsley-green pine nut tarator sauce complemented them well. Grilled lamb kebabs marinated overnight in pomegranate molasses, served with a fresh chutney of pomegranate seeds, orange and chilli, was a cacophony of flavours. Piquant hibiscus salt brought out the smoky sweetness of an aubergine and red pepper salad.
Baked künefe (more shredded pastry) – a sticky sweet concoction, filled with soft cheese and traditionally made with plain sugar syrup, was enlivened by Rowe’s addition of passion fruit and vanilla.
These are sumptuous recipes that will delight the eyes and the palate, opening up a world of Ottoman flavours to explore.
Zoe Kamen, Time Out London Issue 2087: August 19-25 2010
Gennaro's Italian Home Cooking Gennaro Contaldo, Headline, £20
Simplicity is a virtue in Italian home cooking - as is kitchen parsimony, with an emphasis on inexpensive ingredients such as pasta, pulses and seasonal vegetables. This book, by Gennaro Contaldo, the man recognised as Jamie Oliver’s early mentor of Italian cooking, slots right into the current need for budget-conscious cooking. Yes, there are hundreds of Italian cookery books out there, but we were more impressed with the tempting recipes in this tome than with Contaldo’s links with celebrity.
Recipes such as savoury escarole and smoked mozzarella pie, or braised oxtail with celery, hold plenty of appeal. There are some impressive-looking party pieces too, such as roast pork with mustard, apple and speck, which serves 12. Yet it’s the recipes that can be whipped up from a few tins and packets from the store cupboard that we’ll be experimenting with this winter: dishes such as chickpeas in anchovy sauce; cannellini bean and polenta bake; or risotto with chestnuts, sausage and porcini.
This is the kind of food that’s served in Italian families but all too rarely in Italian restaurants in the UK. There’s also a great recipe for tuna preserved under oil that dates from the time before tinned tuna was available on every supermarket shelf.
The book plays up the big Italian family theme in a way that’s slightly clichéd, but you can ignore the family portraits and concentrate on the recipes - you’ll be in for some pleasant surprises that go way beyond the usual pasta and Parma ham.
Francesco’s Kitchen Francesco da Mosto, Ebury Press, £25
Following his artistic journeys through Venice and Italy, Venetian architect and author Francesco da Mosto has turned his attention to the food of his home town. His latest book features a good selection of classic recipes from Venice and its surrounding region, the Veneto, while the accompanying anecdotes provide an entertaining insight into this lesser-known Italian regional cuisine.
However, da Mosto can be so entrenched in the comfort of his own kitchen that he often forgets that he’s writing for an audience unfortunate enough not to have the abundant, relatively inexpensive fresh seafood and produce of Rialto market at their doorstep.
As a result, a few recipes feature ingredients that are either impossible to find outside Venice or are extremely costly, if they can be tracked down. After all, even Venetian expats have resorted to timing visits home to quell their cravings for local cuisine highlights such as moeche, deep-fried soft-shell crabs that are caught during a brief moulting season in spring and autumn.
If you don’t mind da Mosto’s constant references to himself and his aristocratic family (it turns out Lord Byron contracted gonorrhoea during a fling with a da Mosto beauty), this book is a lively read and a reliable introduction to the gastronomy of Venice.
Bill's Everyday Asian Bill Granger, Quadrille, £20
Granger & Co, the first London restaurant by Australian chef Bill Granger, may have been a slight disappointment when it opened at the end of 2011 – but at least his cookery books are as dependable as ever.
‘Everyday Asian’ is Granger's ninth original book and, with eye-poppingly vibrant photographs (that evoke ‘Asia’ without relying on cliched iconography) by Mikkel Vang, possibly his most beautiful.
Granger’s style of cooking encapsulates that archetypally Aussie attitude: fresh and easy breezy (in this book, there’s even a tongue-in-cheek reference to the ‘throw another shrimp on the barbie’ line). He applies this liberal approach to cooking – simple ingredients and minimal fuss – to tackle the perceived complexity of ‘Asian’ food, and for the most part, it works.
Setting aside the usual quibbles about how the diverse cuisines of an entire swath of the globe can be reduced into a single volume, Granger’s book offers plenty of quick and inspiring recipes that incorporate key flavours, aromas and textures without forcing readers to hunt down dozens of obscure ingredients.
The list of recommended Asian pantry ingredients tops 30 items, but considering the breadth of recipes it’s a tight and concise selection. It might be Asian food-lite, but the results are no less satisfying.
Rather than by cuisine type, each chapter is based on either dishes (salads, soups, noodles and rice) or proteins (poultry, pork seafood, beef and lamb, vegetables and tofu), making it easy to look for a recipe revolving around your ingredient(s) of choice. We liked the Korean-style barbecued beef recipe with miso ’slaw; the use of puréed kiwi fruit in the marinade might not be traditional, but it worked totenderise the meat as promised, and the fragrant sesame-sugar-soy-garlic combination caramelised nicely on the grill. A simple mixture of white miso paste, rice vinegar, lemon juice and sugar made a fantastic dressing for the crunchy cabbage, celery and red onion 'slaw.
Desserts have more of a Granger spin, focusing more on tropical fruit concoctions (mandarin crème brûlée, passionfruit granita) than typical Asian desserts. With that said, hot Chinese custard tarts (similar to Portuguese pasteis de nata) tasted correct, but the method was too vague to ensure a smooth, creamy texture – in our experience, a longer cooking time at a lower temperature prevents the custard mixture from puffing up like a soufflé, which ours did from 18 minutes of 200C heat.
This book isn’t for those who are looking for ‘authentic’ recipes, though there are many that stay truthful to the original dish with just a few minor simplifications or substitutions (Vietnamese ‘shaking’ beef, Thai pork larb salad, tom yum soup, Chinese salt and pepper tofu). As the title suggests, these are recipes for the everyday – and they work.
Charmaine Mok, Time Out London Issue 2160: January 12-18 2012
Australian-born chef and MasterChef judge John Torode has made British beef his business. His restaurant – Smith’s of Smithfield, near the famed meat market, is renowned for its well-presented good steaks, and this nicely-designed book follows suit.
It starts out with the basics: a few words about sourcing beef, then a round-up of cattle breeds with cartoon-like drawings of each type before moving on to cuts of beef, with brief descriptions. Rather ingeniously, the book jacket can be unfolded into a full-size poster of a ‘meat map’ showing the part of the animal from which the various cuts come.
This is not abutchery manual: the focus is on cooking and recipes and the tone is much more light-hearted than, say, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s ‘River Cottage Meat Book’. Recipe-wise, there are a few Asian-inspired ones such as grilled beef with Thai flavours in rice paper, beef rendang with lemongrass and ginger, and Japanese style beef with tobiko (flying-fish roe).
There are a few stocks, gravies and accompaniments too, but the recipes concentrate on hearty, meaty mains such as bollito misto, pies and pasties, and braised ox cheeks. And, of course, plenty on steaks, from clear instructions on how to fry, griddle or barbecue a steak properly, to recipes for carpet bag steak, the rarely seen double-cut porterhouse steak with béarnaise sauce, and T-bone steak as well as burgers and roasts.
‘Variety meats’ are not forgotten, as there’s a chapter on offal, as well as a section on veal with classic recipes such Italian favourites as ossobuco, vitello tonnato and veal saltimbocca. The recipes are clear and easy to follow, making this one for the bovine buffs.
Susan Low, Time Out London Issue 1997: Nov 27-Dec 3 2008
Maria Elia was the former chef of the Delfina restaurant, then the Whitechapel Gallery Dining Room – and is currently executive chef of Joe's Restaurant in South Kensington. Elia is known for use of herbs, spices and flavourings – and her fearlessness for putting them together in unusual ways.
The subtitle to her latest book is ‘How to think like a chef’. In the introduction, she tells us how she comes up with an idea for a new recipe by considering the main ingredient, complementary flavours and contrasting textures.
Some recipes are straightforward – such as meatballs with peas and tomato sauce or Greek beans on toast with feta and tomatoes – while others clearly show Elia’s skill at rethinking traditional recipes.
One example is carrot, dill, almond and feta baklava – a savoury/sweet reinvention of this sticky Greek sweet. At first, the recipe didn’t inspire confidence: the headnote said the carrots are ‘roasted’ (but in the recipe they’re not), and the ‘90g whole almonds, blanched and blitzed to a breadcrumb consistency’ stumped us. Were we to blanch our almonds in boiling water before blitzing them; or use ready-blanched almonds and blitz them? We used ordinary unblanched ones in the end and didn’t blanch them. The crunchy, sweet and spicy creation was a triumph, but the recipe-editing is not of a great standard.
Photography by Jonathan Gregson does the lovely dishes justice and gives cooks a clear idea what to aim for. It’s not a beginners’ book, but for confident cooks with an adventurous streak, Elia’s latest is a great sourcebook.
Susan Low, Time Out London Issue 2156: December 15-21 2011
Balance & Harmony: Asian Food Neil Perry, Murdoch Books, £30
This book wins full marks for presentation. It’s beautifully designed and made, with a padded cover, sumptuous photography by Earl Carter and striking imagery that conjures up 1930s Shanghai. Author Neil Perry is a respected chef, the owner of the Rockpool restaurant in Sydney, which is known for its Australia-meets-Asia style of cooking.
We question the validity of an ‘Asian’ cookery book containing recipes from countries as gastronomically diverse as China, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Korea (as well as some recipes that seem to blur national boundaries). Imagine a similar book on ‘European’ cookery that presented recipes from Norway, through Scandinavia and the Baltic and from Portugal across the Mediterranean to Bulgaria. Asian food is such a vast and complex subject that it can’t help but seem oversimplified and somewhat diminished by such an approach.
That said, the book is presented with some semblance of logic. It starts off with basic techniques and recipes for steaming rice, making stocks and sauces, making salads, steaming, stir-frying and braising, etc. The braising section in particular has some wonderful-sounding recipes, such as sweet black vinegar pork belly and Shanghai-style salted duck. The idea is that cooks master these basic dishes before going on to more difficult ones in the second half of the book.
In reality, none of the recipes are that difficult; they’ve all been simplified enough to make them well within the reach of the averagely ambitious home cook and are well thought out. One word of caution, though: because it’s an Australian book, the finding some of the fish – such as blue-eye, Murray cod, mud crabs – would be impossible, and substitutions aren’t given. But if you love ‘Asian food’, give this book a go.
Susan Low, Time Out London Issue 1996: Nov 20-26 2008 Buy this book