I wasn’t going to review this book. My first impression was of a truly beautiful and inspiring newcomer that I needed to get my hands on. However, my second, once hands were on, was that this was a book that wasn’t meant for anyone but professionals. The recipes are complicated, some of them require that you make two other recipes in the book, in order to complete a dish, the ingredients are unknown (I’m not averse to a chilli flake or two, I have heard of verjus, but how about salted yuzu juice? Kalamansi lime? Amchur powder? You any wiser than me? No, thought not) and the number of ingredients is often very long (e.g. 35 for a roast leg of lamb and its accompaniments).
But then I kept thinking about the chef behind the text. Anna Hansen has worked with Peter Gordon and Fergus Henderson, both of whom are trailblazers and, before The Modern Pantry, she set up The Providores which puts most places that serve ‘small plates’ to shame. I couldn’t believe that such a garlanded chef could write the sort of book that gathers dust not splashes. So I did something I rarely do with a cookery book and I read it from beginning to (almost) end. And my third impression was that though I may not know how to cook, or where to source, half of the ingredients, this is a book that is really worth owning and using.
Why? Because there are tons of cookery books that churn out variations on hackneyed themes (and plenty of blogs, including my own at times I grant you, that do the same). I mean do we really need another book by a TV face that teaches you how to make spaghetti carbonara? No, what we need, or what you might find more interesting, is a book that tells you how to make Persian-spiced pork skewers with sweet tomato yoghurt, or how to braise cherry tomatoes with lemongrass or that plain mash could be something else entirely if it was black bean, star anise and cocoa purée. Only the bread and breakfast recipes are reminiscent of others (though, even then, you’ll find lavosh as well as soda bread and a sugar-cured prawn omelette with the granola).
That is not, as I first thought, the book’s weakness but its strength. I may never make a Singapore-style worked crab (the recipe is two pages long, has six ‘how to’ pictures and starts with an explanation of how to put the poor creatures into a coma) but I think I can manage chorizo mash, coconut and pandan duck leg curry and feta date and sweetcorn fritters. And though these aren’t the sort of recipes that most people are going to knock together after work (the shopping list would be too long…) if you dig a little there are ideas that are easy to appropriate and try whilst you get up your courage (and fill your cupboards) with the necessary for a chicken mole rojo with tomatillo salsa. Why have I never put chilli jam in yoghurt before, baked ricotta with honey, lemon and chilli or made an avocado and lime pickle purée?
Yes, the ideas are different and a little daunting but only because I haven’t tried them yet. After all, if we didn’t embrace new ingredients and tastes I’d still think La vache qui rit was a good French cheese…
Hats off to you for reading this cook book, despite your initial distaste. I agree that it’s interesting to read about different techniques and flavour combinations and I agree that it’s a good idea to try new things.
But for me it all comes down to the fact that while I love to try new things – I don’t want to shop for two weeks to get the ingredients and then spend a whole weekend trying to make one dish and getting food everywhere from the ceiling to the floor, down the cupboards – you get the drift. I get messy when I get stressed in the kitchen – which is not cool!
I guess it’s lucky that there are people out there who are passionate about food, like you and me, who re-work these sorts of things and create something that is accessible to the average Joe out there trying to create a nice meal which is complciated enough to impress their friends, but not so much so that they are doomed to fail.
Avocado, lime and pickle puree – that’s something I’d love to try – as for black bean, star anise and cocoa purée – I think I’ll be fine if I never try this recipe out!
Thanks for the great review Louise – it made me realise that there is great value in buying a cook book with lots of scary recipes 🙂
I’m looking for guest bloggers to contribute restaurant reviews on Uforic Food at the moment. I love your writing – so let me know if you’re interested in contributing – even this book review would be fab!
I’m with you! I would never do the big shop and the weekend of work, nor do I have the space for all of the unusual ingredients. But there are some gems in here (I’m going to try a Vietnamese pork dish; nice short list of ingredients, some of which I already have…) and reading it made me realise how little I really know about what’s out there.
And, yes, I’d be happy to contribute a restaurant review or two though do you want London-based ones? You can have this review too if you like; how do we do that? I’m away for a bit now so perhaps we can sort when I’m back?
That’s great Louise – thanks so much. With your permission, I will pinch your book review and ensure your byline is on it and it is linked back to your blog. There will also be a preamble saying that you are a guest blogger and words about your blog.
Restaurant reviews and photos from your part of the work would be awesome. I have heaps of UK subscribers and am wanting to showcase the whole world, if possible! Enjoy your trip and we can chat more when you get back – just send me an email, if you like 🙂
Pingback: The Modern Pantry Cookbook - a review by a very special guest | Uforic Food