A Book for Life: Brindisa and pollo a la vinagreta

In UK publishing, the Christmas season is well under way. And sometimes, as the huge rush of new titles appears in the shops and online, it’s hard, even for a book-lover, to know where to start. As I wander round Foyle’s cookbook section, I have been known to wonder ‘what’s the point of publishing another one?’ Then a book comes along that is so complete, so knowledgeable and beautiful that I know exactly what the point is and shut up for another year. Brindisa is such a book.

I must, first, declare an interest: I project-edited this book and often work for its publisher. However, I project-edit a lot of books and not all of them make it onto these pages. This one, though, well this one is worth my time and yours.

Brindisa, for those who don’t know, is a shop and restaurant chain in London, set up by the book’s author, Monika Linton. And it can claim to have changed the landscape of London, if not the UK’s, food, by introducing to our shores, or promoting, many of the ingredients we, or at least anyone interested in food, now take for granted: olive oil, anchovies, different types of rice, chorizo, jamón, Manchego. Things that were once only available at the ‘world food’ section in the supermarket are now mainstream.

And in this book, you can learn everything about all of those foods, where they come from, what the differences are between types of oil or jamón and, of course, how to cook with them. It truly is an encyclopedia and, when I wasn’t checking one of the cross-references, or whether a spelling should be italicised, I was losing myself in the detail of how to make melindros (a Catalan version of churros, which doesn’t need deep-frying…) or how to serve good conserved fish in hojalata (a tin can, or, more precisely, the tin can in which they were conserved).

I really wanted to write about the great idea of buying some smoked mackerel, then serving it in its tin with a potato salad, or tinned razor clams with chorizo, both of which appealed to my desire for short and fast. But, since such good tinned fish isn’t always available, I thought I’d go for something else. In this generous book, full of advice, ideas and recipes, there is everything from the straight out of a tin, to longer, more complicated two-day stews. This pollo a la vinagreta caught my eye for the blog because it is all of a paragraph long. It is marvellously simple (chop, put in pan, add liquid, bring to the boil, simmer) and, as I write, is filling the flat with a rich chickeny, herby scent, tormenting me and the cats. I have a feeling this is one for my repeat list.

So, whether you want some ideas about what to do with the chorizo you’ve just bought, or are planning a cocido (a family stew sometimes eaten over several days), you will find joy here. This is a book for life, not a season.

Makes enough for 4 (depending on appetites and the size of the chicken used)

Cupboard (or things you may already have)
carrots, 2
large onion, 1
garlic cloves, 4
black peppercorns, small handful
bay leaf
olive oil, 5 tbsp

Shopping list
chicken, 1.2-1.5kg (or, if you don’t want to chop one up, about 8 on-the bone pieces; a mixture of legs and thighs will be the most tasty)
fresh thyme, a few sprigs
white wine, 100ml
Moscatel (or other good wine or sherry) vinegar, 60ml
potatoes, to serve

You will also need a casserole/pot that can go on the hob and some baking parchment or the pot’s lid.

How to
1. Peel and chop the carrots and onion and peel the garlic.

2. Cut the chicken up into pieces (you should have about 8 at the end) then put it in the pot with the vegetables and garlic. Add the peppercorns, bay leaf, thyme, wine, vinegar, olive oil and as much water as you need to cover the chicken.

3. Put a layer of baking parchment over the top of the pot (if you haven’t got any, cover with the lid, slightly cocked so that it doesn’t completely cover it), bring to the boil then lower the heat and simmer for an hour and a half, or until the chicken is done. Serve with something simple, like plain boiled potatoes, which are marvellous for soaking up the delicious sauce.

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