“My father’s generation delighted in the drink called Gin and French. This was an abomination to my tender, unaccustomed nostrils between the ages of say, seven and seventeen, and what’s more it remains with me to this very day. Simply, it was a smallish glass half filled with Gordon’s Gin and topped up with an equal quantity of Noilly Prat.No ice, no lemon. Absolute filth.”
Although not a celebrity chef offering in the real sense Roast Chicken And Other Stories has had his share of fame. It briefly toppled Harry Potter from the Number One on the best sellers list. No mean achievement. Its popularity ensured the swift follow up sequel Second Helpings of Roast Chicken.
It’s not the kind of pretty picture book that we crave as a foodie nation. There are the odd few sketches, but in the main you have to rely on the quality of the writing to sustain you, which it does admirably.
He attempts, and indeed succeeds in charting the steady evolution of British cuisine since the Second World War. He is an exponent of French cooking methods, the prolific use of his favourite ingredients and a wickedly excessive use of butter.
The books’ detail lies in the attention to detail of the ingredients they feature. They are introduced alphabetically via some delightfully witty prose, liberally sprinkled with some history and their treatment by the Hall of Fame foodie elite(Elisabeth David), local food suppliers (Sid, his butcher in Hammersmith) and other luminaries (Morecombe and Wise).
By way of ingredients, the familiar are there in the majority, but we are encouraged to flirt with the more obscure too. Anchovies, brains, rabbit, skate, sweetbreads, tongue, tripe and truffles are some of the dark horses that he talks about, demystifying (or deconstructing them?) them and scribbling out a recipe or two for us to try.
He mixes it up too. Combinations of unusual ingredients appear together and break down conventional notions that have been previously held about them Currants with salmon, lettuce with curry, Roquefort and fried parsley and quatre épices and hake all make a début here and are well received.
Again, like its predecessors on this page there is a wealth of staples that seem to be so sadly lacking from so many works on the kitchen shelf, thereby making it an invaluable addition to an aspiring home cooks’ collection. If its junket, soufflé, fool or vichyssiose that you’re after, these are the books for you.
It is this eclectic mix of ingredients that in fact supply the recipe for the books’ appeal. It must also be said that for the serious home cook, there is an innate pleasure in having your recipes subtly “introduced” to you, so you can get a feel for the likely outcome of the dish.
Modern day offerings seem to have a mouth watering photo beside a brief one -page-to-a-recipe format. It can be alluring and provides a sharp focus point, but from a personal perspective I find that there is a tendency to treat this type of cookbook like a magazine, flicking through it absent-mindedly and using the colour to sharpen one”s appetite. This has to be an intentional ploy: The vast number of cookery works on sale and the not inconsiderable quantities of “cut price” deals in every book store in the land surely must point to the obvious: Are we being teased into treating cook books like their magazine counterparts? Indeed, I hasten to point out here that I purchased one of this dazzling duo for less than the price of a food magazine, which whilst saving a few coppers fro me, I find sad for the writers who have worked so hard to produce, especially here, such enduring work.
So whether , like me you now slope off on a raid to capture the literary equivalent of a meal deal at the local Bookends or The Works, try and get copies of these books, rustle up a few dishes and treat them as your culinary best buddies You won’t regret it.
Roast Chicken and Other Stories (Ebury Paperback Cookery)