India Knight, who is not a cookery writer, diverted her focus from magical beauty potions in a recent column in The Sunday Times Style to rave about this book. I’ve had a few good non-beauty tips from India before (notably a whole series of novels set in France that were full of food, sunshine and crime) so I jumped in immediately and ordered this.
India claimed that she wanted to cook everything in this book, right now, immediately. Ditto.
Diana Henry has also declared it to be Nigel’s best book – and the others aren’t too shabby!
Look and feel
It’s a big book, really big. 500 pages cover-to-cover and over 200 recipes. There are cookbooks with lists of instructions, and cookbooks that are meant to be as much about the words – this is very much the latter. Slater describes himself as ‘a cook who writes’ and ‘a writer who cooks’ – both claims stand up. When your pay and rations derive from a career as a professional food writer rather than as a practicing chef, celebrity or otherwise, the pen needs to be as mighty as the spatula!
The imagery from Jonathan Lovekin and Jenny Zarins is atmospheric and beautifully styled. Many, but not all, dishes are shown in their finished state.
A Cook’s Book is laid out in chapters that focus on selected foods – soup, chicken, meat, tart, pudding and lots more. Almost the last 150 pages are devoted to sweets and baking. In style the book is almost entirely narrative. Recipes arrive in two ways, as suggestions within an introduction or other text section, or more classically with ingredients laid out in a list. Even where the ingredients are listed there’s a very conversational approach to the method “Oh, and I should mention…”, “Put the kettle on….”
What sort of food is it?
Accessible, innovative food that is about as far from faff as you can get. Lists of ingredients are short, but often with the food equivalent of a secret drawer – an unusual combination such as Braised pork meatballs with rib ragu sauce (Pg 298), Marmalade and chocolate-chip ice cream (pg 393) or maybe an occasional ingredient that you wouldn’t necessarily encounter every day such as Mograbiah (pg 301). Beans and pickles seem to figure large and, despite luscious meat recipes, there is about as much non-meat inspiration as you could ever want.
So far I have cooked a chicken dish (pg 247) which was deceptively simple and super tasty; a slow and low ragu made with Italian sausages (pg 279) which was groaningly scrumptious; and a baked cheesecake (pg 442) which was scoffed by people who informed me as they wolfed it down that they didn’t really like baked cheesecake – go figure!
Obscure equipment needed?
Although the tone in the method is very conversational, the utensils needed are often described in quite specific terms. I don’t mind this at all, I can work out volumes and convert shapes and you are, at least, starting with some idea of the size of dish or casserole needed. There’s nothing beyond the norm for a moderately well equipped kitchen.
Ingredients easily available?
Yes, your local supermarket, greengrocer, fishmonger and butcher will have everything you need, with very few exceptions.
Who is it for?
The conversational, narrative style of the method might intimidate newer or less confident cooks who like to be guided with lists through a recipe but there is really nothing here that any cook could not tackle.
I can’t cook every recipe in the books I review, and since I am actually reviewing the book not the recipes there isn’t really any need. I select a handful of recipes that look interesting or challenging and read through the rest of the book. One of the first things I look at is how easy it is for me to find things that I want to try, either because they are new to me or because they include twists on more established recipes. This can be difficult at two ends of the spectrum. Either I can’t find anything I actually want to tackle, or there are so many recipes I want to cook immediately that I am suffering from total choice overload. As I turned the pages of A Cook’s Book I was like a kid with a toy catalogue at Christmas– that! no that! no that! Happily I can continue to dive in again and again.
Find it on Amazon here
And from Eason’s here
Published by: 4th Estate, London