Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat

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What’s the USP? According to the publishers, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is ‘The last cookbook you’ll ever need’, so by reviewing it, I’m risking consigning this blog to the dustbin of history. But of course, it’s not the last cookbook you’ll ever need; we all need new cookbooks all the time, one a day if possible (addicted, me? I beg your pardon!). What the book does, however, is attempt to codify the fundamentals of cooking so that the reader is freed, if they so wish to be, from the (delightful) tyranny of the recipe.   

Who is the author? Samin Nosrat is a writer, teacher and chef who has gone from working at Alice Water’s legendary Californian restaurant Chez Panisse to a being a culinary star thanks to the Netflix serialization of Salt, Fat Acid, Heat, her first book.

What does it look like? A great big comforting block of a book (it runs to over 470 pages) with a very distinctive look, from Rafaela Romaya’s eye-catching graphic cover design (illustrating what I’m assuming to be salt, fat, acid and heat at a molecular level) to Wendy MacNaughton’s charming colour hand-drawn illustrations (apart from headshots of Nosrat and MacNaughton, there are no photographs in the book).

Is it good bedtime reading? Divided into two halves, part one ‘The Four Elements of Good Cooking’ is nothing but bedtime, or anytime reading (part two is where you’ll find all the recipes). Four chapters explore Salt, Fat, Acid and Heat in turn, using Nosrat’s own experience cooking in professional kitchens and her culinary travels, mixed in with a dollop of easily understandable basic science and a generous helping of common sense to explain what cooking is and how you can understand the knowledge that will allow you to acquire the skill of cooking.   

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? Nosrat takes a truly international approach to her subject, including recipes for anything from Vietnamese cucumber salad to classic American chicken pot pie with plenty of Italian pasta dishes along the way (not to mention food from North Africa, Mexico, Lebanon and on and on…), so inevitably you will come up against an ingredient or two that you might have to hunt around for, depending on how well you are served in your area by Asian supermarkets and other specialist suppliers. That said, the vast majority of recipes in the book should pose you no problem at all in the ingredients department.

What’s the faff factor? This is a book all about cooking, so expect to be doing a lot of it. The idea here is to learn and explore the techniques of cooking: braising, streaming, frying in all its forms, smoking, making stocks and sauces, baking etc. so don’t expect too many ‘meals-in-minutes’ (although the currently very trendy Roman pasta dish of Cacio e Pepe – spaghetti with pecorino cheese and loads of black pepper – literally takes only minutes to prepare). Nosrat is all about doing things properly, and not ‘cheffy’ flourishes. You won’t find yourself making endless fiddly garnishes that are best left to restaurant cooks, but you will need to be organized enough to marinate a chicken overnight to make Nosrat’s signature buttermilk-marinated roast chicken and then knock up a panzanella (Tuscan bread and tomato salad) to accompany it.

How often will I cook from the book? Despite the ‘cookery-course-in-a-single-volume’ conceit, this is not a book you will work through and then never look at again. The breadth and variety of recipes mean Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat will provide inspiration for meals any time of the week, and for special occasions, for years to come.

Killer recipes? Those already mentioned above plus pork braised with chillies; chicken and garlic soup; spicy cima di rapa with ricotta salata; Lori’s Chocolate Midnight Cake; classic apple pie and many more.

What will I love? The look and feel of the book; it’s scope and ambition, the enthusiasm and care in the writing, the fact that you’re virtually getting two books (a 200-page treatise on cooking and a 200-page recipe book) for the price of one and the chance to hear a fresh new voice in food writing.

What won’t I like? As with any book that attempts to ‘deconstruct’ the practice of cooking or explain the underlying science behind cooking techniques, you may be left with the feeling of, so what? Do we need to understand that salt works by osmosis and diffusion or will the recipe for spicy brined turkey breast suffice? As a home cook of 35 years, it is interesting to see the subject from another angle but I’m not sure I’m a better cook for having read the book.

Although I loved the idea of the double-page fold-out charts and graphs, I’m not convinced of their practicality. If I consult ‘The World of Flavour’ wheel to check which ingredients I should be using when I’m cooking a dish from Argentina and Uruguay (parsley, oregano, chilli, paprika) what do I do with that information if I don’t already know that cuisine well? Unless I then refer to a recipe, which then makes the wheel redundant. From the ‘Ph of almost everything in Samin’s kitchen’ diagram, we ‘learn’ that lime is more acidic than black coffee; ‘the Avocado Matrix’ only serves to make something very simple – variations of avocado salad – head-spinningly complex, and I gave up trying to interpret the faintly ludicrous colour coded ‘Vegetables: How and When’ chart that seems to say that it’s OK to blanch potatoes but not sauté them – what!?

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat wouldn’t be the same book without MacNaughton’s lovely illustrations, but sometimes the accuracy of a photograph would have been welcome and more helpful; the drawings of how an egg changes minute by minute as it’s boiled are difficult to distinguish between, especially between 6 and 10 minutes, and the ‘Knife Cuts to Scale’ illustration is a little confusing; how thin actually are those thin slices of celery, and why is crumbled feta included at all (surely you do that with your fingers and not a knife?).

Should I buy it? Despite the reservations listed above, there is much to like about the book and it will be of particular value to those just starting out on their culinary adventure.  

Cuisine: International
Suitable for:
Beginner cooks
Cookbook Review Rating:
4

Buy this book
Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking: The Four Elements of Good Cooking

Simple by Yotam Ottolenghi

Simple Ottolenghi

What’s the USP? The publishing phenomenon that is Yotam Ottolenghi returns with a seventh volume of his signature Middle Eastern-inflected food but this time, with colour-coded, simplified recipes for cooks who are short on time or just plain lazy.

Who’s the author? Ottolenghi is a world-famous cookery writer and restaurateur who has almost single-handedly brought Middle Eastern cuisine into the mainstream (although he would no doubt acknowledge the importance of ground-breaking writers such as Claudia Roden who wrote the definitive Book of Middle Eastern Food back in 1972). He runs NOPI and ROVI restaurants in London, alongside a group of four Ottolenghi deli’s dotted around the capital. He has filmed two series of Mediterranean Feasts for Channel 4 and Jerusalem on a Plate for the BBC.

What does it look like? Colourful. From the big lemon on the cover to the bright chapter headers (aubergine purple for Cooked Veg, marine blue for Fish, each accompanied by a charming graphic) and of course the always vibrant, multi-hued food, the book will bring a little ray of sunshine into your kitchen whatever the weather outside. And then there’s the six-step ‘traffic light’ recipe colour-coding using the acronym SIMPLE – an orange ‘S’ for ‘short on time’, a yellow ‘I’ for ‘ingredients: 10 or less’, a green M for ‘make ahead’, a blue P for ‘pantry’, a light green L for ‘lazy’ and a red ‘E’ for ‘easier than you think’.

Is it good bedtime reading? This is a straight up recipe book with an introduction that explains how the colour coding works and short recipe introductions that are often breezy, chatty and mostly about serving suggestions or alternative ingredients. A book for when you are looking for inspiration to cook rather than recreational reading.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Ottolenghi has been good enough to credit his two co-authors, food writer Tara Wigley and chef and recipe tester Esme Howarth and, between the three of them, they have produced a book of carefully written recipes that even give weights for herbs instead of ‘bunches’ or ‘handfuls’ and unusually, specify many ingredients by both number and weight, so you know for example that 2 small onions should equal about 250g. It’s a very useful and practical feature and one that should make the book particularly appealing to less confident cooks.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? You shouldn’t have any problems tracking down everything you need, but if you do get stuck, good old Ottolenghi has his own web store, stocked with everything from black glutinous rice to dried sour cherries that will get you out of any purchasing hole. Handy eh?

What’s the faff factor? For a book titled Simple, there are a fair-few long ingredient lists and complicated methods.

How often will I cook from the book? Simple is one of those rare cookbooks where you’ll want to try every recipe so there’s no danger that it will sit sad and unused on your shelf.

Killer recipes? Standouts include gem lettuce with herby avocado and tahini ‘fridge-raid’ dressing that is bound to become part of your standard repertoire, and a wicked hazelnut, peach and raspberry cake that’s a cinch to make but tastes like your pastry chef sweated hours over it.

What will I love? The useful directory of  ‘Ottolenghi’ ingredients like sumac, za’atar and urfa chilli flakes that help define his cooking; the meal and feast suggestions that will help you plan your cooking, and the book’s upbeat, approachable style. A unique code is printed at the back of the book which gives access to a fully searchable online version of Simple which means you can cook from the book via your phone or tablet (or laptop) when you are away from home (or even if you are at home but don’t want to get pomegranate molasses stains on the pages of your beautiful new cookbook).

What won’t I like? Although the SIMPLE colour coding is a nice conceit, I’m not convinced of its practical use. A more straightforward indication of time to prepare and cook the dishes would be more useful in deciding which recipe to cook on any given day. And not all the recipes are even that simple; slow cooked chicken with a crisp corn crust for example has 16 ingredients and requires you to separate eggs, whisk up the whites and fold back into a corn batter to make the crust, in addition to a two-stage cooking process that will take well over an hour and half to complete (that said, the dish does look well worth the effort).

Should I buy it? If you are new to Ottolenghi, this is an excellent place to start and if you are a converted fan then you will want to add this to your collection.

Cuisine: Middle Eastern
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 Stars

Buy this book
Ottolenghi SIMPLE

Cook from this book
Braised eggs
Iranian herb fritters
Slow cooked chicken with a crisp corn crust

Jamie Cooks Italy by Jamie Oliver

Jamie Cooks Italy jacket (1)

What’s the USP? According to the author’s introduction, it’s ‘your go-to Italian book, a manual of deliciousness’. According to recent reports in the press, it’s part of a carefully planned strategy to help shore up the ailing Jamie’s Italian restaurant chain. Jon Knight, chief executive of the Jamie Oliver Restaurant Group was quoted as saying that, “We lost touch with Jamie, there was a growing disconnect between what Jamie was doing on TV and in his books – people weren’t experiencing that in the restaurants”. So, what better way to realign Jamie’s Italian the restaurant with Jamie the chef than a TV series and cookbook tie-in all about Italy?

Who’s the author? You might have heard of Jamie Oliver. He’s the chef that was recently accused of cultural appropriation for selling ‘Punchy Jerk Rice’ in supermarkets (even though there’s no such thing as jerk rice) and caused outrage with his attempts to curb junk food advertising and extend the sugar tax with accusations of taking food out of poor people’s mouths and hypocrisy, given that his Jamie’s Diner restaurant in Gatwick Airport serves burgers and shakes. He’s also one of the most famous chefs in the world who helped revolutionise food on TV with his debut series The Naked Chef in the 90’s and has a long track record of philanthropy. So, take your pick.

What does it look like? Bold, bright and colourful, there’s nothing subtle about this book. Long-time collaborator David Loftus’s photos seem supersaturated with Sicilian (and many other Italian regions) sun and even the recipe titles are printed in a vibrant sunshine yellow.

Is it great bedtime reading? Not really. A brief introduction and the pen pictures of the various Nonna’s that Oliver has tapped up for recipes on his travels around Italy are brief, superficial and not particularly well written.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients?
As ever, a Jamie Oliver recipe is all about accessibility so you’ll have no problem finding pretty much everything you need, bar the odd grouper or rabbit with its offal intact, at the supermarket

What’s the faff factor?
The preparation times given for the wide range of recipes in the book start at 15 minutes to knock up golden breaded tuna with Aeolian spaghetti with lemon, capers, pecorino, chilli and herbs to five hours plus marinating overnight for ‘wildest boar ragu’ so the ‘faff factor’ really depends on whether you feel life’s too short to stuff your own agnolotti.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes?
If you’re expecting Jamie to be all gor-blimey-guv’ner-bish-bosh-bash-glug-of-oil-matey you’ll be disappointed; even half a bunch of flat leaf parsley is given an indicative weight (15g if you’re interested).

How often will I cook from the book?
This is a something-for-every-occasion sort of book which you may easily find yourself reaching for mid-week for a simple supper or for a weekend of pasta making and baking.

Killer recipes? Semolina teardrop dumplings from the Aosta Valley in Northwest Italy (a sort of spätzle, traditional to the Walsers community in Italy that has Swiss and German roots); baked risotto pie with sweet spicy squash and oozy cheeses; panissa rice with smoked pancetta, cured meats, borlotti beans, tomatoes and red wine, and many others

What will I love? There is no question that Italy is Oliver’s greatest inspiration (watch the Jamie’s Italy or Jamie Cooks Italy TV series and you can see pure joy in his face) and thanks to that TV budget, he and his team have been able to research the recipes first hand, so this is no hastily thrown-together cash in.

What won’t I like? Oliver has a very distinctive food writing voice, one that bursts with enthusiasm and which never leaves a hyperbolic statement unturned; you’ll either love it or it will grate. If you don’t appreciate the flavour of rosemary being described as ‘genius deep savouriness’ then you might want to turn to more level-headed writers like Anna Del Conte or Elizabeth David for your Italian fix.

Should I buy it? Does the world need another Jamie Oliver cookbook, especially another Jamie Oliver cookbook on Italian food, especially given that he published the excellent Jamie’s Italy back in 2005? In fact, there is very little, if any crossover between the two books, quite a feat given that together they run to more than 700 pages. Oliver divides opinion, but if you are a fan, and I am, then this is a welcome 21st addition to the chef’s ever-growing canon.

Cuisine: Italian
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 Stars

Buy this book
Jamie Cooks Italy
£26, Michael Joseph

Chicken and Charcoal by Matt Abergel

Chicken and Charcoal

What’s the USP? Everything you every wanted to know about yakitori (Japanese-style skewered and grilled chicken) plus a whole lot more you didn’t even know you wanted to know.

Who’s the author? Matt Abergel is the skateboarding chef and owner of cult Hong Kong restaurant Yardbird that has helped put yakitori on the global culinary map. This is his first cookbook.

What does it look like? A crazy, but beautifully designed, mash-up of an art catalogue, lifestyle magazine and instruction manual. There’s artworks by Yardbird logo designer Evan Hecox; articles on the restaurant’s designer chairs and branded products that include Yardbird Vans skateboarding sneakers and a line of sake and a profile of Yardbird co-owner Lindsay Jang.

But the ‘meat’ (pun intended) of the book is a series of detailed step by step instructions and recipes for butchering a chicken ready for skewering (and that means really butchering the thing down to its last tiny constituent parts including the thyroid and gizzard) and every type of yakitori you can imagine from fillet and thigh to ventricle and soft knee bone.

Is it good bedtime reading? Settle in with a Horlicks and the 40-odd page introductory section with profiles, interviews and articles.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? How good is your butcher? If you want to cook some of the more recherché recipes in the book like Thyroid skewers you’ll need to find one that will supply you whole chickens with head and organs intact. Good luck with that. You will also need to find a very good Asian grocer or specialist Japanese store for items such as Okinawan black sugar and Chinkiang black rice vinegar.

What’s the faff factor? Correctly butchering your whole chicken, should you be able to get hold of one, will take some practice and there’s a lot of fiddly skewering to be done. Some of the ‘smaller’ and ‘bigger’ dishes require a large number of ingredients and a fair amount of preparation.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Measurements are precise – no pinch of this or glug of that – and the methods are detailed and clear. The recipe for Chicken Katsu that is meant to appear on page 174 is however so vague that it has actually completely disappeared from the book.

How often will I cook from the book? Much of the food will be time-consuming to prepare so this is one for the weekend.

Killer recipes? Aside from the yakitori recipes, the chapter on ‘smaller’ snacking dishes includes mushroom salad with mizuna, watercress and wasabi and the ‘Yardbird Caesar’ that’s made with Chinese cabbage, mizuna and nori and a dressing that includes miso, roasted garlic and rice vinegar, while ‘bigger’ dishes include KFC (Korean fried cauliflower) and scotch egg with cabbage, tonkatsu sauce and Kewpie mayo.

What will I love? The sheer attention to detail, the elegant look and all the little extras like the cocktail and highball recipes and a staff Q&A profiling the people behind the restaurant. A lot of love, time and effort has obviously gone into the book making it a rewarding experience both to read and use in the kitchen.

What won’t I like? The full-page, black and white close-up photo of raw chicken skin on page 90 is both gnarly and vaguely obscene.

Should I buy it? If you are interested in Japanese cooking and want the definitive last word on yakitori or are just interested in what’s happening in the modern Hong Kong restaurant scene or just love a well put together cookbook then Chicken and Charcoal is well worth owning.

Cuisine: Japanese
Suitable for: Professional chefs/Confident home cooks9
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 Stars

Buy this book
Chicken and Charcoal: Yakitori, Yardbird, Hong Kong
£24.95, Phaidon

Cook from this book
KFC (Korean Fried Cauliflower)
Eggplant Salad with Pickled Garlic and Ginger Tosazu

On Vegetables by Jeremy Fox

On Vegetables by Jeremy Fox

What’s the USP? As the title suggests, it’s a book all about how to cook vegetables written by a leading American chef.

Jeremy who?  UK readers may not be familiar with the name, but American chef Jeremy Fox made quite a splash in the States back in 2007 with Ubuntu restaurant in Napa, California.  The San Francisco Chronicle said the restaurant was ‘truly extraordinary.’ and that Fox was ‘taking vegetable-based cuisine to a new level’. Food and Wine magazine named him ‘Best New Chef’, the New York Times called the restaurant the second best in America and Michelin awarded a star.  Fox is currently head chef and part owner of Rustic Canyon in Santa Monica where he continues to champion vegetables, (as well as serving up carnivorous delights like bone-in pork chop, babaganoush, beylik roasted tomato, fennel and olives).

What does it look like? Fox’s food somehow manages to be both elegant and minimal and homely and comforting at the same time. The pared-back food styling features beautiful crockery often shot against plain white backgrounds, letting the dishes speak for themselves, and what they say loud and clear is ‘Eat Me’.

Is it good bedtime reading? Fox tells his personal story – an award-winning chef wracked with anxiety and depression – with unbridled candour. There are engaging profiles of some of his favourite producers and he writes with great wit and insight about some of the key ingredients in his cooking, (no mean feat, believe me). On asparagus, he says, ‘getting it shipped in from the opposite hemisphere means it’s going to taste of jet fumes. You ever notice how funky your clothes smell after you get off a plane? Well imagine what air travel does to a porous plant that’s going to wind up inside your mouth’. The recipe introductions are peppered with little jokes, mostly of the Dad variety, making the book a fun read.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? If you live in California, no. Just pop down to your local farmer’s market and pick up some of that abundant, beautiful, fragrant and ripe produce. In the UK, if you pop down to your local farmer’s market you’re more likely to find cling wrapped meat and bad versions of street food. Although there’s nothing particularly obscure in the book, the recipes really are a celebration of the finest, freshest produce, something you simply won’t find at the supermarket. Befriending someone with an allotment would be your best bet.

What’s the faff factor? The food appears simple enough on the plate, the ingredients lists look short enough but start reading the recipes and you realise that often there are a number of other recipes elsewhere in the book that go to make up the completed dish. But this is food from the former head chef of three Michelin-starred Manresa restaurant, so what did you expect?

How often will I cook from the book? If you’re willing to put the time in to build up larder ingredients like homemade ricotta, confit garlic and mushroom conserva and you can get your hands on some decent veg, then the food is so attractive and delicious sounding that you might just fall down a gastronomic rabbit hole with this book.

Killer recipes? There are many, but a random few include country fried morels with green garlic gravy; fennel confit, kumquat, feta, chilli and oregano;  pane frattau with fennel, strawberry sofrito, carta da musica and egg, and carrot juice cavaelli, tops salsa and spiced pulp crumble.

What will I love? The gorgeous images, the no-nonsense writing style, Fox’s original approach to cooking with vegetables and the endless inventiveness of the recipes.

What won’t I like? As Fox says himself, ‘If you’re looking for “10 Easy Weeknight Dinners for Vegetarians”, this book will not be of much use to you’.

Should I buy it? Its funny, moving, original and it will change the way you think about vegetables forever. Of course you should bloody well buy it.

Cuisine: Vegetarian
Suitable for: Professional chefs/Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: 5 Stars

Buy this book
On Vegetables: Modern Recipes for the Home Kitchen

£29.95, Phaidon

Cook from this book
Lima bean & sorrel cacio e pepe
Carta da musica, leaves, things and truffled pecorino
Carrot juice cavatelli, tops salsa and spiced pulp crumble

Jack Stein’s World on a Plate

Jack Stein

What’s the USP? A chef’s global travels recorded in recipes.

Who’s the author? If you think you recognize the surname, you’re right. Jack is the son of Rick and since 2017, Chef Director of the Stein restaurant empire, which under his direction has grown from its HQ in Padstow across Cornwall and the south of England. His CV also includes stints at notable restaurants around the globe including La Régalade in Paris and Testsuya in Sydney. World on a Plate is his first cookbook.

What does it look like? The fresh, colourful and appetising dishes (shot by top food photographer Paul Winch-Furness) are interspersed with shots of yer man walking his dog, with his surfboard and chatting to fishermen (any of this sounding familiar, fellow Rick Stein fans?). 

Is it good bedtime reading? The skimpy intro won’t keep you occupied for long but there’s plenty of anecdotes about Stein’s travels and useful cooking tips embedded into the individual recipe introductions.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? You’ll find the vast majority in the supermarket, but you’ll want to do the Stein name justice by visiting your local fishmonger for some decent fish for langoustine with pastis and sea trout with samphire and beurre blanc.

What’s the faff factor? There’s a nice cross-section of dishes to rustle up when time is tight like crab omelette and more complicated, involved recipes such as guinea fowl terrine.

How often will I cook from the book? With everything from a fish finger sandwich to a Sunday lunch (‘My roast topside of beef), Jack Stein’s World on a Plate won’t be collecting dust on your bookshelf.

Killer recipes? Maple roasted pumpkin with rocket, dukkah and feta; Carl Clarke’s chicken clusters in laksa sauce; lamb shoulder with white miso cream and chicory; babi gulang (Balinese spicy pork with green bean and peanut salad); turbot on the bone roasted with bone marrow sauce.

What will I love? This is truly global cooking with recipes inspired by France, America, China, Australia, Thailand and of course Cornwall, which brings huge variety to the book.

What won’t I like? Stein wanton larder raiding of so many cuisines means you might bankrupt yourself buying all the different ingredients required to prepare the recipes. 

Should I buy it? If you’re looking for inspiration for something a bit different for a mid-week meal to cook at home, this hits the spot. Although you might notice some crossover between father and son’s cookbooks (Jack did a lot of his global travels on family research trips for The Seafood restaurant) Stein Jr has an individual enough voice to make the recipes his own.

Cuisine: Modern British
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 stars

Buy this book
Jack Stein’s World on a Plate: Local produce, world flavours, exciting food
£26, Absolute Press

Cook from this book
Cornish Chilli Crab
Green pasta bits
Pineapple tart tatin

Roots by Tommy Banks

roots tommy banks

What’s the USP?  Fans of Kunta Kinte will be disappointed to learn that this is not another  update of Alex Haley’s famous slave saga. The title actually refers to the ‘root ingredients’ used fresh or preserved by acclaimed young chef Tommy Banks, who divides the year into three rather four seasons which he calls The Hunger Gap (January to May); Time of Abundance (June to September) and the Preserving Season (October to December) which reflects the way he cooks at his North Yorkshire restaurant The Black Swan at Oldstead.

Who’s the author? Tommy Banks has had something of a meteoric rise since taking over the kitchens of the family restaurant in 2013, aged just 24. He’s one of the youngest ever Michelin starred chefs in the UK and has become something of a TV personality, appearing on the Great British Menu where he cooked turbot with strawberries and cream (recipe included in the book) at the grand banquet at Wimbledon and was a featured chef on Masterchef the Professionals where he demonstrated his signature dishes including crapudine beetroot cooked slowly in beef fat with smoked cod’s roe and linseeds, also included in this, his debut book.

What does it look like? Bucolic. The North Yorkshire landscape looks stunning and there are plenty of shots of Banks posing in fields and on the family farm gathering his beloved ingredients. The food is colourful and attractive without being too tortured on the plate.

Is it good bedtime reading? The short autobiographical introduction is bolstered by chapter introductions and essays on favoured ingredients such as elderflower, summer berries and ‘hedgerow harvests’ making Roots more than simply a collection of recipes.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? If you’re not a keen gardener then you might find it tricky to lay your hands on things like crapudine beetroot and courgette stalks, and you’ll need to follow Banks’s recipes for fermenting vegetables to make a number of dishes, plus you’ll need a good fishmonger if you’re planning on serving raw red mullet, and a decent butcher who can sell you sweetbreads and mince pork back fat for you, and you’ll need to get out picking elderflowers in June if you want to make elderflower drizzle cake, and…

What’s the faff factor? This is fundamentally a collection of restaurant dishes so expect to put in a fair amount of effort for your dinner.

How often will I cook from the book? This is more weekend project than mid-week supper cooking.

Killer recipes? See above, but also crab, elderflower and potato salad; scallops cured in rhubarb juice with Jerusalem artichoke, and potato skin and brassica broth with cheddar dumplings.

What will I love? All the recipes are rated either 1,2 or 3 for complexity which makes choosing what you want to cook from the book, depending on the time you have to hand easy. But this is more than just a collection of delicious sounding, interesting and characterful recipes, a real effort has been made to give a sense of Banks’s cooking ethos and life at The Black Swan.

What won’t I like? Some readers may feel they’ve been-there-and-done-that with the pickling, fermenting and foraging aspect of the book.

Should I buy it? Roots is a substantial debut effort from one of the UK’s highest profile young chefs with his own take on field to fork cookery which makes it well worth investigating.

Cuisine: Modern British
Suitable for: Professional chefs/Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 stars

Buy this book
Roots
£25, Orion Books

The Hidden Hut by Simon Stallard

The Hidden Hut jacket

What’s the USP? Recipes from one of Cornwall’s best-loved beach restaurants, famous for its open-air feast nights.

Who’s the author? Simon Stallard is the chef and owner of The Hidden Hut, a casual beachside restaurant set in ‘an old wooden shed’ on a coastal path near Truro. Stallard worked around the globe from ‘New York to New Delhi’ before settling in Cornwall and opening the Hut in 2010.

What does it look like? The numerous scene-setting photographs mean that you can almost feel the sand between your toes and smell the salty tang of the sea. Reading the Hidden Hut will make you want to jump in the car and immediately head for the south Cornish coast. The colourfully rustic food looks very appealing, the sort of pleasingly unpretentious stuff you just want to get stuck into.

Is it good bedtime reading? Not so much, just a short introduction and a ‘How to cook over fire section’ (cooking over a wood fire in the open air is what Hidden Hut feast nights are all about and Stallard shares his expertise over a 10-page section of the book).

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? You will be at an advantage if you live by the coast and can get your hands on spider crabs, octopus and gurnard, but as long as you can get to a good fishmonger you’ll be fine.

What’s the faff factor? Dishes range from a straightforward mid-week meal of lamb cutlets with butter bean mash and fresh mint sauce to a special-occasion-only slow roasted goat in preserved lemons, but overall the food is about as far from overwrought, tweezered complex restaurant food as you can get.

How often will I cook from the book? With recipes for breakfast (smokey bacon pastries), lunch (chicken and wild garlic soup), picnics (green pea scotch eggs) and parties (seafood paella for 40) as well as lots of delicious dinner ideas, it’s difficult to say when you won’t be cooking from the book.

Killer recipes? Despite the crab on the cover, this is not just a seafood cookbook. In addition to dishes like red-hot mullet with sticky rice balls and cucumber salad and Summer sardines with saffron potatoes and oregano dressing, there’s plenty of meat and veg in the form of 12-hour lamb with smoky aubergine, and samphire frittata with warm lemony courgette salad.

What will I love? There’s a real feel-good factor about the book, open it at any page and you’ll be inspired to get in the kitchen and cook.

What won’t I like? If you want super serious, complex cheffy cooking, this is not the book for you.

Should I buy it? The Hidden Hut is the sort of book with recipes that will become perennial favourites that you’ll find yourself going back to time and time again. So that’s a yes.

Cuisine: Modern British
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 stars

Buy this book
The Hidden Hut
£20, HarperCollins

Cook from this book
Buttermilk drop cakes with lemon curd
Chicken and wild garlic soup
Fire-pit wild sea bass with verde sauce

Gunpowder by Harneet Baweja, Devina Seth and Nirmal Save

Gunpowder

What’s the USP? ‘Explosive flavours from modern India’ runs the subtitle. In reality, this is a collection of recipes from Gunpowder, a ‘home-style Indian kitchen restaurant’ in Spitalfields London.

Who’s the author? Husband and wife team Harneet Baweja and Devina Seth opened the 20-cover Gunpowder restaurant close to Brick Lane in 2015 with head chef Nirmal Save. This is their debut cookbook.

What does it look like? Mouthwateringly good. Recipes collected from family in Kolkata and Mumbai and inspired by Indian street food have been given a makeover with attractive modern plating. There’s some moody black and white scene setting shots of the restaurant and its kitchen and some boldly colourful shots of the subcontinent.

Is it good bedtime reading? There is very little additional text asie from a two page introduction and a spice glossary. Chapter and recipe introductions are concise and to the point.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients?  Unless you can shoot it yourself, you’ll need a good butcher to find you some wild rabbit to make the pulao recipe and you may have trouble finding pomfret (but you can just substitute John Dory the recpe says) but otherwise it’s pretty mainstream stuff.

What’s the faff factor? There are the long ingredient lists of numerous spices that you’d normally associate with Indian cooking which make the recipes look more complicated than they actually are. In reality, most of the dishes are striaghtforward and well within the capability of any confident home cook.

How often will I cook from the book? If you love Indian food, you might well find yourself taking the book from your shelf on a regular basis.

Killer recipes? Chutney cheese sandwich; Mustard broccoli with makhana sauce; Maa’s Kashmiri lamb chops; wild rabbit pulao; blue crab Malabar curry.

What will I love? The small plates chapter is full of inspiration for something a little bit different for breakfast (chickpea pancakes with fried eggs and tomato and coriander chutney) lunch (kale and corn cakes) or beer snacks (kadai paneer parcel; a spicy cheese and puff pastry roll) while the list of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks will put a spicy spring in your step.

What won’t I like? At under 200 pages, this is not the most comprehensive cookbook in the world.

Should I buy it? A diverse collection of delicious sounding, attractive looking dishes that are not too demanding to cook and suitable for any number of occasions and times of the day. If you like Indian food, you are going to love this book.

Cuisine: Indian
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 stars

Buy this book
Gunpowder: Explosive flavours from modern India
£25, Kyle Books

Cook from this book
Mustard Broccoli

Planted by Chantelle Nicholson

Planted final front cover (1)

What’s the USP? Sophisticated, appealing and delicious vegan recipes from a top London chef

Who’s the author? Chantelle Nicholson is a New Zealand-born lawyer turned chef whose CV includes The Savoy Grill and Petrus. She came to prominence as Marcus Wareing’s right-hand woman, opening The Gilbert Scott as general manager and is currently back in the kitchen as head chef of Tredwells in Coven Garden. She has worked on a number of Marcus Wareing’s cookbooks including The Gilbert Scott cookbook; Planted is her debut solo outing. Nicholson has also emerged as a leading figure on the vegan dining scene with her Vegwells plant-based tasting menus at Tredwells and currently has a plant-based cafe concept in development.

What does it look like? There’s a stripped back, vaguely Nordic feel to the styling of the food photography – think distressed wood backgrounds and rough-hewn blue and grey ceramics – that gives the book an elegant look. Bright washes of colour come in the form of illustrator Lucy Gowans’s charming and colourful double-page painted spreads for each of the chapters headings – a slice of watermelon for breakfast and brunch; corn on the cob for snacks and starters.

Is it good bedtime reading? Only if you drop off to sleep very quickly, the three-page intro won’t keep you occupied for long.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients?  You’ll find nearly everything you need, including xantham gum, coconut yoghurt and dairy-free butter at the supermarket.

What’s the faff factor? This is a chef’s book so expect a fair amount of fine slicing, dicing and chopping and recipes made up of a number of different elements, but overall the recipes are very approachable.

How often will I cook from the book? Although a vegan recipe book might seem like something you might only pick up once in a while (unless you are committed vegan of course),  many of the dishes are so enticingly different that you might well find it transforms your cooking repertoire.

Killer recipes? Who knew vegan food could sound (and look) so tempting? Potato, celeriac, onion seed and thyme rostis with HP gravy; crispy globe artichokes with spelt and tarragon stuffing and salsa verde, and peanut butter pudding with peanut caramel and dark chocolate sorbet will have you wondering why you ever bothered with meat and fish.

What will I love? If you’ve ever struggled with the idea of vegan food, this is the book you’ve been waiting for with dozens of imaginative, exciting and appealing ideas.

What won’t I like? At less than 200 pages, you might be left wanting more.

Should I buy it? If you are a confident cook who is yet to explore the possibilities of vegan cooking, Planted will open your eyes and expand your mind. Not a bad deal for twenty-five quid.

Cuisine: Vegan
Suitable for: Confident home cooks and professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 stars

Buy this book 
Planted: A chef’s show-stopping vegan recipes
£25, Kyle Books

Cook from this book
Seeded granola with chai spiced poached plums
Whole barbecued spiced cauliflower
Peanut butter pudding

Mustard Broccoli by Herneet Baweja, Devina Seth and Nirmal Save

MUSTARD GRILL BROCCOLI

SERVES 2 AS A MAIN, 4 AS A STARTER OR SIDE

We use mustard a lot in the east of India and here we pair it with broccoli, which is in the same family. In India, you often see this dish made with cauliflower, so you could easily interchange them. We prefer broccoli for the restaurant, as it really soaks in all the flavours and gets even crisper when flashed under the grill. It’s one of the most popular vegetarian dishes at Gunpowder. We think it’ll become a favourite in your home, too.

1 head of broccoli, halved
100g Greek yogurt
50g full-fat cream cheese
2 tablespoons wholegrain mustard
½ teaspoon chilli powder
1 teaspoon chaat masala
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
½ teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons mustard or rapeseed oil, plus 1 teaspoon
1 tablespoon chickpea flour
2–3 tablespoons ghee, melted
sea salt
Makhani Sauce (see below) and pickled beetroot, to serve

1 Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and cook the broccoli for 3 minutes, then drain and rinse under ice-cold water to prevent it from cooking further. Shake off any excess water and set aside.

2 In a large dish, mix together the yogurt, cream cheese, mustard, chilli powder, chaat masala, turmeric, coriander, cumin and the 2 tablespoons of mustard or rapeseed oil.

3 Set a frying pan over a medium heat and toast the chickpea flour for 30 seconds. Add the remaining 1 teaspoon of oil, mix, and toast for a further 30 seconds, making a fragrant paste. Whisk this into the yogurt mix, then thoroughly coat the broccoli in the creamy spice paste and set aside to marinate for 30 minutes.

4 Set your oven grill to high and grill the broccoli, cut-side down, for 10–15 minutes, basting it with the melted ghee. When golden on top, turn over and grill 5 minutes on the other side, or until nicely coloured.

5 Serve on a base of Makhani Sauce with pickled beetroot sprinkled on top.

MAKHANI SAUCE

MAKES 250ML

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves, very finely chopped
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
500g tomatoes, diced
½ teaspoon ground fenugreek seeds
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
3 cloves
3 green cardamom pods
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
a pinch of chilli powder
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2–3 tablespoons double cream
1 teaspoon honey, or to taste (optional)
sea salt

1 Set a frying pan over a high heat and add 1 tablespoon of the butter. Once melted, add the garlic, ginger and a pinch of salt and cook for a minute.

2 Fold the tomatoes and all the spices through. Cook over a medium heat for 5–10 minutes until the tomatoes have broken down and darkened in a colour a little.

3 Spoon the mixture into a food processor or blender and blend until fairly smooth. Press through a sieve, giving you a smooth sauce. Warm the sauce gently in a saucepan with the remaining tablespoon of butter. Once the butter is melted, swirl in the cream.

4 Let the sauce gently bubble away over medium-low heat for about 5 minutes until it has thickened and darkened further. Season with salt and the honey, if needed, to taste. Serve warm.

Recipes taken from Gunpowder: Explosive Flavours from Modern India by Herneet Baweja, Devina Seth and Nirmal Save. Kyle Books. Photography: Pete Cassidy

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Buy this book
Gunpowder: Explosive flavours from modern India
£25, Kyle Books

Larder by Robin Gill

9781472948540 (4)

What’s the USP? An urban update on traditional larder-driven cooking based around fermentation, curing, pickling, flavoured butters and oils, stocks, sauces and seasonings.

Who’s the author? Irish-born, London-based chef Robin Gill has revitalized the capital’s dining scene with his distinctive take on top drawer cooking set in casual surroundings at The Diary, Counter Culture and Sorella, all in Clapham.

What does it look like? There’s a distinctly rustic feel to the whole thing with matt finish pages, pictures of Gill on the farm, by the shore or posing with a brace of rabbits and food plated on vintage or earthenware crockery. I wouldn’t want to utter that overused and lazy term ‘hipster’, but you get the idea.

Is it good bedtime reading? Although first and foremost a recipe book, there is plenty of food writing to enjoy in the form of substantial recipe introductions, producer profiles and general musings on cooking techniques and ingredients. The autobiographical introduction provides a fascinating, and at times troubling, look behind the scenes of the restaurant industry.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients?  Cod collars, pig’s head, buffalo milk, Baron Bigod cheese, chardonnay vinegar, espelette pepper and dried wakame mean that you’ll have to look further than your local Tesco for many of the recipes.

What’s the faff factor? Don’t be fooled by the rustic vibe; Gill has worked in some very serious kitchens and although the food is presented in a naturalist way, there’s often lots of work gone into making it all look laid back and simple.

How often will I cook from the book? Because many of the dishes rely on larder recipes (the hint’s in the title) some of which take days, weeks, months or even a year before they are ready, this is more a culinary philosophy that you need to buy into than recipe a book that you can easily dip in and out of.

Killer recipes?  Galician octopus with summer vegetables and nduja brioche; belted Galloway onglet, piatone beans, young garlic and hay; game faggots, celeriac, toasted hazelnuts; white peach with almond skin ice cream, elderflower jelly.

What will I love? The extended larder section provides a real insight into Gill’s style of cooking so you get a real sense of what makes his restaurants so different and special. There is also an excellent selection of inventive cocktails including Panic! At The Pisco made with pisco, white vermouth and rhubarb puree and even a recipe for homemade pumpkin beer.

What won’t I like? The lack of quick and easy dishes. But there’s more than enough of those sort of books knocking about already if that’s more your thing.

Should I buy it? If you want to learn the techniques behind contemporary British restaurant cooking and employ them in your own home (or your own gaff if you’re a chef) this is an essential purchase.

Cuisine: Modern British
Suitable for: Professional chefs and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 stars

Buy this book 
Larder: From pantry to plate – delicious recipes for your table
£26, Absolute Press

Cook from this book
Loch Duart Salmon Oyster Emulsion, Fennel, Fried Wakame by Robin Gill
Smoked beetroot tartare Cacklebean egg yolk, hazelnut by Robin Gill
Salted Caramel Cacao, Malt Ice Cream by Robin Gill

Aska by Fredrik Berselius

Aska

What’s the USP? Cutting edge, natural cooking from a leading New York chef.

Who’s the author? Two Michelin-starred, Swedish-born chef Fredrik Berselius of Aska restaurant that’s located in a Brooklyn back street under the shadow of the Willamsburg Bridge.

What does it look like? The book is a very desireable object with its textured black and gold cover, elegant design and stunning landscape,  portrait and food photography.

Is it good bedtime reading? In addition to the inspirational food, Berselius writes evocatively about his homeland of Sweden, his foraging trips to upstate New York and being a restaurateur and chef in Brooklyn.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? Recipes tick all the modish ‘New Nordic’ boxes with ingedients like aged diary cow, birch, buttermilk, lingonberries and white currents, some of which may be tricky to track down for the home cook.

What’s the faff factor? Berselius has his own distinctive style. Some of the the most impactful presentations are the most simple, yet belie the numerous processes that go into their creation. Lamb Heart Burnt in Bedstraw appears to be a black disc on the plate but is in fact brunoise of fermented sunchoke, sunchoke emulsion and rendered lamb heart fat dusted with a powder of lamb heart that’s been cured, dried, grated, dry-fried, burnt with bedstraw, dry-fried and burnt a second time then blended and passed.

How often will I cook from the book? Techniques such as smoking, pickling and fermenting (along with a fair bit of foraging) mean that cooking from the book will require a fair amount of committment in terms of time, energy and organisation. Definately not the book to reach for when you come home late from work and need to rustle something up in 20 minutes.

Killer recipes? Lichen, caramelised cream, pine mushroom, spruce and chanterelle; grilled eel head on a branch; mackerel and black locust; sourdough, smoked hake and toasted milk.

What will I love? Berselius might be a resolutely urban chef saying, ‘I knew I wanted to be in New York. I fell in love with the city as soon as I set foot here’, but his cooking draws on formative experiences and memories from growing up in the suburbs of Stockholm and visiting his grandmother in the north of Sweden with its ‘reindeeer and white and black birch bark’ and summers spent among the ‘wheat, oat, rapeseed, grazing cows, and horses’ of the lowlands. Berselius’s achingly beautiful creations put nature right there on the plate in front of you. The food ranges from delicate (lenghts of pickled and compressed cucmber are artfully decorated pickled linden flowers) to red in tooth and claw (truffles made from pigs blood, butter and rose hip) but always seem to evoke some wild Nordic landscape.

What won’t I like? Some readers may find the book a little po-faced and over serious.

Should I buy it? Aska provides genuine insight into the mind of an exciting chef who is pushing the boundaries of his own creativity. As accomplished as Berselius obviously is, I get the feeling that there is much more to come from him. Roll on Aska book two.

Cuisine: Progressive
Suitable for: Professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 stars

Buy this book
Aska
£39.95 Phaidon

Out of My Tree by Daniel Clifford

Out of my tree cover idea Daniels Head.indd

What’s the USP? Two decades worth of recipes and stories that chart the evolution of the iconic two Michelin-starred Cambridge restaurant Midsummer House and its chef/patron Daniel Clifford.

Who’s the author? Daniel Clifford is one of the most revered, respected and, at times, controversial chefs working in the UK today. In addition to those Michelin gongs, he also holds five AA rosettes, the title of AA Chefs’ Chef of the Year 2015 and 8 out of 10 in the Good Food Guide. In short, he’s premier league.

What does it look like? A million dollars. Clifford’s food is very photogenic and has been allowed to speak for itself. Many of the dishes appear to be ‘plated’ directly onto the white of the page, a la Michel Bras’s 2002 book Essential Cuisine, which gives the intricate presentations room to breathe. The exemplary food photography is supplement by ‘family album’ snapshots in the autobiographical sections, bringing personality to the book and breaking up all the glossy perfection with a dose of behind the scenes realism.

Is it good bedtime reading? Clifford is brutally honest in the fascinating autobiographical passages that begin each chapter, both about the industry and his personal life, making Out of My Tree as much of a page-turning blockbuster as it is a document of modern British haute cuisine. Expect to be up to the early hours finishing it.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? There’s a fair few specialist items such as gelepressa (a thickening agent) that you’d need to hunt down online, and if you want to emulate Clifford’s food you’ll need to source the highest quality raw ingredients you can lay your hands on, so forget the supermarket for the most part and think top notch butchers, fishmongers and your best local independent market for fruit and veg.

What’s the faff factor? This is unashamedly Michelin food, so the recipes are often long with numerous elements and many ingredients and replicating them will be demanding, requiring intricate and precise cooking.

How often will I cook from the book? On very special occasions or simply when the urge to spend a whole weekend (and a whole weeks wages on ingredients) hits you. For the home cook, it’s probably best to see this book as a source of inspiration from which you can cherry pick a sauce here and a vegetable preperation there rather than tackling entire dishes.

Killer recipes? We could be here all day. One of the many wonderful things about Out of My Tree is the warts and all approach. Of course there are the many triumphs; the insanely complicated Chicken, Sweetcorn, Truffle and Peas that won Clifford four perfect 10s on the Great British Menu and includes ballotine of chicken lined with spinach, stuffed with steamed truffled egg white and sweetcorn jelly (to resemble an egg), wrapped in potato string and deep fried. But there are also some embarrassing also rans such as parfait of banana, chocolate and a palm tree-shaped coconut tuile from 1998 (all the recipes are dated) that looks like it might have come straight from a TGI Fridays menu. Clifford has also included recipes for his mums egg sandwiches (served for staff lunch every Friday at the restaurant) and his nan’s cheese scones which he put on the menu when she came to eat at Midsummer House. Cute.

What will I love? Clifford and his publisher deserve a standing ovation for the obvious effort put into this book. A reported three years have gone into its production and it shows from the perfect food (as someone who has been involved in the making of a cookbook, trust me that getting 140 dishes of this degree of complexity to look immaculate on the page takes some doing) to the extensive biography and numerous extras like interviews with past employees and the string of forewords by Sat Bains, Tom Kerridge, Claude Bosi and others. Little details like illustrating the stock recipes with photos of how the finished product should look like elevate the book above the norm.

What won’t I like? This is unashamedly Michelin-starred, fine-dining, testosterone fueled stuff which may not appeal to every reader.

Should I buy it? Out of My Tree is the new White Heat, a once in a generation book. Clifford has put his heart and soul onto every page, making it the culinary equivalent of Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks. Any chef that aspires to Michelin glory and wants to know what that really takes will want it on their shelf and every chef that has achieved that status it will want to share in Clifford’s journey.  Enthusiastic diners will find the book truly eye opening. If you’re a chef, don’t just buy it, send Clifford an email to thank him for writing it; there is much hard-won wisdom generously shared in these 400-odd pages that, read carefully, might just save you years of grief.

Cuisine: Progressive British
Suitable for: Professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: 5 stars

Buy this book 
Out of my tree (Midsummer House)
£45 Meze

Japan: The Cookbook by Nancy Singleton Hachisu

Japan the cookbook

What’s the USP? This weighty 464-page volume is the latest in Phaidon’s series of ‘international cookbook bibles’ that have previously covered Mexico, Peru and China among other countries.

Who is the author? Californian Nancy Singleton Hachisu, a recognised authority on Japanese cooking both in America and Japan where she has lived for over thirty years

What does it look like? Three years in the making, the book contains over 400 recipes (many illustrated with clear and simple overhead photographs), organised into 15 categories including pickles, stir-fries and one pots, to create what Singleton Hachisu calls ‘a curated experience of Japan’s culinary framework from a specific moment in time’, researched during travels across the country and discussions with ‘chefs, local grandmothers and artisanal makers of traditional food’.

Is it good bedtime reading? As long as you’ve got strong arms, and be careful not to nod off reading about Jomon period of Japanese food history, if the 1.7kg book falls out of your hands it could do some serious damage.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? You may struggle to track down some things such as konnyaku but between your local Asian supermarket and online specialists such as Sous Chef you should be able to source the majority of stuff you need.

What’s the faff factor? All the dishes are listed with a preparation time and cooking time so you know what you’re letting yourself in for, but many can be completed in under half an hour.

How often will I cook from the book? There is a huge range of recipes included in this veritable encyclopedia of Japanese food so you could easily find yourself dipping into it on a regular basis.

Killer recipes? The broad selection of dishes from across the country covers everything from walnut dressed chrysanthemum petals to steamed mountain yam with nori and grilled eggplant miso soup to chicken yakitori.

What will I love? A history of Japanese food, a glossary of ingredients, a list of Japanese kitchen equipment and descriptions of Japanese cutting styles (zakugiri are ‘greens cut crosswise into 4cm pieces’). The 11-strong international line-up featured in the ‘shefu’ (chefs) chapter include Shinobu Namae of two Michelin-starred L’Effervescenvce in Tokyo, whose recipes include bonito sashimi with butterbur miso and shiso, and Shuko Oda of Koya Bar in London who contributes three recipes including clams, fava beans and capers steamed in dashi butter.

What won’t I like? If you’re looking for an encyclopedia of sushi, sashimi and ramen, then Japan The cookbook will disappoint, with just seven sushi, three sashimi and one ramen recipe (although there is a whole chapter on noodles).

Should I buy it?  Japanese food has become an everyday part of the British diet. From udon at Wagamama to ramen at Bone Daddies, from robata grilled lamb chops at Roka to the omakase tasting menu at the three Michelin-starred The Araki, Japanese cuisine has become so prevalent that there are now even sushi counters in supermarkets. Japanese ingredients and techniques have also become part of many progressive British kitchens with dashi becoming almost as common as chicken stock.

But even the most ardent Japanophile chef will probably only have scratched the surface of a food culture with a recorded history dating back to the third century. That’s where Japan The Cookbook comes in. This is the perfect primer for anyone wanting to deepen their knowledge of an endlessly fascinating subject.

Cuisine: Japanese
Suitable for: Confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: 5 stars

Buy this book

Japan: The Cookbook
£29.95 Phaidon

Smitten Kitchen by Deb Perelman

Smitten Kitchen Everyday

What is it? Five years on from her debut book, this is the second outing for New York-based dating-turned-food blogger extraordinaire Deb Perelman of New York Times profiled smittenkitchen.com with over 100 recipes for ‘real people with busy lives’.

What does it look like? What is it about American-published cookbooks that makes them just so damn desirable? I’m not an uber font-nerd but the Minion typeface used here (originally developed by Adobe for Macs in 1990 according to a note at the back of the book) is particularly attractive and clean looking. At over 300 pages, the book has a certain authoritative weight and the glossy paper makes the 127 full-colour photographs pop.

Is it good bedtime reading?  Set aside that Grisham, the generous recipe introductions include plenty of culinary-related personal anecdotes and opinion, as well as cookery lore and background to the recipes themselves, making it a nighttime page-turner par excellence.

Killer recipes? Charred corn succotash with lime and crispy shallots; pea tortellini in parmesan broth; Manhattan-style clams with fregola; winter squash flatbread with hummus and za’atat;  ricotta blini with honey, orange and sea salt; raspberry hazelnut brioche bostock; chewy oatmeal raisin chocolate chip mega-cookies.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? Despite an almost encyclopedic approach to global cuisine, you should have no trouble finding the vast majority of ingredients in a good supermarket.

What’s the faff factor? Make no mistake, this is ‘proper’ cooking and many of the recipes have several elements that need to be brought together at the point of serving, but with a little planning and organisation, they should be stress-free.

How often will I cook from the book? Every day (duh!).

What will I love? This is an American book, but, God bless them, they’ve included gram or millilitre equivalents for cup measures which rockets the book to the top of the usability charts for UK readers (other US publishers please take note). The guide for special menus at the back of the book that highlights vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and diary-free recipes (of which there are many) is particularly thoughtful.

What won’t I like? Me, if I find out you don’t love this book as much as I do.

Should I buy it? Only if you like cooking delicious food. Otherwise, give it a miss.

Cuisine: American/International
Suitable for: Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review rating: 5 Stars

Buy this book
Smitten Kitchen Every Day: Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites
£25, Square Peg

Cook from this book
Crispy tofu and broccoli with sesame peanut pesto
Smoky sheet pan chicken with cauliflower

Crispy tofu and broccoli with sesame-peanut pesto by Deb Perelman

Tofutofu 1tofu 2

Cook more from this book
Smoky sheet pan chicken with cauliflower

Read the review

Buy the book
Smitten Kitchen Every Day: Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites
£25, Square Peg

Smoky sheet pan chicken with cauliflower by Deb Perelman

chickenSmokly chicken 1Smoky chicken 2

Cook more from this book
Crispy tofu and broccoli with sesame peanut pesto

Read the review

Buy the book
Smitten Kitchen Every Day: Triumphant and Unfussy New Favorites
£25, Square Peg

The Road to Mexico by Rick Stein

The Road to Mexico by Rick Stein

Restaurateur and seafood expert Rick Stein has been absolutely bloody everywhere. He’s written numerous cookbooks (many of them with an accompanying TV series) covering France, Spain, India, the Med, the Far East, most of Europe and the UK. Now he’s turned his attention to Mexico and California with The Road to Mexico. The book, and TV series, retraces Steins steps from nearly 50 years ago when, as he explains in the introduction, he ‘crossed the border from the USA at Neuvo Laredo and headed for the city of Monterrey’ and ordered some tacos in a bar.

His recent experience of Mexico was undoubtedly more luxurious than his original trip, swapping hitch-hiking, Greyhound buses and German cargo ships for a pale blue convertible Mustang, but the food probably hasn’t changed all that much in intervening half-a-century. Tortillas, tacos, enchiladas, corn, chilies and avocado abound. Recipes include ‘the original Caesar salad’ from Caesar Hotel in Tijuana made with salted white anchovies; refried beans, guacamole and roasted red tomato and chilli salsa. A short section on staples like guacatillo sauce made with tomatillos, avocado and chilies and a list of essential Mexican larder ingredients make the book a perfect primer for the first-time Mexican cook.

Each of the seven chapters that cover breakfasts and brunch, street food, vegetables and sides, fish and shellfish, poultry, meat and desserts and drinks is prefaced by a short essay by Stein, which, combined with the comprehensive and informative recipe introductions and the vividly colourful location photography makes for a satisfying travelogue.

Because the recipes are arranged into categories rather than place of origin, you’ll need to watch the series to get a proper sense of the regional variations of Mexican cuisine, and to understand why California has been included. Stein avers that ‘there is so much Mexican influence in Californian food’, and while that is true, recipes like Italian cioppino (monkfish, mussel and prawn stew) from Tadich Grill, chicken noodle soup with yellow bean sauce from chef Martin Yan’s M.Y China and Alice Waters’ rhubarb galette Chez Panisse (all in San Francisco) don’t reflect that influence.

So, the book’s premise might be a bit shaky and the recipe selection scattershot, but that shouldn’t prevent you from cooking from it. Recipes are well written, easy to follow and for the most part straightforward to prepare. Stein has an unerring nose for a great dish and The Road to Mexico has enough of them to make it a must buy for Stein’s many fans and anyone who wants to find out more about one of the world’s greatest, and most fashionable, cuisines.

Cuisine: Mexican/American
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 stars

Buy this book
Rick Stein: The Road to Mexico (TV Tie in)
£26 BBC Books

Cook from this book
Ensenada fish tacos
Turkey breast with pasilla chipotle chilli butter sauce
Mexican rice pudding with honeycomb

Downtime by Nadine Levy Redzepi

Downtime

What is it?  An enticing collection of sophisticated recipes for the home cook by a new name in food writing

Redzepi – why does that sound familiar? Nadine Levy Redzepi is the wife of world-famous Danish chef Rene Redzepi of Noma fame.  This is her debut book.

What does it look like? The book’s design has all the Nordic stripped back chic you might hope for. The mostly overhead food photography by Ditte Isager is simple and uncluttered, allowing the dishes to speak for themselves. High-quality glossy paper means the reproduction of the images is so lifelike that you almost want to plunge a fork into the pages.

Is it good bedtime reading? A forward by hubby, plus an introduction and comprehensive autobiographical ‘A Life in the Home Kitchen’ section by the author that covers her Portuguese and Scandinavian food roots, along with chapter introductions and chunky recipe introductions means Downtime won’t just live in your kitchen.    

Killer recipes? Beef glazed celeriac with buttermilk sauce; cheese ravioli with brown butter egg yolks, parmesan and sage; kale and mushroom carbonara; quinoa salad with spiced onions; brownies with flaky salt and white chocolate chunks.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients?  It seems that great care has been taken to make these recipes as accessible as possible so you should be able to find everything you need at your local supermarket.

What’s the faff factor?  Minimal. The recipes are all about making delicious food for your family rather than exercising your cheffy inclinations. That said, three Michelin-starred chef Thomas Keller’s elegant recipe for ratatouille (from the film of the same name) is included in the book.

How often will I cook from the book?  With everything from soups to pasta dishes and roasts to desserts (including a twist on tiramisu with a cheesecake-like crust), you could easily find yourself reaching for the book on a daily basis.

What will I love?  The book’s luxurious look and feel and the accessible and well-written recipes.

What won’t I like?  I’ll get back to you on that.

Should I buy it? If you feel that your repertoire of daily dishes has become somewhat stale, then this book will give your home cooking that inventive boost you’ve been searching for.

Cuisine: Nordic/international
Suitable for: Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review rating: 4 Stars

Buy this book
Downtime: Deliciousness at Home
£26 Ebury

Cook from this book
Roasted ratatouille with orzo
Lasagne with sausage meatballs
Danish apple dessert

River Cafe 30 by Ruth Rogers, Sian Wyn Owen, Joseph Trivelli and Rose Gray

River Cafe 30

River Cafe 30 commemorates the thirtieth anniversary of one of the most influential restaurants in London. Before Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray opened what was a nine table lunchtime-only canteen for the architects and designers who work in the converted Thames Wharf warehouse in Hammersmith that houses the restaurant, there were only fake trattorias serving generic Italian fare. The River Cafe introduced the notion of regional Italian cooking to the UK; of new season’s olive oil, cavalo nero, Tuscan bread soups, hand made pasta and the infamous flour-less Chocolate Nemesis cake, a recipe that no home cook it seemed could master, me included.

Taken purely as a collection of recipes, there is much to recommend River Cafe 30. This is simple, delicious, ingredient-led food requiring, in most cases, minimal skill from the home cook. If you can’t afford the premier league Italian produce that the restaurant’s reputation stands and falls by, then you’ll still derive a huge amount of pleasure from knocking up dishes like linguine with crab; spinach and ricotta gnocchi and pork cooked in milk. The ‘salsa’ chapter alone could transform your repertoire with killer sauces like bagnet made with capers, anchovies, bread, parsley, garlic, eggs, vinegar and oil.

However, this is not a book for the faint of wallet. The basic pasta recipe requires 13 eggs and that chocolate cake, one of a number of recipes recycled from the restaurant’s famous ‘blue’ cookbook from 1995, calls for well over half a kilo of ‘best quality’ dark chocolate. Follow River Cafe 30 to the letter and you’ll be bankrupt and homeless, although you will have a bit of extra fat to live off before you have to sell your extra virgin olive-oiled body to the night.

River Cafe 30 is a beautiful object with a vivid colour scheme inspired by the restaurant’s bright pink wood-fired oven, yellow pass and blue carpet. There are reproductions of menus drawn or painted on by artist fans that include Cy Twombly, Peter Doig, Damien Hirst and Michael Craig Martin along with evocative black and white photography depicting life in River Cafe’s open kitchen (one of the first in the country) and a moving tribute to the late Rose Gray by Ruth Rogers.

But where is the celebration of the countless chefs that have passed through The River Cafe’s kitchen? Not one word about Jamie Oliver, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall or Theo Randall, to name but three of the most high profile alumni. Three decades of culinary history are condensed into two brief pages of text plus some architectural drawings, a sample of one of the first menus and an article published in the New Yorker magazine in 1996.

Recipe introductions are sparse with little information about why dishes have been singled out for inclusion, their regional derivation or how they fit into the restaurant’s history. There isn’t even so much as a hint of how to use all those salsas.

Despite high production values, there is more than a whiff of cash-in about River Cafe 30. No doubt it will sell by the bucket load, especially to special occasion diners in search of a memento (River Cafe remains an exceptional place in which to eat your tea), but I can’t help but feel that this is a missed opportunity to properly celebrate one of Britain’s true culinary landmarks.

Cuisine: Italian
Suitable for: Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: 3 stars

Buy this book
River Cafe 30 by Ruth Rogers, Sian Wyn Owen, Joseph Trivelli and Rose Gray
Food Photography by Matthew Donaldson
£28 Ebury Press

Cook from this book
Mezze paccheri, black pepper and langoustine
Risotto al Amarone di Valpolicella
Veal shin slow cooked with Barolo and sage

Wild Duck with Hokkaido Squash and Arabica by Bo Bech

Wild Duck Pumpkin

For 4 people

Ingredients:
2 wild ducks
Hay
1 Hokkaido squash
1 lemon
1 orange
1 tablespoon Acacia honey
200 grams salted butter
100 grams espresso
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon coriander seeds

Method:
Remove the legs from the wild ducks (reserve these for another use), leaving as much skin on the breasts as possible. Remove the wishbone and innards.

Place hay in the bottom of a large high-sided pot and rest the wild ducks on the hay. Set the hay afire, so it burns the wild ducks. Let the hay almost finish burning, then cover the pot with a lid to suffocate the flames. Let the wild ducks smoke for 10 minutes, then keep chilled until use. The wild ducks may be smoked a couple of days prior to use.

Bake the Hokkaido squash in the oven at 200 degrees Celsius for an hour, then let rest for about 30 minutes.
Slice open the squash, remove the seeds and scrape out the flesh. Squeeze the lemon and orange and strain the juice. Blend the Hokkaido squash to a smooth pure, adding orange and lemon juice to taste. Sweeten with Acacia honey, if needed (we never add salt).

Brown the salted butter until foamy. Add espresso and maple syrup and keep the sauce warm.

Grill the skin of the wild ducks on all sides. Roast the wild ducks in the oven at 200 degrees Celsius for 8-10 minutes, depending on their size, and let rest for five minutes.

Slice off the breasts and lay them skin-side down on the grill for a few seconds, then slice thinly and season with salt and toasted crushed coriander seeds.

Fan out slices of wild duck on a plate. Place a spoonful of Hokkaido squash puree on the side and pour the brown butter-maple syrup-espresso sauce over the duck.

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Baked white onion with tamari
Turbot with fennel ravioli

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Buy this book
In My Blood

Turbot with Fennel Ravioli on Gruyere by Bo Bech

Turbot Gruyere Fennel.jpg

For 4 people

Ingredients:
1 turbot, 3 kilo
4 fennel bulbs
3 whole star anise
1 lemongrass stalk
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
200 grams Gruyere cheese
200 grams salted butter
4 tablespoons yogurt Black pepper

Method:
Rinse and dry the fennel bulbs. Slice thinly on a mandoline and transfer to a pot, adding the grapeseed oil. Bruise the lemongrass stalk with the back side of knife, then transfer to a tea bag along with star anise. Add the tea bag to the pot. Place a piece of wet parchment paper over the fennel and roast at medium heat until tender and caramelised. It may stick a bit to the bottom of the pot.

Remove the pot from the heat and let stand for a few minutes. Stir the pot well so that the caramelised bits in the bottom dissolve. Return the pot to the heat. Let the fennel become tender and golden, then remove the tea bag. Blend the fennel smooth and add salt to taste. The consistency must be very thick. Transfer the puree to a piping bag.

Slice Gruyere cheese as thinly as possible, using a deli meat slicer if possible. Cut out circles of the cheese using a cutting ring about four centimetres in diameter. There should be 16 circles per dish. Place half the slices on a parchment-lined baking pan. Pipe a dot of fennel puree on the middle of each circle of Gruyere cheese and carefully place another circle on top, so that it floats on top of the puree.

Bake the raviolis at 90 degrees Celsius, until the top slice of cheese has melted over the fennel puree and touches the bottom slice. Remove the raviolis from the oven and let them cool slightly, then turn them over and season with black pepper. Blend the remaining cheese with 100 grams of melted butter and strain. Pour off the water from the cheese fat when cooled.

Melt the remaining 100 grams of salted butter slowly without boiling. Pour into a transparent bowl, so the clarified butter can be seen clearly on top and the whey rests on the bottom. Let stand for a few minutes while it separates completely. Use a strainer to separate the clarified butter.

Fillet the turbot from the bone, remove the skin and divide the fish into eight pieces of equal size. Cook the turbot in clarified butter on a hot pan. Cook the prettiest side first, so that it will face upward when serving.

Swirl a spoonful of yogurt onto a plate and add a few drops of cheese fat. Place two pieces of turbot on the plate and arrange four raviolis on each piece of turbot.

Cook more from this book
Wild duck with Hokkaido Squash
Baked white onion with tamari

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Buy this book
In My Blood

Baked white onion with tamari, ginger, lime and sesame by Bo Bech

White onion.jpg

For 4 people

Ingredients:
4-6 large white onions
1 lemon
4 tablespoons sesame seeds Sichuan pepper
50 grams ginger juice
50 grams lime juice
50 grams tamari
50 grams acacia honey
50 grams toasted sesame oil

Method:
Whisk together ginger juice, lime juice, tamari and acacia honey. Add toasted sesame oil to taste.

Bake the whole onions at 200 degrees Celsius for about 30 minutes until tender (the baking time will depend on the size of the onions). Slice off the bottom of the onions and split each in half lengthwise. Divide each onion half into wedges and sprinkle with grated lemon peel, salt, Sichuan peppercorns, salt and sesame seeds.

Arrange the onion wedges on a plate and pour sauce into each wedge. The dish can be eaten as finger food.

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In My Blood by Bo Bech
 

Slow-cooked chicken with a crisp corn crust by Yotam Ottolenghi

Slow-cooked chicken.png

This is a wonderful meal on an autumn day, served with a crisp green salad. The slow-cooked chicken is packed full of flavour and the crust – gluten-free, rich and corny – makes for a welcome (and lighter) change to a heavier mash. You can make the chicken well in advance if you want to get ahead: it keeps in the fridge for up to 3 days or can be frozen for 1 month. You want it to go into the oven defrosted, though, so it will need thawing out of the freezer. The batter needs to be made fresh and spooned on top of the chicken just before the dish gets baked, but it then can just go back in the oven. It can also be baked a few hours in advance – just warm through for 10 minutes, covered in foil, before serving. I love the combination of the chicken and the corn, but the chicken also works well as it is, served on top of rice, in a wrap or with a buttery jacket potato.

Serves six

3 tbsp olive oil
3 red onions, thinly sliced (500g)
2 garlic cloves, crushed
4 tbsp rose harissa (or 50% more or less, depending on variety)(60g)
2 tsp sweet smoked paprika
850g chicken thighs, skinless and boneless (about 9–10 thighs)
200ml passata
5 large tomatoes, quartered (400g)
200g jarred roasted red peppers, drained and cut into 2cm thick rounds
15g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
20g coriander, roughly chopped
salt and black pepper

SWEETCORN BATTER
70g unsalted butter,melted
500g corn kernels, fresh or frozen and defrosted (shaved corn kernels from 4 large corn cobs, if starting from fresh)
3 tbsp whole milk
3 eggs, yolks and whites separated

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan, for which you have a lid, on a medium high heat. Add the onions and fry for 8–9 minutes, stirring a few times, until caramelised and soft. Reduce the heat to medium and add the garlic, harissa, paprika, chicken, 1 teaspoon of salt and a good grind of black pepper. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently, then add the passata and tomatoes. Pour over 350ml of water, bring to the boil, then simmer on a medium heat, covered, for 30 minutes, stirring every once in a while.

Add the peppers and chocolate and continue to simmer for another 35–40 minutes, with the pan now uncovered, stirring frequently, until the sauce is getting thick and the chicken is falling apart. Remove from the heat and stir in the coriander. If you are serving the chicken as it is (as a stew without the batter), it’s ready to serve (or freeze, once it’s come to room temperature) at this stage. If you are making the corn topping, spoon the chicken into a ceramic baking dish – one with high sides that measures about 20 x 30cm – and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 180°C fan.

Pour the butter into a blender with the corn, milk, egg yolks and ¾ teaspoon salt. Blitz for a few seconds, to form a rough paste, then spoon into a large bowl. Place the egg whites in a separate clean bowl and whisk to form firm peaks. Fold these gently into the runny corn mixture until just combined, then pour the mix evenly over the chicken.

Bake for 35 minutes, until the top is golden-brown: keep an eye on it after 25 minutes to make sure the top is not taking on too much colour: you might need to cover it with tin foil for the final 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside for 10 minutes before serving.

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Iranian herb fritters

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Iranian herb fritters by Yotam Ottolenghi

Iranian herb fritters.png

These can be snacked on as they are, at room temperature, or else served with a green tahini sauce and some extra herbs. If you want to make the tahini sauce then just blitz together 50g tahini, 30g parsley,½ crushed garlic clove, 2 tbsp lemon juice and 1∕8 tsp salt. Once this is all in the blender, blitz for 30 seconds and pour in 125ml water. Holding back on the water allows the parsley to get really broken up and turns the sauce as green as can be. This sauce is lovely spooned over all sorts of things – grilled meat and fish and roasted vegetables, for example – so double or triple the batch and keep it in the fridge. It keeps well for about 5 days. You might want to thin it with a little water or lemon juice to get it back to the right consistency.

These fritters are a bit of a fridge raid, using up whatever herbs you have around. As long as you keep the total net weight the same and use a mixture of herbs, this will still work wonderfully. The batter will keep, uncooked, for 1 day in the fridge.

Alternatively, pile the fritters into pitta bread with condiments: a combination of yoghurt, chilli sauce, pickled vegetables and tahini works well. You’d just need one fritter per person, rather than two.

Makes 8 fritters to serve 4–8 (depending on whether everyone is having one, in a pitta, or two as they are)

40g dill, finely chopped
40g basil leaves, finely chopped
40g coriander leaves, finely chopped
1½ tsp ground cumin 50g fresh breadcrumbs (about 2 slices, crusts left on if soft)
3 tbsp barberries (or currants)
25g walnut halves, lightly toasted and roughly chopped
8 large eggs, beaten
60ml sunflower oil, for frying
salt

Place all the ingredients, apart from the oil, in a large bowl with ½ teaspoon of salt. Mix well to combine and set aside.

Put 2 tablespoons of oil into a large non-stick pan and place on a medium high heat. Once hot, add ladles of batter to the pan.

Do 4 fritters at a time, if you can – you want each of them to be about 12cm wide – otherwise just do 2 or 3 at a time. Fry for 1–2 minutes on each side, until crisp and golden-brown. Transfer to a kitchen paper-lined plate and set aside while you continue with the remaining batter and oil.

Serve either warm or at room temperature.

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Slow cooked chicken

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Braised eggs with leek and za’atar by Yotam Ottolenghi

Braised eggs.pngServes six

This is a quick way to get a very comforting meal on the table in a wonderfully short amount of time. It’s a dish as happily eaten for brunch, with coffee, as it is for a light supper with some crusty white bread and a glass of wine. The leeks and spinach can be made up to a day ahead and kept in the fridge, ready for the eggs to be cracked in and braised.

30g unsalted butter
2 tbsp olive oil 2 large leeks (or 4 smaller), trimmed and cut into ½cm slices (530g)
1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and lightly crushed
2 small preserved lemons, pips discarded, skin and flesh finely chopped (30g)
300ml vegetable stock
200g baby spinach leaves
6 large eggs
90g feta broken into 2cm pieces
1 tbsp za’atar salt and black pepper

  1. Put the butter and 1 tablespoon of oil into a large sauté pan, for which you have a lid, and place on a medium high heat. Once the butter starts to foam, add the leeks, ½ teaspoon of salt and plenty of pepper. Fry for 3 minutes, stirring frequently, until the leeks are soft. Add the cumin, lemon and vegetable stock and boil rapidly for 4–5 minutes, until most of the stock has evaporated. Fold in the spinach and cook for a minute, until wilted, then reduce the heat to medium.
  2. Use a large spoon to make 6 indentations in the mixture and break one egg into each space. Sprinkle the eggs with a pinch of salt, dot the feta around the eggs, then cover the pan. Simmer for 4–5 minutes, until the egg whites are cooked but the yolks are still runny.
  3. Mix the za’atar with the remaining tablespoon of oil and brush over the eggs. Serve at once, straight from the pan.

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Iranian herb fritters
Slow cooked chicken

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