Outdoor Cooking by Tom Kerridge

Tom Kerrige Outdoor Cooking

What’s the USP? They say it’s the ‘ultimate modern barbecue bible’. We say, steady on there old chap, it’s a nice book of barbecue recipes including marinades, sauces, ribs, steaks, joints, fish, skewers, wraps, burgers, subs and salads from a well known chef. That’s enough isn’t it?

Who wrote it? Chef Tom Kerridge has become known for his dramatic weight loss and series of diet-friendly TV shows and books including Dopamine Diet, Lose Weight and Get Fit, and Lose Weight For Good. His real claim to fame however is as proprietor of The Hand and Flowers pub in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, the only two Michelin starred restaurant in the world. He also runs The CoachThe Shed and The Butcher’s Tap in Marlow, Kerridge’s Bar and Grill in London and The Bull and Bear in Manchester. He is also the founder of the Pub in the Park, a touring food and music festival. Earlier in his career, he worked for such British restaurant luminaries as Gary Rhodes and Stephen Bull in London and David Adlard in Norwich.

Is it good bedtime reading? Well, sort of. There’s a breezy 10 page introduction where Kerridge reminisces about a aubergine he once ate at 3am in Singapore and talks about how we all used to drag woolly mammoths back to our camps back in the day, which is, uh, well it’s certainly something. He also urges his readers to ‘enjoy the process’ of barbecuing which is difficult to argue with, and shares his barbecue tips which include ‘anything goes’, ‘just go for it’ and ‘relax’. Thanks for that Tom.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? You might need to go to a fishmonger for prawns, squid and scallops that are worth your time barbecuing and a butcher for pheasant, but let’s be honest, you are never going to drag the barbecue out in game season are you? Other than that, there is very little that you won’t be able to find in Asda. They’ve even got gochujang paste for the butter that accompanies Kerridge’s beer can chicken (there is some controversy over this method of cooking, just give it a Google. Kerridge does not address this in the book.)

What’s the faff factor? Let’s set aside the hassle of setting up the barbecue in the first place; if you’ve bought a barbecue book, you must have factored that in already.  There are a few recipes like a seafood platter that’s served with three different flavoured butters that are a bit of work, or a Fennel and ‘Nduja Spiced Porchetta that requires some advanced planning and a bit of skill to execute, but one thing’s for sure, this is Kerridge in approachable mainstream media chef mode rather than a delve into his two Michelin-starred repertoire, you’ll need The Hand and Flowers cookbook for that. For the most part, you’ll find thankfully short ingredient lists and encouragingly straightforward methods.

What will I love? I’m not sure that Outdoor Cooking is the sort of book you fall in love with, but it’s colourful, easy to read and to use. With a little bit of thought and adaptation of the cooking methods (you can figure out how to cook a meatball without resorting to a Kamado Joe can’t you?) you could prepare many of the recipes without going within 10 foot of a barbecue, which may appeal to BBQ-refusing readers (like me.)

What won’t I love?
In no sense whatsoever is this anything like approaching an ‘ultimate bible’. What even is an ‘ultimate bible’ other than the worst sort of marketing BS? It’s a cookbook with some recipes.  It’s a good cookbook with some very nice recipes (see below) but it’s not biblical in either proportion, at just 240 pages, or in scope or in ambition. There are just three pages in total on equipment and barbecue cooking technique for example. In a page of thanks at the back of the book, Kerridge marvels that, ‘What we have managed to create in such a short space of time is heroic’ and that he is ‘a fan of not overthinking books’. To be honest, we can tell. There is a feeling of Outdoor Cooking having been put together in fairly short order, but because Kerridge and Absolute are ‘ultimate’ professions, they can get away with it, just about.

Killer recipes: Squid and chorizo skewers; glazed pork skewers with pickle mooli; barbecued chicken BLT; smoky pastrami burgers; pork ribs with yellow barbecue sauce; spicy pork burgers with romanesco salsa.

Should I buy it? If you are a casual barbecue cook who is looking to go beyond their usual repertoire of bangers and burgers, this book will provide plenty of globetrotting inspiration.

Cuisine: Barbecue
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy this book
Tom Kerridge’s Outdoor Cooking: The ultimate modern barbecue bible
£22, Bloomsbury Absolute

The Curry Guy Thai by Dan Toombs

Curry Guy Thai

What’s the USP? An introduction to Thai cooking, The Curry Guy Thai seeks to show readers how to recreate their favourite Thai takeaway recipes at home. 

Who wrote it? Dan Toombs, the self-styled ‘Curry Guy’ of the title. The Californian crossed the Atlantic to settle in the UK way back in 1993, and has been something of an obsessive since discovering our nation’s fabulous curry tradition. After starting a curry recipe blog in 2010, Toombs’ popularity began to rise – and his work ethic no doubt has something to do with that. The Curry Guy Thai is his seventh book. His first, The Curry Guy, came out just four years ago. 

Is it good bedtime reading? Toombs enjoys giving context to each recipe through relatively detailed introductions, but there isn’t much to keep you entertained beyond those. It would have been nice to see some lengthier chapter introductions that explored the different aspects of Thai food. The country’s cuisine has exploded in popularity of the past few years, and whilst it is available on a much wider level than that of other Southeast Asian nations, there is still plenty of education to offered to a nation who still don’t really understand the difference between green and red curries (it is not, Toombs notes, the spice levels). 

What’s the faff factor? This was my first foray into the Curry Guy series and, having seen them all over the cookbook sections for the last few years, I was surprised by certain things. With the mass market publication Toombs’ books have received, their relatively low price (this title has an RRP of £15), and their lack of physical heft (around 150 pages here), I had assumed Toombs was putting out quick recipes that could offer busy families a way to enjoy a semi-authentic takeaway-style dish on a weekday night. 

In reality, The Curry Guy Thai offers an earnest attempt at authenticity wherever possible. This is great, in theory – a genuine way to explore Thai cooking at home and capture the flavour of a good takeaway or even restaurant dish. Unfortunately this also means committing yourself to a little more time and effort. 

Ingredients lists are pretty long, and frequently stretch beyond the local supermarket shelves, asking you to seek out galangal or lime leaves. With the focus more on true replication than home cooking, Toombs offers recipes that require deep frying when perhaps a shallow fry or oven-based alternative might have been more practical for the reader. 

Is it the best way to explore Thai cooking then? The problem quickly becomes that of the competition. It’s been two years since Kay Plunkett-Hogge put out Baan, which has quickly become the benchmark for Thai cookbooks in the UK. That one might have been marketed a little more squarely at enthusiastic hobby cooks, but in truth it outperforms The Curry Guy Thai in every field – more authentic, easier recipes and much more practical for regular weeknight dinners. 

There are options to save your energy – allowances for the use of ready made curry pastes instead of the time-consuming homemade version – but when I tried these within the context of the recipes I found them underwhelming. 

What will I love? The book does a good job at collecting all of your favourite takeaway dishes, meaning you’ll be able to put together a Thai feast of your own if you ever want to. 

What won’t I love? Very few of the recipes are as quick and easy as you’d like, so that Thai feast is going to be quite a bit of work. 

Killer recipes: Prawn Toasts, Duck Jungle Curry, Thai Holy Basil and Chilli Chicken Stir Fry, Red Pork Nugget Curry, Choo Chee Salmon 

Should I buy it? If you’re a fan of the existing Curry Guy books, this will fit in perfectly on your shelf and offer more of the same stylistically whilst expanding the canon into Thailand. Otherwise, maybe take a moment to explore the other options before committing to this fairly middle-of-the-road cookbook. 

Cuisine: Thai
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy the book 
Curry Guy Thai: Recreate Over 100 Classic Thai Takeaway Dishes at Home
£15, Quadrille Publishing Ltd

Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Nottingham-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas

Cooking on the Big Green Egg by James Whetlor

Cooking on the Big Green Egg by James Whetlor

What’s the USP? A user manual for the Big Green Egg ceramic barbecue (referred to from here on as BGE) that’s a big hit with professional chefs, keen home cooks and barbecue enthusiasts alike, with recipes.

Who’s the author? James Whetlor is probably best known as the owner of the Cabrito goat meat business. He is the author of Goat (read our review here) and is a former chef who worked in London and for Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall at River Cottage in Devon.

Is it good bedtime reading? There is plenty for the BGE owner to get their teeth into with a meaty introductory chapter that covers everything from lighting and using your egg, to setting up your egg, fuel for your egg, tools and equipment for your egg and a guide to ingredients.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? You will need to head to Whetlor’s Cabrito website if you want to make goat shoulder with pomegranate raan or whole roast kid; your butcher for ox heart to make pinchos morunos and a specialist shop or online retailer for the ancho and pasilla chilles required to make recipes like pork or ox cheeks with masa harina soft tortilla or mole sauce.  There are other examples but in the main, you should have little trouble tracking down the majority of the ingredients required.

What’s the faff factor? This will depend on your view on BBQ, bearing in mind that you have to prepare your BGE before you get to cook anything on it.  Some will view it as a pleasure, others a pain, although the latter probably wouldn’t have splashed a grand on a sizeable ceramic lump in the first place. In terms of the recipes themselves, they range from a simple seared onglet à l’échalote to a more involved pork shoulder with vindaloo spices. 

How often will I cook from the book? How often do you barbecue? In his introduction, chef Tom Kerridge would have you believe that ‘Big Green Eggs can become a way of life’ and that ‘Once you’ve….tried some recipes in this book, you’ll be barbecuing in February’. For most of us, in the UK at least, barbecuing is very much a summer pastime. That said, if you’ve invested in a BGE then you might well be motivated to make as much use of it as possible.

Killer recipes? At the risk of labouring a point, there are some great recipes in this book, but they will only really be of interest to BGE owners.  Some may work on other BBQ set ups, but I’m not sure why, with so many other more general BBQ books on the market, you would take the risk. That said, whole crown prince squash stuffed with pumpkin seeds and chillies; hispi cabbage with jalapeno buttermilk and ancho dressing; lamb ribs with tamarind glaze; lamb chop bhuna; paratha and orange blossom honey and pistachio pastilla all sound delicous. The short chapter on sauces and condiments including mango ketchup and harissa is extremely handy.

What will I love? The embossed cover that replicates the scaly surface of a real Big Green Egg is just great.

What won’t I like? If you don’t own a BGE, have a guess.

Should I buy it? If you’re paying a minimum of £780 for a Big Green Egg (that will get you a mini version. A basic starter pack of accessories will cost you another £134. You can pay up to £1,665 for an XL egg) you’d think you might get an instruction manual and recipes thrown in for that sort of money. Mind you, if you have that amount of disposable income, what’s another £25?

Although there are some great recipes in the book which feasibly may work on other barbecues (such as the strikingly similar Kamado Joe), the whole affair is so obviously BGE-specific that there is really no point owning this book unless you have splurged on a BGE.

Cuisine: Barbecue/International
Suitable for: Beginners/confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy this book
Cooking on the Big Green Egg: Everything you need to know from set-up to cooking techniques, with 70 recipes
£25, Hardie Grant/Quadrille

The Noodle Cookbook by Damien King Lee

What’s the USP? 101 easy, accessible and ‘healthy’ noodle recipes from the makers of Mr Lee’s instant noodle range.

Who’s the author? The late entrepreneur Damien King Lee, founder and CEO of Mr Lee’s Pure Foods which markets a range of ‘healthy and sustainable’ instant noodles available in supermarkets.

What does it look like? Simple, colourful, modern and really rather stylish.

Is it good bedtime reading? The non-recipe text is mostly of the bright and breezy variety and shouldn’t unduly detain you.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? The recipes are mostly aimed at the supermarket shopper but you will find the likes of wagyu, crayfish tails, fresh crabmeat and togarashi alongside turkey mince and Monterey Jack cheese.

What’s the faff factor? They say the recipes take 30 minutes or less, although anyone that believes those sort of claims after Jamie’s 30-Minute Meal debacle needs to give their head a wobble. That said, the dishes are mostly very achievable (you are, after all, heating up noodles with bits and bobs) and each one is labeled to indicate the degree of difficulty from ‘doddle’ to ‘showing off’. Generally speaking, the recipes are ideal for mid-week after-work meals when kitchen time may be at a premium.

How often will I cook from the book? How often do you want to eat noodles? Once a week? Once a month? There a good amount of variety in the book with Chinese, Japanese, Thai , Korean and Vietnamese dishes. But they’ve (nearly) all got noodles in them.

Killer recipes? Curry chicken stir fry ramen; lobster laksa curry, Hong Kong Street beef; Korean ‘fried’ sticky chicken’; dan dan noodle soup with lamb.

What will I love? The useful directory of types of noodle and their uses, the handy ‘shopping staples’ section that will help you stock your cupboards for when you really fancy a quick bowl of noodles. The store cupboard recipes will appeal to keen cooks who want to make their own sauces such as hoisin, teriyaki and satay. There’s even a vegan ‘fish’ sauce made with agave, pineapple juice and soy.

What won’t I like? If you’re a miserable old git like me, the overly-matey and ‘humorous’ recipe introductions with exhortations to ‘get your crisp on’ and descriptions of black vinegar as ‘rice vinegar’s chilled out mellow cousin’ may remind you of when corporations try to be your friend.

Should I buy it? If you really, really like noodles and you think you need 101 recipes for them, then, go ahead, get your noodle on!

Cuisine: Pan-Asian
Suitable for: Beginners/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy this book
The Noodle Cookbook: 101 healthy and delicious noodle recipes for happy eating
£15.99, Ebury Press

Cook from this book
Dan dan noodle soup with lamb
Hong Kong Street Beef
Seafood Ramyeon with Korean Red Pepper

Nose Dive by Harold McGee

nose-dive-harold-mcgee

What’s the USP? A deep (nose) dive into the world of smell, exploring what creates the smells around us, and what we can learn from them. From the earliest smells in the universe to thoroughly contemporary stenches, Nose Dive opens up every corner of the sensory world, and takes a big old sniff.

Sounds like a Bill Bryson book…  Harold McGee’s initial premise might recall the bold all-encompassing approach Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything and The Body have taken to their respective subjects, but don’t be fooled. Nose Dive is as academic as it is filled with wonder at the world around us. McGee starts at the very beginning, with early chapters on how chemicals formed in space at the very beginning of the universe, and the sulphurous formation of smells on the newly formed Earth. It’s a neatly chronological approach that the author has apparently used to get his head around the science as he took on what must have been a daunting project, but I found myself longing for some more immediately relatable smells.

Who is the book for? It’s a tough question that I asked myself throughout reading. There is no doubt that McGee has put together a remarkable document on an under-appreciated sense, but little compromise is made for the casual reader. Coming in at just over 600 pages, and unrepentantly scientific in its approach, Nose Dive is not an easy read.

What are you looking to get out of a book on smell? If it’s the nuances in the scent of a good blue cheese, you’ll be wading some five hundred pages in. If you’re excited, however, to learn about why some cat piss smells meaty, and other cat piss displays more distinctly fruity characteristics, then you’ll have a much shorter wait. 

Do I have to read it all in order? Not at all – in fact, McGee claims that the book is intended for dipping into at your leisure. A sprawling index means readers inspired by a particular scent are free and able to selectively read around their curiosities. But that does rather beg the question – how many of us are going to smell the unrelenting stench of manure and then both desire and later remember (as presumably nobody will be carrying a 600 page hardback around on the off-chance that their nose asks a question) to look it up, and learn more about concentrated animal feeding operations?

There are useful lessons to learn here for cooks – which makes sense, given the author’s background in food science writing. But too often it feels as though the average reader might only fall upon them by chance. The book gives roughly the same amount of time to food smells (and those immediately associated with food) as it does to everything else – but the result is unnecessarily unwieldy. Perhaps McGee can take all that he has learnt here and create a second volume, focused more tightly on the smells of the kitchen, and what we can learn from them.

Until then, Nose Dive should be filed under ‘Good Intentions’ – a stunningly researched, occasionally insightful title that will appeal mainly to those who are already in the habit of reading lengthy academically-minded science titles.

Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Nottingham-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas

Buy this book
Nose Dive: A Field Guide to the World’s Smells
£35, John Murray

Shortlisted for the Andre Simon Food and Drink Book Awards 2020. See all the shortlisted books here.
andre simon logo

Dan Dan Noodle Soup with Lamb

071_Mr Lee's Dan Dan Noddle Soup with Lamb_Chinese

Serves 2
Wok to wonderful in 20 minutes
Showing Off /Vegan Option
Hero ingredients: garlic and ginger

A ‘dan dan’ is the pole that noodle sellers use to carry the baskets of fresh noodles and sauce, with one at either end. The star is Sichuan chilli bean paste, or toban djan (see page 17) but you can use other chilli pastes if you can’t get your hands on it. Combined with the Sichuan peppercorns, you get a lip-tingling intensity. You can also try it as a stir-fry dish by omitting the stock water, and using fresh noodles.

½ tablespoon vegetable oil
230g (8¼oz) minced (ground) lamb (or frozen vegan mince and 1/4 tsp yeast extract for a vegan alternative)
2 teaspoons garlic paste, or 3–4 garlic cloves, crushed and chopped
1 tablespoon ginger paste or 5cm (2in) piece of fresh root ginger, chopped
1 carrot, finely diced
1 large onion, finely diced
120g (4¼oz) dried wheat noodles
1 spring onion (scallion), finely sliced, to garnish

 FOR THE SOUP:
600ml (20fl oz) boiling water, or ready-made fresh vegetable stock
1 tablespoon crushed yellow bean sauce, or brown or red miso paste
1 tablespoon chilli bean paste, or 1 teaspoon any hot chilli paste
2 teaspoons crunchy peanut butter
½ teaspoon ground Sichuan peppercorns
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

Prepare the soup mixture by mixing all the ingredients together in a large bowl or jug, then set aside until needed. Heat the oil in a large wok over a high heat. Throw in the minced lamb (or vegan mince) and brown for a few seconds. Then add the garlic, ginger, carrot and onion and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring continuously. Your kitchen should smell amazing at this stage, so take a second, stop and breathe it in. But don’t take all day, we’re on a schedule!

Next pour the soup mixture into the pan and mix well, simmering for another 3 minutes. Now it’s noodle time. Put the noodles in a saucepan and cover with boiling water. Boil for 3 minutes, then drain. Divide your hot noodles between 2 serving bowls and pour over the soupy mixture. Sprinkle over the chopped spring onion (scallion). Strap in your taste buds: you’ll never forget your first Dan Dan Noodle Soup.

Cook more from this book
Hong Kong Street Beef
Seafood Ramyeon with Korean Red Pepper

Buy this book
The Noodle Cookbook: 101 healthy and delicious noodle recipes for happy eating
£15.99, Ebury Press

Read the review

Hong Kong Street Beef

075_Mr Lee's Hongkong Street Beef_Chinese

Serves 2 Wok to wonderful in
30 minutes
Showing Off
Hero ingredients: ginger and broccoli

Mr Lee’s Hong Kong Street Beef noodle pot is a customer favourite, so we just had to adapt it for our very first cookbook. The richly flavoured and aromatic soup base, combined with the savoury hit of the steak, wraps you in a warm, beefy blanket of contentment. It’s the best kind of comfort food: Tastes like it took hours, but ready in minutes. Winner!

1 tablespoon crushed yellow bean sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
½ tablespoon vegetable oil
250g (9oz) rib-eye steak, or use sirloin/
porterhouse if you prefer
85g (3oz) sprouting broccoli, or use regular
broccoli cut into bite-sized pieces
120g (4¼oz) dried thin wheat noodles (or use
thin rice noodles for a gluten-free alternative)

FOR THE SOUP:
230g (8¼oz) lean minced (ground) beef, or substitute
900ml (1½ pints) of ready-made fresh beef stock
2 small onions, finely diced
2 whole star anise
1 large black cardamom pod
½ teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
1 teaspoon ginger paste, or 2.5cm (1 inch) piece of fresh root ginger, finely chopped
1 teaspoon garlic paste, or 2 garlic cloves, crushed and chopped
½ teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
½ teaspoon finely ground black pepper
1 tablespoon crushed yellow bean sauce
900ml (1½ pints) boiling water (if not using stock)

FOR THE GARNISH:
1 spring onion (scallion), finely sliced
handful of fresh coriander (cilantro), roughly torn (optional)
2 tablespoons chilli oil (optional)

Heat a medium saucepan over a medium–high heat and brown the minced beef (if using). Then add all the other soup ingredients except the water or stock.  Keep stirring for 2–3 minutes, then add the water (or stock, if using). Cover the pan with a lid and leave all those lovely flavours to simmer and intensify over a low heat for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix together the yellow bean sauce and toasted sesame oil on a plate. Now it’s steak time! Put the steak on the plate and really rub the marinade all over, then set it aside for a few minutes. Heat a wok over a high heat and add the vegetable oil. Pan-fry the steak for about 3 minutes on each side. This will cook it medium – but it’s your steak, so cook it how you like. If you want it a bit pinker, then cook it for up to 2 minutes each side.

The super-high heat will seal the meat and keep it nice and succulent. As soon as the steak is cooked to your liking, put it on a chopping board, cover it with foil and let it rest for a bit. Place another medium saucepan on the hob and half-fill with boiling water. Add the broccoli and boil for 2 minutes, then add the dried noodles and simmer for another minute. Drain and divide the broccoli and noodles between two large, deep soup bowls.

Using a fine sieve, strain the soup broth as you pour it over the noodles in each bowl, discarding the aromatics. Slice the steak into strips, then layer on top of the noodle soup. Garnish with spring onion (scallion) and fresh coriander (cilantro). Serve with
a small pot of red chilli oil on the side for drizzling, and you’re good to go.

Cook more from this book
Dan Dan Noodle Soup with Lamb
Seafood Ramyeon with Korean Red Pepper

Buy this book
The Noodle Cookbook: 101 healthy and delicious noodle recipes for happy eating
£15.99, Ebury Press

Read the review

Seafood Ramyeon with Korean Red Pepper

163_Seafood ramyeon with Korean Red Pepper_Korean

Serves 2
Wok to wonderful in 15 minutes
Doddle / <15 Min
Hero ingredient: shiitake mushrooms

A Korean take on a Japanese favourite. We’re bringing some spicy, pungent gochujang to the party. Gochujang dances to its own tune; it’s unlike any other chilli paste. Sometimes labelled red pepper paste, look out for it in Asian supermarket. When you combine this with the sweet scallops and prawns, the umami-rich mushrooms and the cabbage, it gives ramen a spicy Korean makeover.

140g (5oz) dried ramen noodles, or dried wheat
and/or egg noodles
120g (4¼oz) scallops
120g (4¼oz) raw fresh prawns (shrimp), or any seafood, e.g. squid or cooked mussels
1 tablespoon Korean red pepper paste (gochujang)
½ tablespoon vegetable oil
60g (2¼oz) fresh shiitake or chestnut mushrooms, sliced
60g (2¼oz) savoy cabbage, finely sliced
¼–½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
2 teaspoons light soy sauce
1 teaspoon smoked paprika powder
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped spring onion (scallion), to serve

Place a small saucepan of boiling water over a high heat and add the noodles. Boil for 3 minutes, then drain well and set aside. Place the scallops and prawns (shrimp) – or whatever seafood you’re using – in a small bowl. Add ½ tablespoon of the gochujang and mix it all together, using your hands to coat everything really well.

Next heat the vegetable oil in a wok over a very high heat and add the seafood to the pan. Fry for 45 seconds, keeping the heat super high
so the seafood caramelises and gets golden brown around the edges.
Add the mushrooms and cabbage and lightly season with the salt and pepper. Stir everything well, cooking for a further 45 seconds.

Finally add the cooked and drained noodles to the wok, along with the soy sauce, paprika, sesame oil and remaining gochujang. Stir-fry for another 2 minutes, over a high heat, combining everything well. Add a tablespoon or two of water to loosen the sauce.

Divide the noodles between 2 serving bowls and sprinkle with the spring onion (scallion) – cheffy flourish is optional. Serve immediately.

Cook more from this book
Dan Dan Noodle Soup with Lamb
Hong Kong Street Beef

Buy this book
The Noodle Cookbook: 101 healthy and delicious noodle recipes for happy eating
£15.99, Ebury Press

Read the review

Wine From Another Galaxy: Noble Rot by Dan Keeling and Mark Andrew

Wine from another galaxy

What’s the USP? The none-more-hip guide to the world of upmarket European wine, with an emphasis on the natural wine movement, from the team behind Noble Rot, one of London’s best wine bars/restaurants and an acclaimed wine and food magazine of the same name.

Who are the authors? Noble Rot’s founders, who are Dan Keeling, a former record company executive (whose claim to fame is signing Coldplay, but we won’t hold that against him) and Mark Andrews, a wine retail and hospitality professional. This is their first book.

Is it good bedtime reading? With two highly acclaimed restaurants to their name, food is a very big part of what Noble Rot but, as you will have guessed from the title, this is not the Noble Rot cookbook. It contains just four recipes with wine pairing suggestions, not plucked from their own menus, but recycled from old books: crab and tarragon salad by Ottolenghi, quail and peas by Simon Hopkinson from the excellent Week In, Week Out and Onglet Braised in Pinot Noir by Henry Harris from one of my all time favourite books Harvey Nichols: The Fifth Floor (the cookbook of a restaurant where I did a few work ‘stages’ in the kitchen back in the 90s), plus an uncredited recipe for a dessert of rose-scented strawberries. So, Wine From Another Galaxy is all about bedtime reading. Or preferably, favourite-chair-and-glass-of-what-you-fancy reading.

What will I love? The book is divided into two parts (ok, I realise that’s nothing to get excited about in itself, but bear with me). The first ‘Shrine to the Vine’ comprises a series of essays that variously tell the story behind the Noble Rot empire (with a contribution from restaurant critic and Noble Rot investor Marina O’Loughlin), explain how to order wine in a restaurant, provide a brief overview of the wine making process and lay out the characteristics of the main grape varieties used in wine making. There’s also a guide on how to serve wine, how to judge wine, how to detect faults in wine and how to talk about it, so you’ll be fully primed to pull out terminology like ‘energy’, ‘texture’, ‘tension’ and ‘originality’ over a glass of Muscadet at your next oh-so-ironic cheese and wine party.

Although it’s all done with a certain style and attitude (which we’ll come back to), there’s much in the book that feels familiar from other introductory wine books such as The Richard and Judy Wine Book , a reference that may fit Noble Rot’s definition of ‘so un-cool, it’s cool’ (a phrase that appears in the book and also as a category on their wine lists) but sadly I’m not cool enough to know. However, whether or not it’s cool to be using the terms ‘un-cool’ and ‘cool’ in 2021 is definitely up for debate.

Part two, ‘Rotters’ Road Trip’ is where things get really interesting. Our intrepid heroes set out a across Europe to visit winemakers in France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany and Greece before returning to England to, very briefly, investigate the sparking wine scene. The first hand reportage adds authority to the writing and, unless you are a serious wine geek, you will encounter producers such as Jonatan Garcia Lima in Tenerife and perhaps even some wine regions like the Gredos Mountains in Spain that may be new to you.

What won’t I like? The insistence on continually drawing comparisons between the worlds of wine and music (wine is the new rock’n’roll man!) becomes a little wearing. By the time you read that Cornas from Northern Rhone has a ‘character so feral it could have its own chapter in Mötley Crüe biography The Dirt’ you may well be rolling your eyes.

Despite O’Loughlin’s claim in the book that ‘exclusionary wine bollocks has never been what Noble Rot is about’ it’s difficult to shake off a sense of elitism about the whole thing. There’s the celebrity associations including Keira Knightly, Marc Ronson, Eno and James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem and a focus on wines that will require some time, effort and often money for many readers to track down. You certainly won’t find any of these wines at you local supermarket -‘their shelves are mostly full of competent yet bland, industrially made bottles’ we are told. I also struggled to find producers mentioned in the book at my local independent wine merchants. Readers in London will certainly have more luck and the online stores of big merchants such as Berry Brothers and Rudd are the best bet for those outside of the capital.

In the know ‘jokes’ such as including Petrus 1991 in a list of rare ‘unicorn’ wines (1991 was one of the years Petrus didn’t declare a vintage. What? You didn’t know? Oh, OK. Perhaps a bottle of M&S Classic Claret is more your speed?) also don’t help foster a sense of inclusivity.

Should I buy it? Despite the above detailed misgivings, Wines From Another Galaxy is a great introduction to the subject of wine, is an enjoyable read and well designed. Part two of the book also makes it suitable for those who know their subject

Suitable for: Wine newbies and more experienced drinkers.
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars
Buy this book: The Noble Rot Book: Wine from Another Galaxy
£30, Quadrille Publishing Ltd. 

Pizza: A book by Pizza Pilgrims by James and Thom Elliot

Pizza by Pizza Pilgrims

What’s the USP? The ultimate book about pizza! As well as recipes, Pizza offers up interviews with figures central to the pizza-eating world, pop cultural insights, and lessons in etymology and maths.

Who wrote it? Brothers James and Thom Elliot, who are best known as the founders of Pizza Pilgrims – a small chain of restaurants that evolved out of a single street food stand in London. Named after a toe-to-top journey through Italy that the brothers undertook in 2011 as an attempt to discover the secrets of great pizza, the brand has since become one of the most celebrated names to hoist a margherita upon the British people.

Is it good bedtime reading? Look, this is nothing if not filled with bedtime reading. In fact, it’s probably better not to think of Pizza as a cookbook, but rather food writing with added recipes. The book comes in just shy of 270 pages, and yet features only 26 pizza recipes, plus some pizza-adjacent ideas that bring the total recipe count to 30.

It’s hard to know exactly how to feel about this number. Pizzas are relatively intuitive things once the dough is made, and the overwhelming majority of the recipes that make the cut are both innovative and enticing. There are only so many pizzas one needs to be told how to make, after all. I’m not convinced there is much need to spell out how to put together a Hawaiian, for example, so it’s hard to fault the brothers for excluding it.

The rest of the content falls broadly into one of three categories. Firstly, there’s the genuinely interesting stuff, like a deep dive on the perfect pizza dough, and the city guides that champion the best pizzerias in Naples, Rome, and a smattering of other cities across the world.

Secondly, there’s the missed opportunities. Chief amongst these is the four-page section that looks at collaborative pizzas the Pilgrims have created with other restaurants over the years. Given the relative lack of actual pizza recipes in the book, it seems a tremendous waste to list twelve delicious sounding hybrids like the Dishoom-inspired Bacon & Egg Naan Pizza and not provide the means to create them at home.

Finally, there’s the filler – and, frustratingly, much of the book falls under this category. In an attempt to create a definitive text on pizza, the Elliots have included some genuinely useless sections. A two-page spread entitled ‘Pizza-Loving Celebrities’ lists thirteen famous people who have publicly professed to liking one of the most popular foods on the planet. There are four pages on the best fictional pizzerias and, later on, a further four pages on pop culture moments for the dish. Both of these amount to little more than a slightly wordy Buzzfeed list. Home Alone gets significant coverage in each.

Occasionally, the book gets really desperate – a gallery of pizza box designs customers have drawn up over the years, an advert for their ‘pizza in the post’ DIY delivery service and, most bafflingly, one-dimensional interviews with corporate figures from Domino’s, Pizza Hut and Papa John’s. There might be some interesting insights to be found in the development kitchens of these brands, but half a page with the UK operations director of Domino’s ultimately amounts to nothing but empty calories.

Oof. So you’re not a fan, then? Well, see this is the problem. Perhaps eighty percent of this book is useless to a serious home chef – but the twenty percent that remains is brilliant. The recipes frequently show the value of the brothers’ initial pilgrimage through Italy, demonstrating a depth of knowledge and understanding that results in genuine learning opportunities.

My favourite choice at my local takeaway is a light ham and sweetcorn affair that is revealed here to be a version of the Mimosa pizza. I had no idea that it was something of a nostalgic favourite in Naples, where children think of it in much the same way that Brits might think of fish fingers and chips.

The Elliots also champion the frying pan as their preferred method for cooking pizzas at home – an idea I might have been unconvinced by before, but will likely be my standard going forward. These sorts of revelations are worth the price of admission by themselves.

I’m not going to deny, either, that there will be audiences who lap this up. The style of the book reminds me of cash-in influencer titles at times, and for better or worse, it will appeal to plenty of people as a result. It might also offer an excellent entry point for pizza lovers who perhaps haven’t previously considered making their own at home. 

What will I love? The recipes are faultless, even if there aren’t all that many of them. Alongside those inexplicable big brand takeaway interviews, there’s also a lovely conversation with Antimo Caputo, who makes flour that enjoys a cult status in pizza circles. It’s worth taking a moment, too, to celebrate the inspired cover design, which mocks up a takeaway pizza box with joyful, tactile precision.

What won’t I love? The recurring feeling that the publishers are trying to make the book thick enough to charge twenty quid for. The frustration that instead of achieving this by including more recipes, they threw in filler pages with titles like ‘Pizza Facts’. The sheer incredulity you feel when the first fact on the ‘Pizza Facts’ page – that the pepperoni pizza emoji is the most used emoji in the US – is so obviously, quantifiably not true that it renders the entire page pointless. It’s the ‘face with tears of joy’ emoji, by the way, and you (or the publisher’s fact checkers) can confirm that with one four word Google search.

Killer recipes: There are no duds amongst the recipes, but the Mimosa, Datterini Filetti and Mortadella & Pistachio pizzas are particular highlights.

Should I buy it? This is definitely a browse-in-the-shop-first book. Anyone really passionate about homemade pizzas will benefit from the advice here, and I suspect this would be a great book for a young person who is getting increasingly ambitious in the kitchen. More confident cooks might want to consider if they can really afford to give up valuable space on their cookbook shelf to a title that barely fits the description of ‘cookbook’ in the first place, though.

Cuisine: Italian
Suitable for: Beginner home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Brighton-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas.

Buy this book
Pizza: History, recipes, stories, people, places, love (A book by Pizza Pilgrims)
£20, Quadrille Publishing Ltd