The French Laundry, Per Se by Thomas Keller

The French Laundry Per Se

What’s the USP? Recipes and stories from a pair of three Michelin-starred American restaurants. The book appears 20 years after the publication of the original The French Laundry cookbook and serves as a kind of update and elaboration as it now also covers sister restaurant Per Se.

Who is the author? Thomas Keller is one of America’s best known and most decorated chefs. He holds three Michelin stars at The French Laundry in Napa, California and at Per Se in New York. His other restaurants include Bouchon Bistro and Bouchon Bakery in both Yountville California and Las Vegas and The Surf Club in Miami. His glamorous, upscale TAK Room restaurant, opened in the mid-town Manhattan Hudson Yards development and inspired by classic American cuisine from the 40s and 50s, closed in August 2020 after just one year of trading, a victim of the pandemic.  He has also been a consultant to Hollywood, working on the  animated film Ratatouille and the Adam Sandler comedy Spanglish. He is the author of five previous cookbooks, publisher of Finesse magazine and has his own Masterclass. He has recently been the subject of a Trump-related Twitter controversy that has seen the chef delete his account on the social media site. At the time of writing, he remains active on Instagram.

Is it good bedtime reading? Given it’s size and weight – The French Laundry, Per Se is a great big, beautiful book – it won’t make the most relaxing bedtime reading material. Better then to enjoy it sitting in your favourite chair with a nice glass of Californian red (in homage to The French Laundry’s location in the heart of Napa Valley wine country) and appreciate the thousands of words carefully crafted with the help of leading food writers Susie Heller and  Michael Ruhlman.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? Let’s have a look at the very first recipe in the book shall we? Smoked Sturgeon Rillettes on an Everything Bagel. No problem, apart from the smoked sturgeon, Reglis Ova caviar (Keller’s own brand, available online for US only delivery), Argumato lemon oil and onion blossoms. Opening the book at random, I land on Hiramasa with Apple Vierge. First, catch your hiramasa (sushi grade Australian Yellowtail Kingfish, available online in the UK from The Fish Society) then track down some Champagne vinegar and Marcona almonds and you’re good to go.  Elsewhere, expect ingredients such as foie gras, spiny lobster, and Alaskan king crab. Things get ludicrously specific with Venison Rack Roasted Over Grapevines that not only call for 1.5kg of ‘dried grapevine knots’ but ‘250g of dark raisins, dried on the vine, preferably from Paradigm Winery’. Thankfully, not all the recipes are this tricky to negotiate and, with some common sense substitutions, you should be able to attempt a number of dishes from the book.

What’s the faff factor? These are recipes from three Michelin-starred restaurants so they were never going to be a walk in the park for the home cook. They will take time, money, effort and concentration, but they are far from unachievable if you have the resources and will to make them.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Six books in and with the help of some of the best food writers in the business, this is not an issue. Keller is a proponent of sous-vide cooking, but has include full alternative ingredient lists and methods when appropriate so if you don’t happen to have a vacuum sealer and immersion circulator in your kitchen, it’s no biggie.

How often will I cook from the book? When you have the time and inclination; for example, during a pandemic. Even a simple sounding – and looking – bowl of Red Pepper Farfalle lists 38 ingredients, not counting those included in the three additional satellite recipes you’ll need to make to complete the dish. A few simple soup recipes aside, this is not a book for weeknight cooking.

Killer recipes: Smoked Montana Rainbow Trout Chaud-Froid; Celery Root Pastrami; Salt-and-Rye-Baked Lamb Neck; Malted Brownies among others.

What will I love? The premium look and feel; the numerous essays that cover everything from a treatise on fine dining to the importance of bread and butter; the gorgeous food photography by Deborah Jones.

What won’t I like so much? Before embarking on the majority of recipes, you will have to take some time to consider if you can source the necessary ingredients, and if not, will the dish still be worth making with replacements. You’ll also want to weigh up if the dish, which may only be a mouthful or two, is worth the cost and effort required. It’s worth bearing in mind that the recipes in the book are the product of a very well staffed and resourced kitchen and that the resulting dishes will be sold at a significant profit on menus that cost upwards of $350 a head, none of which applies to the home cook who will be left with a much depleted bank account and a mountain of washing up.

Should I buy it?  For many professional chefs working in the fine dining arena, The French Laundry, Per Se will be an essential purchase. The same will be true for serious hobbyist cooks and restaurant enthusiasts. For those simply in search of a practical recipe book that will be put to regular use, look elsewhere. 

Cuisine: American/Progressive
Suitable for: Confident home cooks/Professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book
French Laundry, Per Se, The (Thomas Keller Library)
£60, Artisan

Cook from this book
The Whole Bird
Fish and Chips
Peaches ‘N’ Cream

The Whole Bird by Thomas Keller

The Whole Bird_Credit Deborah Jones
“The Whole Bird”
Poached Breast with Leg Rillettes, Crispy Skin, and Sauce Suprême

Makes 4 servings

Poularde
1 (3½-­ to 4-­pound/1,500-­ to 1,800-­gram) poularde

Poularde Leg Confit
150 grams kosher salt
45 grams sugar
1.5 grams thyme leaves
1.5 grams lemon zest (grated on a rasp grater)
1 gram freshly ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves
5 grams thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves
Duck fat (optional)

Poularde Stock
1,200 grams chicken stock (page 285)
leg Rillettes
100 grams mousse base (recipe follows), made with 200 grams reserved poularde leg meat
5 grams Burgundy mustard
2.5 grams roasted garlic puree (page 133)
1.5 grams kosher salt
1 gram minced shallot
Two grinds black pepper

Sauce Suprême
200 grams heavy cream
100 grams whole butter, cut into cubes and chilled
Lemon juice
Kosher salt
Armagnac

To Complete
Activa GS (transglutaminase), for dusting
Burgundy mustard

Special Equipment
Meat grinder with a medium die, chilled in the refrigerator
Chamber vacuum sealer (optional)
Immersion circulator (optional)

Poularde—a chicken slaughtered before reaching sexual maturity at around three months—from Four Story Hill Farm is exquisite, and Corey has developed an ingenious dish that puts the whole bird to work and a whole bird on the plate. Legs are both confited and used to make a mousse; the confit and mousse are then combined into a kind of rillette. These are spread on top of the breast, which is then poached gently. The skin is ground and rendered into cracklings, then used to coat the layer of rillettes. It’s both an ode to the poularde as well as a show of respect to Sylvia and Stephen Pryzant, who in raising this bird achieved a kind of benchmark for the breed. I couldn’t name a single chef in the country who had poularde on their menu before the Pryzants came along.

Of course, the beauty of this dish is that here two elements, the chicken and the sauce, are in fact extraordinary creations. The piece of chicken comprises every part of the chicken.

And the sauce. A sauce suprême, chicken stock thickened with a roux and finished with cream, is an elegant French sauce. Here Corey combines this classical idea with an Asian technique used for tonkatsu ramen broth. In classic French cuisine, stocks are simmered gently and skimmed continually to remove fat and impurities, while tonkatsu ramen broth is boiled heavily so the fat is emulsified into the broth. Corey takes that idea and applies it here, boiling his stock ramen-­style (see page 285), but then goes further: he blends more chicken fat into the stock with a hand blender as he’s chilling it. To finish the sauce, he combines this rich stock with reduced cream, mounts it with butter, and flavors it with lemon zest and Armagnac, creating this wonderfully rich and delicate version of sauce suprême.

I should note that Corey calls this “sauce suprême” knowing that it’s nothing like the classic—but for good reason. He once served it at a dinner attended by Daniel Boulud and Jean-­Georges Vongerichten, two of New York’s best French-­born chefs, and they kept delighting in the sauce and calling it an incredible sauce suprême. Corey tried to explain that they were mistaken, but they insisted it was the best sauce suprême. He was so honored, he continues to call it by this name.

For the Poularde
Cut the legs from the poularde. Remove and reserve the skin from the legs. One leg will be used for the confit and the other to make the mousse base. Remove and reserve the skin from the rest of the poularde. Cut off each side of the breast, keeping the small tender attached to each breast.

Remove the bones from one leg and weigh the meat. You will need 200 grams to make the mousse base; if you do not have 200 grams, trim off some of the meat that remains on the carcass. Rinse the bones and feet (if they were on your poularde) under cold running water to remove all visible blood. Remove and discard any organs still attached to the bones. Cut the bones into 1-­inch (2.5-­centimeter) pieces and reserve them for the poularde stock.

Keep all parts of the poularde refrigerated in an airtight container until you are ready to use them, up to 2 days.

Grind the skin through the chilled medium die of a meat grinder and place it in a 2-­quart (2-­liter) saucepot. Cook over low heat for about 30 minutes to render. The fat will separate and the skin will become crisp and golden brown. Strain the fat through a chinois or fine-­mesh strainer into a bowl and let cool to room temperature; reserve the fat for the stock. Drain the fried skin on paper towels and let cool until crisp, then chop it very finely and reserve it for finishing the dish.

For the Poularde Leg Confit
Mix the salt, sugar, thyme, lemon zest, and pepper in a bowl. On a piece of plastic wrap, make a bed of just less than half of this cure. Lay the bone-­in poularde leg on the bed of cure and pat the remaining cure over and around the sides of the leg. Cover with the plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 2½ hours.  Rinse and dry the cured poularde leg.

If you have a chamber vacuum sealer, set an immersion circulator in a water bath and heat the water to 80°C (176°F). Place the cured poularde leg, garlic, thyme, and bay leaves in a sous vide bag. Place the bag in the sealer chamber and vacuum seal. Cook in the water bath for 5 hours.

If you do not have a chamber vacuum sealer, preheat the oven to 200°F (93°C). Place the cured poularde leg, garlic cloves, thyme sprigs, and bay leaves in a small heavy-­bottomed pan and add duck fat to cover. Cover with a cartouche and cook in the oven for about 2 hours, until completely tender.

Remove the bag from the water bath or the pan from the oven and let the leg cool in the fat. Remove the leg from the fat and dry it on a clean kitchen towel. Carefully pick the meat from the bones, removing any veins. Shred the meat as finely as possible and chop. Reserve the meat for the rillettes.

For the Poularde Stock
Combine the reserved poularde bones and feet (if using) and the chicken stock in a 2-­quart (2-­liter) saucepot and bring to a rapid boil over high heat. Boil for about 30 minutes, until the stock has reduced by half. Do not skim or reduce the heat at any point.

Strain the stock through a chinois or fine-­mesh strainer into a clean pot, bring to a boil, and reduce the stock by about two-­thirds to about 200 grams. Strain the reduced stock into a narrow vessel and nestle the container in an ice-­water bath to cool.

When the stock has cooled, using a hand blender, blend in 55 grams of the reserved rendered poularde fat on high speed.

Refrigerate the stock in an airtight container until ready to use, up to 3 days. Once the emulsion is set, it can be reheated or cooled without any risk of breaking.

For the leg Rillettes
Combine 75 to 100 grams of the chopped poularde leg confit with the mousse base, mustard, roasted garlic puree, salt, shallot, and pepper and mix until completely homogenous. Transfer to a disposable piping bag and refrigerate until ready to use, up to 1 day.

For the Sauce Suprême
Bring the cream to a gentle boil in a 2-­quart (2-­liter) saucepot over medium-­high heat, adjusting the heat as necessary, and reduce the cream by a little more than half to about 75 grams. Add 200 grams of the poularde stock to the pan and reduce the sauce by half. Rapidly stir the butter into the sauce (this will improve the richness, body, and shine of the sauce).  Season with lemon juice, salt, and Armagnac to taste. Keep in a warm spot until serving.

To Complete
Lay the two poularde breasts on the work surface with the tenders facing up. Using a paring knife, very carefully remove the white tendon on each tender. Peel the tenders back but leave them attached to the breasts. Lightly spray the exposed side of the breasts with water and sprinkle the surface lightly with Activa (shake it through a small fine-­mesh strainer or from a shaker). Fold the tenders back into place. Turn the breasts over.

Wipe the work surface with a slightly dampened kitchen towel. Lay out two pieces of plastic wrap, each about 9 inches (23 centimeters) long. Smooth the plastic so that there are no creases. Spray the plastic lightly with nonstick spray. Lay a breast on each piece of plastic, about one-­third of the way up from the bottom edge. The length of the breast should run the direction of the length of the plastic. Pipe a line of the rillettes down the center of each breast.

Use a small offset spatula to spread the rillettes evenly into a ¼-­inch (6-­millimeter) layer across each breast, spreading it to the edges of the breasts. Fold the top of the plastic up and over each breast to meet the other side.

Continue to “flip” the breasts in the plastic, keeping the bottom of the breast flat and the rillettes in a natural dome. Keep the plastic wrap tight. Pull the ends of the plastic tightly, then trim them and tuck under the breast to hold its shape.

If you have a chamber vacuum sealer, set an immersion circulator in a water bath and heat the water to 60°C (140°F). Place the breasts in a sous vide bag. Place the bag in the sealer chamber and vacuum seal. Cook in the water bath for 45 minutes. Remove the bag and let rest until cool enough to handle. Remove the breasts from the bag and remove the plastic wrap.

If you do not have a chamber vacuum sealer, preheat the oven to 180°F (80°C). Put the poularde in a wide 2-­quart (2-­liter) saucepot (just large enough to hold the pieces of poularde without their touching each other) and add enough water to cover by 1 inch (2.5 ­centimeters). Remove the poularde and set aside in a bowl. Bring the stock to 180°F (80°C). Return the poularde to the pot, cover with a lid, and place in the oven. Poach for 30 to 40 minutes, until an instant-­read thermometer inserted into a breast reads 160°F (71°C). Remove the poularde breast from the stock and let rest until cool enough to handle. Remove the breasts from the plastic wrap.

Slice each breast in half on a slight bias. Using a small pastry brush, lightly brush the top of the breast with mustard. Carefully cover the top of the breast with the reserved crispy skin. Spoon the sauce suprême on each serving plate and place a piece of the poularde alongside.

Mousse Base
Makes 370 grams

200 grams lean protein
30 grams egg whites
5 grams potato starch
4 grams kosher salt
90 grams heavy cream
40 grams crème fraîche, preferably Kendall Farms

Special Equipment
Meat grinder with a medium die

This recipe works well with all types of lean protein, including chicken, pike, scallops, raw lobster, beef, or veal.

Refrigerate a medium die for a meat grinder, food processor bowl, and food processor blade until cold. Cut the protein into ½-­inch (1.25-­centimeter) dice. Grind the protein twice through the chilled medium die into a bowl.

Transfer the protein to the chilled food processor bowl and process until smooth. Add the egg whites and process briefly to emulsify. Using a silicone spatula, scrape the bowl and the lid of the food processor. Add the potato starch and salt and process briefly to combine. It is important not to overwork the mousse, as the friction of the blade will overheat the mousse and cause it to break.

With the machine running, slowly add the cream to maintain the emulsification. Scrape the sides and the lid of the food processor again. Add the crème fraîche and process until the mousse becomes smooth and develops a nice shine.

Transfer the mousse to a bowl and nestle the bowl in an ice-­water bath to chill. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly against the surface of the mousse, smoothing out any air bubbles, and refrigerate until cold. For longer storage, transfer the mousse to an airtight container, press a piece of plastic wrap directly against the surface, cover, and refrigerate for up to 3 days.

Golden Chicken Stock
Makes about 5,500 grams (5½ quarts/5.5 liters)

2,500 grams chicken wings
450 grams chicken feet
3,750 grams (3¾ quarts/3.75 liters) cold water
2,000 grams ice cubes
225 grams carrots, cut into 1-inch (2.5-centimeter) dice
225 grams leeks (white and light green portions only), cut into 1-inch (2.5-centimeter) dice and rinsed to remove any dirt
225 grams onions, cut into 1-inch (2.5-centimeter) dice
20 grams garlic cloves, roots removed, crushed
20 grams fresh thyme
20 black peppercorns
1 bay leaf

We call this golden because of the color that the abundant carrots give to the stock (as always, we add the vegetables at the end). It’s also very concentrated (we often water it down if its flavor could become too pronounced if used in, say, making risotto) and, from the additional chicken feet, very gelatinous. For chefs at The French Laundry (per se also has a fortified chicken stock—see Ramen-Style Stock—that is based on the golden chicken stock), it’s an all-purpose tool each night on the line, used for braising and glazing and finishing. Because it’s so rich and flavorful, we can use more stock and less butter to obtain a beautiful glaze, and a very nutritious one that the vegetables can absorb.

Rinse the chicken wings and feet thoroughly under hot running water to remove visible blood and place in a 15-quart (15-liter) stockpot. Cover with the cold water. Set the stockpot slightly off center over the burner. (This will cause any impurities that rise to gather at one side of the pot, making them easier to skim off.) Bring slowly to a simmer, skimming continually. Once the liquid is at a simmer, add the ice; this will cause the fat to congeal. Remove the fat and skim off as much of the impurities from the surface as possible. Bring the stock back to a simmer and cook gently for 90 minutes. Remove any excess fat as necessary.

Add the carrots, leeks, onions, garlic, thyme, and bay leaf and slowly bring the liquid back to a simmer, skimming frequently. Simmer for 35 to 45 minutes, skimming often. Turn off the heat and let the stock rest for about 20 minutes; this allows any particles left in the stock to settle at the bottom of the pot.

Set a chinois over a large container. Carefully ladle the stock off the top, disturbing the bones as little as possible so that the impurities that have settled to the bottom are not mixed into the stock. Once you reach the bones, tilt the pot to reach the stock; once again, be extremely careful not to move the bones. Do not press on the solids in the strainer or force through any liquid that does not pass through on its own. Discard any stock at the bottom of the pot that is cloudy with impurities. Nestle the container in an ice-water bath to chill.

Cover the container with a lid and store the stock in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or freeze for longer storage.

Roasted Garlic Puree
Makes 250 grams

10 large heads garlic
Kosher salt
15 grams extra-­virgin olive oil

While this may seem like a lot of puree, it has many uses. It can be used to make roasted garlic bread (added to the dough itself), roasted garlic aïoli, garlic hummus, and garlic butter. It imparts a garlic flavor to items such as pasta sauce without adding the strong, pungent flavor of raw garlic.

Preheat the oven to 325°F (163°C). Place a baking rack over a sheet pan.Slice off just enough from the top of each head of garlic to expose the tops of the cloves. Place the heads of garlic in a medium saucepot and add water to cover. Bring the water to a boil over medium-­high heat. Turn off the heat and remove the garlic. Lightly season the garlic with salt.

Place the heads of garlic in the center of a 12-­inch (30-­centimeter) square of aluminum foil and fold up the sides to form a foil tray. Drizzle the olive oil over the garlic and cover with a second piece of foil, crimping the foil along the edges to seal the two pieces together. The sealed pouch will steam and roast the garlic at the same time.

Place the pouch on the baking rack and bake for 1 to 1½ hours, until the garlic is cooked through and light golden brown in color. Remove the garlic from the foil and let sit until cool enough to handle.

Place a fine-­mesh strainer or tamis over a bowl. While the garlic is still warm, push the whole heads of garlic, cut-­side down, against the strainer, pressing the garlic cloves through; discard the skins. Let the roasted garlic puree cool to room temperature. Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 7 days.

Excerpted from The French Laundry, Per Se by Thomas Keller (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2020. Photography by Deborah Jones

Cook more from this book
Fish and Chips
Peaches ‘N’ Cream

Read the review
Coming soon

Buy this book
French Laundry, Per Se, The (Thomas Keller Library)
£60, Artisan

Fish and Chips by Thomas Keller

FIsh and Chips_Credit Deborah Jones

“Fish and Chips”
Ale-­Battered Blowfish with Malt Vinegar Jam

Makes 6 servings

Malt Vinegar Jam
7 grams caraway seeds
225 grams malt vinegar, preferably Sarson’s
225 grams water
50 grams light brown sugar
1 gram fleur de sel
7 grams agar-­agar

Split Pea and Ale Batter
30 grams dried split peas
250 grams Cup4Cup gluten-­free flour
8 grams kosher salt
300 grams dark ale, plus more if needed

To Complete
Canola oil, for deep-­frying
6 cleaned blowfish tails, 2 to 3 ounces (55 to 85 grams) each
Kosher salt
All-­purpose flour, for dusting the fish
Freeze-­dried peas, crushed between your fingers
Blanched fresh peas, warmed, for garnish
Mint leaves, preferably nepitella

Special Equipment
Chamber vacuum sealer (optional)
Cast-­iron deep-­fry pan (optional)
Infrared thermometer gun (optional)

We have fun serving common dishes, such as this British middle-­class staple—fish and chips with mushy peas—in unusual ways. This one is very straightforward: ale-­battered fish, deep-­fried, with a sweet-­sour malt vinegar jam and a garnish of peas and fresh herbs. We get blowfish, caught off Georges Bank, from Wulf’s Fish, but you can use any firm white fish—cod, of course, is traditional and excellent. The tempura batter uses freeze-­dried peas and gluten-­free Cup4Cup flour, which creates a very crisp crust and holds that crispness longer. It’s a great flour for all such crispy batters. The vinegar jam is gelled with agar, and we like to finish the dish with nepitella, an Italian mint with a flavor that’s almost a cross between oregano and mint.

For the Malt Vinegar Jam

Lightly toast the caraway seeds in a small sauté pan over medium-­low heat, continuously swirling the pan to ensure that the seeds are toasting evenly without burning, until fragrant. Let cool, then grind the toasted caraway seeds in a spice grinder until they are cracked but not ground to dust.

In a 1-­quart (1-­liter) saucepot, bring the vinegar, water, brown sugar, and fleur de sel to a boil over medium heat. Whisk in the agar-­agar and boil gently, whisking continuously, for 1 minute to activate the agar-­agar. Transfer to a bowl and nestle the bowl in an ice-­water bath. Chill, undisturbed, until the jam base is completely firm and set.

Coarsely chop the jam base and transfer it to a blender. Beginning on low speed and gradually increasing to high, blend the jam until it is completely smooth, using the tamper to keep the jam moving. Pass the jam through a chinois into a container and season with the ground caraway.

If you have a chamber vacuum sealer, place the container, uncovered, in the sealer chamber. Run a complete cycle on full pressure to remove any air bubbles incorporated during blending. This will give the jam clarity and shine.

The jam can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.

For the Split Pea and Ale Batter

Grind the split peas to a fine powder in a spice grinder. Transfer the pea powder to a bowl, add the flour and salt, and mix thoroughly. Whisk the ale into the dry mixture. If the batter is too thick, thin it with a bit more ale. The batter can be held at room temperature for up to 1 hour before frying the fish.

To Complete

Fill a cast-­iron deep-­fry pot with about 4 inches (10 centimeters) of canola oil. (If you do not have a cast-­iron deep-­fry pot, use another heavy pot with sides at least 8 inches/20 centimeters high.) Heat the oil to 350°F (180°C).

Season the blowfish with salt and lightly coat with the flour. Holding the blowfish by the tail, dip it in the batter to fully coat the flesh, leaving the tail exposed. Carefully lower the blowfish into the hot oil and fry for 3 to 5 minutes, turning the fish once or twice, until the batter is evenly colored and crisp and the fish is just cooked through. Transfer the fish to a paper towel to drain.

Fill a disposable piping bag with the malt vinegar jam and pipe the jam into a small squeeze bottle.

Arrange the fried blowfish on serving plates and sprinkle with the crushed freeze-­dried peas. Garnish the plate with beads of the malt vinegar jam, blanched fresh peas, and mint.

Excerpted from The French Laundry, Per Se by Thomas Keller (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2020. Photography by Deborah Jones.

Cook more from this book
The Whole Bird
Peaches ‘N’ Cream  

Read the review
Coming soon

Buy this book
French Laundry, Per Se, The (Thomas Keller Library)
£60, Artisan


Peaches ‘N’ Cream by Thomas Keller

p.302 Peaches and Cream_THE FRENCH LAUNDRY, PER SE

Peaches ’n’ Cream
Whipped Ricotta and Pecan Sandies

Makes 10 servings

Canned Peaches
1,000 grams water
200 grams granulated sugar
20 grams ascorbic acid
5 freestone yellow peaches

Pecan Sandies
240 grams whole butter, at room temperature
63 grams confectioners’ sugar, plus extra for dusting
5 grams kosher salt
284 grams all-­purpose flour
100 grams raw pecans, chopped

Whipped Ricotta
15 grams granulated sugar
15 grams water
300 grams whole-­milk ricotta
Seeds from 1 vanilla bean
Zest of 1 lemon
200 grams mascarpone cheese
100 grams crème fraîche

Peach-­Scented Jelly
3 sheets silver leaf gelatin
50 grams lemon juice
To Complete
Fresh basil buds
Maldon salt

Special Equipment
Combi oven (optional)

The Napa Valley has some of the most amazing peaches you will ever taste, and at The French Laundry we are lucky enough to get the best of the bunch, all picked at perfect ripeness. But when they’re in the full flow of the summer season, they drop off the trees in such abundance that we can’t possibly serve them all. So we do what farms and households have been doing for hundreds of years: we put them up—preserve them. The process actually intensifies the flavor of the peaches and gives us the syrup they’re preserved in as a fabulous by-­product to include with their preparation. We usually can about 15 quarts of peaches in the summer; then we serve them around Christmastime, a special summer treat near the winter holidays. (Use perfectly ripe peaches with no bruises for canning. Firmer varieties work best; if they’re too soft, they can lose their shape.)

The syrup is seasoned with lemon and sugar, thickened with gelatin, and brought just to the setting point to create a thick, shiny glaze over the cold peaches. We finish the peach with basil buds from the garden (Genovese basil produces a white flower, Thai basil and lime basil produce a beautiful pink flower, and opal basil has a purple flower). We serve it with something creamy, here our housemade ricotta with mascarpone and crème fraîche, seasoned with vanilla and citrus. And for crunch, pecan sandies seem to be everyone’s favorite.

For the Canned Peaches
Stir together the water and sugar in a 2-­quart (2-­liter) saucepot (this is a 20% sugar solution). Heat just enough to dissolve the sugar without reducing the liquid and keep warm while you blanch the peaches.

Prepare an ice-­water bath and have it close to the cooktop. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Dissolve the ascorbic acid in 4,000 grams (4 quarts/4 liters) water in a 6-­quart (6-­liter) container and set aside.

Score the skin (not the flesh) of the bottom of the peach with a small 1-­inch (2.5-­centimeter) X. Drop 2 of the peaches into the boiling water and blanch for 30 to 40 seconds (see Note). Using a long-­handled slotted spoon, immediately transfer the peaches to the ice-­water bath to prevent further cooking. Using a paring knife, gently peel the peaches and set them on a tray. Repeat to blanch and peel the remaining peaches.

Cut the peaches vertically in half; separate the halves and remove the pits. Check the inside of the peaches to ensure they are good quality, with no mold or bugs. Drop the peaches into the ascorbic acid solution to prevent oxidation while you sterilize the jar.

If you have a combi oven, sterilize a clean 1-­quart (1-­liter) mason jar at 100°C (212°F) for 10 minutes. Otherwise, place a wire rack at the bottom of a large pot, fill the pot with enough water to submerge the jar, and bring the water to a boil. Place the jar on the rack in the pot, making sure it is submerged, and boil for 10 minutes. During the last minute, add a slotted spoon to sterilize it as well.

Meanwhile, bring the sugar solution to a gentle simmer. Remove the peaches from the ascorbic acid solution and place them in the sugar solution. Gently simmer for 3 minutes, then remove the pan from the heat. Using clean tongs, transfer the jar to a clean kitchen towel.

Keeping the jar free from any foreign contamination at this point is crucial; you want to keep a clean, sterile environment within the jar. Tilt the jar and, using the sanitized slotted spoon, gently scoop one peach half at a time from the sugar solution and lower it into the jar, rounded-­side down, until all the peach halves are in the jar. Return the sugar solution to a boil, then pour it into the jar, covering the peaches and leaving 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) of headspace at the top of the jar. Gently tap the jar on the counter to remove any air bubbles trapped by the peaches.

Place the lid on the jar and tighten it to fingertip-­tight (just until you feel resistance) to allow air to escape during the canning process. If you have a combi oven, process the jar at 100°C (212°F) for 20 minutes. Otherwise, check the pot you used to sterilize the jar; if there is not enough water to keep the jar submerged, add additional water. Bring the water to a boil. Stand the canning jar on the rack in the pot, making sure it is submerged, and boil for 20 minutes.

Remove the jar, tighten the lid all the way, and stand the jar upside down on the counter. Let cool to room temperature. Turn the jar right-­side up, clean the outside of the jar, check the lid for a proper seal, and label it with the date. Press the center of the lid; if it pops, the jar is not properly sealed. Remove the cap, reseal it, then steam or process in boiling water as before.

Properly sealed, the peaches will keep without refrigeration in an area not exposed to light for up to 6 months. The ideal temperature for long-­term storage is 40° to 70°F (4.5° to 21°C). After the jar has been opened, the peaches will keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Always use a clean utensil, never your fingers, to remove peaches from the jar.

For the Pecan Sandies
Preheat the oven to 325°F (163°C). Line a sheet pan with a nonstick silicone baking mat.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle, combine the butter, confectioners’ sugar, and salt. Beginning on low speed and gradually increasing to medium, cream the mixture until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the flour and pecans and mix on low speed until just combined, being careful not to crush the pecans. Transfer the dough to a work surface and press it with the heel of your hand as necessary to bring it together.

Place the pecan dough between two sheets of parchment paper and roll it out to ¼ inch (6 millimeters) thick, doing your best to keep a rectangular shape. From time to time, lift the top sheet of parchment and, using a dough cutter, push the edges to straighten them. (Keeping the dough a uniform rectangle will give a higher yield when cutting the cookies.) Slide the parchment onto a sheet pan and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours, or wrap in plastic wrap and freeze for up to 3 months. (If frozen, defrost before baking.)

Cut the cookie dough into 2 by ½-­inch (5 by 1.25-­centimeter) batons. Using a small offset spatula, transfer them to the lined sheet pan, leaving 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) between them. Bake for 10 to 13 minutes, until golden.

Meanwhile, put some confectioners’ sugar in a small fine-­mesh sieve. Remove the cookies from the oven and, while they are still hot, immediately dust the tops with confectioners’ sugar. Let cool.

The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

For the Whipped Ricotta
Heat the sugar and water in a small saucepot just enough to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat and let the simple syrup cool completely.

In the bowl of the stand mixer fitted with the whisk, whisk together the ricotta, vanilla seeds, and lemon zest until well combined. Add the mascarpone and whisk until smooth. Add the crème fraîche and whisk until smooth. Finally, whisk in the simple syrup. Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

For the Peach-­Scented Jelly
Submerge the gelatin in a bowl of ice water to bloom (soften) for about 5 minutes.

Set a cooling rack over a half sheet pan. Open the jar of peaches and pour 250 grams of the syrup into a small saucepot. Arrange the peach halves cut-­side up on the rack and refrigerate while you make the jelly.

Add the lemon juice to the syrup in the saucepot and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat. Remove the softened gelatin from the ice water and squeeze out any excess water. Add the gelatin to the hot syrup and whisk to dissolve. Strain the syrup through a chinois or fine-­mesh strainer into a bowl and nestle the bowl in an ice-­water bath to cool, stirring from time to time. Watch closely; as the syrup cools, it will begin to set, and you need to catch it right at the setting point, when it has thickened and begun to gel but still has fluidity. When the syrup reaches this point, remove the peaches from the fridge and spoon the syrup over them in a thick layer. Refrigerate to set the jelly completely, at least 4 hours and up to 24 hours.

To Complete
Remove the peaches from the refrigerator. Crush the basil buds lightly between your fingers to release their scent and flavor and sprinkle them over the peaches. Finish each peach with a little Maldon salt.

Place a large spoonful of the whipped ricotta in each serving bowl or on serving plates. Gently rest a peach half on top, cut-­side up. Serve with a stack of pecan sandies on a plate alongside.

Note
Blanching peaches loosens their skins, making them easier to peel. The heat helps to separate the skin from the peach so the peels slip off.

Excerpted from The French Laundry, Per Se by Thomas Keller (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2020. Photography by Deborah Jones.

Cook more from this book
Fish and Chips
The Whole Bird

Read the review
Coming soon

Buy this book
French Laundry, Per Se, The (Thomas Keller Library)
£60, Artisan

Cooking in Marfa by Virginia Lebermann and Rocky Barnette

Cooking in Marfa

Set in the Chihuahuan Desert, the Texan town of Marfa boasts a population of two thousand and occupies just over one and half square miles. Despite being 200 miles from the nearest commercial airport, its premier restaurant, the Capri has been featured in Vogue, the New York Times and Conde Nast Traveller magazine, which included the converted army airfield hangar in a list of the 34 most beautiful restaurants in the world.

Marfa was first put on the map by its thriving arts scene and Capri co-owner Virginia Lebermann initially intended it to be a cultural arts project, launching in 2007 with a gig by Sonic Youth. However, the arrival in Marfa of Inn at Little Washington-trained chef Rocky Barnette in 2008 led to the Capri’s rebirth as a restaurant focusing on the region’s distinctive natural larder.

Barnette’s cooking is the ultimate expression of contemporary Tex-Mex (a style that Lebermann says was created in Marfa in 1887 when Tula Borunda Gutierrez opened a restaurant using Mexican ingredients and ‘added to them to suit the taste of ranchers’) incorporating ingredients grown or cultivated in the local region including cacti, mesquite beans and dessert flowers as well as Mexican produce such as dried grasshoppers (chapulines) from Oaxaca and huitlacoche, a black fungus that grows on corn.

Although many of the 80 recipes in the book reflect the site-specific nature of the Capri’s menu, it doesn’t mean they are unachievable for UK-based cooks. You may have trouble finding fresh yucca blossoms to tempura, but online resources such as coolchile.co.uk means you should find nearly everything you need for dishes such as masa pasta ravioli with cured egg yolks and bottarga or tostados al carbon, made with activated charcoal and served with razor clams and chorizo.

The story of the Capri and the people behind it (who are as extraordinary as the restaurant itself) makes for fascinating and inspiring reading. In his introduction, three Michelin starred chef Daniel Humm of New York’s Eleven Madison Park calls the book, ‘a window into [Rocky and Virginia’s] creativity and passion’; it’s one that every curious cook will want to look through.

This review first appeared in The Caterer magazine

Cuisine: Mexican
Suitable for: Confident home cooks/Professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Four Stars

Buy the book
Cooking in Marfa: Welcome, We’ve Been Expecting You (FOOD COOK)
Phaidon, £35

South by Sean Brock

South Sean Brock

What’s the USP? A collection of Southern American recipes from one of the foremost modern exponents of the cuisine.

Who is the author? Chef Sean Brock is the founder of the awarding winning Husk restaurant group with branches in Charleston, Nashville, Greenville and Savannah. Since stepping down from his role as culinary advisor to The Neighborhood Dining Group’ that included Husk as well as McCrady’s, Tavern, and Minero, Brock has announced four new projects in Nashville: Joyland Audrey Red Bird and an unnamed project at the Grand Hyatt. Profiled in an episode of the Netflix series Chef’s Table and featured in a season of the PBS series Mind of a Chef, Brock has established himself as the leading proponent of the culture, traditions and heritage ingredients of Southern cuisine.

Is it good bedtime reading? A 12 page introduction provides some background to Brock’s career and why he is so passionate about Southern cuisine; the ‘microregions’ of the American South (which, Brock says ‘has as many cuisines and comprises a region nearly the same size as Continental Europe’) and how key dishes such as shrimp and grits and cornbread vary from microregion to microregion. Additionally, there are articles on fireplace cookery; smoking; grilling; how to take care of cast iron pans; how to cook a pot of greens and fresh field peas or butter beans; an introduction to cornbread; how to make butter; preserving and canning, and how to make vinegar. So go ahead, take Brock to bed.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? If you live in America, you’ll be able to take advantage of the two page list of resources at the back of the book to track down the likes of Anson Mills Carolina Gold Rice, Rosebank Gold Grits and Hominy Corn; Kenny’s Farmhouse Dry Fork Reserve Asiago cheese; sorghum syrup, seed and flour; Lindera Farms honey vinegar and Bob Wood’s country ham. If you’re outside of America, then you’ll need to do a little research to identify the best substitutions, but on the whole you should be able to cook the majority of the recipes in the book albeit not to Brock’s high level of authenticity.

What’s the faff factor? Recipes vary from a relatively straightforward chicken breast with black pepper and peanut butter gravy, or pork shoulder steak with grilled mushrooms, to shrimp and grits that requires the preparation of four other linked recipes: oven roasted tomatoes; braised fennel; pressure cooker grits and crispy pigs ears. You’ll also need to make your own crab roe bottarga if you want to make Brock’s recipe for grilled oysters with green garlic butter (although he does say you can substitute a good ready made mullet bottarga).

How often will I cook from the book? Once you’ve sorted out what ingredients you might need to either omit or find alternatives for, you’re sure to find yourself returning to the book often. There’s a fantastic recipe for fried chicken, a great cheeseburger, some amazing looking biscuits (the savory scones, not the one’s you’d dunk in your PG Tips) and lots of delicious salads like grilled asparagus and cracklin’ salad and sides such as charred corn or grilled carrots that will brighten up any meal. There’s also enough weekend projects including condiments, pickles and preserves to keep you going for months.

Killer recipes? See above, but also pork prime rib with mustard onions; pit cooked chicken sandwiches; bacon jam; pea and hominy succotash; blackberry cobbler, and buttermilk pie.

What will I love? The food, as photographed by Peter Frank Edwards, looks fantastic. At 376 pages, the book covers a lot of ground and is a great introduction to South American cuisine.

Should I buy it? Unless you already own Heritage, Brock’s first book, you probably won’t have a book quite like South in your collection. Although some of the recipes might seem to be covering familar ground, you’ll want to have Brock’s version of grilled chicken wings with a West African style BBQ sauce as well as to experiment with some of the more recherché dishes such as Lowcountry fish-head stew.

Cuisine: American
Suitable for: Confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
South
Artisan, £30

Good food writing

You and I eat the same

You and I Eat the Same

edited by Chris Ying with a Foreword by Rene Redzepi

What’s the USP? A publication of Rene Redzepi’s MAD nonprofit organisation that’s ‘dedicated to bringing together a global cooking community with an appetite for change’  that collects articles by food writers from around the world exploring the similarities of global cuisines rather than the differences, the more usual subject of food writing.

Who are the authors?  Chris Ying is the former editor of Lucky Peach food magazine (now ceased publication) and now works for David Chang’s Major Domo Media company which produces Ugly Delicious for Netflix and David Chang’s podcast. Rene Redzepi is a very famous Copenhagan-based two Michelin starred chef who literally needs no introduction.

Why is it good read? Nineteen articles of varying length take a global view of subjects such as the thousand year history of the flatbread, table manners, wrapping food in leaves and husks and how coffee can save lives. Contributors include Redzepi himself on his changing attitude to what constitutes a Nordic ingredient in a piece titled ‘If it does well here, it belongs here’ and renowned journalist and author Wendell Steavenson among many others.

Should I buy it? This is a wide ranging exploration of an important theme in a time when we need to be thinking about what unites us rather than divides us.  Thoughtful foodies will want to give it shelf space.

Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
You and I Eat the Same: 1 (Dispatches)

Buttermilk Graffiti

Buttermilk Graffiti

by Edward Lee 

What’s the USP? A chefs tour across America exploring the country’s diverse immigrant food cultures including stories and recipes.

Who are the authors?  Edward Lee is a Kentucky-based chef and restaurateur known for his progressive take on Southern cooking that incorporates elements from his Korean heritage. He is the author of one previous Smoke and Pickles and was featured on series 3 of the Anthony Bourdain exec-produced PBS show Mind of a Chef.

Why is it good read? Lee spent two years travelling across America to write the book, visiting 16 destinations, some off the beaten path such as Clarksdale, Mississippi and Westport, Connecticut as well as more familiar places including New Orleans and Brooklyn. But where ever he goes, he roots out fascinating stories and unusual recipes (40 of them) such as Nigerian-style beef skewers with cashews, curry and black pepper.

Should I buy it? Lee is an excellent writer and a dedicated researcher (the two go hand in hand). Buttermilk Graffiti, winner of the James Beard Award for Best Book of the Year in Writing, is destined to become a classic of American food writing and an important document of food in America in the early 21st century. If that sounds a little heavy, don’t be put off, Lee is a master storyteller and the book is an absolute pleasure to read.

Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

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Buttermilk Graffiti

Oyster Isles

Oyster Isles

by Bobby Groves

What’s the USP? A tour around Britain and Ireland’s oyster area’s exploring their history, cultural impact and ecological importance and telling the stories of the people who work in them.

Who are the authors?  Bobby Groves is ‘head of oysters’ (great job title) at the glamorous London restaurant Chiltern Firehouse. This is his first book.

Why is it good read? Groves has gone into real depth, travelling the four corners of the country to really crack the shell and get to the meat of his subject.

Should I buy it? The book will be of particular interest to Groves’s fellow professionals in the restaurant industry who buy and serve oysters, but if you are a lover of shellfish and British history then Oyster Isles will be of interest.

Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy this book
Oyster Isles: A Journey Through Britain and Ireland’s Oysters

A Cookbook by Matty Matheson

Matty Matheson

What’s the USP? The first book from Vice TV star and the most famous Canadian chef in the world Matty Matheson. Despite the title, this is a culinary memoir as well as a recipe book.

Who is the author? Matty Matheson is a Toronto-based chef and restaurateur and former roadie for heavy metal band At the Mercy of Inspiration. Until  2017, he was executive chef of Parts and Labour and sister restaurant P&L Burger. He is the curator of Matty Fest a new food and drink festival launching in September 2019.

Matheson’s career took off in 2013 when he recorded the Hangover Cures and Keep It Canada series of videos for the Munchies YouTube channel which led to the Vice TV channel series It’s Suppertime and Dead Set on Life (both of which are available to view for free in the UK on the ALL 4 website here and here). In early 2019, he announced the launch of his self produced web series Just a Dash which is due to air in autumn 2019.

At the age of 29, Matheson suffered a heart attack after a sustained period of alcohol and drug abuse but eventually became sober. His larger than life personality and post-modern approach to food television that simultaneously celebrates and undercuts the form can be seen in this video, recorded for Gozney ovens website where he demonstrates his mother’s broccoli-chicken cheddar curry casserole, the original recipe for which, he says in the book ‘was probably on the side of a can or a box’ (it’s also a glorious dish).

What does it look like? Part recipe book, part family photo album, part Canadian travelogue, the book is beautifully put together. Food photography by Quentin Bacon (excellent name for a food photographer by the way) is simple, unfussy and lets Matheson’s cooking speak for itself. Matheson grew up in the less than picturesque town of Fort Erie, Ontario but Pat O’Rourke’s urban landscapes have a bleak magnificence to them.

Is it good bedtime reading? Divided into two parts, Matheson tells first the story of his family life and the food cooked by his grandparents, parents and in-laws. In the second part, he recounts his career from culinary school through formative experiences at Le Select Bistro,  La Palette and Oddfellows (all in Toronto) to his appointment as head chef of Parts and Labour and his transition into a media figure, all told with unflinching candour and a healthy dose of salty language.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? You’ll need an excellent butcher to track down things like a whole lobe of foie gras to make seared foie gras with rice pudding and warm date marmalade, veal sweetbreads to cook blanquette ris de veau and veal shank and ox tongue to recreate Matheson’s pot-au-feu, but unless you are in Canada, finding elk loin to serve with carrots, celeriac and pickled blueberries may prove very tricky.

What’s the faff factor? That depends largely on which part of the book you’re cooking from. The Family recipes are a little more straightforward than those in the Cooking School and Restaurants chapter, but many are quite time consuming to prepare.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? There are the usual ‘bunches’ of herbs but apart from that there are no real issues and even the American cup measures come with precise ml equivalents.

How often will I cook from the book? Some of the more simple and approachable recipes could well become firm favourites such as baked rigatoni and blackberry coffee cake but you will probably have to plan well ahead to cook many of the dishes.

Killer recipes? In addition to those already mentioned, I would add lobster pie, molasses bread pudding, rabbit stew, pot roast, rappie pie (a crispy, layered grated potato and chicken bake), Italian wedding soup, Nashville hot chicken, pigtail tacos, lamb dan dan noodles and the P&L burger.

What will I love? Matheson is funny, entertaining and self-aware throughout. For example, in his introduction to the recipe for Sausage and Potatoes he says, ‘If you don’t want to make sausage, you don’t have to. Just buy good Italian sausage from a butcher like a normal human being. No one has time to do something like this, or who even has a sausage stuffer or meat grinder. Why is this even in this book? Do people even cook from cookbooks?’

What won’t I like? Some readers may not appreciate the bad language.

Should I buy it? Matty Matheson is the most interesting and exciting American food personality since Anthony Bourdain and his first book is as compelling as his on screen appearances. An absolute must buy.

Cuisine: American
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating:
Five stars

Buy this book
Matty Matheson: A Cookbook
£25, Mitchell Beazley

Estela by Ignacio Mattos

Estela

Ignacio Mattos’s downtown Manhattan restaurant Estela has a cult following among British chefs. James Lowe invited Mattos to cook at his Shoreditch restaurant Lyles in 2017 and Matthew Young, formerly of Elroy and Mayfield’s, is a fan. Before opening Estela in 2013, Uruguay-born Mattos worked for Judy Rodgers at Zuni Café and Alice Water and David Tanis at Chez Panisse in San Francisco. In the book’s introduction, he sites Francis Mallmann, the godfather of elemental open fire cooking, as his ‘main mentor’ and with whom he cooked outdoors in New York during a snowstorm and on top of a mountain in Mendoza.

In the brief introduction, Mattos talks about his culinary travels that have allowed him to explore everything from Italy’s cucina povera to modernist cooking in Spain; from classical French cuisine to the Afro-Brazilian cooking of Bahia, Brazil. That global perspective is reflected in the ‘Estel Essentials’ chapter that lists Italian bottarga, Southeast Asian fish sauce and Japanese furikake seasoning among Mattos’s favoured pantry ingredients.

In less intuitive hands, such broad open-mindedness could result in fusion-confusion. Mattos however has an ace up his sleeve with his underlying ethos of ‘layering, tension and balance’ that brings harmony to disparate elements through the considered and subtle use of vinegars, citric acids, spicy heat and savoury items such as fish sauce or juiced green garlic that bring his dishes to a ‘happy place just at the borderline of too much’.

It’s an approach typified by a signature dish of sushi-grade fluke that’s cured in sugar and salt, diced and mixed with Arbequina olive oil and mandarin olive oil and served with sea urchin roe, yuzu kosho (a paste of chillies fermented with yuzu juice and zest and salt) and white grapefruit zest. Other stand outs from the collection of more than 133 recipes include lamb ribs with chermoula and honey; cured foie gras wrapped in grape leaves, grilled and served with chicken jus seasoned with soy and ponzu, and steak served with black sesame bearnaise and turnips.

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, along comes a book like Estela to prove you (delightfully) wrong. Mattos has a particular and distinctive take on what can make up the menu of a ‘neighbourhood restaurant’, a viewpoint that will provide a wealth of inspiration to chefs no matter what type of establishment they are cooking in.

Cuisine: American/progressive
Suitable for: Professional chefs/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
Estela
$35, Artisan

A Very Serious Cookbook by Jeremiah Stone and Fabian von Hauske

Very serious cookbook

What’s the USP? In an act of post-modernist, self-reflexive irony, Phaidon, famous for publishing very serious cookbooks by the likes of Magnus Nilsson of Faviken and Dan Hunter of Brae have published a not entirely serious cookbook and called it A Very Serious Cookbook.

Who are the authors? Two young chefs who run the acclaimed Lower East Side restaurants, Contra, which has a Michelin star, and its wine bar sibling Wildair and who have serious CVs; Fabian von Hauske (formerly of Noma and Faviken) and Jeremiah Stone (who worked for Giovanni Passerini in Paris and helped Ignacio Mattos open Isa in Brooklyn). Stone and von Hauske embody the ‘bistronomy’ movement of fine cuisine served in relaxed surroundings and incorporate many of the tropes of modern progressive cooking including dashi, fermented items and a sense of abandon when it comes to mashing up culinary traditions.

What does it look like? You might call the book design ‘urban chic’ if you couldn’t think of a better phrase. Recipe titles look like they’ve been scrawled on the page with a black sharpie, the text is printed on pink, green and beige (as well as plain white) paper and there’s plenty of double-page kitchen action photography alongside the moody overhead food shots.

Is it good bedtime reading? Underpinning the comedic aspects of the book (see below) is the urge to be honest and tell the relatively short story of Contra and Wildair (opened in 2013 and 2015) warts and all; the personal tensions between the two chefs, a stinging review, the dishes that didn’t quite make it are all included.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? A number of recipes will demand a fair amount of effort on behalf of home cooks to source ingredients like tuna bones, unseasoned grain vinegar and fresh hearts of palm (all necessary to make ‘Tuna, onion, tomato’) so you might need to make some carefully considered substitutions to make the book work for you.

What’s the faff factor? There are some relatively straightforward dishes like ‘Beef, paparras, umeboshi’ which is basically steak served with pickled Basque peppers and flavoured butter, but many recipes are very process-heavy and more suited to a restaurant rather than the home kitchen.

How often will I cook from the book? Unless you are a professional chef, A Very Serious Cookbook will be reserved for weekend kitchen project cooking or as a source of inspiration for your own simplified dishes.

Killer recipes? Littleneck clam, almond milk, XO; oyster, lapsang souchong; shrimp, yuba (the skin of heated soymilk), turnip; pommes darphin, uni, jalapeno; strawberry, charred milk.

What will I love? There’s plenty of New York attitude that may or may not be played for laughs. A list of ‘things that are important to know about the dessert recipes’ includes ‘No fruit sorbets. Ever’ (von Hauske, who worked as a pastry chef for Jean George Vongerichten, prefers the purity of a granita made with very little sugar) and a claim that ‘people treat microgreens like s**t’. A ‘recipe’ for Stone’s secret XO sauce lacks quantities and a proper method, and an entire chapter called Never dedicated to dishes that have either never appeared on their menus or ‘did once and never again’.

What won’t I like? This is primarily a snapshot of a pair of New York restaurants in 2018; the food, the people and the history and philosophy behind them. It has patently not be created to supply you with ideas for last-minute mid-week meals.

Should I buy it? Distinctive and engaging, the book will be particularly inspiring to chefs who are planning to or simply daydreaming about opening their first restaurant.

Cuisine: American/progressive
Suitable for: Professional chefs/confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
A Very Serious Cookbook: Contra Wildair
£35, Phaidon