The Noma Guide to Fermentation By René Redzepi & David Zilber

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What’s the USP? Everything you ever wanted to know about fermenting food but were afraid to ask. Plus, everything else you didn’t even know you wanted to know.

Who are the authors? René Redzepi is one of a handful of chefs worldwide that literally need no introduction but, just in case he’s not on your radar, Redzepi is the pugnacious co-owner of noma in Copenhagen, four times recognized as the world’s best by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, is the poster boy for the hugely influential Nordic food movement/marketing initiative and has twice appeared on the cover of Time magazine. He’s also the author of Noma: Time and Place in Nordic Cuisine and A Work in Progress. However, you probably will need an introduction to David Zilber, chef and photographer from Toronto who has cooked across North America, most notably as a sous-chef at Hawksworth Restaurant in Vancouver. He has worked at noma since 2014 and has served as director of its fermentation lab since 2016.

What does it look like? With more than 750 full-colour photographs, most of them step-by-step how-to guides, The Noma Guide to Fermentation looks very much like the technical manual it actually is, so the hand-drawn illustrations by Paula Troxler add a very welcome extra visual dimension.

Is it good bedtime reading? Well, there’s certainly a lot to read but, given its mainly technical nature (introduction by Redzepi himself aside, which is a fun read), whether its the sort of thing to send you off into the land of nod is debatable.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? You may need to head online for things like unpasteurized kombucha and SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) but often the recipes are simply one common ingredient, such as plums, and salt.

What’s the faff factor? There are a lot of things to consider when fermenting anything so although the ingredients might be simple, the processes can be complex and may require the purchase of specialist equipment, all of which is listed in the book. Think of fermentation as your new hobby, like home brewing beer,  rather than cooking.

How often will I cook from the book? This is pretty much an all or nothing deal. If you are interested in serving your family/guests lacto-fermented fruits and vegetables, black fruits and vegetables (e.g. black garlic or any fruit and veg that undergoes a ‘very slow, very dark browning’ over a period of weeks) or want to make your own vinegar, kombucha, miso or garum (a sort of ancient form of Asian fish sauce), then this is the book for you.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? You’ll have no complaints on this score at all. With master recipes for each type of ferment clocking in at about 10 pages each, including those step by step photos, you’ll never be left scratching your head wondering what to do next.

Killer recipes? The book should really be seen as an instruction manual that unlocks the potential of a process rather than a collection of individual recipes that you’d dip in and out of, but that said, you might well find lacto ceps; apple kombucha; perry vinegar; pearly barley koji (grains fermented by inoculation with fungus spores to produce what is essentially a sort of mouldy, umami rich cake that can be used in other fermentation process or added to stews or just fried and eaten) compelling ideas.

What will I love? The book really does do what it says on the tin and guides you through fermentation, taking you far beyond familiar kimchi and sauerkraut. There is a sense of authority throughout, and you get the sense that these people really know what they’re talking about and have depthless practical experience to back it all up.

What won’t I like? Although there are suggested uses for all the ferments (which will be of particular interest to home cooks), there are only one or two examples of how they are used in complete noma restaurant dishes which some readers may find frustrating. That said, the book is well over 400 pages long without sample restaurant recipes so maybe we’ll just have to wait for the next noma cookbook to see how Redzepi uses all this stuff.

 Should I buy it? If you feel the need to ferment and you don’t already own The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz, or are a particular fan of noma and René Redzepi, then fill your boots (and fermentation vessels), you won’t be disappointed.

Cuisine: Nordic/International
Suitable for: Confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 stars

Buy this book
The Noma Guide to Fermentation (Foundations of Flavor)
£30, Artisan

In My Blood by Bo Bech

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What’s the USP? Recipes, essays and musings that tell the story behind the creation and running of the acclaimed Copenhagen restaurant Geist.

Who are the authors? Danish chef Bo Bech (the surname is pronounced ‘Beck’) made his name with his avant garde cooking at the Michelin-starred Paustian in Copenhagen in the early 2000’s and then opened the more casual Geist in 2011. He has appeared on a number of food TV programmes in Denmark and is also the author of ‘What Does Memory Taste Like’.

Killer recipes?  Pot roasted cauliflower with black truffle; turbot with fennel ravioli on gruyere; white asparagus heads with chocolate and stilton; lamb hearts with smoked red grapes and sorrel; potato mash with brown stone crab and salted butter.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? For the most part, Bech’s dishes are based around just a few ingredients and methods are explained in enough detail to be easily understood, certainly by professional chefs. There are however a number of instances where quantities are either vague or not given. In the recipe for crispy artichokes with suckling pig and black truffle, you are told to ‘heat a pot with grapeseed oil’ but no indication is given of the size of the pot or amount of oil while the gravlax recipe lists fennel pollen in the ingredients but doesn’t mention it in the method.

Is it good after bedtime reading reading? The recipes are punctuated with 15 fascinating ‘Stories’ that include everything from a facsimile of a note from a brainstorming session before the restaurant opened to ‘The Rage’, a short essay where Bech explains how his anger with certain ingredients (such as poor quality salmon) feeds into his creative drive and ultimately results in new dishes (fennel pollen gravlax served with a sauce made from the curing brine mixed with apple juice, mustard and bronze fennel).

 What will I love? In addition to Bech’s own expert food photography, the book is illustrated with beautiful watercolours and pencil drawings and printed on 120-gram paper stock which gives the book a very distinctive and luxurious look and feel.  The ten cocktail recipes, that include kombucha gin, unripe peach; and mezcal sour, gentle smoke of Mexico, are every bit as imaginative as the food.

What won’t I like? Bech has allocated eight of the book’s 344 pages to the reproduction of the full transcript of the commentary of The Rumble in the Jungle, the 1974 Foreman/Ali fight which plays in the restrooms in Geist. You will either find this endearingly eccentric or puzzlingly absurd, depending on how indulgent you feel towards the author.

Should I buy it? Bech is a chef with a truly individual creative voice which comes through loud and clear in both the recipes and the ‘Stories’. His minimalist plating style looks stunning on the page, every dish a work of art, and his writing gives real insight into what it means to be a chef in the 21st century, from both a creative and practical perspective. Well worth buying if you are interested in cutting edge cooking or in the business yourself.

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

Buy this book
In My Blood by Bo Bech
DKK300 (about £36, plus shipping)from chefbobech.com/books

Wild Duck with Hokkaido Squash and Arabica by Bo Bech

Wild Duck Pumpkin

For 4 people

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cook more from this book
Baked white onion with tamari
Turbot with fennel ravioli

Read the review 

Buy this book
In My Blood

Turbot with Fennel Ravioli on Gruyere by Bo Bech

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For 4 people

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the review

Buy this book
In My Blood

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

White onion.jpg

For 4 people

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

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

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

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

Cook more from this book
Turbot with fennel ravioli on Gruyere
Wild duck with Hokkaido Squash

Read the review

Buy this book
In My Blood by Bo Bech