What’s the USP? Segnit says that Lateral Cooking is ‘a practical handbook, designed to help creative cooks develop their own recipes’. So, not your everyday cookbook then.
Who’s the author? Niki Segnit is probably best known as the author of The Flavour Thesaurus, the culinary version of Roget’s Thesaurus, which listed 99 ingredients and suggested flavour matches for each of them. Lateral Cooking is designed as a companion volume to The Flavour Thesaurus.
What does it look like? At over 600 pages long, its a brick of a book, with densely packed pages illustrated only by simple red ink line drawings. Think weighty reference work rather than a glossy cookbook.
Is it good bedtime reading? Oh yes. There are (very) approximately 300,000 words to keep you occupied, or around three airport novels worth.
Will I have trouble finding ingredients? The short answer is no, but that needs some qualification, so here goes with the long version. This is not a recipe book as such (although it does contain recipes) and is organised in a very particular way. Each of the twelve chapters takes either a type of ingredient such as nuts, chocolate or sugar, or a product (bread) or related group of products (stock, soup and stew) and offers a simple ‘starting point’ recipe which Signet says lies on a ‘continuum’ which links one recipe to the next within the chapter’s subject. As she explains in her introduction, ‘Marzipan can be nothing more than a mixture of equal weights of ground almonds and sugar with just enough egg white to bring them together. Macaroons, the next point on the continuum, simply call for more egg white’.
So will you have trouble finding the ingredient for the starting point Marzipan recipe? Almost certainly not. But before you get to the next point in the continuum, Signet provides ‘a range of flavouring options’ under the heading of ‘Flavours & Variations’ for the starting point recipes. So you might want to try and track down candied melon to make your own Calissons D’aix, a lozenge shaped sweet from Aix-en-Provence made with a marzipan like mix of ground almonds and flavoured with honey, Grand Marnier and orange flower water as well as the aforementioned candied melon. Signet doesn’t always provide recipes for all her flavouring options, so you’ll have to google Calissons D’aix , or just click here. Ultimately, Signet wants her readers to develop their own recipes based on the starting points and flavouring options, so your imagination is your only limit to what you include in a recipe, which means you might have trouble finding ingredients if your ideas are really out there.
What’s the faff factor? Again, not a straightforward question to answer. The starting point recipes are designed to be simple, but the idea of the book is not just to master those simple recipes, but to become an all round instinctive cook who understands ingredients and cooking methods so well that you won’t need recipes or cookery books anymore. So, in addition to the flavouring suggestions, each starting point recipe comes with a list of ‘leeway’ bullet points that illustrate the different ways the basic recipe can be prepared and variations in ingredients (and this is before you get on to the more major variations of the flavouring suggestions). So the faff is not necessarily in the complexity of the recipes, but the amount of reading you will need to do before you get into the kitchen.
How often will I cook from the book? If you treat the book as it’s intended and follow the ‘continuum’ from the starting point recipes and really get inside a particular branch of cookery, you will be making a lot of food and basically taking a self-directed cookery course at home. Otherwise, I’m not sure this book would be the first I’d reach for when planning a weekly household menu for example.
Killer recipes? As a practical handbook, Lateral Cooking isn’t really about killer recipes but culinary fundamentals, so you’ll find full written out recipes for things like Yeast-risen bread, Brown Chicken Stock, Risotto Bianco, Pasta, Tarka Chana Dal, Lamb and Vegetable Stew, Marzipan, Shortbread and Ice Cream. The more unusual dishes are often embedded within the ‘Flavours & Variations’ sections, such as Chanfana, a goat stew from the Beira region of Portugal that’s flavoured with red wine, mint, paprika and piri piri seasoning.
What will I love? Lateral Cooking is a comprehensive work and notable academic achievement, taking a fresh perspective on a well worn subject that will have you thinking about cooking in a new way.
What won’t I like? Whether or not you like the book will depend on how willing you are to go with Segnit’s basic conceit of the cooking continuum, how important you feel it is to understand cooking from that perspective and if you agree that it will turn you into an instinctive cook (if you are not one already) and if that’s what you want to be.
Should I buy it? If you don’t own a copy of Larousse Gastronomique, Le guide culinaire by Escoffier or La Repertoire de la Cuisine and are a novice cook who wants to take a more serious approach to learning the craft, then Lateral Cooking will fit the bill. If you already have a decent cookbook collection and are an accomplished cook, you may want to carefully consider how likely you are to cook through the book in the manner intended. However, it may fill a gap in your collection as a modern reference work.
Suitable for: Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars
Buy this book
Lateral Cooking: Foreword by Yotam Ottolenghi
£35, Bloomsbury Publishing