Japan: The Cookbook by Nancy Singleton Hachisu

Japan the cookbook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy this book

Japan: The Cookbook
£29.95 Phaidon

The Mushroom Cookbook by Michael Hyams and Liz O’Keefe

The Mushroom Cookbook coverWhat is it? A directory of the most widely available mushrooms, both wild and cultivated, plus a collection of 50 mushroom- based recipes. Michael Hyams, based in Covent Garden Market, is apparently known as The Mushroom Man and supplies markets and restaurants with fungi while co-writer Lix O’Keefe is a chef, recipe developer and food stylist.

What’s the USP? From morels to mousseron and portobello to pom pom, Hyams describes in detail 33of the most widely available wild and cultivated mushroom varieties, listing alternative names, their Latin name, where the mushroom can be found and when, along with a detailed description of its appearance, flavour and texture and how it should be prepared and cooked. In the second half of the book, O’Keefe provides 50 ways to cook your fungi.

What does it look like? It’s a game of two halves. The first half that contains the directory is a reference work with the emphasis on providing simple, clear and well organised information. The photos are mainly of unadorned mushrooms against a white or grey background accompanied with step by step illustrations of how to clean and prepare them. By contrast, in the second recipe half, there is a serious amount of food styling going on with all manner of folded napkins, trays, boards, slates and other props to liven up proceedings.

Is it good bedtime reading? Although there is plenty of text, this is more of a reference work than a relaxing read. 

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? That will depend on how keen you are on foraging. You could substitute easier to find mushrooms for some of the more obscure varieties, although that would seem to defeat the whole object of the book.

What’s the faff factor? There’s a fair amount of wrapping and stuffing going on, but for the most part, the recipes are quite straightforward.

How often will I cook from the book? How much do you love mushrooms? For most readers, the book will come in handy for when they want to cook something a little different for a dinner party or find themselves with a sudden fungi fixation.

Killer recipes? Chinese mixed mushroom curry; Asian mushroom and pork ramen; wild mushroom and boar sausages

What will I love? The price. A 250 page, full-colour illustrated hardback cookbook for £15 is excellent value.

What won’t I like? Some of the recipes, like mushroom sushi, are a little gimmicky, there are some odd flavour combinations (Camembert and blackberry fondue on your mushroom burger anyone?) and some of the dishes like whole roast salmon with garlic pesto and truffle look messy and unappetising.

Should I buy it? At the knock-down price, it’s worth picking up for the mushroom directory alone.

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: 3 stars 

Buy this book
The Mushroom Cookbook: A Guide to Edible Wild and Cultivated Mushrooms – And Delicious Seasonal Recipes to Cook with Them
£15, Lorenz Books

The Mushroom Cookbook by Michael Hyams & Liz O’Keefe

The Mushroom Cookbook cover

What is it? A directory of the most widely available mushrooms, both wild and cultivated, plus a collection of 50 mushroom-based recipes. Michael Hyams, based in Covent Garden Market, is apparently known as The Mushroom Man and supplies markets and restaurants with fungi while co-writer Lix O’Keefe is a chef, recipe developer and food stylist.

What’s the USP? From morels to mousseron and portobello to pom pom, Hyams describes in detail 33 of the most widely available wild and cultivated mushroom varieties, listing alternative names, their Latin name, where the mushroom can be found and when, along with a detailed description of its appearance, flavour and texture and how it should be prepared and cooked. In the second half of the book, O’Keefe provides 50 ways to cook your fungi.

What does it look like? It’s a game of two halves. The first half that contains the directory is a reference work with the emphasis on providing simple, clear and well organised information. The photos are mainly of unadorned mushrooms against a white or grey background accompanied with step by step illustrations of how to clean and prepare them. By contrast, in the second recipe half, there is a serious amount of food styling going on with all manner of folded napkins, trays, boards, slates and other props to liven up proceedings.

Is it good bedtime reading? Although there is a lot to read in the book, it’s more of a reference work than something you’d want to cuddle up to last thing at night.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? There are a decent selection of fresh and dried mushrooms available in supermarkets these days and doubtless, you will find suppliers online (none are given in the book however) but for the more obscure varieties like lobster and saffron milkcap you might have to head out on an expert-led foraging trip (don’t try it by yourself – as the introduction points out, the book is not designed to be an identification guide for foraging and there are lots of poisonous varieties out there).

What’s the faff factor? A mix. There’s simple like creamy mixed mushroom and tarragon soup and there’s I’m-simply-never-going-to-make-that (mushroom sushi).

How often will I cook from the book? It really depends how much you like mushrooms; for most people, once in a while.

Killer recipes? Chinese mixed mushroom curry; Asian mushroom and pork ramen; wild mushroom and boar sausages

What will I love? The price. A 250 page, full-colour illustrated hardback cookbook for £15 is excellent value.

What won’t I like? Some of the recipes, like mushroom sushi, are a little gimmicky, there are some odd flavour combinations (Camembert and blackberry fondue on your mushroom burger anyone?) and some of the dishes like whole roast salmon with garlic pesto and truffle look messy and unappetising.

Should I buy it? At the knock-down price, it’s worth picking up for the mushroom directory alone.

Cuisine: Modern eclectic
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: 3 stars

Buy this book
The Mushroom Cookbook: A Guide to Edible Wild and Cultivated Mushrooms – And Delicious Seasonal Recipes to Cook with Them
£15, Lorenz Books

Well Seasoned by Russell Brown and Jonathan Haley

Well Seasoned

What is it? Former Michelin starred chef/patron of the much missed Sienna restaurant in Dorchester and now head honcho of the Creative about Cuisine food writing, photography and consultancy business has teamed up with leading food blogger Jonathan Haley for his first book that’s all about ‘exploring, cooking and eating with the seasons’; a guide to ‘seasonal living’ that doesn’t just tell you that crayfish are in season in May, but where and how to catch them.

What’s the USP? In addition to Brown’s seasonal recipes and accompanying photographs, the book contains a month by month guide to the year that encompasses seasonal ingredients, what you can expect to find growing wild in the fields and meadows, what you can forage for on land and at sea and what feasts and festivals to celebrate.

What does it look like? Beautifully designed by Matt Inwood (who has also worked on books by Tom Kerridge and Jason Atherton among many others), the introductory pages of each monthly-themed chapter have their own colour – an icy blue for January, a warm sage green for July – giving the book a lively feel and providing a suitably hued contrasting frame for Brown’s seasonal landscape and nature photography which is every bit as impressive as his food photography.

Is it good bedtime reading? You’ve got to love a book that goes that extra mile with some well-written prose to enjoy away from the stove and blogger Jonathan Haley has provided that in spades with chapter introductions and a series of ‘Out and About’ ‘Food and Foraging’ and ‘Feast and Festival’ articles that appear in each chapter.

Will I have trouble finding ingredients? Although the book encourages the reader to get out there and forage for their own food, the recipes are kind to the more indoorsy cooks amongst us and you should have little trouble finding all the specified ingredients or suitable alternatives. A list of recommended suppliers at the back of the book should help fill in any gaps.

What’s the faff factor? As this is written by a former Michelin starred chef, you won’t be surprised to encounter some degree of complexity in some of the recipes, but that is more than balanced by plenty of very approachable, straightforward dishes.

How often will I cook from the book? The seasonal theme and mix of everyday and special occasion dishes ensure Well Seasoned will be a well-thumbed tome.

Killer recipes? Warm salad of new season’s spring lamb; harissa mackerel flatbreads with quick-pickled cucumber; hay-baked leg of kid goat; sauteed squid with chorizo and piquillo pepper dressing; white chocolate mousse with cherry compote.

What will I love? Brown and Haley have really taken their seasonal premise seriously and have unearthed all manner of useful and sometimes arcane information (who knew that the Celts called the first of May Beltane Day and that there is a cake named in its honour? The recipe is included in the book).

What won’t I like? If you were hoping for a collection of recipes from Sienna restaurant, this is not it.

Should I buy it?  Seasonality should always be a top priority for any serious home cook or chef and Brown and Haley have created a year-round reference work that should find a place on the shelves of amateur and professional kitchens alike up and down the land.

Cuisine: Modern British
Suitable for: Home cooks and professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 stars

Buy this book
Well Seasoned: Exploring, Cooking and Eating with the Seasons
£25, Head of Zeus

Cook from this book
Harissa mackerel flatbreads with quick pickled cucumber
Warm salad of new season’s spring lamb
Iced strawberry parfait

The Chef’s Library: Favourite Cookbooks from the World’s Great Kitchens by Jenny Linford

Chefs library

If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’re an addict like me. Nights spent trawling the internet, searching for the next fix. Days spent waiting for a new delivery. Hiding the cost of our compulsion from loved ones. And everyday the cookbook collection grows and grows. So this isn’t so much a review of The Chef’s Library, a book about cookbooks, more of a dire warning.

Respected food writer Jenny Linford wants to put temptation in your path. Why else would she ask over 70 chefs from around the world, including Thomas Keller, Massimo Bottura and Angela Hartnett for their favourite cookery volumes? Why compile a diverse list of influential cookbooks? Why put together a handy reference of global, historical and specialist books on food?

However, if you do posses a modicum of self control, this is the perfect book for anyone who wants to build their own culinary reference library.  Alongside modern must-haves like Too Many Chiefs Only One Indian by Sat Bains and Noma by Rene Redzepi, readers will also discover enduring works by notable food writers including Elizabeth David, Anne del Conte and Jane Grigson.

But even the most ardent gastronomic bibliophile is sure to discover gaps in their collection. Sean Brock of Husk in Charleston has unearthed The Unrivalled Cook-Book and Housekeepers Guide by Mrs. Washington, a book of Southern American cooking from 1886, and Simon Rogan has chosen Herbs, Spices and Flavourings by Tom Stobart from 1970 that combines history and botany with cooking tips.

The Chef’s Library has its shortcomings. Chef’s contributions are limited to a few short quotes per  choice and there are a number of duplications including three separate entries for Great Chefs of France by Anthony Blake and Quentin Crewe and two for Marco’s White Heat. Linford’s selection of Influential Cookbooks not only replicates some of the chefs own picks (The French Laundry Cookbook, Origin by Ben Shewry and another review of White Heat) but also includes some eyebrow raising selections such as Tom Kerridge’s Best Ever Dishes and Social Suppers by Jason Atherton, both great books, but even the authors probably wouldn’t claim them to be influential.

The Chef’s Library will no doubt fuel a late night sip and click online spending sessions but it will at least be expanding your gastronomic horizons as it depletes your bank balance. Perhaps the next edition should come complete with lock and key.

(This review first appeared in The Caterer magazine)

Cuisine: International
Suitable for: Reference
Cookbook Review rating: 3 stars

Buy this book
The Chef’s Library: Favorite Cookbooks from the World’s Great Kitchens
Jenny Linford
£25, Abrams