Rick Stein’s Secret France by Rick Stein

Secret France Rick Stein

What’s the USP? Restaurateur and seafood expert Rick Stein really needs no introduction. After 25 years on British TV screens and 45 years of running his world famous The Seafood restaurant in Padstow Cornwall, Stein is something of a national treasure. He’s written numerous cookbooks (many of them with an accompanying TV series) about his world travels that include Spain, India, the Med, the Far East, and Mexico. Now he’s returned to France, a country he first wrote and broadcast about 15 years ago with his cookbook and TV series French Odessey. He takes a meandering journey through rural France from Normandy in the north to Provence in the south, making 10 stops along the way including Alsace, Champagne, the Haute Jura and Burgundy

What’s great about it? In addition to the usual suspects like snails in garlic butter,  omelette aux fines herbes, croque monsieur and steak frites, Stein has gone off the beaten track and unearthed pounti, a ham and chard terrine from the Auvergne; wild boar stew with pinot noir from Alsace, and boles de picolat, meatballs flavoured with cinnamon and piment d’Espelette from Prades in the Pyrenees. Food and travel photography by James Murphy is glorious, bringing France to vivid life and making the food look extremely appetising. Introductions to the book, chapters and recipes are informative and Stein’s distinctive voice comes across loud and clear.     

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? There are a few things that you will need to seek out, but there is a very handy suppliers list that will sort you out for most things including Kampot pepper, snails, brik pastry, Banyuls vinegar, and Bockwurst sausage (the latter coming from that obscure vendor Lidl). As you’d expect from Rick Stein, there is a chapter devoted to seafood and you will certainly want to visit a fishmonger for bream, palourde clams, lobster, octopus, brill and scallops (the list goes on). 

How often will I cook from the book? Although a few of the recipes will take some planning ahead, there are many that will suit a midweek supermarket-shopped meal such as deep-fried pork chops with parsley; lamb chorba (a very delicious North African stew with chickpeas and orzo pasta that’s flavoured with harissa and ras-el-hanout,  cooked for Stein by an Algerian fisherman in Cassis) and spelt risotto with spring vegetables.

What’s the faff factor? Stein may be a chef, but he’s a self-taught one and generally eschews too much complexity. There are more involved recipes such as The Flavours of Bouillabaisse with Gurnard and Fennel which has a long ingredients list, requires the making of a shellfish stock and the preparation of both confit tomatoes and green pistou sauce, but mostly, the dishes are approachable and very achievable.

Should I buy it? Fans of Rick Stein will not be disappointed with his latest effort. If you are new to the food of France this is a great introduction, and if you are a Francophile, you will enjoy revisiting old favourites and discovering new dishes to add to your repertoire.

Cuisine: French  
Suitable for: 
Confident home cooks/professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: 
Five stars

Buy this book
Rick Stein’s Secret France
BBC Books, £26

The Crunchy Part of the Lasagne by Massimo Bottura

165 crunchy lasagne

Osteria Francescana Italy 1995

1 yellow onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
3 g extra-virgin olive oil
2 dried bay laves
1 sprig rosemary
100g bone marrow
50g pancetta steccata, chopped
100g sausagemeat
200g veal tail
100g veal tongue
100g beef cheek
100g cherry tomato confit
80g white wine
1.5g capon stock
5g sea salt
1g black pepper

Pasta dough

100g spinach
100g Swiss chard
500g ‘00’ flour
8 egg yolks
1 egg
salt

Béchamel foam

30g butter
30g flour
500g milk, at room temperature
120g Parmigiano Reggiano, grated sea salt

Tomato terrine

4 ripe tomatoes
1g sugar
1g sea salt
0.5g freshly ground black pepper
3g extra virgin olive oil
2g agar agar

Parmigiano crackers

15g soft butter
90g 30-month Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
5g cornflour (cornstarch)

Ragù

Make a classic soffritto by cooking the onion, carrot and celery very gently in
a pan with the olive oil. Transfer to a stainless steel bowl and stir in the bay and rosemary. Blanch the bone marrow in salted boiling water and drain it on paper towels to absorb any excess liquid. Sweat the pancetta in a large, heavy-based saucepan. Add the sausagemeat and cook until browned. Remove any excess fat, then add the remaining meats, keeping them in large pieces, and cherry tomato confit. Brown them, add the wine and cook until the liquid has evaporated. Remove from the heat and add the soffritto. Put the mixture in a sous-vide bag along with a little of the stock, and seal. Cook for 24 hours at 63°C (145°F). Open the bag and separate the liquid and solids. Place the liquid in a pan and reduce it by half over low heat. Chop the meat with a sharp knife. Put it in a large saucepan and add the liquid.

Pasta

Cook the spinach and chard in boiling water, then chill it immediately in iced water. Drain it well, dry it and pound it thoroughly.

Sift the flour on to a board and make a well in the centre. Add the egg yolks, egg and the spinach mixture gradually to the well, mixing until the dough comes together in a ball. Knead for 15 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Cover it with a clean dish cloth and leave to rest for 30 minutes.

Roll out the dough to a thickness of 1 mm (1⁄16 inch). Cut it into 5-cm (2-inch) triangles. Cook the pasta in salted boiling water (10 g salt per litre), drain it and dry it well. Stack the pasta, cover it carefully and let stand in the fridge for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 220°C (430°F). Bake for 15 minutes, until the pasta is perfectly gratinated. Let stand in a warm place for 5 minutes before serving.

Béchamel foam

Melt the butter in a pan and add the flour and salt. Cook, stirring, until it forms a smooth paste, then add the milk. Stir very well and when it starts to thicken, add the Parmigiano and keep stirring. Cook for 5 more minutes. While still warm, process it in a thermal mixer at maximum speed, then strain it, put it into a siphon and chill it. Once cold, charge with 2 charges and shake it well.

Tomato terrine

Blend the tomatoes thoroughly and strain them, adding the sugar, salt, pepper and oil. Put the liquid into a small pan with the agar agar and bring to a boil, stirring, until it has melted completely. Pour the mixture into a 10 x 15-cm (4 x 6-inch) rectangular tray and let cool. Once cold, cut it into 1 x 15-cm (1⁄2 x 6-inch) strips.

Parmigiano crackers

Knead the butter, Parmigiano and cornflour (cornstarch) together briefly. Roll it out to a thickness of 2 mm (1⁄8 inch) and cut it into 5-cm (2-inch) triangles, like the pasta. Bake at 200°C (400°F) for 2 minutes, or less if necessary, until lightly browned.

To serve

Place a straight line of tomato terrine along the plate. Place four spoonfuls of the ragù alongside it, topped with spoonfuls of the béchamel foam. Rest 2 Parmigiano crackers and 2 crispy pasta pieces alternately in front of them.

Cook more from this book
Sticky toffee pudding  
Stuffed Pig’s Trotters with Morels

Read the review

Buy the book
Signature Dishes That Matter
Phaidon, £35

Casa Cacao by Jordi Roca and Ignacio Medina

Casa Cacoa

Although it seems to have been around forever, ‘bean to bar’ is a relatively new concept with the first single estate chocolate produced by Cluizel in 1996. That’s just one of many fascinating facts in Jordi Roca’s deep dive into the world of chocolate, written with food journalist Ignacio Medina and inspired by the launch of the three Michelin starred pastry chef’s own brand, Casa Cacao that takes the bean to bar ethos one step further.

Roca argues that ‘chocolate has its beginnings in the tree’, placing increased importance on the variety of cacao, the farmer and the environmental conditions. The book tells the story of Roca trips to Colombia, Peru and Ecuador, visiting cocoa farmers where he discovered that a bean grown in Piura in the northwest of Peru which has ‘fruity and aromatic notes’ is very different from the ‘restraint, elegance and presence’ of beans from Vinces in Ecuador.

With the help of British chocolatier Damien Allsop (‘head of chocolate and bon bon production’ at Roca’s Girona restaurant El Celler de Can Roca), Roca is pushing the conventions of chocolate manufacturing, creating vegetable-based chocolate made, for example, by combining a paste of peas, sugar, isomalt, puffed rice and ascorbic acid with melted cocoa butter. Allsop has also created ‘chocolate²’ made with just cacao and sugar to intensify the purity of flavour. Recipes for both are included, along with a detailed description of the chocolate making process, but you’d need access to a chocolate factory if you wanted to attempt them.

More achievable are ‘chocolate classics’ such as chocolate brownies or sophisticated desserts including milk chocolate, lemon and hazelnut cake, although only the most ambitious pastry chef would consider trying to replicate Mexican Chocolate Anarkia, the recipe for which takes up eight pages of the book.  Also included are some wildly creative savoury recipes such as cacao pulp and spiced chocolate sauce with langoustines by Roca’s brother Joan.

Casa Cacao is a detailed look at a complex and niche subject area and as such will mainly be of interest to chocolatiers and pastry chefs working in a fine dining environment, but it’s a beautifully produced book that will inform and inspire its intended audience.

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

Buy this book
Casa Cacao
Grub Street, £35

This review was originally published by The Caterer 

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

Fruit Soup with Verbena by Michel Roux Jr

fruit soup

(SOUPE DE FRUITS ROUGES À LA VERVEINE)

This beautiful, verbena-flavoured dessert is summer in a bowl. And it is even better with a few little madeleines on the side.

Serves 4

75g caster sugar
2 tbsp blossom honey
2 fresh verbena sprigs (or a handful of dried)
500g mixed berries (strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants)
freshly ground black pepper (optional)

Pour 500ml of water into a pan, add the sugar and honey and bring to the boil.  Add the verbena and simmer for 2 minutes. Take the pan off the heat, cover and leave to infuse for about 10 minutes. Remove the verbena. Pour the liquid into a bowl, add the fruit, then leave to cool. Chill the soup in the fridge until it is very cold. Just before serving I like to add a little freshly ground black pepper.

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Monkfish cooked in the style of lamb
Basque-style chicken

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The French Revolution: 140 Classic Recipes made Fresh & Simple
£25, Seven Dials

Basque-Style Chicken by Michel Roux Jr

chicken basque style

(POULET BASQUAISE)

This is a really good simple supper – everything you need in one pot. I like to make it with chicken legs, as they are more flavourful than breast and less likely to be dry. Espelette chillies are grown in the Basque region in southwest France and have a beautifully mild, fragrant taste that is perfect for this dish. If you can’t find any, just use other chillies to taste. This is a dish that’s even better when made in advance and then reheated.

Serves 4

12 new potatoes, scrubbed
4 chicken legs
1 tbsp smoked paprika
4 tbsp olive oil
2 red, green or yellow peppers, halved and seeded
2 onions, peeled and thinly sliced
6 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
3 bay leaves
2 thyme sprigs
200ml white wine
1 tbsp piment d’espelette (see page 8) or chilli flakes
4 large tomatoes, peeled and diced
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cut the potatoes in half, put them in a pan of salted water and bring to the boil. Cook them for 10 minutes, then drain and set aside. Joint the chicken legs into thighs and drumsticks – or ask your butcher to do this for you. Season them with salt and smoked paprika. Heat the oil in an ovenproof pan or a flameproof casserole dish and fry the chicken pieces until golden brown on both sides. Remove them from the pan and set them aside.

Slice the peppers into long strips and fry them in the same pan until tender, then add the onions, garlic and par-boiled potatoes. Cook them over a medium heat for 5–6 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200°C/Fan 180°C/ Gas 6.

Tie the bay leaves and thyme sprigs together and add them to the pan along with the wine and piment d’espelette or chilli flakes. Add extra chilli if you like your food really spicy.

Add the tomatoes, then put the chicken and any juices back into the pan and stir gently. Put a lid on the pan or cover it tightly with foil and place it in the oven for 30 minutes or until the chicken juices run clear. Check the seasoning, then serve or set aside to enjoy later.

Cook more from this book
Monkfish cooked in the style of lamb
Fruit soup with Verbena

Read the review

Buy this book
The French Revolution: 140 Classic Recipes made Fresh & Simple
£25, Seven Dials

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw by Nathan Outlaw

Restaurant Nathan Outlaw

What’s the USP? At last, after a string of books aimed at the home cook, it’s Nathan Outlaw the full-on restaurant coffee table book.

Who’s the author? Cornwall’s ‘King of Fish’, a familiar face on TV, author of a series of fish cook books, serial restaurateur. No, not Rick Stein! It’s Nathan Outlaw, who admittedly trained with Rick Stein, but is easily told apart from the Steinmeister by the three Michelin stars he holds; one at Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen and no less than two at Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, both in the tiny Cornish village of Port Isaac. You certainly wouldn’t bet against Outlaw picking up a fourth star sometime soon at Siren, his new gaff at The Goring Hotel in London.

Is it great bedtime reading? A skimpy introduction that pays only lip service to Outlaw’s career doesn’t bode well, but the interesting and well written recipe introductions, along with a number of essays dotted throughout (mostly supplier profiles) adds some meat to the (fish) bones of the book. It is however frustrating to read in the ‘About the author’ section at the back of the book that Outlaw has worked for the likes of Peter Kromberg, Gary Rhodes, Eric Chavot and John Campbell and not get to read any anecdotes about those experiences.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Ingredients are assigned specific weights and measures so there’s no handful of this or splash of that and methods are detailed and clearly explained so that home cooks as well as chefs will be able to happily attempt Outlaw’s dishes.

Killer dishes? There are any number of delicious sounding seafood dishes in the book including gurnard with Outlaw’s signature Porthilly sauce made with tomatoes, fish stock, shore crab stock and butter, and bass with leeks and tartare hollandaise (another of the chef’s signature sauces), but Outlaw is also no mean baker and pastry chef and you are bound to be tempted to try his roasted onion and Cheddar straws, shortbread custard creams and apple and cinnamon doughnuts.

What will I love? The variety of seafood that’s imaginatively prepared by a master of the craft; the stunning photography by David Loftus, the eight chapters that break each season into early and late, highlighting the importance of time of year to Outlaw’s cooking style and helping the reader pick the right fish and shellfish for pretty much any week of the year.

What won’t I like? It’s galling, especially in a book that costs £45 (or £250 if you want the deluxe edition that’s ‘bound in fish leather, hand signed and beautifully slip cased’ according to the publisher) to have to wade through platitudinous articles about how wonderful the restaurant’s wine list or staff are, which read like little more than press releases. There is, as a general rule, far too much of this sort of thing in modern restaurant cookbooks and a firmer editorial hand or the involvement of an independent professional writer (think how improved Corbyn and King’s cookbooks such as The Ivy were by AA Gill’s work) would be extremely welcome.

Should I buy it? There are an awful lot of seafood cookbooks already on the market (including Nathan Outlaw’s Fish kitchen, Nathan Outlaw’s Home Kitchen and Nathan Outlaw’s British Seafood for a start) but Outlaw does bring his own style and a lot of expertise to the subject making Restaurant Nathan Outlaw a worthwhile purchase.

Cuisine: Seafood
Suitable for: Confident home cooks/chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 stars

Buy this book: Restaurant Nathan Outlaw

Cook from this book