The silver-edged pages of Hook Line Sinker glint in the light, like the skin of the fresh sea bass featured on the cover of this strikingly designed book – it’s even wrapped in a transparent PVC dust jacket. It looks just as good on the inside too (not surprising; it’s from the company that published Sat Bains’s sumptuous Too Many Chiefs Only One Indian) with bold typography and images of not just the food but also the Norfolk coast that is the book’s inspiration.
Galton Blackiston is ideally qualified to write a seafood cookbook. A keen fisherman from childhood, he’s been chef patron of Michelin-starred Morston Hall for 25 years where seafood is an important part of the menu, and more recently opened No 1, a modern fish and chip restaurant in Cromer.
Blackiston’s approach to seafood is simple; ‘it has to be fresh, needs to be cooked with precision, and there’s little room for error. You just need to have a good seafood supplier and cook it well’. He’s applied a similar ethos to compiling the recipes, not attempting to write a definitive seafood guide, simply gathering some of his favourite restaurant dishes from over the years that also work for the home cook.
Although there is a chapter dedicated to main courses, Blackiston eschews the traditional starter category (there’s no desserts, no one wants a fishy pudding after all), instead organising the remaining recipes into ‘quick and easy’, ‘small plates’, ‘stress free’ and ‘spicy seafood’ allowing readers to dip in according to mood and time available.
The thorny, complex issue of sustainability isn’t addressed (a bluefin tuna dish is included, a fish that has suffered from plummeting stocks) and the recipes stick to better-known varieties like salmon, prawns, scallops and crab. But the dishes are nevertheless delicious, ranging from a classic fillet of sea trout with samphire and beurre blanc to lager, soy and ginger-fried whitebait with wasabi aioli.
What comes across loud and clear from this collection is that Blackiston has a singular culinary mind; yes, he’s included crowd pleasers like salt and pepper squid, but dishes like crab jelly with pea panna cotta set the inventive tone. Hook Line Sinker has been 25 years in the making. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait a quarter of a century for the follow up.
This review was originally published in The Caterer magazine
Cuisine: Modern European
Suitable for: Confident home cooks and chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 stars
Buy this book
Hook Line Sinker: A Seafood Cookbook
£25 Face Publications
Reviewed by Sam Bilton
Long before chefs began coveting stars, their reputations were built on the social standing of their patron. The bigger the ‘nob’ you worked for, the more prestige your position as a chef held in the 18th century. Charles Carter’s patrons included the Duke of Argyll, General Wood and several lords. He had the advantage of having working in several European countries where he had been exposed to a wider variety of flavours (like garlic) than many of his English counterparts. He was very proud of his achievements and doesn’t shy away from telling the reader so in the introduction to The Complete Practical Cook (1730).
Despite his lack of modesty, a lot of what Carter says still holds true today. He believes cookery is an art and that good cooks should be rewarded for their skill. He is highly critical of unscrupulous cooks who pass off other’s work as their own. He even starts the book by extolling the virtues of a good stock, a maxim which is as true now as it was in the 18th century.
The recipes are very much of their time, with many many meat-based dishes beloved by his wealthy benefactors. Nose to tail eating was definitely the order of the day. The recipe for Olio Podreda (a type of Spanish stew) contains 11 breeds of bird including pheasants, ducks and larks plus beef, pork, veal and mutton, not to mention hogs ears, trotters, sausages and ham. The dish is served with a ‘ragout’ of pallets, sweetbreads, lamb stones, cockscombs and a hefty dose of truffles. You get the meat sweats just by reading the recipe.
A few recipes, like To Pot Otter, Badger or Young Bear, are decidedly odd and are likely to offend some 21st century sensibilities. However, others like Buttered Crab, Eggs à la Switz (a spiced up version of eggs florentine), Pike Babacu’d or Beef la Tremblour (slow cooked rump or sirloin ‘till it is so tender that it will tremble or shake like a quaking pudding’) sound reassuringly familiar once you get past the archaic language. Some like Tamarind Tort or Caraway Cakes are crying out to be rediscovered by a modern audience. Unlike modern cookery books there is no strict division between savoury and sweet dishes reflecting the way meals were served à la francaise. Carter even provides a number of diagrams at the back of the book with suggestions for different dinners according to the season or occasion.
Clearly for the 21st century cook, this is far from a practical book. The recipes are designed to cater for large households so inevitably require scaling down. Some of the ingredients he uses, like eringo roots (candied sea holly roots) or ambergris (whale vomit) are difficult to come by or are best avoided. Carter claims this book will make cooks more inventive and a certain degree of ingenuity is required to make these recipes work today. If you have any interest in England’s culinary heritage it’s worth persevering with The Complete Practical Cook if for no other reason than to prevent it from being forgotten.
Suitable for: Food historians
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 stars
Restaurateur and seafood expert Rick Stein has been absolutely bloody everywhere. He’s written numerous cookbooks (many of them with an accompanying TV series) covering France, Spain, India, the Med, the Far East, most of Europe and the UK. Now he’s turned his attention to Mexico and California with The Road to Mexico. The book, and TV series, retraces Steins steps from nearly 50 years ago when, as he explains in the introduction, he ‘crossed the border from the USA at Neuvo Laredo and headed for the city of Monterrey’ and ordered some tacos in a bar.
His recent experience of Mexico was undoubtedly more luxurious than his original trip, swapping hitch-hiking, Greyhound buses and German cargo ships for a pale blue convertible Mustang, but the food probably hasn’t changed all that much in intervening half-a-century. Tortillas, tacos, enchiladas, corn, chilies and avocado abound. Recipes include ‘the original Caesar salad’ from Caesar Hotel in Tijuana made with salted white anchovies; refried beans, guacamole and roasted red tomato and chilli salsa. A short section on staples like guacatillo sauce made with tomatillos, avocado and chilies and a list of essential Mexican larder ingredients make the book a perfect primer for the first-time Mexican cook.
Each of the seven chapters that cover breakfasts and brunch, street food, vegetables and sides, fish and shellfish, poultry, meat and desserts and drinks is prefaced by a short essay by Stein, which, combined with the comprehensive and informative recipe introductions and the vividly colourful location photography makes for a satisfying travelogue.
Because the recipes are arranged into categories rather than place of origin, you’ll need to watch the series to get a proper sense of the regional variations of Mexican cuisine, and to understand why California has been included. Stein avers that ‘there is so much Mexican influence in Californian food’, and while that is true, recipes like Italian cioppino (monkfish, mussel and prawn stew) from Tadich Grill, chicken noodle soup with yellow bean sauce from chef Martin Yan’s M.Y China and Alice Waters’ rhubarb galette Chez Panisse (all in San Francisco) don’t reflect that influence.
So, the book’s premise might be a bit shaky and the recipe selection scattershot, but that shouldn’t prevent you from cooking from it. Recipes are well written, easy to follow and for the most part straightforward to prepare. Stein has an unerring nose for a great dish and The Road to Mexico has enough of them to make it a must buy for Stein’s many fans and anyone who wants to find out more about one of the world’s greatest, and most fashionable, cuisines.
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: 4 stars
Buy this book
Rick Stein: The Road to Mexico (TV Tie in)
£26 BBC Books
It’s embarrassing to admit, but I had never seen ratatouille cooked and served this way until I saw the animated film of the same name. It inspired me to revisit this dish, and I’m glad I did because when it’s not cooked to a mush and the vegetables still have a bit of bite, it has the comfort and flavour of rustic food – even though it’s dressed up a bit. It takes a bit of time to assemble, but it has real wow factor when you bring it to the table; everyone always remarks how beautiful this is. For the prettiest presentation,pick tomatoes, aubergines and courgettes that all have a similar diameter.
Serves 6 to 8
Aubergines 2 narrow, about 680 g (1½ lb total)
Courgettes 2 large, about 450 g (1 lb total)
Beefsteak tomatoes 6
Salted butter 45 g (1½ oz), at room temperature
Extra-virgin olive oil 60 ml (2 fl oz)
Garlic cloves 4
Fresh thyme sprigs 8
Fresh basil leaves 3 tablespoons
Cherry tomatoes 450 g (1 lb)
Fine sea salt
Orzo 450 g (1 lb)
- Preheat the oven to 190°C (170°C Fan).
- Trim the aubergines and courgettes and slice off the stem ends of the beefsteak tomatoes. Cut the vegetables into thin slices, about 6 mm (¼ inch) for the aubergines and courgettes, and a bit thicker for the tomatoes. Keep the vegetables separate. If you have a mandolin or V-slicer, use it for the aubergines and courgettes.
- Butter a 23 to 25-cm (9 to 10-inch) round shallow casserole dish or a frying pan with a lid with 15 g (½ oz) of the butter. Drizzle in 2 tablespoons of the oil. Crush the garlic with the flat side of your knife, then peel the garlic (discard the papery skins) and add it to the casserole along with the thyme sprigs and basil leaves. Halve the cherry tomatoes and gently squeeze them over the baking dish to release their juices and seeds into the pan. Reserve the cherry tomatoes for another use (see below). Using your fingertip, poke out the seed clusters from the sliced beefsteak tomatoes and add them to the baking dish. (I use an enameled cast-iron casserole for this dish because it is heavy and distributes the heat so well. You can also use a heavy frying pan, as long as the handles are ovenproof).
- Alternate the tomato, aubergine and courgette slices in the baking dish in rows, filling the dish all the way to the centre. Drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons oil and season with salt.
- Bake uncovered for 20 minutes. Cover the casserole and continue baking until the aubergine is a few shades darker, like a strong café latte, and the courgette is an almost translucent, pale and glossy yellowish colour, 20 to 30 minutes more. If your baking dish doesn’t have a lid, place a baking sheet or even a pie tin on top.
- While the ratatouille is baking, bring a large pan of water to a boil over high heat for the orzo. When the water boils, add a tablespoon or so of salt. Stir in the pasta and cook, stirring every 2 minutes to ensure that it does not stick to the bottom, according to the packet directions until al dente, about 8 minutes, depending on the brand.
- To warm the pasta serving bowl, place it in the sink and set a colander inside. Drain the pasta in the colander and return it to the cooking pan, letting the hot pasta water stand in the serving bowl for about 30 seconds to warm it. Empty and dry the serving bowl and add the pasta. Stir in the remaining 30 g (1 oz) of butter.
- To serve, bring the ratatouille to the table in its baking dish. Spoon the orzo into bowls and top each serving with the ratatouille and some of its juices.
R E D U C I N G K I T C H E N W A S T E
I hate to throw anything usable and edible away, and instead think of these odds and ends as a head start on future meals. The squeezed-out cherry tomatoes can be mixed with some diced onion, fresh chilli, coriander, olive oil and lime juice for a quick salsa to put on cooked fish or a cheese omelette, or you can chop and combine them with basil, garlic, salt and chilli flakes for an uncooked sauce to toss with hot pasta and cubes of mozzarella.
Extracted from Downtime by Nadine Levy Redzepi
(Ebury Press, £27)
Photography by Ditte Isager
Buy the book
Read the review
Suitable for: Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review rating: 4 Stars
Buy this book
Downtime: Deliciousness at Home