The French Laundry, Per Se by Thomas Keller

The French Laundry Per Se

What’s the USP? Recipes and stories from a pair of three Michelin-starred American restaurants. The book appears 20 years after the publication of the original The French Laundry cookbook and serves as a kind of update and elaboration as it now also covers sister restaurant Per Se.

Who is the author? Thomas Keller is one of America’s best known and most decorated chefs. He holds three Michelin stars at The French Laundry in Napa, California and at Per Se in New York. His other restaurants include Bouchon Bistro and Bouchon Bakery in both Yountville California and Las Vegas and The Surf Club in Miami. His glamorous, upscale TAK Room restaurant, opened in the mid-town Manhattan Hudson Yards development and inspired by classic American cuisine from the 40s and 50s, closed in August 2020 after just one year of trading, a victim of the pandemic.  He has also been a consultant to Hollywood, working on the  animated film Ratatouille and the Adam Sandler comedy Spanglish. He is the author of five previous cookbooks, publisher of Finesse magazine and has his own Masterclass. He has recently been the subject of a Trump-related Twitter controversy that has seen the chef delete his account on the social media site. At the time of writing, he remains active on Instagram.

Is it good bedtime reading? Given it’s size and weight – The French Laundry, Per Se is a great big, beautiful book – it won’t make the most relaxing bedtime reading material. Better then to enjoy it sitting in your favourite chair with a nice glass of Californian red (in homage to The French Laundry’s location in the heart of Napa Valley wine country) and appreciate the thousands of words carefully crafted with the help of leading food writers Susie Heller and  Michael Ruhlman.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? Let’s have a look at the very first recipe in the book shall we? Smoked Sturgeon Rillettes on an Everything Bagel. No problem, apart from the smoked sturgeon, Reglis Ova caviar (Keller’s own brand, available online for US only delivery), Argumato lemon oil and onion blossoms. Opening the book at random, I land on Hiramasa with Apple Vierge. First, catch your hiramasa (sushi grade Australian Yellowtail Kingfish, available online in the UK from The Fish Society) then track down some Champagne vinegar and Marcona almonds and you’re good to go.  Elsewhere, expect ingredients such as foie gras, spiny lobster, and Alaskan king crab. Things get ludicrously specific with Venison Rack Roasted Over Grapevines that not only call for 1.5kg of ‘dried grapevine knots’ but ‘250g of dark raisins, dried on the vine, preferably from Paradigm Winery’. Thankfully, not all the recipes are this tricky to negotiate and, with some common sense substitutions, you should be able to attempt a number of dishes from the book.

What’s the faff factor? These are recipes from three Michelin-starred restaurants so they were never going to be a walk in the park for the home cook. They will take time, money, effort and concentration, but they are far from unachievable if you have the resources and will to make them.

How annoyingly vague are the recipes? Six books in and with the help of some of the best food writers in the business, this is not an issue. Keller is a proponent of sous-vide cooking, but has include full alternative ingredient lists and methods when appropriate so if you don’t happen to have a vacuum sealer and immersion circulator in your kitchen, it’s no biggie.

How often will I cook from the book? When you have the time and inclination; for example, during a pandemic. Even a simple sounding – and looking – bowl of Red Pepper Farfalle lists 38 ingredients, not counting those included in the three additional satellite recipes you’ll need to make to complete the dish. A few simple soup recipes aside, this is not a book for weeknight cooking.

Killer recipes: Smoked Montana Rainbow Trout Chaud-Froid; Celery Root Pastrami; Salt-and-Rye-Baked Lamb Neck; Malted Brownies among others.

What will I love? The premium look and feel; the numerous essays that cover everything from a treatise on fine dining to the importance of bread and butter; the gorgeous food photography by Deborah Jones.

What won’t I like so much? Before embarking on the majority of recipes, you will have to take some time to consider if you can source the necessary ingredients, and if not, will the dish still be worth making with replacements. You’ll also want to weigh up if the dish, which may only be a mouthful or two, is worth the cost and effort required. It’s worth bearing in mind that the recipes in the book are the product of a very well staffed and resourced kitchen and that the resulting dishes will be sold at a significant profit on menus that cost upwards of $350 a head, none of which applies to the home cook who will be left with a much depleted bank account and a mountain of washing up.

Should I buy it?  For many professional chefs working in the fine dining arena, The French Laundry, Per Se will be an essential purchase. The same will be true for serious hobbyist cooks and restaurant enthusiasts. For those simply in search of a practical recipe book that will be put to regular use, look elsewhere. 

Cuisine: American/Progressive
Suitable for: Confident home cooks/Professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Five stars

Buy this book
French Laundry, Per Se, The (Thomas Keller Library)
£60, Artisan

Cook from this book
The Whole Bird
Fish and Chips
Peaches ‘N’ Cream

Slow cooked duck by Tom Kerridge

duck6033

We already had a great little business, but Great British Menu became one of the most pivotal moments in the pub’s history. The programme is very special: it shines the spotlight on quality British produce and showcases food and restaurants around the UK, which is brilliant because that underlines that our world isn’t just about London and the Southeast.

To get to the final, you compete in ‘heats’, and in 2010, my cook-off location was Waddesdon Manor, which is near Aylesbury. So, to me, the obvious thing to cook was something with Aylesbury duck. These ducks taste amazing and they’re from a small-scale producer – everything Great British Menu is about. Since an important part of our Hand & Flowers menu includes chips on the side (we’re a pub, after all), I decided to make the ultimate chips, cooked in duck fat.

I needed peas, too. So, I went down the route of petits pois à la française, except, instead of using bacon, which you’d normally do, I used crisp-fried duck leg confit. And then I finished the dish with a gravy that uses honey from the Waddesdon estate.

It all added up to a winner. I remember one Saturday night after the banquet was televised, we did 84 covers and served 78 portions of duck in one sitting. The success of this dish has been extraordinary.

serves 4

To prepare the duck
2 large Aylesbury ducks, about 2kg each
3 tsp ground mace

Remove the legs and wings from the ducks and take out the wishbone (reserve for the faggots, gravy etc., see right and overleaf). Remove the excess fat and skin, placing it all in a frying pan. Now carefully cut away the backbone; you should be left with the crown.

Place the pan of fat and skin over a low heat to render the fat out. Set aside for later use. Score the skin on the duck crowns and rub in the mace. Heat a heavy-based frying pan over a medium high heat. Add the duck crowns and sear on all sides for 5–10 minutes to render the fat and give the skin a good golden colour. Remove the
duck crowns from the pan and allow to cool.

Put each duck crown into a large vacuum-pack bag and vacuum-seal on full pressure. Immerse in a water-bath at 62°C and cook for 1½ hours. Lift out the vacuum-pack bags and remove the ducks. Carefully cut the breasts from the crowns. Cover and refrigerate until ready to cook.

Duck gravy
500g duck bones and wings, chopped
A little vegetable oil for cooking
4 carrots, peeled and chopped into 3cm pieces
4 celery sticks, cut into 3cm pieces
1 onion, peeled and diced into 3cm pieces
1 garlic bulb, cut across in half, through the equator
150g runny honey
4 cloves
2 litres chicken stock (see page 400)
50ml soy sauce
About 500g unsalted butter
Lemon juice, to taste (optional)
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 205°C/Fan185°C/Gas 6–7. Put the chopped duck bones and wings into a roasting tray and roast in the oven for about 25–30 minutes until golden brown and caramelised.

Heat a little oil in a large heavy-based saucepan over a medium-high heat. Add the chopped carrots and colour until darkly caramelised. Add the celery, onion and garlic and similarly colour until well browned.

Remove the duck bones and wings from the roasting tray and add them to the saucepan. Drain off the excess fat from the roasting tray, then add the honey and cloves to the tray. Place over a medium heat and take the honey to a dark golden caramel. Add a splash of the chicken stock and the soy sauce to deglaze the tray, stirring to scrape up the sediment.

Add the liquor to the duck bones and vegetables. Pour in the rest of the chicken stock and reduce down by half, to 1 litre. Pass the liquor through a muslin lined sieve into a clean pan and skim off any excess fat from the surface. Add 250g butter to every 500ml duck liquor and reduce down until it has emulsified into the sauce. Season with salt and pepper and add a little lemon juice if required. Set aside for serving.

Duck faggots
250g minced duck leg (skin on)
50g minced chicken liver
50g breadcrumbs
1 medium free-range egg
5g salt
2g cracked black pepper
100g caul fat, soaked in cold water for 30 minutes

Put all the faggot ingredients into a bowl and mix well until evenly combined. Divide and shape the mixture into 50g balls. Wrap each one in caul fat to enclose. Steam the duck faggots at 100°C for 20 minutes. Remove from the steamer and allow to cool, then chill until needed. When ready to serve, preheat the oven to 205°C/Fan 185°C/Gas 6–7.  Place the faggots on a baking tray and bake for 8 minutes. Hold the faggots in the duck gravy until ready to plate up.

Duck legs & peas
2 duck legs
1 star anise
½ cinnamon stick
10 black peppercorns
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp rock salt
2 bay leaves
About 300ml duck fat
500g freshly podded peas
4 tbsp runny honey
A little vegetable oil for cooking
2 large banana shallots, peeled and finely diced
100ml chicken stock
2 Gem lettuces, finely sliced
20 small mint leaves

Preheat the oven to 150°C/Fan 130°C/ Gas 2. Put the duck legs into a large ovenproof pan or flameproof casserole. Tie the spices together in a muslin bag and add them to the pan with the rock salt and bay leaves. Pour on enough duck fat to cover and bring to the boil over a medium heat. Transfer the pan to the oven and cook for 3½ hours or until the duck legs are soft. Leave them to cool in the duck fat. Once cooled, remove from the fat and place in the fridge. Meanwhile, add the peas to a pan of boiling salted water, bring back to the boil and blanch for no longer than 1 minute. Immediately drain and refresh in iced water. Drain and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 205°C/Fan 185°C/Gas 6–7. Place an ovenproof heavy-based frying pan over a medium-high heat. Add the duck legs, skin side down, and place in the oven for 10–12 minutes to crisp up. Remove the duck legs to a plate and add the honey to the pan. Allow to caramelise, then pour over the duck legs and allow to cool. When ready to serve, heat a little oil in a saucepan over a medium heat. Add the shallots and sweat for 10–15 minutes until softened. Add the peas and stock and bring to a simmer. Meanwhile, flake the duck leg. Stir the duck meat into the peas with the lettuce and mint. Divide between 4 small serving pots.

Duck fat chips
15 large potatoes for chipping
2.5 litres duck fat for deep-frying

Cut a slice from the top and bottom of each potato, then press an apple corer through from top to bottom to make round cylinder chips. Put the cut chips into a colander under cold running water to wash off some of the starches. Now add the chips to a pan of boiling salted water, bring back to a simmer and poach for about 10 minutes until just soft, but still holding their shape. Drain on a perforated tray and leave
to cool.

Heat the duck fat in a deep-fryer to 140°C. Lower the chips into the hot fat in a wire basket and deep-fry for 8–10 minutes until the oil stops bubbling. Remove the chips from the fryer, drain and leave to cool. Set aside until needed. When ready to serve, heat the duck fat to 180°C and deep-fry the chips for about 6–7 minutes until golden
and crispy. Remove, drain on kitchen paper and season with salt.

To serve
2 tbsp runny honey
50g unsalted butter
Pea shoots, to garnish

Just before serving, preheat the oven to 200°C/Fan 180°C/Gas 6. Heat a little oil in a heavy-based ovenproof frying pan over a medium-high heat. Add the duck breasts, skin side down, and fry for 3–4 minutes to crisp up the skin, then place in the oven for 4–5 minutes to heat through. Pour off any excess fat from the pan, then add the honey and butter and turn the duck around in the pan to coat in the honey glaze.
Remove the duck breasts to a warmed plate and rest in a warm place. Increase the heat under the pan to caramelise the honey glaze then pour it over the duck breasts.
Serve the duck breasts with the duck legs and peas, duck faggots, gravy and chips. Finish with a garnish of pea shoots.

Cook more from this book
Smoked haddock omelette
Vanilla crème brûlée

Buy this book
The Hand & Flowers Cookbook
£40, Bloomsbury Absolute

Read the review
Coming soon

Pecan pie by Ben Crittenden

B27A8496

SWEET PASTRY
450g plain flour
150g icing sugar
Pinch salt
225g butter
1 egg
50g cream

Add everything except the egg and cream to a food processor and pulse to bring the ingredients together, Then add the egg and cream and pulse to create a stiff paste, being careful not to over work. Chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour then roll out to about 3mm thick and line 2.5” tart cases. Trim excess and line the inside of the cases with cling film. Fill with rice or baking beans and place in freezer for an hour. Set oven to 190c and bake the cases for 8 minutes. Turn the oven down to 160c and bake until the pastry is cooked through. Remove the baking beans and make sure the bottoms are cooked, which should take about 20 minutes in total.

PECAN PIE
250g golden syrup
50g treacle
85g fresh bread crumbs
80g ground pecans
1 egg
150g cream
1 lemon zest
100g toasted pecans

In a blender, blitz everything except the toasted pecans until smooth. Decant into a container and refrigerate overnight. Crumble the toasted pecans into the base of the cooked tart cases. Set oven to 170c. Give the batter mix a good stir and then spoon into the cases on top of the crumbled pecans. Bake for 10 minutes at 170c then turn the oven down and bake for a further 10 minutes at 150c. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving.

BANANA SORBET
5 ripe bananas
50g glucose
1/2 lemon juice
Blitz everything together and freeze in Pacojet canisters. You don’t need to heat anything just blitz and freeze.

CHOCOLATE PURÉE
150g 70% Valrhona chocolate
50g cocoa powder
150g sugar
400g water
Ultratex to thicken

Bring the sugar and water to a simmer and pour over the chocolate and cocoa powder. Mix well and chill in the fridge overnight. Beat with a whisk to loosen and then add Ultratex a teaspoon at time. Mix well and leave 10 minutes between adding to allow time to absorb the moisture. When thickened pass through a fine sieve and decant into bottles.

CANDIED PECANS
100g pecans
225g sugar
125g water
Pinch salt
Bring 125g sugar, water, nuts and salt to simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Add the remaining 100g of sugar and simmer for a further 5 minutes. Drain off the syrup and bake the nuts on parchment paper for 10 minutes in an oven preheated to 150c.

TO SERVE
Lemon balm

Cook more from this book
Duck liver parfait
Poussin, korma, grape

Buy the book
Stark by Ben and Sophie Crittenden
£30, A Way With Media
Also available at Amazon Stark

Read the review

Lemon meringue pie with English blackberries – star anise by Glynn Purnell

Lemon meringue pie
For the blackberry parfait
500ml blackberry purée
1 star anise
160g caster sugar
40ml cold water
75g egg whites
1.5g citric acid
375ml double cream
Packet of popping candy

Slowly bring the blackberry purée and star anise to a boil. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 20 minutes. Remove the star anise and pass through a fine sieve.
Prepare some 3-4cm rubber dome moulds.

In a small saucepan, add the sugar and water. Stir gently and place on to a medium heat with a sugar thermometer in the pan.

Put the egg whites into an electric mixer bowl with the whisk attachment fitted.
When the sugar syrup reaches 100°c, begin whisking the egg whites slowly. As the syrup reaches 110°c, increase the whisking speed of the egg whites. When the syrup reaches 116°c, the egg whites should have formed soft peaks.

Remove the syrup from the heat and slowly add the syrup to the egg whites, whisking constantly. Once all the syrup has been added to the egg whites, turn the electric mixer speed up and continue whisking until the meringue is thick, glossy and cool.

In a large round bowl, semi-whip the double cream. Fold 350ml infused Blackberry purée and citric acid into the cooled Italian meringue, then fold into the semi-whipped cream in two stages. Add the popping candy to taste, then pipe into dome moulds, smoothing the tops with a palette knife. Freeze the parfait in the moulds for 24 hours.

For the sweet pastry
270g salted butter
180g caster sugar
2 large eggs
540g plain flour

In an electric mixer with the paddle attachment fitted, cream the butter and sugar together, do not over-mix. Beat in the eggs one at a time, until the mixture is smooth.
Sift the flour and fold into the mix gently until it just starts to come together. Turn the dough out onto a clean surface and finish by hand to ensure the dough is not over worked.

Divide into two, flatten to 2 cm in thickness and cling film. Reserve in the fridge for up to ten days or freeze for up to four weeks.

Preheat oven to 160°c.

Roll the pastry to 2mm in thickness and line some 8cm tart cases with the pastry. Cover the pastry with cling film or silicon paper and fill with baking beans.
Blind bake for 12 minutes, then remove the baking beans. Return to the oven for a further five minutes or until the pastry is golden brown. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

Once completely cool, remove from the tart rings and store in an airtight container lined with food safe silica gel. Keep in a cool, dry place.

For the lemon curd
12 large lemons
450g caster sugar
300g salted butter, diced
540g eggs
600g egg yolks

Zest the lemons and reserve the zest. Juice the lemons. You need 600ml of lemon juice. In a medium sized saucepan bring the juice up to a boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer and reduce the lemon juice to approximately 150ml. It should resemble a glaze and be a slightly deeper colour. Empty the reduced lemon into a clean saucepan and add the sugar and butter. Bring this to a boil, stirring often.

Once boiling and all the butter has melted, whisk in the eggs and egg yolks and cook out over a medium heat, until the curd is thick. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon zest. Cover in a clean bowl with cling filmed pressed down to touch the lemon curd. This prevents condensation and water dripping onto the curd. Leave to cool in the fridge. Once cool, place the curd in a jug blender and blend until smooth. Reserve in vacuum pac bags in the fridge until needed.

For the Italian meringue
250g caster sugar
250g water
15g SOSA Albumina powder (dried egg whites)

In a suitable sized saucepan, bring 200g of the sugar and 120g of the water up to 118°c over a medium heat. While the sugar syrup is coming up to temperature, place the Albumina powder, 50g caster sugar and 130g water into an electric mixer bowl. Using a hand whisk, gently mix the ingredients together, then place the bowl onto the electric mixer.

When the sugar syrup reaches 100°c, begin whisking the egg whites slowly. As the syrup reaches 110°c, increase the whisking speed of the egg whites. When the syrup reaches 118°c, the egg whites should have formed stiff peaks.

Remove the syrup from the heat and slowly add the syrup to the egg whites, whisking constantly. Once all the syrup has been added to the egg whites, turn the electric mixer speed up and continue whisking until the meringue is cool.
Decant the meringue into piping bags and store in the fridge or freezer for up to two days.

For the blackberry and star anise gel
1 litre blackberry purée
4 star anise
0.5g vanilla powder
10g agar-agar

In a medium-sized saucepan, bring the blackberry purée, star anise and vanilla powder to a boil, whisking occasionally. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for ten minutes. Place the pan back onto the heat and bring back to a boil. Once boiling, remove the star anise and put to one side. Add the agar-agar and continuously whisk and cook for two minutes to activate the agar-agar. Pour the mix into a lightly greased, high sided tray and leave to set for two hours in the fridge.

Remove the set gel from the tray and roughly chop. Place into a Thermomix blender and blend on a medium-high speed for two minutes. Turn the blender off, scrape the sides of the jug down and blend again for two minutes on a medium-high speed, until you have a smooth and glossy gel.

Store in vacuum pac bags for freshness. Place into a squeezy bottle for service.
Wash the star anise to remove any purée, then dehydrate to completely dry out.
Once dry, blend the star anise in a spice grinder to a fine powder. Seal in a vacuum pac bag to reserve.

For the frozen blackberries
2 punnets of fresh blackberries
Liquid nitrogen

Wash the blackberries and dry them on kitchen towel. Put the blackberries into an insulated nitrogen container. Completely submerge the blackberries in liquid nitrogen and leave for three minutes. Once the blackberries have completely frozen, lift them out of the nitrogen with a slotted spoon and place into a large sous vide bag. Fold the ends of the bag over and lay the bag on a flat surface with one hand covering the folded end. Bash and roll the frozen blackberries with a rolling pin so the filaments separate. Empty the bag into a small metal Gastronorm container and half cover with liquid nitrogen. Reserve in the freezer until needed.

To serve
Lemon balm
Star anise powder

Pipe the lemon curd into a cooked pastry case and smooth the top with a palette knife. Place a dome of parfait in the centre of the tart on top of the lemon curd. Place the tart case onto a pastry turntable and start turning on a low speed. Fit the desired piping nozzle onto a piping bag with the Italian meringue and pipe your desired pattern onto of the tart, starting in the centre of the top of the parfait and working down as the tart spins on the turntable. Once the meringue is piped, lightly colour the meringue with a blowtorch. On a large flat white plate, sporadically pipe dots of differing sizes of the blackberry gel. Place the tart on top of one of the dots or around the centre of the plate. Refresh the frozen blackberries in liquid nitrogen and spoon liberally around the plate. Garnish with lemon balm and a pinch of star anise powder.

Cook more from this book
Monkfish masala with red lentil
Haddock and Eggs – Cornflakes – curry oil by Glynn Purnell

Buy this book
A Purnell’s Journey
£85, A Way With Media
Also available at Amazon: There And Back Again: A Purnell’s Journey

Read the review

Monkfish Masala with Red Lentils, Pickled Carrots and Coconut Garnish by Glynn Purnell

Monkfish masala
SERVES 4

FOR THE PICKLED CARROTS
3 CARROTS, PEELED AND SLICED
1 TABLESPOON FENUGREEK SEEDS
1 TEASPOON AJWAIN SEEDS
1 TEASPOON BLACK MUSTARD SEEDS
½ TEASPOON ONION SEEDS
1 TEASPOON CUMIN SEEDS
1/3 TEASPOON CHILLI FLAKES
1 TEASPOON SALT
VEGETABLE OIL – ENOUGH TO COVER THE CARROTS
1. Preheat the oven to 90˚c / gas mark ¼, or the lowest setting.
2. Spread the carrot slices out on a baking tray and put in the oven overnight, or for 8 hours, until dried out. Pack the carrot slices into a sterilised airtight jar.
3. Mix all the spices and salt with enough vegetable oil to cover the carrots, pour over the carrots in the jar and seal. Leave for a couple of weeks (longer if you can) in a cool place before serving.

FOR THE MONKFISH
300G ROCK SALT
4 X 130G MONKFISH FILLETS
4 TABLESPOONS MASALA SPICE MIX
25G BUTTER
4. Sprinkle the salt over the monkfish fillets and leave for 5-6 minutes to draw out the moisture.
5. Rinse the salt off thoroughly under cold running water. Wrap the monkfish in a clean tea towel and leave overnight in the fridge.
6. Spread out the spice mix on a plate and roll the monkfish fillets in the mixture. Seal each fillet in a vacuum food bag and cook for 11 minutes in a water bath at 63˚c. Alternatively, wrap each fillet in heatproof clingfilm. Heat a saucepan of water until it reaches 63˚c on a cooking thermometer, add the wrapped fillets and cook for 11 minutes, keeping the temperature constant.
7. Melt the butter in a frying pan over a medium heat until foaming. Remove the fish from the bags or clingfilm and then sear on each side for 2-3 minutes until golden brown and crisp all over.

FOR THE RED LENTILS
SPLASH OF VEGETABLE OIL
½ ONION, PEELED AND CHOPPED
1 TABLESPOON MILD CURRY POWDER
225G DRIED RED LENTILS
500ML CHICKEN STOCK
½ RED CHILLI, FINELY CHOPPED
2 HEAPED TABLESPOONS CHOPPED CORIANDER
JUICE OF ½ LIME
SALT
8. Heat a splash of vegetable oil in a saucepan and sweat the onion over a gentle heat for 4-5 minutes until softened. Stir in the curry powder, then add the lentils, stir well and cover with the stock. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until the lentils are tender.
9. When the lentils are cooked, stir in the chilli, coriander and lime juice and season to taste with salt. Set aside.

FOR THE COCONUT GARNISH
400ML CAN FULL-FAT COCONUT MILK
1 KAFFIR LIME LEAF
PINCH OF SALT
½ FRESH COCONUT, FLESH ONLY, THINLY SLICED INTO STRIPS ON A MANDOLIN
10. Pour the coconut milk into a saucepan and add the lime leaf and salt. Simmer over a medium heat for about 15-20 minutes until reduced by half.
11. Heat a frying pan until hot and toast the coconut strips for about 2 minutes until golden brown and fragrant.

TO SERVE
CORIANDER SHOOTS (SPROUTED CORIANDER SEEDS), TO GARNISH
12. Spoon the lentils onto each serving plate. Carve each monkfish fillet in half and place one piece of monkfish on top of the lentils and the other piece next to them. Drizzle over a bit of the reduced coconut milk, then garnish with the toasted coconut strips, pickled carrots and coriander shoots.

Cook more from this book
Haddock and Eggs – Cornflakes – curry oil
Lemon meringue pie

Buy this book
A Purnell’s Journey
£85, A Way With Media
Also available at Amazon: There And Back Again: A Purnell’s Journey

Read the review

A Purnell’s Journey: There and Back Again by Glynn Purnell

Weighing in at 6.5kg and standing over a foot tall, Glynn Purnell’s third book dwarfs his previous two volumes. Printed on high quality matt paper and presented in a clamshell box lined with the same pattern as the wallpaper in Purnell’s eponymous Michelin-starred restaurant, it’s a lavish production. But what do you expect from a chef with ego enough to anoint himself ‘The Prince of Birmingham’? 

Purnell tells his story in a series of chapters titled with postcodes that relate to where he has lived or cooked. It begins in B37, his childhood home in the Chelmsley Wood council estate in Solihull where the closest the young chef came to foraging was helping his father carry home boxes of meat purchased in pub car park deals. The book then follows Purnell’s route to Michelin success in the heart of Birmingham’s city centre via stints at the Birmingham Metropole, Simpson’s in Kenilworth and Hibiscus in Ludlow, with detours for stages at Gordon Ramsay’s Aubergine and Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. 

Although Purnell relates how he came to national attention and won his first Michelin star at Jessica’s in Edgebaston in 2005, the recipe for the restaurant’s signature dish of veal with caramelised squid is sadly not included. Instead, there are a selection of Purnell’s restaurant’s ‘greatest hits’ including monkfish masala with red lentils, pickled carrots and coconut garnish that ably demonstrate the chef’s knack for creating memorable dishes that stand the test of time.

Purnell is undoubtedly a macho chef and the book charts his passions for boxing, shooting, fishing and football. But there’s more than just testosterone on display here. His detailed description of the evolution of his signature haddock and eggs, cornflakes and curry oil dish proves Purnell to be a creative, thoughtful and reflective cook. 

With just 33 recipes, you may feel the need to buy Purnell’s other books to understand the full extent of his culinary talents, but There and Back Again serves up a generous enough helping of amusing anecdotes and stunning visuals to justify its hefty price tag.   

This review was originally published in The Caterer magazine.

Cuisine: Progressive British
Suitable for: Professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
A Purnell’s Journey
£85, A Way With Media
Also available at Amazon: There And Back Again: A Purnell’s Journey

Cook from this book
Haddock and Eggs – Cornflakes – curry oil
Monkfish masala with red lentils
Lemon meringue pie

Arzak + Arzak by Gabriella Ranelli, Xabier Gutiérrez and Igor Zalakain

Arzak

Few chefs have had such an influence on modern cuisine as San Sebastian-based Juan Mari Arzak. As Anthony Bourdin noted, ‘Ferran and Albert Adrià, Martin Berasetgui, Andoni Aduriz: these are just a few of the chefs who looked to Arzak as an example of the new possibilities’. Those ‘new possibilities’ crystallised into molecular gastronomy, but they had their roots in the 1970’s movement of ‘New Basque Cuisine’ the Spanish response to French nouvelle cuisine that was headed up by Arzak. So, no Arzak, no el Bulli, Fat Duck or Alinea.

Arzak + Arzak, originally published in Spanish in 2018 and now reissued in an English language edition, tells Juan Mari’s story, including his ongoing, decade-long creative collaboration with his daughter Elena, the fourth generation of the family to work in Arzak restaurant since it first opened as a tavern in 1897. With extensive narrative text and some stunning black and white portraiture, the introductory chapters provide background on the day to day running of the restaurant and kitchen, as well as the ongoing creative processes of Arzak’s ‘laboratory’ where chefs Xabier Gutiérrez and Igor Zalakain collaborate with the Arzaks to create 50 new dishes a year.

However, the lack of introductions to the often avant garde recipes is frustrating. Dishes such as Symbolic Squab (pigeon decorated with variously shaped red cabbage and purple potato tuiles); Flaming Chickpea Stew (a frozen dessert of coffee-flavoured bavarois set in a chickpea-shaped mould and served with cardamom, cocoa and gellan gum ‘rusty nails’), and the frankly bizarre Another Brick in the Chocolate and Mustard Wall are baffling when presented without context or explanation.

There are some more mainstream dishes in the book such as sea bream with nasturtium leaves and crispy crepe lobster, but make no mistake, this is a Spanish modernist cookbook. The majority of the recipes would only be attempted by a professional chef or a very serious hobbyist home cook but would make a nice souvenier for those that have eaten at the restaurant. Elena Arzak is quoted in the book saying that, ‘My biggest challenge is foreseeing the unpredictable taste of people and staying ahead of them’.  Despite such forward looking ambition, Arzak + Arzak feels trapped in molecular gastronomy’s past.

A version of this review was first published in The Caterer

Cuisine: Spanish/Progressive
Suitable for: Professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Three Stars

Buy the book
Arzak + Arzak
£30, Grub Street

John Burton-Race: The Authorised Biography with Michael Cowton

John Burton Race

Where to start with this odd and badly written biography of the former Michelin-starred chef, minor TV personality and tabloid headline-hogger? Well, how about the time Burton-Race returned drunk from a night out with his then wife Kim to find his stepdaughters Olivia and Eve and Eve’s boyfriend with what Burton-Race thought was drugs on the kitchen table. His response? To go to the utility room and unlock the gun cabinet where he kept ‘a Beretta and a special edition Browning worth £7,500’ and return to the kitchen wielding a shotgun. During a struggle, he knocked Olivia to the floor and hit both her and his wife in the face with the butt of the gun.

That may well be all you need to know about Burton-Race, who you may remember from his 2007 appearance on I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here, but if for some reason you are still considering parting with £20 for this shoddy, thrown-together book then read on. Cowton has based the above anecdote on an interview given by Kim Burton-Race to the Evening Standard in 2007. Cowton writes that Burton-Race himself, ‘was reluctant to talk about it in any great detail’ and that Cowton feels that ‘the incident does not sit well with John. It is something he would sooner forget.’ That Cowton has allowed him to do so gets to the heart of the book’s problem. You will learn as much, if not more about Burton-Race from Googling a few interviews and articles (this one by Jay Rayner from 2008 is particularly good) as you will from reading this biography.

In the second chapter, Cowton describes his first meeting with the chef which partly helps explain why the book is such a mess. ‘Without any prompting, he launches into a stream of anecdotes with no prior considered response to my first question…I suggest it might be appropriate to begin noting our conversation and he agrees. However, trying to get John Burton-Race to rewind when he is in fast forward is an entirely different matter.’ Cowton goes on to claim that ‘As I grow to know John Burton-Race better, and on a more personal level, I begin to slowly unravel the complexities of the man’. If that’s true, he has failed to document his findings. Instead, the impression Cowton gives is that he has been bamboozled by the mercurial chef and has struggled to make anything substantial from that ‘stream of anecdotes’ which are often banal and lacking in any real detail.

At 264 pages, it’s a relatively short book yet Cowton has still found it necessary to bulk it out by taking some utterly bat-shit tangents including a page on the sexism of 1960s-80s era Savoy hotel head chef Silvetto Trompetto and the subsequent achievements of women in the hospitality industry. It should be noted that Bruton-Race never worked for Trompetto or with any of the women listed by Cowton which include Prue Leith and Eugénie Brazier. And then there are the disproportionately lengthy biographies of chefs Burton-Race has actually either worked for or with including Raymond Blanc, Gary Jones (executive chef of Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons), Martin Blunos and Nigel Marriage which all include details that have no bearing on Burton-Race’s story whatsoever.

However, important incidents go unexplored. Marriage had an unwanted 15 minutes of fame in the mid-90s when he was secretly filmed physically and verbally bullying a junior chef in the kitchens of Burton-Race’s two Michelin starred restaurant L’Ortolan in Berkshire (now under different ownership). The footage featured in an episode of ITVs The Big Story documentary series exposing abuse within the restaurant industry. It was a major scandal at the time which ruined Marriage’s reputation and did no favours at all for Burton-Race who was also filmed verbally abusing the young chef. Cowton offers no new insight from Burton-Race into the incident, quoting only from reports from the time, again failing to add to the sum of biographical knowledge about the chef.

Cowton’s own deathless comment is that, ‘The situation was not helped when the film crew shot John as this opulent bloke driving in his Porsche, so everybody who didn’t have the money for a bicycle suddenly hated him. All the upper-crusties who thought John Burton-Race was politically correct, brilliantly talented and fun to be with suddenly didn’t like him anymore because they felt he had let them down.’ One suspects that those words were actually spoken by Burton-Race himself, as much of the text which is not in quotation marks reads like transcribed interview re-written in the third person. That maybe a valid approach for a biography, but only when properly considered and edited and with sufficient mediated storytelling from the biographer. Unfortunately, time and again, John Burton-Race: The Authorised Biography reads as if it has been banged out in a hurry with the minimum of care and attention.

Given the number of factual errors and spelling mistakes, it’s surprising to discover via Cowton’s acknowledgements that the book actually had an editor. It’s worth noting at this point that Cowton’s other works include books about Level 42, The Pet Shop Boys and a trilogy on Murders That Shocked the World and that, despite claiming to have a ‘passion for gastronomy’ in his Twitter handle, his unfamiliarity with his subject matter is painfully obvious. Chef Gary Hollihead is referred to as Paul Hollihead on two separate occasions, chef Aldo Zilli is called Aldo Zilley and Gidleigh Park hotel becomes Gidley Park.

Every restaurant in New York visited by Burton Race on a trip in 1994 is misnamed. Daniel is Daniels, Le Cirque is La Cirque and, for some reason, Cowton hasn’t even bothered to Google the name of ‘Robert De Niro’s place in the docks’ (it’s Tribeca Bar and Grill, and it’s not in the docks). In one of the worst sentences ever written in the English language, Peter Luger Steakhouse gets rechristened: ‘Mesmerised by the host of influential quarters, he found himself at the hub of a cosmopolitan gem and visited a steakhouse in Brooklyn called Lugeros.’ I’m sorry, he was mesmerised by what, where?

The book is full of puzzling moments. In a bizarre and difficult to follow anecdote that goes precisely nowhere, Cowton confuses rillette (potted pork), with andouillette, a famously pungent sausage made with chitterlings. On page 143 we learn that ‘John met his second wife Kim in 1996 on a Caribbean island’. On page 144, THE VERY NEXT PAGE, Cowton writes, ‘As John was collecting his Catey Award in 1995, the year also saw him betrothed to Kim’. That’s one year before they met in case you’re having trouble keeping up. More troubling is the head scratching revelation that Burton-Race’s mother and father-in-law abandoned him and his younger sister at some point in his childhood (there is no strict chronology in the early part of the book), leaving them alone in a house in Sarisbury Green in Hampshire and moved to Indonesia with ‘no explanation to the children, no heartfelt goodbyes, nothing – just gone, the taxi’s rear lights flickering and gradually fading into the distance’.

According to Cowton, the children were discovered by chance by ‘an uncle’ and then ‘placed with neighbours’. But then, sometime later (weeks, months, years – it’s impossible to tell), Burton-Race’s mother and father-in-law returned to the UK, took up residence for a brief spell and then returned to Indonesia, this time taking Burton-Race and his sister with them. Given that Cowton says that Burton-Race’s ‘earliest childhood memories are a pile of mismatched fragments’, it’s surprising that Cowton appears not to have tried to verify the exact circumstances surrounding what is obviously an important incident in his subject’s life and which he says ‘had devastating results’ and ‘left both children mentally scarred’. Why would the parents not have been arrested for child abandonment on their return to the UK? Why would they have been allowed to take them out of the country after behaving in such an astonishingly irresponsible manner. Why were the children not taken in by relatives and who were those amazingly generous-hearted neighbours?

A little bit of legwork with public records and the local paper’s archive might have provided some answers, but Cowton seems satisfied to leave his readers with more questions about his subject’s life than when they started reading the book. Much easier to devote pages documenting forgettable TV appearances on programmes like Kitchen Criminals and Great British Menu, which can be called up on YouTube, or interviewing easily accessible chefs such as Michel Roux Junior who has never even worked with Burton-Race but has ‘bumped into him several times at events’ and was willing to contribute a quote or two to fill up a bit of space.

It’s also easier to cram the book full of clichés: at various points in the book Burton Race is ‘never lots for words’, has had a ‘long and distinguished career’ is on ‘a single minded mission’ and ‘a relentless search for perfection’ or has ‘ had to manage the cards he’s been dealt’. There’s plenty of meaningless hyperbole too, culminating with the laughably unsupportable assertion that ‘without question [Burton-Race] has worked monumentally hard to achieve and maintain a level of creative genius unparalleled in his time’ (no one mention Ferran Adria or Rene Redzepi or Daniel Humm or…well, you get the picture).

There’s no question that Burton-Race is a complex figure who has led an interesting life and achieved notable success in his chosen field. In more skilled hands, his story could have made for a rattling yarn (albeit with some unsavoury aspects), instead John Burton-Race: The Authorised Biography makes for a deeply unsatisfactory read. If you want to find out about the life of a flawed British Michelin-starred chef then you’d be much better off with Marco Pierre White’s oddly titled but very readable autobiography White Slave.

Due to a litany of bad business moves and ill health (all documented in the book), Burton-Race’s career is currently at something of a low-ebb with his most recent venture in Torquay, that included John Burton Race hotel and Restaurant, folding within less than two years. From his website it appears that he is currently concentrating on consultancy. If this book is an attempt to get him back into the limelight, he may be in for a disappointment as big as anyone foolish enough to buy a copy.

Cookbook Review Rating: One star

Buy the book
John Burton-Race 2020: The Man, The Magic & The Mayhem
£20, Banovallum Books

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