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2 posts from November 2010

29 November 2010

Keys to Good Cooking

image from www.amazon.co.uk Few people are held in such high reverence in the world of food as Harold McGee.  It's a given that his On Food & Cooking is 'the most thumbed', 'splattered with sauce' or 'falling apart from overuse' in every chef's book collection. 

Given his exalted status, a new book by McGee is going to forment much excitement.  As I opened the envelope of my review copy of Keys to Good Cooking and I realised what was inside, I'm fairly certain I let out a slightly camp 'Oooooh'.  Then I opened it and I let out a more Eeyoreish 'Ohhhhh'.

After the excitment of On Food, this seemed rather flat, all a bit pedestrian.  To continue the cartoon theme, a bit Noddyish.  I hadn't bothered to read any of the blurb about the book, I just knew this was more from the great McGee. Surely, this was an epilogue to On Food, he'd made new discoveries and this book was the exposition of that.

I was wrong.  If anything, it's the prologue.  Or at the very least, it's the simplified, spare version of On Food & Cooking.  It's a doorstep like it's big brother, but it is no chef's book.  It is the home cook's bible.  I'd say, having delved into it, that it could be the most important book written for the home cook for many years. 

The science of food - that McGee is in large part responsible for propogating - beloved by the the professional and keen amateur cook is complex and confusing.  I think it can all seem rather cliquey and knowing.  This book cuts through all that to the core issues.

It tees itself up as helping the reader to understand their recipes but it is not a recipe book.  From what I have read, and I'd be lying if I said I'd read it cover to cover, it does just that.  It explains why a sauce will curdle, and why it's a wise move to add lemon juice to artichokes, in a very accessible way.  I think the ideal way to use it, is find a recipe you like and then read the relevant section in Keys on each of the key ingredients.  Anyone doing this on a regular basis will be hard pressed not to be a better cook.

True, if On Food was read in the same way, I think one's cooking skills would improve immeasurably.  But On Food is not a book for everyone.  Keys is.

Whenever I'm asked what book any kitchen should have, my stock response has been The Cook's Book.  Its combination of insight, technique and recipes is exceptionally useful.  I'll now add Keys to Good Cooking to that very short list of must haves.  I can't recommend it enough.

10 November 2010

The SsLuT

I haven't always kept kosher.  It was a rash decision I took before my barmitzvah.  As I was learning more about my religion, I realised it was something I wanted to do.  My decision may also have been influenced by my brother who made a very similar decision some years earlier.

I've only wavered once, when I was at university and increasingly getting into food in a slightly obsessive way.  I couldn't see the point of keeping kosher.  I then met a very special lady, who got me back on track.

This is a long way of saying I know not of a BLT, but I understand from all who partake that they're tasty.  And it is from the insistence of others that the SsLuT was born: smoked salmon, lettuce and tomato.

Some years ago, I got to thinking that there was an odd similarity between bacon and smoked salmon.  Obviously, there is the issue of one coming from a land based mammal and the other a fish.  One being a cheap product and the other until recently, being quite expensive.  BUT they're both quite fatty.  They're often served in strips (tenuous I know), they err towards pink (I know, I know) and their respective flavour profiles are relatively earthy.  Ok look, maybe I'm pushing my luck, but stay with me because the resulting sandwich is a stunna. 

Get some smoked salmon.  Heat your frying pan until it gets very hot, turn on the extractor (it all gets rather fishy) and place your fish in the pan.  Stand back as it sizzles and let it cook until it turns brown at the edges - shouldn't take too long at all - turn the salmon over and repeat.

This is a sandwich best eaten in either an onion platzel or a sesame bagel.  It needs mayo, preferably homemade so it's not too claggy.  Lettuce and tomato are to taste.

It's really very good.  It's the SsLuT.

Just to finish, a (useful) bit of trivia.  There is a fish that is kosher (not all of them are) that is called shibuta that supposedly tastes of pork.  It sounds pretty gross to me, I'm not sure I want my fish tasting of pork.  Nonetheless, if anyone happens to catch one as you're fishing in the Euphrates, do let me know, I'm intrigued to try it.