Saturday, 27 October 2012

The best place for cookbooks in London (and its not in Notting Hill)

The death of the bookshop

It doesn't take a genius to realise that physical bookshops are in a rum state. The inexorable rise of the e-book has gouged huge holes in a business model manifestly unsuited to a digital world.

The implosion of Borders (a chain so big it went bust not one, two but three times!) has been the highest profile example. Waterstone's decision to stock the Kindle is, depending on how you see it, the latest example of corporate hara-kiri, or an admission of the inevitable.

The cookbook-lover in me is profoundly depressed by these developments. A good cookbook is a trove to be treasured, not just content to be licenced. However the Wall St technology analyst in me tells me that you can't fight the future. Much as a love a good bookshop I suspect that in the long run the majority of them are toast.

So I say, enjoy it while it lasts.

London's best cookbook shop (and its not the one in Notting Hill)

London's Foyle's bookshop is just such a treasure. Sprawling across a large block on the Charing Cross Road, it was long renowned for its boozy literary lunches and idiosyncratic management practices. Fiction books were bizarrely arranged by publisher which made it impossible to find anything (if Kafka did libraries...). Then there was the Stalinist teller system where you took your book to the counter, were given a ticket to take to a separate booth to render payment, and then had to return to the counter to collect your goods (ironically it didn't help, given large financial discrepancies were later discovered the accounts). For many years the store's refusal to move with the times seemed to condemn it to a slow death in the face of faster-moving rivals like Dillons and Borders.

Happily in the last ten years the grand dame has enjoyed something of a renaissance. While the Borders opposite has long self-combusted, a revamped Foyle's sales serenely on. The lifts may be a bit ratty and the floor plan slightly confusing, but plans to move up the road to an expansive new site bode well for the future.

Best of all, their cookery department is by far the best in London. That didn't always used to be the case. Back in the day Borders could out-muscle them if you were in search of imported US editions, and Notting Hill specialist Books for Cooks was the go-to place for obscure French volumes. However Borders is now gone and I last time I was at BfC the selection seemed oh so tame.

Sooo many cookbooks... My head is already getting giddy...

In contrast the selection at Foyles is expansive and exciting. So I last week I thought I'd take a trip armed with my camera and a notebook and gut-and-fillet their current inventory. It's a good time of year as publishers roll out their new lists, peacock-like, for the Christmas rush. In no apparent order, here's what I came across:

Note - this is just a subjective flick through the books on show. Its not a definitive review of anything. I'm probably wrong on most of them. Not all of them are new (especially the ones from the second hand section!). It's just a look at the books that caught my eye. Nothing more.

Salumi: The Craft of Italian Dry Curing (Michael Ruhlman & Brian Polcyn). Now I'm a sucker for dead pig. Particularly cured, salted or smoked. This is the follow-up to Ruhlman's previous book on Charcuterie, a much neglected topic, but from the point of view of an Italian-American deli. Pass the meatballs.

Modernist Cuisine at Home (Nathan Myhrvold & Maxime Bilet). Only one volume as opposed to the five volumes of the original MC (so I won't be able to use it as a bedside table this time...). Also makes more use of a pressure cooker this time round - a much neglected kitchen gadget IMHO.

Monica's Kitchen (Monica Galetti). TV sous-Dragon (and Le Gavroche sous-chef) Monica makes a surprisingly domesticated published debut, entirely at odds with her fearsome reputation. Will probably help her sell more books (basically the "you too can cook like Monica" line). Good to see that Le Gavroche head chef Rachel Humphrey's (probably the most underrated female cook in London, certainly the most underrated not to get on telly) gets a shout-out in the acknowledgements. Remember its Rachel who keeps the restaurant running while Michel and Monica are in the studio!

You're All Invited: Margot's Recipes for Entertaining (Margot Henderson). A similarly low-key debut from Margot Henderson, the lesser-known spouse of foodie deity Fergus Henderson of St John. Very much Simon Hopkinson/Nigel Slater comfort food. No obvious pigs trotters, but I may have missed them.

The Complete Nose to Tail: A Kind of British Cooking (Fergus Henderson). While I'm on that topic here's the hubby's book. Unfortunately its just a deluxe mashup of his previous two books rather than a new volume (I've a feeling this is a reprint of the expanded US version). So a bit of a cash-in from old Ferg, but worthwhile if you don't have the originals.

Memories of Gascony (Pierre Koffmann). I've blogged about this one before - the reprint has now happily arrived. It's got the recipe for the pigs trotter and the salmon confit. 'Nuff said.

Ard Bia Cook Book (Aoibheann Mac Namara & Aoife Carrigy). A bizarrely minimalist volume which could easily be mistaken for an IKEA catalogue. On closer inspection it appears to be a semi-sleb cookbook from an Irish restaurant I've never heard of.

Faviken (Magnus Nilsson). The good news - cult Arctic-Circle new-Nordic restaurant has a new cookbook out. The bad news - its been published by Phaidon the form-over-content-mongers who are a blight on the cookbook world. Unsurprisingly it embraced high production values and a surfeit of recipes. Actually some of the content is so pretentious its virtually beyond parody - such as the recipe for Vinegar Matured In The Burnt-Out Truck Of A Spruce Tree. I kid ye not.

If I Were Your Wife or how to make every day taste like Saturday (Lotta Lungren). Another one I include purely for entertainment rather than culinary value. This appears to be a badly-translated Swedish housewife's take on Mediterranean Cooking. So this is what Italians must think when they see Nigelissima!!

Ruhlman's Twenty (Michael Ruhlman). On top of the salumi, Mr Ruhlman has a second book out! Like his earlier Ratio, it's a brave but slightly flawed attempt to codify an attempt to cooking - this case taking twenty basic principles (ranging from acidity to butter to onions) and showing how they should be applied with recipes. It almost works.

The Pressure Cooker Cookbook (Catherine Phipps). As I mentioned, the pressure cooker is my current gadget du jour. A sensible selection of recipes - quite brave to include a pressure-cooked fish en papilotte recipe I have to say (generally, pressure cooker + fish = mush). She does make the very good point though that a pressure cooker can pulverise octopus to tenderness in twelve minutes (as well as making yummy congee in thirty!)

Burma: Rivers of Flavour (Naomi Daguid). As blogged about before, Naomi's first solo effort since the end of her partnership with Jeffrey Alford. Versus their previous books I think its more recipe driven. Tellingly in the acknowledgements she thanks their children but nary a mention for poor Jeffrey, so I guess (sadly) we're unlikely to see them writing together again.

New Beijing Cuisine (Jereme Leung). I've had this and his New Shanghai Cuisine on my to-by list for a while. They are very interesting books on haute-Chinese cuisine written by a Shanghai-based chef. Most Haute-Asian Fusion (HAF) books are basically French cuisine with soy-sauce. Jereme stays truer to his Chinese roots, while still adding the obligatory dash of truffle and foie gras. Well work seeking out.

Japanese Farm Food (Nancy Singleton Hachisu). Annoyingly I forgot to take a picture of this one for some reason - so I've nicked one off the web instead. But don't hold that against it this is a great book. Basically Cali girl goes to Japan for an exchange. Marries a local farmer/cowboy. Likes on the farm in Japan, teaches Japanese food and writes about it. Sounds like a recipe for disaster but its not - this is a brilliant, vibrant book which gives you all the Japanese home cooking basics with a fun twist. Interesting also she got famed American cookbook author (and Robuchon groupie) Patricia Wells to supply the foreword - a mark of quality in this case.

Memories of Gascony (Pierre Koffmann). So good I mentioned it twice! Actually no, Foyle's also has an interesting second-hand selection which has of number of notable volumes, including this one by Pierre. Also in-store was Raymond Blanc's Blanc-Mange (the original food-science-molecular-inspired-chefbook - written years before Heston came on the scene), a French version of Fernand Point's landmark Ma Gastronomie, and a copy of Patricia Well's brilliant Robuchon-for-the-masses book Cuisine Actuelle. The catch is that unlike most second-hand places, Foyle's prices are extremely keen. Memories for example is sixty five quid which is hard to swallow when the reprint is available on the next shelf for less than half that.

A Book for Cooks: 101 Classic Cookbooks (Leslie Geddes-Brown). A book after my own heart! A glossy run-down of 101 landmark cookbooks ranging from Eliza Acton's Modern Cookery to Terry Durack's Noodle. Though some of the volumes she cites are slightly obscure, I think she show's good judgement and I agree with many of her books. Hmmm a blog about cookbooks writing about a cookbook shop which stocks a book about cookbooks. Now that's meta! lol

Neurogastronomy - How the brain creates flavour and why it matters (Gordon Shepherd). Written by a US academic this could have been a valuable contribution to the molecular gastronomy/flavour perception debate. Unfortunately it looks a bit too plodding and academic. Too much neutrology, not enough gastronomy.

My Bread - The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method (Jim Lahey), Kneadlessly Simple (Nancy Baggett), No Need to Knead - Handmade Artisan Breads in 90 Minutes (Suzanne Dunaway). Jim Lahey's innovative method for no-knead bread not only kicked off a baking revolution, it seems to have kicked off a mini-genre too. TBH Dunaway's promise of no-knead artisan bread in 90 minutes sounds too good to be true - I'd probably stick to Lahey's original work.

Whole Beast Butchery: The Complete Visual Guide to Beef, Lamb and Pork (Ryan Farr, Brigit Binns & Ed Anderson). Pretty self-explanatory really. A sumptuously-photographed step-by-step guide to how to break down the beast of your choice. Really interesting for anyone who wants to understand why their tri-tip is different from their tricep. Not recommend for vegetarians though.

Testicles: Balls and Cooking in Culture (Blandine Vie, translated by Giles MacDonogh). Probably a book which only a French person could write with a straight face, though interesting they got MacDonogh (notable FT food writer) to handle the translation. To be honest, looks like a load of old bollocks to me...

Odd Bits: How to Cook the Rest of the Animal (Jennifer McLagan and Leigh Beisch). Another entry in the offal is really cool genre (cf anything by Fergus Henderson, Offal: The Fifth Quarter etc.). Written by the team who produced the wonderful iconoclastic Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes a few years back, so worth a look.
The Square Cookbook, Volume 1: Savoury (Philip Howard). Another one I've previously blogged about. Good to see it's landed and at over 400 pages its a whopper. And yes it does include the recipe for crab lasagne. Phew!

Secrets of the Sommeliers (Rajat Parr & Jordon Mackay). Another cracking book giving the view of the wine world form the perspective of a top US sommelier. A really interesting insider perspective on everything from buying tasting, matching and serving wine. A reminder of how US food books are often streets ahead of their UK rivals, especially with "prosumer" titles.

Also don't forget that Foyle's also has a wide range of food-related periodics, including Momofuku's bleeding-edge Lucky Peach (and before you ask they don't have issue 1 in stock, only 2, 3 and 4), the UK's Fire and Knives, Gastronomica, a new one called The Gourmand, the Proceedings from the last couple of Oxford Symposiums on Food and Cookery and the house journal of every self-respecting wine snob, World of Fine Wine.

In summary a great selection. The one's that stood out for me were the Japanese Farm Kitchen book and the Sommelier volume - both books I had no idea about before I stumbled into Foyles. I'm sad that when the physical bookshop does go the way of the dodo I shall miss these sort of opportunities (or at least have fewer places to seek them out). But let's just enjoy it while it lasts!

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Signatures: Pounded Tuna with Foie Gras (Ripert)

Another instalment in my series on signature dishes, following on from last week's piece on Testuya's Confit Trout. Sticking with the aquatic theme, we have the foie-gras and tuna carpaccio from Le Bernardin in New York.

The dish

Le Bernardin's tuna carpaccio (more precisely Thinly Pounded Yellowfin Tuna, Foie Gras and Toasted Baguette, Shaved Chives and Extra Virgin Olive Oil) is easy to describe. A razor-thin shard of baguette is spread with foie gras terrine and laid on the place. A layer of pounded tuna is placed on top. The dish is then seasoned with salt and pepper, brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with shallot and chives.

Eric Ripert: Not big on Casual Fridays.
Originally it started off as a plain seafood carpaccio, created by Le Bernardin's original chef and co-owner Gilbert Le Coze. Long before Nobu and Vong spearheaded the Jap-Asian fusion trend he was served barely or nonly-cooked fish in pristine simplicity. At the time this was a revolutionary as it got.

After Le Coze's untimely passing, Eric Ripert took over the stoves. The Tuna Carpaccio was by now a signature, but after coming across a foie gras & venison version in Sweden Sweden, he made the crucial tweak of adding the fatted liver.

This dish stands out for two reasons. Simplicity and balance.


It's a common misconception that dishes at better restaurants are more complicated.

Often when you try some country-house hotel straining for its first (or even second) star you are deluged with  "Textures of Cauliflower" or "Assiette of Suckling Pig" where there are a dozen things on a plate. This is something I also common New Nordic cuisine where the formula is roughly
(Sous-Vide Protein + Granite/Ice + Random Crunchy Snow/Soil/Crumb + Unusual Foraged Green + Foam/Emulsion) x 12 = Tasting Menu and Blogosphere Raves
Now occasionally this works. Viajante and Texture in London, for example. But these are the exceptions. The math is that more complexity spreads a chef's effort more thinly over multiple preparations.

In reality dishes at better restaurants are often simpler.

Escolar, simply sauced.
I've already written about St John as an example of this ethos. L'Ambroisie in Paris is another shining example - order the chocolate tart and its just a slice of tart, but one amped up to an unbelievable ethereal lightness. The notorious Tourte de Canard is simply a slice of duck pie on a plate. But it's about one of the most technically demanding dishes you can make.

The point is that simplicity is not easy - it's actually much harder.

Le Bernardin are the exponents of this philosophy par excellence. What that blew me away when I ate there was the purity of the cooking, never more than three or four components on a plate. Striped bass was paired with a simple duck consomee. Escolar was almost nude apart from a red-wine sauce. That's bravery - because when there is so little on the plate, there is nowhere for the chef to hide.


Maguy, doing that French woman-always-
looking-incredibly-chic thing
The second genius of this dish is its balance. Le Bernardin's owner Maguy Le Coze lays out her philosophy better than I can:
"To really succeed in fish, you need contrast: acidity, spice, texture." That's why every fish dish on the menu will have a balance between crisp and unctuous; exotic spices tempered with a dash of acidity, best seen in dishes like the lobster in grapefruit juice, or even the surf-and-turf, which pairs rich Kobe beef and Escolar with lemon brown butter sauce and spicy kimchi. (p74)
The Tuna Carpaccio is the perfection of this philosophy. Normally you'd think the double fattiness of foie gras with tuna would be too much, but because its so thinly pounded and delicately portioned, the zing of the lemon and shallot stands up to it. The slice of baguette provides that essential crunch and the chives provide a delicate spice.

Figuring out that balance to work is the mark of genius.

The Recipe

The dish is thoroughly documented in Eric Ripert's 2008 book On The Line. First he prepares a foie gras torchon. A whole liver (presumably duck, given the size) is cured for 24 hours with seasoning, wrapped in parchment paper and cheesecloth (a torchon) and then barely poached in chicken stock.

Note that this is barely poached - two minutes and an internal temperature of 90f / 32c is not going to cook the liver (when I make terrine in the oven I generally take it to 58c). The raw liver is just melted together, nothing more (after all its mostly fat). The method here is very similar to the Torchon recipe in the original French Laundry book, which poaches the liver for only 90 seconds. What this method does is gives a richer, butterier result and a higher yield than a standard terrine. In fact its when shaved onto the baguette its pretty much a foie gras carpaccio.

Preparing foie gras Torchon, French Laundry Style
(Also bear in mind a whole foie gras in the recipe will give you much much more than you need for a four-person portion. Make sure you have some extra brioche and fruit chutney to hand!)

The tuna is then pounded thinly between plastic wrap and cut to match the plate. Baguette slices are layered between baking sheets and toasted, and then you're pretty much off to the races!

This recipe should be quite straightforward for the home cook. The only potentially fiddly bit is the torchon - but at least the brief poaching time means you won't have the usual small lake of foie gras fat to deal with. And of course - as with all such recipes - don't even think about this unless you can get the very best possible quality fish.

The Book

To finish, a few notes about the book itself. As the tagline Inside The World of Le Bernardin suggests, this is one of those fly-on-the-wall books which purport to give a snapshot in the life of a great restaurant (for a similar but vastly inferior example see Phaidon's A Day at El Bulli).

Normally I don't like this sort of book because the pages tend to be filled with cheap reportage, at the expense of recipes and detail (just ask Phaidon). I have to say though that they do a damn good job with this one. I think the reason why is provided in the introduction:
Here's a secret: The lease on Le Bernardin runs out in 2011. I hope we can successfully renegotiate, but the one thing Gilbert didn't leave us is a crystal ball, so we have to prepare. That's why wanted to publish this book, as a stribute to the incredible people who make this one of the best restaurants in New York every meal, every day. (p11)
This urgency is what makes this book feel much more like a labour of love than a PR-puff piece (though happily the lease was renewed).

Now you can even lay out your kitchen out like Eric!
The first half of the book is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at how the restaurant works. It's not so much a narrative as a series of magazine features which touch on everything, from how the kitchen is laid out to how the reservation system works.

Although the presentation is inevitably glossy, you don't feel anything is being hidden away. For example it is very honest about how chef de cuisine Chris Muller (not Ripert) is the driving force behind the kitchen. And not only Muller but also the sous-chef and sauce-chef also get full profiles. Co-author Christine Muhlke is making a point here - Le Bernardin is more than just Maguy and Eric.

The recipes which make up the back half of the book are thorough and detailed - they feel like full-fat restaurant versions. In addition to the carpaccio, its generously larded with Ripert's signatures, from the olive-oil poached escolar to the progression of fluke ceviches. Pastry chef Michael Laiskonis also chips in with a number of modern desserts (including a chocolate, caramel and maple egg which has definite echoes of the Arpege Egg).

The best part however isn't the restaurant guff. It's the pen-picture of Justo Thomas, Le Bernardin's fish butcher on pages 58-59. Justo's incredible skill and attention to detail epitomise why Le Bernardin is a special place.

Justo, with victim.
If you want to understand more about Justo (and his restaurant), just read the chapter Anthony Bourdain devotes to him in his 2010 book Medium Raw. It's some of the best writing Bourdain has done since Kitchen Confidential, and I'll leave you in his capable hands:
There are two kinds of salmon to deal with now. One large wild salmon and either thirteen- to fifteen-pound organically farm-raised salmon... With the chef's knife, he cuts from collar down and lifts off the filets... The skins are removed with a few rocking sweeps of the knife. 
But most remarkable is what he does with the pin bones. These are the tiny, tricky, nearly invisible little rib bones left in the meat when you take the filets off the fish. They have to be removed individually by yanking the little fuckers out with tweezers or needle-nose pliers, a process that takes most cooks a while. Ordinary mortals have to feel for each slim bone lurking just beneath the surface, carefully not to gouge the delicate flesh.
Justo moves his hand up the filet in a literal flurry of movement; with each bone that comes out, he taps the pliers on the cutting board to release it, then, never stopping, in one continuous motion, repeats repeats repeats. It sounds like a quick, double-time snare drum beat, a staccato tap tap tap tap tap tap, and then... done. A pause of a few seconds as he begins another side of fish. I can barely see his hand move. 
I have never seen anything like it in nearly three decades in the restaurant business.
PS If you want to see the man in action check out the video here. Pin bones at 1:01.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Real Chocolate by Chantal Coady: Water Ganache & Chocolate Duck

Adventures in Chocolate

I've always fancied myself as a bit of a chocolatier

My earliest experiments were as a schoolboy and involved Dairy Milk bars melted in foil on top of the radiator (I suspect my tempering technique was a little crude). Then a visiting aunt left me a copy of A Passion for Chocolate Lyon uberchocolatiers Maurice and Jean-Jacques Bernachon, and it was all downhill from there.

I swiftly graduated onto fiendish gateux like L'Aveline (a layered confection of hazelnuts, rum and genoise), and their crowning glory the Fruit d'Automne (chestnut buttercream, coated with chocolate and marizpan and cut to look like ripe chestnuts). I hasten to add that my versions were more like Les Tennis Balls d'Automne than the fancies pictured below:

By the time I was at University I had regressed to ganaches and truffles (hint: forget the crap about treating it gently. Use a hand blender to emulsify the b*stards) which featured heavily in my weekly cookery column in the student newspaper (how did you get a weekly cookery column? Easy, get yourself made Editor!).

So its not surprising I have a number of chocolate books in my collection. In addition to the classic Bernachon volume (underrated, and still the source of my go-to recipe for hot chocolate), there are volumes books from all parts of the world. Representing the UK is MPW alumnus Paul Young's Adventures in Chocolate, featuring his award-winning (and slightly over-hyped) sea-salt caramels. From the US Andrew Garrison Shott's Making Artisan Chocolates strikes a good balance between accessibility and cheffiness (you know the drill...Raspberry-Wasabi chocolates and soft-focus photography).

Soft-focus chocolate, Garrison-Schotts style
Holding up the Old Europe end is Belgian Jean-Pierre Wybauw's Fine Chocolates, Great Experience (I'm assuming it sounded catchier in the original Dutch) which is my most "pro" volume, featuring mind-bending diagrams of tempering curves and a average water content to three significant figures for every single recipe. He does finish with quite a good looking Nutella recipe though.

I've also had my eye on William Curley's Couture Chocolate for a while, but haven't quite got round to it yet.

But today I want to talk about a book that's slightly close to home, Chantal Coady's Real Chocolate.

Cocoa before Chantal

The chocolate scene in the UK before Ms Coady arrived was a dark place. It mainly consisted of either Ferrero Rocher, After Eights or impoverished addicts melting down milky-bars over home-radiators to get their fix.

Ms Coady was a breath of fresh air. She originally set up her Roccoco chocolate shop in the wilds of darkest Chelsea back in 1983, before authoring an excellent pocket-guide to the world's finest chocolate houses. She was particularly notable for pioneering the fashion for weirdly flavoured chocolate bars (cardamon, sea-salt, lemon etc) which are now a staple of major manufacturers. Although no longer as fashionable or cutting edge is modern outfits like Melt or or Artisan du Chocolat, it remains a reliable (if slightly disorganised place to shop).

In terms of its style its most similar to the Paul Young or Garrison Shotts books, i.e. at the accessible end of the range. There are good introductory comments about tasting chocolate and a sensible guide to tempering (although personally I prefer Paul Young's "seeding method" at home, if only because it creates less mess). There are a bunch of recipes for cakes and desserts which are much of a muchness (in particular a baked semifreddo on page 103 which I still struggle to comprehend).

However my interest in the book revolves around two recipes. Water ganache and chocolate duck.

Like water for chocolate

Although Real Chocolate actually has very few recipes for actual chocolates (in contrast to Garrison Shotts and Wybauw which are basically wall-to-wall truffles), it does have one revolutionary recipe. Tucked away on page 32 is her Water Ganache.

Now Ganache - for the uninitiated - is the basic emulsion of chocolate, cream and (sometimes) butter or eggs which is the foundation of any great chocolate house. Rolled into balls it becomes their plain truffle (the best way to benchmark any chocolatier). Piped into pastry cases it becomes chocolate tart. Tucked between layers of sponge it makes a chocolate gateau into a double-chocolate gateau. It even work at a pinch as a crude frosting, although if you want a mirror glaze best look elsewhere.

But when you prepare Ganache - or any other chocolate preparation - the cardinal rule is to KEEP IT AWAY FROM THE TAP.

Water, or steam in any form is the deadly enemy of chocolate. The merest touch makes melted chocolate "seize" into oily clumps and reducing the strongest of chocolatiers to tears. But that's precisely what Ms Coady does (and water I mean, not make grown men cry).

The origins of the recipe are losts in the mists of time. She claims it came from an unnamed French chocolatier. No matter. It is remarkable either way. She simply melts chocolate and adds boiling water spoonful by spoonful. First it thickens. Then it seizes (as to be expected), but then by some miracle it relaxes to become a smooth Ganache which can then be rolled, spooned or piped as you will.

It probably has some connection with Herve This' famous Chocolate Chantilly, a whipped combination of chocolate and water. But I'll leave the precise science to the experts.

The advantage of this Ganache is two-fold. First its (slightly) less fattening that the classic chocolate-cream mixture. Secondly it lets the chocolate flavour shine through much more cleanly, because there aren't lots of fat molecules getting in the way.

Damian Allsop: The Water-Ganache King
Of course there are downsides. The water can be infused to add secondary flavours (she provides a version using earl grey tea), but it will never carry those as well as the fat molecules in the traditional cream. So if you are making a raspberry-wasabi ganache for some reason, I'd stick to cream. But for a chocolate geek (like me) the alchemy is truly miraculous.

If you want proof of this just look up Damian Allsop, the Robuchon, Ramsay and Can Roca alumnus who has built his reputation around Water-Ganache. Allsop invented the technique independently at much the same time, and has since built a flourishing trade supplying some of Britain's finest restaurants with his infused chocolates.

Surprisingly this technique has had little traction in the US or France (or at least I find little mention of it in other books). But if you are remotely interested in chocolate you should be interested in this.

The proof isn't in the pudding

The second reason Real Chocolate stands out is that is has the most extensive selection of savoury chocolate recipes that I am currently aware of. Every other chocolate book gives you endless cakes, brownies and truffles. But only Chantal gives you a whole chapter on of kidneys, lamb and duck.

In some ways this is unsurprising, because the use of chocolate in savoury dishes is a well-established practice. Most famous it crops up in the famous Mexican sauce Mole Poblano. Its also commonly used to flavour red-wine sauces for game such as venison or hare (Gordon Ramsay's Passion for Flavour has a lovely recipe for Venison with Chocolate Sauce). Larousse also cites it being used to sauce Aragonese dishes of calf's tongue and langouste.

But I think it needed a real chocolate geek like Chantal to make a chapter of it. Some of the combinations are traditional - used alongside chillis with Mexican refried beans (p81) or in a red-wine sauce to match with hare (p78). But others are more interesting - in particularly its frequently pairing with anchovies and capers, first in a tapenade (p54) and later with a roast leg of lamb (p82). Cocoa nibs are deployed to add crunch to a tempura batter (59), and used to perk up devilled kidneys (p61) There is also a hilarious steamed savoury roly-poly... thing morbidly christened Reverend Mother's Arm (p68 - ah the benefits of a convent education!).

Slasher movie! (You may need an English sense of humour to understand the hilarity behind this one)

And, as I mentioned at the start, there's a wonderful-sounded recipe of Lacquered Duck in Chocolate Sauce (p75) which is basically a Peking Duck preparation (inflate duck under skin, lacquer with honey syrup before roasting) paired with a sauce containing ginger, cardamon, soy sauce and a whisper of chocolate.

Quack, quack!
Note a whisper of chocolate. Coady is well aware of the golden rule for savoury chocolate - use it in moderation. Chocolate with meat should always be thought of as a spice rather then as an ingredient. The trick is to add enough so there is a hint of something, but not enough to scream "chocolate".

Now occasionally I grant you Ms Coady lets her imagination run away with her. The words "chocolate" and "sushi" should never be used in the same recipe. Definitely never adjacent (but she does. I won't provide the page number). But on the whole there are more hits than misses.

And how do I know that? Well many years ago I went to Mju (Tetsuya Wakuda's short-lived London outpost) where they were serving a special menu of dishes from this book. And from what recall (this must be a decade ago after all), it was quite, quite delicious:

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Signatures: Confit of Petuna Ocean Trout (Tetsuya)

A change of tack. Rather than full length cookbook reviews, a series focusing on individual signature dishes. In short more cheffy stuff, less post-modernist bullshit. To start with, Sydney's Tetsuya Wakuda and his famous confit of ocean trout.

You say Ocean Trout, I say Tetsuya

Snail Porridge. Pork Buns. Black Cod with Miso.

Sydney chef Tetsuya Wakuda's Confit of Petuna Ocean Trout is one of those landmark dishes which has no point of reference apart from itself.

You say Black Cod, I say Nobu. You say Ocean Trout, I say Tetsuya.

And like many of these dishes its surprisingly straightforward. The recipe has been tweaked many times, but at its heart its a fillet of ocean trout, marinaded in herbs, olive and grapeseed oil and then cooked in the slowest possible oven until just warm. Its then sprinkled with finely chopped konbu and served with a simple shaved fennel salad.

The genius is taking rich, melting salmon trout to the point where it is just cooked, but looks raw. Barely firm but still fresh. The konbu (which also salts the dish) then gives a savoury hit, while the fennel adds a zesty crunch.

Like many great signatures, what's stunning is its simplicity. Barely three or four components on the plate. Less is most definitely more.

Memories of Salmony

Tetsuya himself admits that the inspiration wasn't his. It originally started as a confit salmon dish, from his time with the godfather of Sydney food, Tony Bilson (who has just ended a typically turbulent year by reopening his old stamping ground, the Berowra Waters Inn).

Actually confit salmon goes back even further. Pierre Koffmann (who hails from Gascony, the home of confit) prepared a similar dish at La Tante Claire back in the 1980s. The recipe features in his (recently reprinted) Memories of Gascony, where he says it was a dish his grandmother Camille used to cook with wild salmon from the Adour river.

Of course salmon confit differs from duck confit in a couple of ways. The meat is not salted, and the cooking is much gentler - briefer and for a much shorter time. Tetsuya then took the dish and did three more things with it. He replaced the duck fat for a lighter mix of olive and grapeseed oil, he cooked the fish at an even temperature so the colour did not change, and he swapped out the salmon for Petuna Ocean Trout.

Where's Petuna again?

For many years I thought the "Petuna" was a place or a breed of fish. It was only a couple of years ago I found out it was a person. Two in fact.

Peter and Una Rockcliff run Tasmania's biggest seafood supplier, an industrial operation which sells nearly AUD400m of fish a year. But they weren't always big. Peter used to be a rock-lobster fisherman, but struck gold when he pioneered aquaculture, first with roughy, then salmon in the 1980's and then the iconic ocean trout in 1991.

Ocean trout (salmon trout or sea trout in Europe) is exactly that - a giant, steelhead trout which has escaped into the sea. It looks very similar to salmon, but is little less fatty and a little fuller flavoured. In Europe the flesh is paler than salmon, but the Tasmanian variety has a vivid orange colour.

Now it seems strange that this dish uses farmed fish. After all aquaculture is a dirty word in European gastronomic circles. It's associated with cheap, flabby lice-ridden salmon which pollute sea lochs and wreck the environment. Salmon found in any high-end restaurant in London will be defiantly labelled Wild. Indeed when Tetsuya served his confit at the short-lived Mju, he used wild Scottish salmon rather than ocean trout.

Of course Tetsuya doesn't just get any old farmed fish - his fillets are hand-picked and filleted for him at Petuna's Devonport factory. But nonetheless I find it interesting that while Neil Perry bangs in his Rockpool Bar Grill book about only getting line-caught Ike-Jime killed fish, Tets quietly goes about preparing his signature dish with a factory-killed farmed product.

I think the point is that not all farmed fish is bad, but fish can be farmed badly.

The Recipe

Anyhow, back to the recipe (this is a cookbook blog after all). The definitive version is in Tetsuya's 2001 cookbook. As I said before, the cooking method is very simple; I've done it many times. After being marinaded, the oil-coated fillets are placed in an oven at its very lowest setting with the door propped open. This gently warms then until the fish firms up, but before it changes colour (about 40c on a probe thermometer is the right temp in my experience).

Catching this moment is the what makes the dish.

The genius of the method though is that the incredibly gentle cooking gives you lots of leeway to pull the fish at the right time. That's in contrast to most fish dishes where you often only have seconds before a pan-fried tranche is overdone (paper-thin sea-bass fillets, I'm looking at you). In essence its is a version of the low-temperature cooking so beloved of molecular gastronauts - all that's missing is the sous-vide bag.

Apart from (or rather, in addition to) the cooking, the rest of the dish is a walk in the park. Zap parsley, capers and oil in a blender for the sauce. Shave the fennel and toss with lemon for the salad.

A few more comments. Bear in mind the temperature of the dish (even Tetsuya describes it as "lukewarm") is not to everyone's taste. I've had dinner guests send this one back and ask for it to be cooked a bit more - needless to say they never got repeat invites! :-p. But I assume if you're reading this you wouldn't consort with such people.

Also if you want the full-fat restaurant dish bear in mind the version in the book has been slightly adapted. As far as I can tell the restaurant cooks whole sides of salmon, rather than individual portions. It also completely immerses them in the oil while being cooked (which makes more sense for a confit). Oven times are naturally more precise too - 50-55c for 25 minutes (which makes sense to me if you want to take the meat itself to c40c). None of this should be impossible for a reasonably-equipped home cook.

The Book

To finish a few works on the book itself. Tetsuya is a good book, maybe not a great one. It sits on my shelf with a bunch of other Haute Asian Fusion (HAF) volumes - the Nobu books, Alan Wong, Momofuku, Susar Lee, Ming Tsai etc. I'd rate it ahead of Wong, Susar and Ming but would take Momofuku and the original Nobu volume over it any day.

The book is mainly straight recipes. The introductory comments are relatively short. That's good and bad - I can do without the obligatory hagiography but it's always good to know more about a chef's background and where their cooking is coming from. The recipes are your standard HAF (although bear in mind its over a decade old - it would have been more revolutionary in its day). Lots of lightly-cooked fish and the occasional truffle. It's printed on a slight grungy matt paper, rather than gloss stock, which means the photos can look a bit muddy.

Apart from the Confit Ocean Trout dish I've taken a bizarre shine to the Duck Terrine dish (p118 - although it didn't work well the one time I tried it!), Grilled Fillet of Veal with Wasabi and Sea Urchin Butter (p136; trashy in the same way as Peter Gordon's Beef Pesto), and Roast Scampi with Tea and Scampi Oil (p98).

Other noteworthy points and inspirations: There is very little molecular influence in this book (unless you count the slow-cooked ocean trout), but a savoury sorbet does pop up in the Tartare of Marinated Scampi with Tomato and Pepper Sorbet (p46). The Cold Soup of Cauliflower and Caviar (p12) sounds like a riff on Joel Robuchon's famous Gelee de Caviar a la Creme de Chou Fleur. The Lobster Ravioli with Tomato and Basil Vinaigrette (p72) is very, very similar to Gordon Ramsay's signature Lobster Ravioli dish, although Tetsuya uses wonton wrappers rather than pasta. The desserts are unmemorable.

That's all.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

A Yorkshire Cookbook by Mary Hanson Moore: The English Terroir

Where not to eat in the UK

The English provinces are a depressing place to eat.

While London's cuisine has moved forward by leaps and bounds (in fact I believe we finally have as many three star restaurants as Brussels), food outside of the capital (aka "the provinces") remains sadly lacking. Apart from a bunch of country-house hotels and a handful of avant-garde establishments (Sat Bains, L'Enclume and Le Champignon Sauvage), it is hard to recommend anywhere good to eat beyond the Bray Gap.

More damning is that once you get beyond the thin crust of posh restaurants, there is little in the way of regional food. Few of the restaurants named above draws on historic culinary traditions, because there are none. Up and down the country people now shop identikit pap from their nearest Tescos under the perverted maxim that cheap is good. For the majority of Britons, dinner remains an inconvenient refuelling stop between Neighbours and Coronation Street.

At least that's the theory.

Whether its true or not I'm not be qualified to say (after all I never really get out of London much, apart from to go to Bray). But one thing I'm sure of - it didn't used to be like this.

And the reason I know that is because of Mary Hanson Moore.

A very Yorkshire Cookbook

I don't know much about Ms Moore. I know she grew up in the West Riding of Yorkshire. I know her mother was a country woman (and skilled cook), her father a soldier (who lost a leg in the Great War). And I do know that at some point in the late 1970s she put pen to paper and wrote a cookbook.

Mary Hanson Moore is the author of a slim but extraordinary volume called A Yorkshire Cookbook, published by David & Charles in 1980. Like many of the books I like to highlight on this blog, it doesn't look like much. It looks like the sort of tatty old volume which haunts the cookery section in your local library (in fact it is - mine is a second hand copy flogged courtesy of City of Westminster Public Libraries surplus).

It's not a long book, barely over 120 pages. But its overturns any preconceptions you may have about provincial English food.

It's a sort of memoir with recipes, beautifully written with an unmistakably Yorkshire voice. The eight chapters are broadly based around type of dish, but headings like "Puddings, Possets and Flummery", "Brown Trout and Yorkshire Rabbits" or "Feast Days And Squirrel Days" tell you this is more than just a manual. Hanson Moore focuses on the food of her childhood, especially her mothers cooking, skillfully tales and reminisces around the edges of recipes. The overall effect is like sitting with her round a crackling fire as she pours out her wisdom, Gandalf-like, onto the page.

But its more than that. What this book does is single-handedly make the case for a proud, regional English food that can take on the best of France.

A proud food

We get Heinz baked beans.
The French get cassoulet
with confit duck and
Toulouse sausage.  >-(
You see, I've always thought we have a sort of cultural cringe about the local food in this country, particularly compared to our neighbours across The Channel. Whilst the French wax lyrical about their terroir (that mythical combination of landscape, history and place), and engage in tedious debates about who makes the best cassoulet (Castelnaudary for me - I'm a sucker for confit duck), we Brits tend to retreat into our shell. Partly this is because local culinary traditions genuinely were scythed away by postwar homogenisation. But partly its because we assume "well its a French bean / mutton / dead pig stew, therefore it must be special". As I said - cultural cringe.

A great example of the genre is Pierre Koffmann's recently reissued Memories of Gascony. Although Koffmann was a three star chef, the focus is on the hearty peasant food of his childhood. In particular his formidable grandmother Camille, and the magic she worked on the stove.

Well I'm sorry, but Mary Hanson Moore's mum could have Nanna Koffmann any day.

You see Yorkshire, Britain's largest county, has always been a fiercely proud land. Its denizens often refer to is as "God's own county". This bravado was most recently displayed at the Olympics where - for a time - it sat ahead of Australia and Japan on the Olympic medals table. If there was any part of Britain which is immune from cultural cringe, then this is it.

Yorkshire: Hill and Dale
This pride is what shines through when Hanson Moore writes about her mother's cooking, and it is what defines it. It is why it will never conform to the British stereotype of food defined by cheats, convenience or speed. To cut corners would be self-defeating. No-one might ever tell. But she would know.

It is vividly etched when she writes about Thursday Baking Day. The cast iron range was thoroughly scrubbed, then stoked at the crack of dawn. For the rest of the day her mother would be on her feet all day keeping it roaring hot (even through the hottest of summer) and baking all manner  of cakes, breads and tarts. So when Hanson Moore came home at four:
Each Thursday,on the big table, would be spread large, golden-crisp loaves of bread, enough for a week’s eating, for no Yorkshire housewife then would dream of buying her bread, unless in a dire emergency. There would be one large fruit-cake, redolent of cinnamon and mixed spice; trays of small buns, spotted with currants (there for my brother and his rugby-playing friends); shortcrust almond tarts, crisp and golden, with a delicious splodge of jam hidden beneath the almond mixture; saucer-sized Yorkshire curd tarts, spicy and faintly cheesy; and the large slab of parkin, brown and sticky on top, adding its ginger scent to the rest. (p9)
This is both food, and food writing, of the highest calibre.

A local food

This book is also resolutely local. The French like to bang on about their terroir, how closely food is tied to the land (except of course when they bang on about their posh restaurants, and it suddenly becomes truffles-with-everything).

Well this book also has an overwhelming sense of place. This is particularly clear in her use of ingredients. Dock pudding is made from snakeweed from the Calder Valley. Grouse is brought down from the moors, rook pie from the dales. Rabbit comes from Wakefield and rhubarb from Morley and Leeds.

The language too is distinctly, and differently northern - a reminder of Yorkshire's Viking heritage.  Fackle (p21) is a bake of cabbage and mutton. Clouted cream (p57) is a positively medieval dish of scalded milk and cream, spiked with mace and rose water. Moggy (p66) we are told comes from the Norse mugi for corn (its a baked cake with golden syrup, butter and lard), Mell Cakes (from Icelandish mjol for meal) are flatcakes studded with sugar and grated nutmeg.

Her recipes also weave together history and lore. Wilfra Week Pie and Wilfra Cheesecakes mark the feast of St Wilfred (patron of Ripon cathedral). Stamford Bridge Spear Pie commemorates the second most famous battle fought in 1066. Mince pies are traditionally made in an oval shape, to commemorate the manger of the baby Jesus. If she was ever asked why, I think she would say “because it was always so”.

History and place – that is the essence of terroir.

A delicious food

But terroir is not enough.

You can have the history in the world. But if food is not delicious it is only fuel.

At first sight this book does not look promising. Recipes are straightforward, but simple. On the whole Manson Moore paints with a relatively limited palette of ingredients. Beef, mutton and lamb dominate the meats, although there are plenty of ideas for offal, such as Yorkshire Goose (made with ox heart), Haslet (made with pluck – the lungs and liver of a pig) and inventive ways with tripe.

But don't let that fool you. After all plain ingredients don't necessarily need plain food - just look at Lyon.

After all Lyon, renowned as the gastronomic stomach of France, is a similarly industrial, down-at-heel place (go for a walk around the Gare de la Part-Dieu if you don't believe me). And like Yorkshire, its food is symbolised not by truffles or foie gras, but by something simple - the humble onion. Like Yorkshire the food you find in the neighbourhood bouchons isn't grand cuisine, but humbly tripe (tablieur de sapeur) and cream cheese (cervelle de canut).

Its interesting flicking open my translation of Cuisine du Terroir (helpfully organised by region and a good counterweight to Elizabeth David's French Provincial Cooking, which lists dishes by type) to the section on the Lyonnais, and comparing it to a page in A Yorkshire Cookbook. I think you'll agree, the similarities are striking:

So in the pages of A Yorkshire Cookbook you find a recipe for a black pudding, studded with pork fat and onions to match the finest boudin blanc (p15). Yorkshire pudding is lovingly described in all its glory (beat like a maniac until the mixture is like smooth runny cream, and the top is full of air bubbles - p27). Bacon custard is layered into freshly baked shortcrust cases (as she notes, is this that much different to quiche), and sorrel (the weed  which made the reputation of the three-star Maison Troisgros near Lyon) is turned into a zingy springtime soup.

Like many English works, puddings pies and cakes are the honour and glory. And while the ingredients feature the same endless of flour, sugar, fruit, butter and/or lard but there are infinite variations. The chapter on puddings is notably replete. Yorkshire Sack Pudding, West Riding Pudding, Syllabub, Flummery all feature, but pride of place must belong to the  and the wonderfully named York Velvet (a sort of crumble made with apples, milk and apricot jam).

Her chapter on pies opens with a glorious Christmas Pie (p60) which begins Take a goose, chicken, partrige, turkey and pigeon, and open each down the back... Curd Tarts and Custard Tarts receive full billing, before she proceeds through Rhubarb Pie, Bilberry Pie and Apple Tartlets. And of course there are the famous Fat Rascals, scraps of shortcrust rolled with sugar, currants and spread hot with butter.

The cakes I find workmanlike rather than inspiring. As she herself says - these are "Climb-a-Mountain-Cakes", not the delicate clouds you find in a modern tea room. Interestingly lard is the principal lubricant, rather than butter (something I also notice in Chinese sweetmeats - that's why Chinese egg tarts are so much flakier than Portugese Pastel de nata).

The chapter on fish and eggs is less inspiring (handling delicate fish is one area where the Yorkshire magic does not reach), and the egg dishes are workday. I do like the endearing name for "Pretty Dish" though, a recipe for shirred eggs (p107). It's also worth mentioning Yorkshire Wife's Sod, a baked pottage of oatcakes and eggs which sounds more like "Yorkshire Wife's Revenge" to me!

Surprisingly the book contains only one recipe for potatoes (and no, that isn't chipped).

A rare book. A rare pride.

Of course it could be that Yorkshire is the exception, and all the other regions are just a culinary wasteland (I'm sure many proud Yorkshiremen believe that). I'm not claiming for one moment that the British terroir has anything like the depth or breadth you find in France, with its two hundred and forty six types of cheese. In provincial France it seems you can't go ten miles without finding some sparkling patisserie. In Britain you can't go ten yards without finding a Tescos.

But what I am claiming that in at least one place, at one time it did. And A Yorkshire Cookbook is the proof of the pudding.

And the reason why is a rare pride, as Ms More summons up at the close:
For expatriate Yorkshire folk there can never be a place quite like it. We curse its cold sweeping winds whistling down the long valleys; the long winters before the first crocus; the rattling windows; and the struggle to keep the sheep alive on the fells. But when the sun shines over those fells, lightening the limestone crags, making subtle patterns on the darker gritstone, and we watch the clear becks and rivers splashing over brown pebbles, we know that we would not be elsewhere. The first purple saxifrage glows on the crags of Penyghent, the boots come out, and we are off to the hills of home. (p123) 

Afterword - Where can you buy the book? As I said earlier, this isn't a book you are likely to find in your local bookstore. My second-hand copy is one mum used to have even when we were in the old house, which takes it back fifteen years or so. Thankfully, as ever, Amazon comes to the rescue. The UK site lists at least one copy available for the princely sum of £8, but the US site comes up trumps with over ten editions up for grabs, mostly in the $10-25 range (although there is one silly $300 listing). Abebooks also lists copies (which don't seem to overlap with any of the Amazon vendors) for between £3 and £16. I think is is a bargain at any of those prices. There is no e-book version as yet. :-(

Note also that of the three avant-garde provincial restaurants I mentioned at the beginning, both Sat Bains and Le Champignon Sauvage have new or imminent cookbooks which are worth looking out for.