Nigel Slater, Fourth Estate, 2000
Previously known for his short, fun books, Mr Slater then published this 450 page whopper, which he refers to as his magnum opus. It is. He sets forth his stall, arguing that recipes get in the way of cooking, and that a cook should learn to trust his or her nose, fingers and taste buds far more than scales, clocks or thermometers.
In the opening chapters, Slater asks us why do we cook in the first place, makes us consider who we’re cooking for and where we’ll be eating it, and how these shape what we do. He covers some basic hints for the new cook: how to cut down the work, what equipment is most useful, and general survival tips.
Two important sections follow: A Cook’s Guide to Shopping covers all the basic meats, veg, fruit, herbs and spices, and more significantly, what combinations work with what. Equally useful is a section entitled Eating for the Season where he gives us a quick run through of what times of year will find particular foods at their best. Slater is well known for his seasonal approach: he delves further on this in Real Fast Puddings and The Kitchen Diaries.
At last, after 200 pages, some recipes. The chapter Some Really Useful Stuff is exactly that: gravy, tomato sauce, salsa verde, mayonnaise, bread, pâté, stock, and shortcrust pastry. Learn to cook every single one of the recipes in this chapter, and you will be a better, happier person. Seriously. I’m not joking. These are elemental things, that you can incorporate into other dishes, and transform meals with. They also give you an insight into some fundamental techniques and how certain ingredients work.
The remainder of the book is more conventionally divided into sections on Fish, Meat, Veg, Noodles, Pudding, etc., but even so, the recipes are more about a particular technique (e.g. how to roast a chicken) and then all the variations.
This isn’t the easiest book, and one I think novice cooks would find a bit on the scary side. If you want precise instructions, then Delia is your bet. If you want to enjoy cooking and eating, then stick with this one.