Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Suggested by Jay Rayner

“Cookbook titles tend towards the functional. It’s the food of this, or the book of that. And then there’s the best cookbook title of all time: Roast Chicken and Other Stories by Simon Hopkinson, with Lindsey Bareham. The second half of that sentence is perfect, for all recipes are indeed a story. The ingredients are the beginning. The method is the middle. We all know the ending. The best of those stories promise a better life. And then there is roast chicken, one of those tales that people like me love being told time and again.” 

When I read Jay Rayner’s recent discussion of trying recipes from Simon Hopkinson’s book, “How we all fell for Simon Hopkinson's lovely tale of roast chicken” (published in the Guardian on Feb. 14 and quoted above), I had to take a look at it — fortunately, a Kindle version is very, very inexpensive! Although the book was published in 1994, this was the first time I heard of it: not surprising! The number of cookbooks in this world, even very good ones, is astronomical.

Although many critics are very enthusiastic, I find this book only fairly interesting. It’s an alphabetical list of foods, not very comprehensive, starting with anchovies, eventually talking about kidneys, liver, and lamb, and ending with veal. A little essay about each food, and sometimes a memory about the author's relationship with other well-known cooks, precedes a few recipes for each item. I’ve now read through the book, though I haven’t tried the recipes, which look good but maybe not too adventurous. Note that this reading is a distraction from my great English Breakfast project, to which I shall return!

As an example, here is what Hopkinson says about smoked haddock: “I look upon smoked haddock as being essentially British. There is something about its distinctive smoky, fishy odor when being cooked that is familiar and comforting. It’s fireside stuff, soft and buttery. Sunday evening food.” (p. 240) He gives three recipes for smoked haddock with potatoes, in an omelet, and in soup.

Another quote: “ I used to think that Italian cooking was just veal, pasta, and tomatoes. I thought spaghetti boring, veal a tasteless meat (usually pan-fried in soggy breadcrumbs), and all that was ever done to tomatoes was to turn them into insipid sauces.”  Then he tasted the peppers at a particular London restaurant and all was different. (p. 189) Honestly, I tried to find more exciting quotes, but I just couldn't.

For one more example, here’s what he says about Elizabeth David: “ Elizabeth David has inspired me, and countless others, more than any other cookery writer. She had a style of prose that is a joy to read and, at times, the description of a dish or a situation experienced is so evocative that it transports the reader from page to place.” (p. 103)

Jay Rayner
While I’m not very inspired by Hopkinson’s highly recommended cookbook (though maybe the recipes are better than they look), I have been enjoying Jay Rayner’s recent food articles in the Guardian. He usually reviews restaurants in London and the vicinity, but as they are all shut down, he’s been cooking from his favorite cookbooks. So far, besides Roast Chicken -- from which Rayner made the title dish, roast chicken with a HUGE quantity of butter, the selected authors include some of my favorites: Yotam Ottolenghi, Fuchsia Dunlop, and Claudia Roden. I highly recommend Jay Rayner’s recent articles! (link)

Review © 2021 mae sander.


Angie's Recipes said...

It sounds like a really interesting culinary read.

Laurie said...

It does sound like an enjoyable read! 👍

Tandy | Lavender and Lime (http://tandysinclair.com) said...

Thanks for the recommendation. I shall start reading his column as I really like his way with words.

Sherry's Pickings said...

i've read one or two of jay rayner's books but i can't remember anything about them. i have heard of the roast chicken book but that's all. Yes the quotes don't sound very inspiring. One of my fave english writers is nigel slater. i can hear his voice when i read his prose...

Iris Flavia said...

Sounds interesting, but thank you for being honest with "only fairly interesting" as I just bought three "real" books and my kindle already has a long list!

A Day in the Life on the Farm said...

That blurb caught my attention too. Thanks for letting us know how you felt about it. I find that electronic versions of cookbooks are usually disappointing to me as well.