Monday, August 25, 2008

Real Cooking

For years I have happily shared my virtual kitchen table with Jamie and Nigella, despite (unfounded) criticism thrown their way. Jamie is too southern and too in your face for some; Nigella is too posh and too very rich for others. Again the class problem washes over us; only in England could people criticise cooks on the basis of how much money they make, do not make, spend, waste, have acquired or indeed keep on acquiring.

What matters to me is that both understand that good cooking is important, if not vital, to a fulfilled life. It’s odd to think that some who describe themselves as fulfilled just because they earn in the many thousands are prepared to eat the same fried rubbish day in, day out. There is much to learn and love about food and cooking. I have now came across Nigel Slater, an oft-heard name that had always permeated my culinary knowledge in a peripheral way, much like I know where Hull is but have no intention nor reason to ever visit it. I picked up Real Cooking a few days ago and have finally settled to read it. It makes me happy, mostly because Nigel is one for simplicity and, if you want to be elegant in every area of life, you really ought to stay simple.

‘You will notice that the recipes use a mixture of definite weights, e.g. 500g, and more relaxed measurements such as ‘a fistful’. This is quite deliberate. I feel it is easier for a cook, particularly an inexperienced one, to start with an exact weight of the main ingredient [...], but then the recipe loosens up a little, allowing cooks to use their instinct and tastebuds rather than blindly follow a recipe as if it were carved in stone. [...]

Last year my phone rang with an enquiry about a recipe. Could I tell the caller whether the two tablespoons of chopped parsley were level or heaped? I was exasperated. What, I thought, have we done to our cooking? We have turned the joy of making something to eat into something approaching a chemistry lesson. As cookery writers, we risk holding the reader’s hand too tightly, thus destroying the trust they they should have in their own judgement. [...] We are not chefs chasing Michelin stars here - we are simply making ourselves something to eat’.

As a cookery writer myself (you’re allowed to snort, yes, but if I write about cooking then I am a cookery writer, so there), I hope that the recipes I detail here allow for the God-given right to experiment a little when you embrace something that perhaps is new to you. Oh, except for cakes. I don’t fiddle with cakes once I get to the right quantities and I think that neither should you.
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