BOOK REVIEW / Boneless frogs and spicy porcupines

The Decadent Cookbook by Medlar Lucan & Durian Gray Dedalus, pounds 8.9 9; Christopher Hirst samples the ''most offensive sausage in the world''
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The Independent Culture
Often the most interesting cookbooks are not the most practical. This is arguably true of the works of Elizabeth David and is certainly the case with Marinetti's Futurist Cookbook, which advocated luridly-dyed dishes garnished with a sprinkling of cogs and gears. While far from being totally impractical, The Decadent Cookbook fits into this category. (Not that Marinetti would have approved of it, even though one of his dishes is included. A vehement enemy of decadence, he damned spaghetti and other soft foods for their corrupting influence on the Italian character.)

Lucan and Gray, whose fruity monikers may strike some as being suspiciously apt, have concocted a fabulous and shocking assemblage. They begin with the Roman recipes of Apicius: roast dormice in honey and, rather more feasibly, squid stuffed with calves brains. (Any left-over brains can be mixed with rose-hips and custard for pudding.) Skipping a millennium, the authors move on to Antonio Ghislieri, otherwise known as the Grand Inquisitor of the Counter Reformation. Considering his torturous trade, you might expect that the selection from his kitchen would include rack of lamb and whipped cream. Instead there is boneless frog soup, spitted bear (minus the head) and spicy porcupine.

The rest of the book adopts a thematic approach. The authors first turn their attention to the subject of blood. Their sanguinary suggestions include Swedish black blood soup, several versions of boudin noir and a crimson tart made with blood oranges. The sombre topic of death inspires a unexpectedly vivacious selection of dishes, ranging from gravadlax (literally "grave"or "buried" salmon) to the delightful Victorian offering "Soles in Coffins" (fish and lobster lurking inside a hollowed-out baked potato).

In a section of unusual meats, it comes as little surprise that a recipe for "Manila Hot Dog" is just that ("chop off head, paws and tail"). Entrecote a la Bordelaise turns out to be Rat in a Shallot Sauce. The authors take a distinctly unsentimental approach to endangered species, giving recipes for the "fewer than a dozen" surviving Japanese Ibis, the Parrot Owl of New Zealand ("hunted to the point where it is almost extinct, so presumably it is rather tasty") and the Tasmanian Wolf, which has entirely disappeared apart from an occasional paw-print and therefore "provides the best candidate for that coveted 'last of the species' dish."

Perhaps the book's high point is the chapter on sausages, which includes the Swiss blue sausage (its singular appearance is explained by a 1903 ordinance of the Geneva Council which declared "that all sausages made with horsemeat should be dyed blue"), a medieval porpoise sausage and a black bear sausage. Some decadent bangers with a more conventionally porcine filling are Presswurst (containing pig's head and salted pork rind, it is described as "probably the most offensive sausage in the world") and a southern Italian monstrosity called La'nduia. Demanding 70lbs of "lowest quality pig meat" and 10lbs of hot red peppers, this dish is "renowned for its capacity to scour the arteries, purge the intestines and exhilarate the sexual organs".

Lucan and Gray have bolstered their arcane excavations with a selection of appropriately saucy literary passages "to be read aloud during dinner". It comes as a revelation that decadents, often presumed to be tremulous, Firbankian types, seem to possess such ferociously robust and apparently limitless appetites.