The Irritations Of Modern Life: 47. Glossy Cookbooks

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
WHAT IS it with celebrity chefs and their glossy cookbooks? Do they want to make us feel foolish and humiliated each time we try to cook a meal for our friends? Oh dear, aren't we silly - we're fresh out of wasabi, can't get trompettes de mort (they're mushrooms), and the fishmonger shakes his head sadly when we specify carpetshell clams. Oh, the shame of it.

Nevertheless, having made a Herculean effort and assembled your sheep's brain, honeycomb tripe, large live male crabs, Moreton Bay bug tails and whatever else you need for your gratin of tripe, deep-fried lamb's brains or penne con pomodoro e acciughe, these chefs inflict further anguish by peppering their glossy tomes with matey asides and exhortations.

Thus, for Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers (pictured) in the River Cafe Cook Book - one of the prime offenders in the genre - ordinary tinned anchovies will not cut the mustard. Oh no. "You must use salted anchovies from Greek, Spanish and Italian delicatessens," they chide. Well, that's just fine for the wanna-cook in cosmopolitan, deli-filled London, but what about the young man from Lampeter or Blythe who wants to impress his date with some fancy cuisine, but must take his chances at Iceland?

Rick Stein is at it, too. Anyone daring enough to tackle a recipe from his Seafood Odyssey must be man enough to demand carpetshell clams or gooseneck barnacles, and nothing but.

The language and vocabulary of the glossy cookbook is another vexation. Nothing is ever poured, it is always "drizzled". Things are no longer dried, they are "wind-dried". Frying has gone out of fashion, replaced by "pan-fried" or, even worse, "pan-seared". Well, of course it's going to be pan-fried. How else can you fry anything?

And it is not just the recipes. No, rubbing (Maldon sea) salt into the wound, the books are invariably lavishly illustrated with photographs of the food-porn variety. In Nigel Slater's Real Cooking is a picture of Nigel's lamb's liver with red wine vinegar and sticky onions, the moist juices glistening succulently in the pan (see how dry and dull your own dish looks). There is a grainy monochrome shot of a set of Nigel's stainless steel pans, the light reflected sexily from their burnished flanks, in his whizzy stainless steel kitchen.

Fergus Henderson's book, Nose to Tail Eating, a hymn to the joys of tripe, brain and pig's spleen, is illustrated with arty overhead photographs of his friends, surrounded by glasses of wine and slices of fresh bread, tucking into devilled crab or crispy pigs' tails. Oh, how much more exotic it all seems than your own sad efforts.

Still, it's hard to dislike a chef who demands that you obtain a litre of fresh pig's blood for one recipe and insists that you soak a pig's head in brine for three days for another.

Mr Slater, too, redeems himself by devising a recipe for a sausage butty. Sausage, white bread, onion, mustard and butter - that's all you need. Go on, you can even try this one at home.