Roast Chicken and Other Stories

This book by the revered chef, Simon Hopkinson, has been regarded, since its original publication in 1995, as one of the must have cookery books, even rated ‘most useful cookery book’ by the Waitrose Food Illustrated panel.

At this month’s Cookery Book Supper Club we decided to take a look at what all the fuss is about.

There’s something to be said for heaps of amazing photography in a cookery book but the inimitable style of prose used throughout more than made up for the lack of photographs in this book.

As the intriguing title of the book would suggest, Roast Chicken and Other Stories is unlike any other recipe book we’ve read. It’s a cross between a novel, reference book, historical journal, autobiography and cookery book.

The book is highly personal; a collection of 40 of Simon’s favourite ingredients, divided into chapters in alphabetical order. Asparagus, chicken, eggs, garlic, hake, smoked haddock and veal, to name a few.

Each chapter starts by setting the scene; there may be an interesting fact, an autobiographical anecdote, a story about the restaurants which shaped Britain or a short ‘fanfare’ about a favourite chef to whet your appetite. The handful of recipes which follow have been chosen because they allow the ingredient to be the protagonist in the story.

There’s an interesting selection of recipes; a combination of his own creations, interpretations of classic dishes as well as unabridged recipes from Elizabeth David, Margaret Costa, Alice Waters, Joyce Molyneux and others who influenced his career and love of food. On the whole the recipes are homely and simple, requiring just a few ingredients, and Simon’s love of food and cooking really shines through.

With just one exception (the lemon surprise pudding), the recipes worked well and were delicious. The baked new season garlic with creamed goats cheese would be fitting as a dinner party starter, the oriental salad was a treat for the taste buds and the  leftovers made a great packed lunch the next day, the onion tart with a green salad would be lovely for a light al fresco tea and the lamb breast was an excellent Sunday lunch alternative.

Whether Roast Chicken and Other Stories truly is ‘the most useful cookery book’ is debatable but we did, in general, enjoy the book and certainly ate well this month.

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