For the longest time the most beloved cookbook I’ve heard other chefs talk about was either the Joy of Cooking or Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child. Then a few years ago I heard about a book that had come out in 1994 and was seemingly even more beloved, worshipped even, than those two peerless tomes. “Roast Chicken and Other Stories” has been called “the most useful cookbook of all time” – Waitrose Food Illustrated, and it’s author Simon Hopkinson “the best cook in Britain” – Telegraph UK. Hopkinson may be the best cook in Britain but he’s also one of the best food writers I’ve ever read and his book possibly the most enjoyable work of non-fiction to be found in the culinary genre.
“It generally comes completely plucked and trimmed of all feathers. The advantage of it not being drawn is that it keeps longer and you can decide how “gamy,” or “high,” you want it.”
Each chapter is devoted to a single ingredient, be it brains, parsley, hake or tripe. Hopkinson recounts stories around each ingredient or delves a bit deeper than the accompanying recipes into the hows and whys of cooking it. Each chapter has three to five recipes devoted to the chosen ingredient that are a little bit decadent and just slightly démodeé in the way that only European preparations can be. For instance, the chapter on kidneys has a recipe for Roasted Lambs’ Kidneys with Cabbage and Mustard Dressing, Grilled Veal Kidneys with Rosemary and Anchovy Butter, and a Sauté of Veal Kidneys with Shallots, Sage and Beurre Noisette.
He includes a recipe for, the seemingly so simple one should never need a recipe, Crème Chantilly, saying “You may think it is a little old hat to include a recipe for this, but, like many other good cooking techniques and old-fashioned principles, the proper way of making crème Chantilly is often overlooked, and its preparation slap-dash. Crème Chantilly, carefully made, makes you realize just how good simple things can be.” He then goes on to explain the proper recipe, which is, not as one so arrogantly thought, just simply sweetened cream flavoured with vanilla and whipped. The proper recipe calls for heavy cream, not whipping cream, confectioner’s sugar, a vanilla bean, and, surprisingly, 3 oz of crushed ice. He writes, “This may seem an odd thing to do but it helps (a) to keep the cream cold, and (b) the addtiion of a little water (melted ice) adds to the insubstantiality, which is the secret of a good crème Chantilly.”
Well now you know.
“Roasting a chicken is a joy for me; and if I am pressed to name my favourite food, then roast chicken it must be.” he recounts in the chapter containing the recipe for his title dish. In the same chapter he goes on to include a recipe for Poulet Poché À La Crème With Crêpes Parmentier. Naturally. Here he is explaining the French translation for the ‘oysters’ which can be found on the underside of a roasted bird.
“These little nuggets are charmingly called ‘les sots l’y laissent,’ which, loosely translated, means ‘the bits that silly idiots leave behind.’”
It’s a terribly charming little book, one you might dip into for ideas for dinner and lose the afternoon to re-reading. Which is something I’ve never had happen with the Joy of Cooking. I’ll leave you with his thoughts on grouse. I wonder if Sanagan’s Meat Market could get some in this fall?
“I always get my grouse “long-leg,” which means with guts intact. It generally comes completely plucked and trimmed of all feathers. The advantage of it not being drawn is that it keeps longer and you can decide how “gamy,” or “high,” you want it.
Removing the innnards is simplicity itself – not a pleasant job, but it only requires a small cut just behind the parson’s nose. You then pop your finger inside and tug out the intestiners, which should come away in one pieced. Search through for the liver, but usually this remains in the cavity along with the heart. Remove and reserve these for cooking with a little brandy and some butter, to be spread on a piece of fried bread that will sit under the grouse when you serve it. The quantities given for the bread sauce may seem excessive. They are. I adore bread sauce.”