Calling a cookbook ‘Easy’ begs interrogation. The latest from top London chef Tom Aikens is titled just that – and what’s smart about the recipes is that they take easy on and into a better place. Simple dishes are most given extra twists and turns that elevate them from the everyday to the special day.
As you’d only expect Aikens has included dishes that he personally loves and written them up with a confidence that comes from a chef who’s at ease with himself.
Understanding flavours and combinations may sound like essential requirements of a chef, but far too many don’t get to this point – hence the indulgences that figure on menu’s and in print.
If I am honest, many of the dishes don’t read as easy – and that’s their virtue. The roster of ingredients is often longer than required, but it this that distinguishes the dish from humble to haughty.
For me too the recipes are very prescriptive, but hey, this is the work of a talented Michelin starred chef on the way up. Classics like Chicken with Lemon, Rosemary & Garlic calls for both chopped rosemary and rosemary sprigs – then two lemons, one cut into small pieces and the other juiced and zested. This is smart.
The section on Left Overs – so right now, given the shocking figures we read of millions of tonnes of food being wasted in this country alone. Wasting food is the privilege of the rich West – as the West becomes poorer, time has come for consumers to smarten up and not go the way of the excessive US.
As Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini said last year in his one UK address, “the fridge has now become little more than a conduit to the bin” meaning left overs are carefully stored away to then be binned a week later. Carlo’s no cynic, he tells it as he finds it.
At home we believe food has an energy that is already a little lost on second use – so it’s on count down when refrigerated. Please try and use it with imagination within no more than 2-3 days of first serving.
Aikens suggestions are straightforward but all typically push the options to make a cleverer dish. I like that.
The book closes with a spread about food storage tips. Amidst the better known are gems like storing apples and carrots together gives carrots a bitter taste, or to keep potatoes from sprouting, store them with a few apples. Also my favourite about freezing stock in ice trays – I prefer to decant them into a bag to ensure they don’t suffer freezer burn which can mar their full flavour.
He says to store tomatoes in a brown paper bag not in the ‘fridge - never mind the bag, but thank goodness for anyone saying to keep tomatoes out of the ‘fridge. Next we Blue Collar Gastronauts must campaign the retailers to do likewise – low temperatures arrest and completely destroy the tomatoes’ flavour – it won’t return after a few days at 5C or less, assuming there was any flavour there in the first place.
The obsession with what supermarkets call the Chill Chain is for many foods an enemy of flavour. Cheese is its biggest victim as it’s entirely abused by the brutality of the chill chain.
Do I have a favourite – a dish I am certain to cook sometime soon? Pages 134/5 – Peppered Steaks with Crushed Roast Garlic and Creamed Polenta and pages 90/91 – Spring Vegetable Tarte Fine.
The tarte fine was the dinner party stand-by through the 70s and 80s – a delight to see it back ‘aux primeurs’. I love green food almost as much as my life long passion for white food – I’ll post on this sometime when I’ve enough fresh ingredients to photograph to make my point.
Restaurant Tom Aikens: 43 Elystan Street, London SW3 – 020 7584 2003