I am still cooking my way through Jamie’s Comfort Food, but I have covered a fair amount of the recipes now, so I thought I’d whip up a blog post regarding my thoughts about the book.
Firstly, I like Jamie Oliver. I don’t care if he’s secretly posh, or even if he isn’t. I don’t care one jot about anything he does or doesn’t do, as long as he produces lovely food, and writes accessible cookery books. His first book, way back in the mists of time, taught me how to make a damn good risotto, and I will always hold him in high regard for that. He also showed me how to do interesting things with a leg of lamb, which was no bad thing. I didn’t like it much when he got a bit restaurantish in his cookery books, but he seems to have found his way again recently with food that is for real people with reasonable budgets and ingredients that aren’t too arcane.
Comfort Food is a beautifully presented book. I love a good cloth bound book, which this is, and the pictures are wonderfully shot, and the attention to detail in terms of finish is rather fine. There are 100 recipes in the book, and most of them look delicious, and everything I’ve cooked so far has borne that out.
I have a few quibbles though.
In a standard cookery book the recipes seem to be for roughly the same amount of people throughout. There will be exceptions, but these are fairly obvious. If you need a baking dish the size of Wiltshire, the pie is clearly for a large party of people. In this book the recipes are all over the place in terms of quantity. In general though the quantities are massive. There are recipes here which will comfortably serve fourteen people.
The first few times I approached a recipe I didn’t bother to check how many people the recipe was supposed to serve until I realised I had enough food to feed an army. This is great if you want to freeze stuff, not so great if you don’t. Do check the recipe serving suggestion first. You might want to halve the quantities of things required. This also makes things much more economical than they might at first seem.
I had gotten so used to massive quantities, that yesterday when I went to make Nasi Goreng I was utterly surprised to find that it only served four, and actually had to upwardly adjust quantities.
The serving suggestions can also be quite odd. I made the toad in the hole last week. I baulked rather at the fourteen eggs required for the Yorkshire pudding mixture until I read down the recipe and realised that not only was he suggesting that you make a Toad in the Hole, which is effectively a Yorkshire pudding with sausages in it (for those of you who are not au fait with the dish), but that you cook another, massive Yorkshire pudding to serve alongside it. I didn’t do this, as even with seven eggs the Yorkshire was the size of an entire roasting tin which filled my oven shelf completely, and we really didn’t need any more pudding to accompany it.
The other thing I would warn about is timing. He does mention the time it takes to do things at the top of each recipe, along with the number of people it will serve. Pay close attention to this. Quite a few of the dishes have a considerable prep and cooking time, and are probably not best attempted on a week night when you get in from work. There are a few recipes I have yet to try because I would have to make them at a weekend to really get the best out of them. Quite a lot of comfort food seems to require long, slow cooking, which is fair enough.
There are some recipes which are incredibly fiddly. There is a recipe for hot smoked salmon BLT, which is lovely, but I have absolutely no desire to smoke my own salmon, although he convinces you that it is reasonably easy to do, and gives you the method. I adapted it, and used poached salmon instead, which took twenty minutes instead of what would have been several hours after I had built my own smokery.
There are also a fair few recipes which involve deep fat frying. I do not own a deep fat fryer and I have never been brave enough to try it on the stove top as in days of yore. With these recipes I have cheated and used a combination of shallow frying and baking, and the results have been tasty enough.
Some of the more stew like recipes work equally well in a slow cooker I have found, and I have, because I was lazy, chopped out all the browning and pre frying bits, and just bunged all the ingredients in the slow cooker together and prayed a lot. This worked particularly well for the Ghanaian ground nut stew, which everyone devoured and declared delicious.
There isn’t a massive amount to tempt you if you are a vegetarian, I have to say. The book is meat heavy, and in some recipes ridiculous quantities of meat are called for. There are a few nice vegetarian recipes and the Nasi Goreng, which we ate yesterday was a hit despite the lack of meat. Which speaks volumes for its tastiness. The Massaman curry is also vegetarian and works very well, although I put chicken in ours.
The other thing I think is that sometimes he rather over eggs the pudding in terms of method or ingredients. I wonder if this is because he has been writing books for so long now that if required to come up with a twist on what is effectively a traditional dish, he has to scratch around for something new to add. It’s not a criticism, merely an observation.
Because of the way I cook, and the way I adapt recipes I have found that it works best if I read the recipe very thoroughly before setting off, even if it seems like an old favourite and I vaguely remember how to make it. It means that I can think about what effect he is trying to create, and what flavours, and then tweak or adapt or cut corners to suit myself. which often means I can cut down on his cooking/prep time quite a lot and use the recipes for daily meals.
I am sure that if you follow his recipes to the letter, that the results will be undoubtedly better than what I am producing. I have no reason to doubt otherwise, but if you are lazy and in a hurry, tweaking a few bits here and there produces pretty good food anyway.