Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Top 10 perfect Australian cookbooks Part II

So, this is my list. The criteria - it must be a cookbook I use all the time and must include one recipe which I have cooked at least five times. They must be cooks who put real thought into their books (read: don't rip off the book buying public) and have as their highest priority the use of appropriate in season ingredients with a minimum of pretension.

Oh and this is actually only numbers 1 to 5 because this post is so verbose I couldn't possibly get to 10. I will do 6 to 10 next week.

No 1 - Simply Asian by Neil Perry (2000)

Why: Neil Perry is the best cookbook writer in Australia bar none. I think this may have been his first or second book and it hasn't been bettered. His standards are high, he is proficient in French, Thai, Chinese and pan Australian technique, he writes clearly and he looks like a Good Bloke, as we say here. I have cooked everything in this cookbook many many times.

Favourite recipe: Braised belly pork with fungi and red dates. And Sichuan eggplant. And bok choy with chicken fat and proscuitto which is an attempt to recreate the flavour of Yunnan ham, sadly not available in Australia due to our squeaky clean quarantine laws!

No 2 - The Complete Asian Cookbook - Charmaine Solomon (1976) (reprinted 19 times)

Why: Charmaine is a national treasure type person whose knowledge of Asian food is encyclopedic. Got some noodles, pork and other pantry ingredients and need to cook something now? This is your book. This book covers all and I mean all Asian cuisines (except Bhutan) and is particularly good on Indian and Chinese food. I have cooked everything in the Indian section (except the egg curries which I don't like the sound of) many times. I saw her interviewed once recollecting that when she first came to Australia in the 1960s it was impossible to even buy coconut milk and fresh coriander was unheard of.

Favourite recipes: Kashmiri Rogan Josh (lamb in yoghurt and spices Kashmiri style), Char Kway Teoh (Malaysian fried rice noodles) and deep fried fish with hot and sour sauce.

No 3 - Spirit House Thai Cooking by Annette Fear and Helen Brierty (2004)

Why: This cookbook is unusual in that it was given to me by my friend Jodie AND I like it and I cook from it (I am hard to please in this respect). This is the cookbook of the eponymous restaurant in Yandina on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland for which I had a reservation when we had a weekend in Coolum in 2005 but sadly had to cancel due to a sick child.

I hear the restaurant is great and they also run cooking classes. The recipes are pan Asian with a strong Thai influence. I cook a lot from this book in summer as there is an excellent section on salads and noodles.

Favourite recipes: warm salad of caramelised pumpkin, spinach and seared prawns with chilli jam lime dressing.

No 4 - Cooking at Home by Karen Martini (2008)

Why: Karen is the quintessential Melbourne chef. She is strongly influenced by her Meditteranean heritage and completely modern in her flavour combinations. She also cooks at the Melbourne Wine Room, the restaurant at the bottom of the building we lived in for 4 years in St Kilda. So soft spots all round. This is the book she wrote after having children when she realised that shopping and cooking needed to be focused and targetted and couldn't consist of daily leisurely wanders in the market looking for the very best produce.

Favourite recipes - There are so many. Risotto with tallegio and rosemary, spinach rice and yoghurt salad with almonds, chicken stuffed under the skin with walnut and cumin, pan fried scallops with cauliflower puree, Spanish white anchovies on bruschetta with fennel and cucumber pickle, Cannellini beans with rosemary prawn and lemon and (just discovered the other night) rainbow chard with fetta, eggs and dukka.

No 5 - Fire by Christine Manfield (2008)

Why: if Karen Martini is a Melbourne chef, Christine Manfield screams Sydney. She is full of personality and her food is both sculptural and dramatic. And my goodness this book is mind blowing. I have only had it since Christmas but here it is, at no 5. Christine has cooked in Sydney and London and travelled constantly for 30 years. This book contains her take on the cuisine of France, Italy, Mexico, China, Japan, Luang Prabang, Thailand, Morroco, Istanbul and more. Each section contains an overview of the cuisine, and her very definite opinions on where to stay and what to eat.

Make no mistake - this is a serious cookbook written by a perfectionist. Do not let the velvet cover put you off. It contains recipes you need to start the day before, recipes which use all the bits of an animal, recipes which require cooking at 70 degrees for 7 hours, recipes which require the use of a number of Essentials (caramelised pork belly, cucumber juice, red masala paste, XO sauce etc) which are contained in yet another section in the back of the book. Some recipes are however surprisingly straightforward to prepare, particularly those in the China and Singapore sections and really produce great results.

Favourite recipes: (from Sri Lanka) Fried turmeric fish and beetroot yoghurt relish, (from Istanbul) lamd and pistachio manti with pomegranite salad and garlic yoghurt sauce. Also oyster and cucumber yoghurt salad (India). And poached chicken with spiced turmeric lemongrass broth (Singapore). And watermelon sorbet (Sri Lanka). And under the heading I Am Never Cooking That Again Even Though It Tasted Great is braised rabbit with oranges and black olives (Andalucia) which involves deboning a rabbit, turning it into a wrapped stuffed sausage and poaching at low temperature for 2 hours.

Postscript - you cannot mention Australian cookbooks with mentioning Earl Carter, who must surely be one of the best food photographers in the world. He photographs the Karen Martini and Neil Perry books, and pretty much invented that glowing and evocative but simple style of food photography. He is also a specialist at the empty or just eaten plate of food photo. He has done a huge amount to raise Australian cookbooks to the high level they are at today.


Kristine said...

Thanks Jane, I don't have any of these. Number 5 sounds a little ambitious for me, but I think I'll be seeking the other four books out next time I wander through the Vital Ingredient at Prahran market. I didn't know you were such a serious cook. But when you mentioned Marcella I sat up and took note. Essentials of classic italian cooking has been a mainstay in our kitchen for over a decade.

Laura said...

How wonderful...I haven't heard of any of these! I always love to find new cookbooks and you've given me five! By the way, have you tried Hot Sour Salty Sweet by any chance? Absolutely wonderful book of Southeast Asian recipes, and the photos are absolutely to die for.

Vincetastic said...

Hey Jane, this is an excellent top ten list, My mom is obsessed with cookbooks and has one of the largest collections with over 800 of them. She is always looking for new ones that meet her standards to belong in the collection, I have forwarded this to her. But knowing her, she may have heard of many of them already. You can cross-post this to our site http://www.toptentopten.com/ and link back to your site. We are trying to create a directory for top ten lists where people can find your site. The coolest feature is you can let other people vote on the rankings of your list.

Jane said...

Hello Vincetastic! Nice to know there is a place where my list obsession can be fed. Will check it out and link.

Millie said...

Jane you included my all time favourite the amazing Spirit House. My copy is a disgrace, tattered & spattered & just loved to death. It just opens on my favourite pages automatically now. I'm a John Torode fan as well, all his recipes are fun, easy & always interesting. A fab post thank you, I so enjoyed it.
Millie ^_^

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