I have recently been entranced by Nigel Slater’s wonderful photographs of his visit to Japan, shared on Instagram. The delicacy and care with which he frames his pictures, and the joy he exudes in his adventures is inspiring. I have grown up with his books, and can mark certain stages in my life through his recipes: herbed salmon with garlic cream sauce being the first recipe with which I wowed my friends at a dinner party in my twenties, and grilled lamb with onions and spices turning my boyfriend from a one recipe chicken in a jar man, to a real cook with a growing enthusiasm for measuring out and chopping exotic spices and fresh vegetables and transforming them into delicious supper dishes.
Nigel Slater has a passion for what the authors of Moro, Sam & Sam Clark, describe as ‘the language of spice’. He shares with them a feel for the ingredients he uses, and possesses a gift for describing the background and inspiration for his dishes. He writes recipe books that deserve to be read, not just followed. This is a tradition that takes us back to Claudia Roden and Elizabeth David, whose books, ‘A Book of Middle Eastern Food’ and ‘A Book of Mediterranean Food’ respectively, introduced the public to food writing at its most authentic and inspirational.
The opening of Nigel’s recipe for Flash-fried Morrocan Chicken is imprinted on my mind: indeed ‘The 30-Minute Cook’ falls open at this page:
‘I love dusk in Marrakesh. I love the cacophony of sounds and smells as the musicians start and local lads set up their stalls of food, freshly squeezed juices and other good offerings’.
The key to Nigel’s approach is simplicity and imagination. His writing transformed my cooking from merely slavishly following a recipe to beginning to understand and enjoy using fresh ingredients. Chicken, sprinkled with pine nuts and raisins, with lemon juice and fresh mint cutting through the heat of the chilli, served either in pitta or with couscous remains a favourite supper dish; a plate of sliced oranges drizzled with olive oil and dusted with black pepper and a hint of ground cinnamon is an inspired accompaniment. A variation of this recipe: Baked Couscous with Chicken and Spices appears in ‘Real Cooking’. The page is splattered with olive oil and garlic, a reminder of the joy of making this dish, which fills the kitchen with the heady aroma of cinnamon, chilli and garam masala.
Twenty five years after the publication of Real Fast Puddings in 1992, Nigel Slater has a long list of books to his name. On my shelf, alongside the 30-Minute Cook and Real Cooking, sits The Kitchen Diaries: two journals of his year with recipes. One entry in the first volume in May includes the inspired Lemon Amaretti Cream Pots, a delicious combination of yoghurt, lemon curd and crisp, crushed amaretti biscuits (‘it doesn’t matter of you don’t have a rolling pin any heavy object, even a wine bottle will do!’) chilled in the fridge in individual dishes and eaten with a wafer biscuit. Served after a supper of baked mushrooms with tarragon mustard butter and a salad of frisee and bacon (‘probably the best salad in the world’) my guests were blissfully unaware of how simple the meal had been to prepare. Printed on gorgeous, thick, cream paper with colour photographs by Jonathan Lovekin, ‘The Kitchen Diaries’ are books that deserve to be read from cover to cover, and then used as the basis for one’s own journey through the seasons.
When I use Nigel Slater’s books, I feel I am getting advice from a good friend, such is the power of his conversational writing style. When I first met him in the bookshop where I work, I broke an unspoken rule, and told him what his writing had meant to me. I owe what technique I have in the kitchen to Delia Smith, whose Complete Cookery Course was my companion at college and beyond. However, for creativity and sheer joy, Nigel Slater is my hero. Here is a toast to his next adventure.
Further Reading: Not a comprehensive list by any means, simply the books I use regularly, some of which I have referred to in this article.
Real Fast Puddings, Penguin, 1992
The Thirty-Minute Cook, Michael Joseph, 1994
Real Cooking, Michael Joseph, 1997
The Kitchen Diaries 1 and 11, Fourth Estate, 2005/2012
Tender, Volumes 1 and 11, Fourth Estate, 2009/2010
A Book of Mediterranean Food, decorated by John Minton and published by John Lehmann, 1950
French Country Cooking, decorated by John Minton and published by John Lehamnn, 1951
An Omelette and a Glass of Wine, Robert Hale, 1984
I was entranced by John Minton’s illustrations to my mother’s copies of these books as a child. Along with Harold Jones, it began a life-long passion for mid-twentieth century English design. The Pallant Gallery in Chichester is holding a centenary exhibition of John Minton’s work from 1st July to
A Book of Middle Eastern Food, Nelson, 1968
Arabesque, Michael Joseph, 2006: no kitchen should be without this book: my absolute favourite.
Sam and Sam Clark:
Moro, 2001, and Morito, 2014, Ebury Press