Food that tastes good lingers in the memory for all time: such things as good, homemade soups, my mother’s meat-and-potato pie, Bury black puddings, a well-made Bloody Mary, prosciutto and melon, native English oysters with Tabasco, hot salted ox tongue with coleslaw, a dozen snails at Chez L’Ami Louis in Paris, the apéritif maison at L’Oustau de Baumanière at Les Baux in Provence, and the homemade bresaola of Franco Taruschio at The Walnut Tree in Wales.
I have written this book, not because I am a chef, but because I like to cook and I enjoy eating good food. A novelist I know once said to me, on hearing that I had decided to embark on a cookbook, that cooks should cook and writers should write. Well, fair enough. (He is, actually, a very good cook.) I am not a professional writer, nor am I good at writing recipes on a regular basis. This is particularly so when I have to think about listing the ingredients in the right order for each recipe, or giving metric and imperial measurements, or stating exact oven temperatures and precise timings. I have had to learn to do that, and it has been interesting and beneficial to be so restricted.
Deep down in the mind of a good cook are endless recipes. It is a matter of knowing what goes with what; knowing when to stop and where to start, and with what ingredients. Thinking how a dish is going to taste, before you start to cook it, may seem an obvious instruction, but it is not necessarily common practice. It is important to cook in the right frame of mind (we are not talking everyday chores here) and to do things in the right order.
Ergo: feel hungry; go out shopping (with pen and paper and money). See good things, buy them. Write down further items that will accompany previous purchases. Buy wine to go with food. Come home. Have a glass of wine. Cook the food and eat with more of the wine. More importantly, do make sure that the food you have bought is the sort that you like to eat and know how to cook.
It is also a question of sympathy between the cook and the cooked-for; is there a worryingly large proportion of people, I wonder, who cook to impress rather than to please?
It’s really a question of confidence. It is far better to cook food for your friends that you enjoy eating yourself. Familiar dishes are comforting; carefully prepared and simple dishes are an asset to a good lunch or dinner party. The food should not dominate the proceedings. Rather, it should enhance and enliven the occasion. There is nothing more tedious than an evening spent discussing every dish eaten in minute detail. “Oh Daphne, how did you manage to insert those carrots in your hollowed-out zucchini?” What’s wrong with egg salad or leeks vinaigrette? Or a simple rabbit stew, or some grilled lamb cutlets? And, of course, roast chicken.
The title of this book, Roast Chicken and Other Stories, was chosen simply because it had a friendly ring to it, and I hope that it sounds inviting and uncomplicated. I also happen to enjoy roasting a chicken almost more than anything. It is very satisfying to look upon a fine chicken turning crisp and golden as it cooks. Even the sound of it causes salivation, and the smell of it jolts the tummy into gear.
I would like to think that this collection of recipes will appeal to all who like to cook; those who gain immense pleasure from being in their kitchens with good produce around them purchased from favorite sources — markets, butchers and fishmongers, grocers and greengrocers, delicatessens and wine shops. I would also like to imagine that everybody could become a good cook and have a healthy interest in the bountiful ingredients that are available in such quantity on our doorsteps.
Good food relies on good ingredients, but it has always been my belief that a good cook can turn the proverbial sow’s ear into a silk purse. It takes a little knowledge and expertise, but whereas an ignorant and uncaring chef can ruin the finest free-range chicken, a sympathetic and enthusiastic cook can work wonders, even with an old boiling fowl.
At our table sit many authors: cooks, critics, journalists, memoirists, humorists, and more. Join us here for excerpts from their work.
Want more? Comb the archives.
An American native
A father’s legacy
The vegetarian-cooking pioneer
Cracking a Filipino favorite