The Big Fat Duck Cookbook. Why cook my way through this beast? I’ve cooked for a couple of years now and looking for new challenges. It’s also a personal rebellion against contemporary cookbooks and cooking shows always aimed at making everything easier. You know the shows where you never see anyone cut ingredients or actually doing something. And then they claim it is all so easy. Why don’t you include doing the dishes in the program? I can bang out some dishes in half an hour and be done if someone would edit the cleaning of pans and plates out of my life. If you like older tv programs you should check out these videos of the Roux Brothers, a complete opposite of contemporary cooking shows. Could you imagine this show being aired today?
I also feel an affinity with Heston Blumenthal, not comparing myself to him, because when I started cooking I wanted to know why food reacts the way it does and I approached ingredients in different ways. I remember a recipe included frying of a slice of zucchini. Was the method of frying a slice in hot oil the best way of cooking it? Experiments followed with frying a slice dusted with flour, one without flour and one fried in batter. I also cooked them the same way, but then in a frying pan instead of a deep fryer. All this work, and nowadays I can’t remember what gave the best result…
To the book itself. Let me start off by saying this ‘cookbook’ is amazing. It contains a biography, 50 recipes and a section on the science of food. This short description does not do the book justice, because it is better looking and more detailed than words can describe. I’m gonna try anyway, good thing I can make use of visual tools. The biography is 125 pages long. Everything from his days cooking through classic French cookbooks to the opening days of the restaurant to his interest in the science behind food. All larded with juicy anecdotes.
The biography flows over into the recipes of the book and my god, the length of some recipes is astounding. A positive note is again the amount of detail in the recipes, so no vague descriptions or incomplete measurements. The best thing to me if however the intro to each recipe commenting on the origins of the dish, its developments and Heston’s view on the dish. So no more wondering why the hell he put porridge and snails together or where the idea of bacon and eggs ice cream came from (turn out it was pure twist of fate).
If that is not enough the book throws 100 pages of scientific essays at the reader with a suspicious small font (to squeeze all the information in maybe?). This part contains very interesting information on not only special ingredients, but also the emotional and physical dimensions of eating. This shows he does not only plays with ingredients, but also our perception to food. Recommended reading.
So what to do with this book. Look at it from time to time in amazement? Fear every aspect of this monster? Actually cook from it? When I first thought about tackling this book I looked at the recipes in detail and asked myself: ‘Is it possible to cook this stuff?’ With every read my fear slowly, but surely, faded. I started doing some research on the ingredients, looked for their sources and started buying some. The same thing with equipment used throughout the book. I have bought some, looked for them second hand online and looked for alternatives. This preliminary activity made the project seem less than impossible, although in reality I am still at the beginning.
Another practical technicality is the size of the book. The thing is huge and weighs a ton. A nice addition to the coffee table, but for frequent readings and use in the kitchen it is far from ideal. Luckily the publisher decided to publish a slimmed down version (only in size, not substance) with the title ‘The Fat Duck Cookbook’ instead of ‘The Big Fat Duck Cookbook’. The picture does not show it very well, but the book is significantly smaller and lighter, which does not say it is not a large specimen compared to other cookbooks.
Now let’s start using this cookbook instead of letting it collect dust. I hope you enjoy this blog.
I’ll put the specialty ingredients and equipment, days needed for the completion of a recipe and a picture of the dish as presented in The Fat Duck at the beginning of every post to give a quick overview.