You've heard about people who keep cookbooks piled up on the nightstand and read them before bed to relax. Well, Richard Corrigan's new cookbook, a beautiful thick hardback called 'The Clatter of Forks and Spoons', almost seems designed for sitting-on-the-couch or in-bed reading. It's really more about the philosophy of food; it's not the kind of cookbook you just glance at while sifting, stirring, chopping and peeling from behind a flour-covered apron. This is a story about where food comes from and how you can gently prepare it so it retains its natural flavours and form, rather than how many kilos of that and how many grams of this you should stir together.
Richard Corrigan, well-known as a restaurateur and a television chef, makes the book intensely personal. He tells about growing up on a small farm in Co Meath with six brothers and sisters in the 1960s. The family had no electricity until 1973, and his mother made simple food like boiled hams, potatoes, apple crumbles and rhubarb tarts. She churned butter and baked soda bread every day of the week. Every autumn the family killed a pig, and they kept beehives.
"Growing up on a farm teaches you respect for the cycles and seasonality of food,’" Corrigan says.
Corrigan has moved a long way from the farm. He now has his own show on RTÉ called 'Corrigan Knows Food'. He runs the Michelin-starred Lindsay House in Soho, London, and in 2006, he took over the once-legendary London establishment Bentley's Oyster Bar & Grill, and made it a hotspot in fine food circles. He has brought that winning formula home to Ireland, and last summer opened a Bentley's on Stephen's Green in Dublin, where Browne's used to be.
But he still puts more stock in the quality of simple food than in fancy, technical methods of cooking. In fact, it seems that he hardly believes in recipes at all. Corrigan tells about coming into his restaurant and seeing his chefs trying to find a recipe that would use the rhubarb that's just come in. "What recipe do you need?," Corrigan asks. "New season’s rhubarb, maybe a little bit of stem ginger, some vanilla ice cream – put it on the menu, please."
That idea – the near scorn of cookbooks, it seems – may be why this cookbook (whose name is a quote from James Joyce's 'The Dead') is more about imparting a philosophy than sharing detailed instructions. The book is arranged like a standard cookbook, with sections titled Fish, Shellfish, Meat and Game, Vegetables and Salads, and so on. But each section has long pages dedicated to where the food comes from, what experiences Corrigan has had with it, how it is treated at his restaurant, how to buy it, and simple full-page photographs to celebrate it. The writing is entertaining and conversational. There are practical instructions, too, separate from individual recipes, such as a page dedicated to the detailed steps of how to open an oyster.
A typical recipe might include just a few ingredients, and start with a few paragraphs about why these things go well together, and the best kinds of foods to serve them with. The next few paragraphs discuss the preparation, including reasons about why to do things a certain way (something most cookbooks leave out).
Corrigan believes in simple food, but that doesn't mean he won't use more exotic things. He includes a recipe for braised octopus just a few pages before a recipe for fish pie.
Corrigan is also a champion of small producers. Throughout the book he talks about his suppliers: a butcher from Co Tipperary with "a revolutionary attitude to cutting meat", a brewer who makes all-natural oyster stout (for an oyster stout rarebit recipe), and a "dedicated artisan" cheesemaker from west Cork, among many others. At the back of the book you'll find a long list of contact details for producers and suppliers in the UK and Ireland.
The desserts are rich and fruity and real. Corrigan says that most desserts talked about in chef's circles are "just so much eye candy, crafted brilliantly, but often with stabilisers and chemistry sets to keep things looking the way they do". He says he loves the idea of old-fashioned baking – not a work of art, but something deeply satisfying.
His toffee apple and pecan tart is such a dessert, with layers of almond cream, toffee and apples and crumble. It takes some time (you have to start four hours ahead, by simmering the condensed milk to create the toffee) but you won't soon forget its rich, sweet flavour.
The basics are included, too, like how to make custard.
The book closes with a section on Christmas. Corrigan was everywhere in December, it seemed, dispensing advice on cooking a turkey. Here you can also find out about cooking goose, different ways of preparing Brussels sprouts, and classic rosemary roast potatoes.
This down-to-earth book will inspire you to visit your nearest food market and rustle up a hearty dinner with personality.