Angela Clutton reflects on the latest gathering of the Cookbook Club
We need to talk about trotters. No, really. Because at our recent Cookbook Club they featured more than pretty much anything else. They were the source of much fascination, and also of my pride at how many of our members continue to push themselves way out of their culinary comfort zones in the name of the Cookbook Club.
The book was The Complete Nose to Tail by Fergus Henderson, making the prevalence of trotters less of a surprise than it otherwise might be. I should really say Fergus Henderson and Justin Gellatly, as the many lovely baking recipes that feature are Justin’s. But it is undoubtedly Fergus’ name, energy and legend that lead the charge and indeed, the famous St John restaurants that it has come from.
The Complete Nose to Tail is a hefty tome, which brings together with added stunning photography the first Nose to Tail book and its follow-up, Beyond. We had several members coming along with their own old and splattered copies of those earlier editions. Proof, if it were needed, that cooking and eating nose-to-tail can be as much a living reality in homes as it is professional kitchens.
Singeing and prepping
Back to those trotters. We had chicken with trotters, where trotters gave unctuous oomph to a casserole; jellied rabbit; and pig’s trotters stuffed with potato. That last incarnation will live long in Cookbook Club memory for its cook’s wonderful story of singeing and prepping the trotters herself. We had lots of other typical St John dishes too. Stand-outs include salt cod, potato and garlic puree, rabbit and garlic, and a stunning piece of cured venison with an intensity and depth of flavour that showed how triumphant home charcuterie can be (that was an adaptation of the recipe for cured beef and celeriac, if you want to look it up).
Salads are less likely to be what many of us associate with Fergus Henderson or St John, but my goodness how good the ones in this book are! Butterbean, leek and cauliflower salad and deconstructed piccalilli were triumphant at both events. I made a dish of green beans, shallots, garlic and anchovies, in which the garlic bulbs and shallots were roasted whole into mellow sweetness. I buzzed around at the Saturday lunchtime event telling anyone who would listen how I couldn’t wait to have that dish with a pork roast. It turned out I only waited until the very next day to do it, and the partnership was even better than I’d hoped.
Our members talked about the joyous quirks and idiosyncrasies they encountered in reading the book and cooking its dishes: from the occasional recipe that comes without a quantified ingredients list, to others that are more of an idea of what to do than an instruction (and many more standard forms of recipe writing), this is a book that requires ingenuity of its cooks. It is a guide, but also an inspiration—much as Fergus himself has been, in reincarnating British food and decades of the ‘nose to tail’ philosophy.
19th & 23rd March: The Naked Chef by Jamie Oliver