Monday, 7 February 2011

Book Review of Mark Hix British Seasonal Food


When I received a copy of British Seasonal Food, written by the celebrated restauranteur and food writer Mark Hix, I was worried that it might be a bit above my league. I thought it was going to be full of unfamiliar ingredients that couldn't be easily sourced and elegant but authoritative recipes that took hours of fiddling to make. But on opening the book and flicking through its pages I was pleasantly surprised.

Mark Hix's writing has an engaging and friendly tone, encouraging you like an old friend in the kitchen to try out new ingredients and cooking techniques. His writing is also peppered with personal memories - for example fishing the "prehistoric" looking gurnard, and prawning as a young lad off the end of West Bay Pier.

The book is split into montly sections, so you can easily see what's in season this month and look forward to later months to organise your cooking. You can also give the fishmonger or butcher plenty of time to order in your ingredients, which will make them happy too.

The photography is unfussy, realistic and gives each seasonal ingredient a starring role. Whether its a barnacled spider crab, a pot of soft creamy-looking razor clams or a solitary curled chanterelle mushroom - the photography in the book is uplifting and inspires you to get into the kitchen and rustle up something new.



That said, this is not the kind of book you can flick through one rainy day and idly decide what to cook. Many of the ingredients will need ordering from the butcher or fishmonger - but rather than a criticism of the book that is more of a whinge about the way we eat today - we've relied for too long on instant, processed food. And while there are desserts in the book (check out July's section for some gorgeous strawberry recipes) there isn't a huge amount in the way of baking. But it's not a cookbook of cakes and pastries. It's a showcase of British seasonal food. And my goodness what a lot of it there is.

To see how easy the recipes were to follow, I made the Braised Venison with Carrots on page 32. Despite the relatively long list of ingredients, they could all be sourced in my local large supermarket - even the gin-scented juniper berries. The recipe was easy and comfortable to follow - Mark Hix doesn't bark at you from the pages - but talks you through the un-numbered, un-bulleted recipe as if he were with you in person. I like that. The end result was a dark, dense, rich stew - probably the best stew I've ever cooked. I will remember his technique of marinading the meat with the spices and wine for two days in the fridge before cooking - it really deepened the flavour - and added to the expectation!

The main thing I realised after reading this book is that the British Isles (and we are a group of islands, after all) has so much to offer in the way of different varieties of fish, seafood, game and seasonal vegetables but so much of it has fallen by the wayside in favour of processed foods like frozen fishfingers and chips. This book has definitely changed the way I think about British food. I now feel more confident when shopping and when ringing up my butcher or fishmonger for things like cod's tongues and fish heads.

I urge you to read this book. It champions British seasonal food and does make you realise how much we eat that is over-processed and tampered with. It's a bit sad really, when we have all this at our disposal. Eating seasonally also gives you things to look forward to - something lost in our world of convenience, whether it's asparagus in May or September's prawns. Mark Hix also actively encourages foraging - for wild garlic, nettles and mushrooms, if you know what you are doing. But for now, I'm off to pester my fishmonger about some gurnard. Enjoy!  

Mark Hix British Seasonal Food is published by Quadrille on 4th March 2011. ISBN 978-1-84400-943-5

British Seasonal Food on Amazon (affiliate link)

3 comments:

  1. Interesting review. I always go through phases of wanting to eat more seasonally and with less reliance on processed stuff. I manage it to a degree and other times I fail miserably.

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  2. Sounds a great book. Particularly like the monthly sections idea which pushes you to eat fresh produce. Also good for trying new things if you need to order in advance. Nice one for something different!

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