Today’s Eat Your Books blog entry (I’ve decided to cross-post them here, as they’re typically full of cookbook observations):
Here’s an interesting exercise I thought we could try. Let’s take 3 up-to-the-minute cookbooks at random off the pile and see how they address an everyday ingredient. Say shrimp.
Shrimp Biryani (Indian Shrimp and Rice), from The Food52 Cookbook. It’s a fairly simple one-dish meal, with an attractive photograph at the end. It has 18 ingredients if you count all the spices; it has 10 steps, and cooks in 1 pot. Despite all the seasonings, I wouldn’t expect it to take longer than 45 minutes to an hour to complete. There are some tips at the end, like throwing in vegetables to make it a more complete meal, or what sort of pan to use, and quotes from the cook and a user who tried it. It serves 6.
I could easily imagine making this at home on a weeknight for the family, and I’m positive they’d eat it all.
Fiery Grilled Shrimp with Honeydew Gazpacho, from Home Cooking with Jean-Georges. This is, I’m fairly sure, an appetizer, as the serving size works out to 4 shrimp and the gorgeous, restaurant-presentation picture has only 2. There are 13 ingredients and 5 steps, requiring 2 cooking implements (a blender and a grill). It serves 4, but in an “OK, what’s next” sort of way.
If I made this, it would be as an appetizer for some guests I really wanted to impress (most of my dinners don’t involve dedicated appetizers these days), and it would serve 4 only because the kids probably wouldn’t go near it. But chances are I wouldn’t end up making it at all because I’d run out of time after making the main protein.
Asparagus Textures with Shrimp and Anise Hyssop from Eleven Madison Park: The Cookbook. The photograph is so stunning I have no idea what I’m looking at, but it’s probably art. Even the name of the dish is hard to parse. The dish is composed of 4 recipes, with 38 ingredients (2 of which are completely different sub-recipes with 10 more ingredients and a sub-sub-recipe) including liquid nitrogen and pea tendrils. I thought it had 10 steps, not counting the sub- recipes, but then I looked at one of the steps and saw it was really composed of 8 more steps. The names of the four “basic” recipes making up this dish are: Frozen Asparagus Mousse, Dehydrated Almond Milk Crisp, Almond Milk Snow, and Shrimp.
Likelihood of my ever making this? Very, very small at the present time. I could devote a week to tracking down the ingredients, not all of which are available in the same season, and a couple of days to making the sub-recipes, and clear out the fridge to have room for all the prepped components. But then, what would the family eat those days? And it’s only an appetizer, after all. On the other hand, Serves 8.
The moral of the story? I don’t mean for there to be one. It’s a curious commentary on the way we live today that all three of these can be called “recipes” despite their very different intents and results. I’m glad all three of these cookbooks exist, and they each have something to offer someone–though not the same thing, and not to the same someone. One recipe feeds the soul, another the stomach, the other the imagination–but maybe none of them can feed all three equally well.