Reviewed by Jill
Neil Perry has a firm commitment to fresh, local food, and innovative methods. His philosophy is seasonal eating, a balanced diet, eyes wide open to international influences and the opportunities for creative food. His approach is direct, and this latest book Neil Perry’s Good Cooking reflects his style.
It offers a good combination of ideas, but is not startlingly different from the other lovely offerings on book retailers’ shelves. So what might be its unique selling point? As manager of award-winning restaurants, and with a long-term connection with Qantas, Perry provides several – reputation, association, and most important of all, dishes that reflect his philosophy.
Recipe collections require testing and tasting, so let’s move to the kitchen. Perry’s categorisation is casual and encouraging – ‘kick off your day’, ‘uncomplicated meals to enjoy’, ‘a clutch of comforting pasta dishes’ and ‘round off an amazing meal’. This is a pleasant change from the frequently-encountered categorisation of starters, mains, salads, entertaining, and desserts.
We tried a dish or several from most ‘occasions’ but with a mix, match and crossover approach. You can safely ignore the ‘shared starter’ suggestion, as many of these dishes made an excellent focus, when teamed with a low-key accompaniment.
Chicken in crazy water begged for attention, and got it – several times in fact. Perry introduces it as a classic Italian method for cooking fish, yet it is a simple and fragrant way of presenting chicken. Seafood stars in this book and if that is your focus, it’s a good idea to skim the pages first, as the Snapper and fennel pies are not listed under ‘Seafood’ in the index. These are ramekin-based pies, simple in preparation, and delicious. There are plenty of meat dishes, both light and hearty, including some creative ways with lamb. Tofu stars several times, and rises well above the ordinary with combinations of several sauces, which are neatly absorbed by the other constituents. Rice-based dishes too are flavoursome, easy on the eye, and easy on the cook. The Prawn and ginger congee is a superb version of this comfort-food.
Salads – these are beyond the commonplace. The roasted vegetable dishes featuring cauliflower or Brussels sprouts bring together sweet, acid and neutral flavours, and a variety of textures. Difficult to choose a favourite, but for eye appeal, the colour combination of avocado, orange, pomegranate and radish is well ahead.
The dessert section offers a new slant on favourites – lemon soufflé, baked custards, egg snow, cakes, trifle and tarts. The test recipes looked fabulous, were simple to make, and disappeared too quickly. Yes – they are a little time consuming, and might seem daunting to the novice, but the results were well worth the effort.
Most recipes contain some novel ingredient, and all are outside my usual repertoire. There’s the ‘seasonal’ factor to consider, and in rural areas, a dearth of delicatessens and providores. Most of the Mediterranean, Chinese, and European components were reasonably easy to find in large stores. The Korean-inspired recipes were a challenge – maybe their time will come.
More than once I found myself reaching for a dictionary or the keyboard – there are some unusual items in the ingredients list – differently- coloured miso pastes, chardonnay vinegar, and za’atar. These are available in the big two supermarkets but the Korean hot bean paste remained an enigma. Certain cuts of meat are available only from your local butcher boy, something he keeps ‘out the back because people don’t ask for it very often’.
Food photography is an art, and Perry’s dishes look very nice indeed.
The verdict? This is easy food preparation, but not ‘throw together’ or assembly style. Some dishes do require preparation well ahead of cooking. There are no complex equipment needs. The experienced cook will jump straight in. The novice might be a little more cautious.
It is food for a casual lifestyle. The strength of the flavours lifts it above the everyday. They are generally simple meals and dishes that can be enjoyed by a family with adventurous children, or a group of friends.
Some were hits straight off and enjoyed many times during the review’s progress. Others needed, for my taste, some tweaking. The combinations of ingredients, flavours, texture and colour are novel. It’s more a recipe collection for the ‘big city’ where out-of-the-everyday condiments and cuts can be sourced easily. Perry himself suggests some alternatives, but substitutions and omissions did not ruin any dish.
Let Perry have the last word: ‘… be inspired when cooking, not enslaved’.
By Neil Perry