Monday, November 24, 2008

Best cookbooks 2008: The River Cottage Cookbook

Posted By on Mon, Nov 24, 2008 at 4:20 PM

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Rabid foodies will know that The River Cottage Cookbook has been available since 2001. But this year it's been released by Ten Speed Press ($35) in a slightly Americanized version (for instance, in the introduction, the word "nappies" has been changed to "diapers," despite the fact that nappies is a far better word).

Much like the elBulli book I wrote about last week, River Cottage is a book that inspires fantasy, although Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (shown on the cover happily holding two adorable piggies and presumably thinking "delicious!") is selling a much different fantasy than Ferran Adria. Fearnley-Whittingstall lives in the English countryside in an idyllic cottage where he raises his own meat, grows his own veggies, and tries to live as self-sufficiently as possible. In the book's introduction, he assures us that he knows complete self-sufficiency is practically impossible in today's world, but that he hopes to inspire us to move in that direction. One look at the book and my husband was planning a small farm in our backyard, inspired by passages such as:

Contented pigs are quiet, happy animals and shouldn't give you much trouble. Your neighbors may be more skeptical, but provided they are forewarned, they may come to enjoy the presence of your pigs as much as you do. A little bit of noisy squealing at feeding time is the worst they will have to put up with.

There's plenty of information about growing veggies and cleaning wild game as well.

Recipes tend towards honest, straightforward farmhouse cooking. I tried the roast chicken with veggies recipe below, which was a satisfying one-pot meal and very easy to do.

Pot-Roast Chicken and Vegetables from The River Cottage Cookbook

1 chicken, weighing 4-6 lbs.

2 onions

3 large carrots

3 leeks

3 potatoes

2 bay leaves

2-3 sprigs of thyme

1 tablespoon of soft butter

A glass of white wine

A glass of water

2 teaspoons salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Place chicken in a large casserole, a clay pot, or a deep roasting pan with a lid.

Slice the onions and cut all the other vegetables into chunks. Arrange the vegetables and herbs around the bird.

Rub butter over the breast of the bird and pour over the wine and water, then season well with the salt and some pepper.

Place lid on the dish and put it in a preheated 375 degree oven.

Remove lid after about 50 minutes and give the vegetables a good stir.

Baste the chicken with the fat on top of the juices in the dish.

Leave the lid off and return to the oven for 25-35 minutes, until the breast is nicely browned and the juices run clear when the thigh is pierced with a skewer.

To serve, transfer the chicken to a large warmed plate and carve it up fairly chunky.

Spoon vegetables from the roasting pot and plenty of buttery juices onto each plate beside the meat.

Note: If using a stewing chicken, turn the oven down to 300 degrees Fahrenheit after the first half an hour, then cook for 1.5-2 hours without removing the lid. Turn the bird over on its back halfway through cooking and give the vegetables a good stir at the same time.

VARIATION: Spoon some vegetables and juices into the blender along with a couple of fistfuls of sorrel leaves. Blend for a creamy sorrel soup for a starter.

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