Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Cooking: Family meals the Ferran Adria way

Posted By on Tue, Mar 20, 2012 at 10:05 AM

  • Phaidon Press, The Family Meal
I've slowly been working through the cookbooks I acquired around the holidays - Hugh Acheson's lovely A New Turn in the South, the remarkable The Art of Living According to Joe Beef, and Ferran Adria's The Family Meal. Joe Beef may be my favorite for its unabashed quirkiness and passion, but The Family Meal is the most unique.

Why? Well, first, there's that combination of the words "Ferran Adria" and "Family Meal" on the cover. Adria is known as a guru of the abstract and ambitious, so this juxtaposition of madcap genius and simple home cooking is inherently intriguing. Second, the book is organized into 31 different three-course meals, as if you might actually tackle a meal each day for a month. (If anyone has actually done this, I applaud you, and humbly ask if I might stay in your guest bedroom and eat at your table for, oh, maybe 31 nights.) Third, the recipes don't follow the traditional format of a recipe, but rather materialize in the form of photos of each step, with little text bubbles speaking to what that step of the recipe entails. I know there are people who love to follow pictures, and I'm actually a visual guy, but the lack of literal step 1-step 2-step 3 instructions throws me off a bit. Maybe the point is to get you to trust your instincts more? Possibly. I do appreciate the little time line that accompanies each three-course meal, so you know when to get busy doing what, but there's that little wrinkle I like to call "nested recipes" that can throw things off - recipes within recipes that stack up like those Russian matryoshka dolls.

For the most part, the dishes do actually meet the descriptor of "home cooking." They have relatively few ingredients, require relatively little time to accomplish, and shine with a simplicity of flavor and approach. As for those nested recipes, though, even a seemingly simple dish may require a few time consuming ingredients that Adria seems to think every household should have stashed aside for when the need arises - like the sofrito, picada, and fish stock that show up in a stew of lentils and salmon. Sure, you can buy fish stock at the market, but sofrito takes an hour-plus to make, and it's not exactly a household pantry item. Nevertheless, once you do have these basics built out, you can keep some handy for future use.

Back to that lentils and salmon stew - once the "nested" ingredients are in place, the rest of the recipe is as simple as can be. Heat the sofrito, add some lentils, add the picada, add some cut up cubes of salmon. Done in 15 minutes. And those 15 minutes can transport you to a little bistro in the south of France, maybe Spain, somewhere along the Mediterranean, a cool breeze off the sea carrying the briny scent of the seafood market nearby to your table. But I digress. It is the kind of dish that evokes daydreams. So, Ferran Adria succeeds in delivering something transporting, something (relatively) simple, something unique, something that will bring you closer to the food you eat. I'm eager for more family meals with Ferran.

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