So Just How Does One Sweat a Mirepois?

Saturday 15/1/2005

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Diary and Notes

Nobody buys cookery books anymore and this is a shame.

Oh sure, people get a copy of the latest Jamie Oliver to stick on their kitchen table and mince around saying things like "Oh isn't he just divine, he does so much work for young people you know..." or perhaps Rick Stein's latest missive on fish and all the common people he knows and calls friends, or even Hugh Fernlingston-Winstingtonly's latest: 'River Cottage feeds the five thousand (using three whole horses, a baby sperm whale and some green pond water).' No, when I bemoan that nobody buys cookery books anymore, I mean the ones that tell you how to cook, from first principles and include recipes for hundreds of different things and explain in simple terms, how to dress a crab, joint a chicken and make a simple Victoria sponge.

This is how generations learned to cook, not from theme books, containing ten or eleven recipes, using ingredients you can only afford once a month (though the pictures are excellent). I don't wish to sound like some vindictive old witch who reads the Daily Mail and tut-tuts about how the world is going down the tubes, but what happened to people using books like 'Good Housekeeping' and 'Family Circle'? OK, so they were bland and safe, but at least the general techniques were explained and our happy 1960's homemaker could learn to rustle up a steak and kidney pudding or glaze a ham.

So why all today's monaing? Was yesterday's dinner perhaps gleamed from some fad book and turned out to be a disaster?

No, quite the opposite, yesterday's dinner was fabulous and the idea came from one of those ald cookbooks that nobody uses any more (just like the word ald).

Long ago, on my 18th Birthday ("Oh no, here he goes again.") I was given an English translation of French cookery book (I had a thing for cooking from about the age of 14) which was a collection of recipes and cookery methods designed for the average French housewife. The book was a gem. It had sections on what different pieces of cookery equipment were used for, how to make different pastries, cakes, roasting techniques and times, how to carve etc... along with about 1000 different recipes for just about everything. I used it extensively for years and although the English version is lost, I now have a copy in the untranslated French (the book is called, 1000 recettes de cuisine).

And so I come to my point; to the average person, these general purpose cookery books are worth tens of times all the trendy, best selling, picture heavy books, that everybody now buys. It was here that I learned of today's dish and though I've adapted the recipe quite heavily, the general concept still owes it's conception to a cookery book of simple French classics that anyone can make. The book '1000 recettes de cuisine', has a recipe for this, the mini bible of French cooking: Petit Larousse de la cuisine , has two completely different recipes and there are hundreds of entries on French cookery websites, all different and going by slightly different names (poulet a l'ananas, poulet a la creole and even sometimes poulet antillaise, though this is usually something completely different).

And one final comment on what I've written above: It is because I learned how to cook from basic principles, that I am able to adapt a recipe without fear of it being a disaster. If I had learned to cook from one of the modern cookbooks which only explain how to make specific dishes for dinner party type atmosphere's, that's all I could do, without any deviation or variation. If you learn from the bottom up however you've no problem changing things around, going by feel and having fun. To quote Mr Myagi in Karate Kid III: If the roots are strong, the branches will grow strong too.

One final word, Ian, a friend of mine here in Exeter, reaslised that if you type 'good housekeeping guide' into Google, you get an MI5 website about how to protect youself from bombs and suchlike. See the MI5 website. Very useful in the kitchen indeed.

Cake Blog

De Graaf cherry cake: The wrapper said it was delicious and it wasn't too bad.


  • Chicken Creole
  • Basmati Rice


  • Chicken Legs (skinned and jointed into thighs and drumsticks), salt, pepper, peanut oil, onion, ginger, clove, cinammon, fresh chilli, can of pineapples (in juice), creamed coconut, single cream, fresh coriander


  • Sprinkle a little salt and pepper on the chicken and then fry gently in a drop of peanut oil until brown. Add a clove or two to the pan, some stick cinammon, a little chopped chilli, some thin strips of fresh ginger and the chopped onion. Cook a little longer to soften the onion. When the onion is softened, pour on the juice from the pineapple and cook to reduce the liquid to about 1/2 volume. Place the whole lot in a casserole dish, cover and bake for 3/4 hour. Next chop the pineapple into chunks and some creamed coconut and then add to the casserole dish, mix well and place back in the oven for another 10 mins, to dissolve the coconut and warm the pineapple. Mix well and then just before serving, stir in a little cream to the sauce and garnish with some fresh coriander. C'est simple comme bonjour.