Spice, girls


I have just finished writing A Book for Cooks (published by Merrell this autumn). This is a list of my 101 favourite cookery books (I collect them.) The final book I chose is the newest, Laura Santtini’s Flash Cooking (Quadrille ) which has thoroughly engrossed me. She takes very simple basic ingredients such as chicken, tuna, salmon, veal and cooks them simply but, finally, adds a series of rubs, marinades,
glazes and flavoured salts which change them from plain to extraordinary. For example, I’ve just done some roasted chicken breasts glazed with maple syrup, Dijon and grainy mustard and strewed with fresh herbs: delicious. Next duck breasts with a sauce of cocoa nibs and balsamic vinegar. It’s a whole new idea and I can’t wait to do more. Miso Monday soup, perhaps, or Sumac Roasted Tomatoes.

You can buy her Umami paste and powder from the supermarkets. This is a mix of tomato concentrate, porcini mushrooms, anchovy, parmesan and spices which, I reckon, may become as normal an ingredient as soy or Worcestershire sauce. Do try it. Then you can get, for £30, her alchemical collection of 16 pots of spices and seasonings from Steenbergs which may be as simple as a single nutmeg or as complex as White Mischief, combining Lapsang Souchong tea with flower petals, chilli and Sichuan peppercorns. For £30 this is a good introduction to her style of cooking. Try out cacao nibs, orange zest, grains of paradise and even Devil’s Penis Chilli to test your enjoyment. Then, if it spices up your life, you can buy larger quantities from Steenbergs brilliant mail order firm ( organic and Fair Trade spices, seasonings, teas, coffees, herbs etc) to mix and match your own.

Santtini talks about her alchemical collection and, it’s true, this feels like turning dross (or at least boring chicken breasts) to gold. I now have a small Italian chestnut basket in my kitchen holding, among other delights, furikake (pronounced furry car key) a Japanese mix of sesame seeds and seaweeds, a jar of Persian rose petals and a bowl of pink peppercorns.

And people think cooking is boring.