Real Food by Nigel Slater

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Real Food by Nigel Slater

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Category: Cookery
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Who couldn't be inspired to cook (and to eat!) after reading one of Nigel Slater's books? Not anyone at Bookbag, that's for sure. Real Food has marvellous recipes that are, by and large, easy to follow and yummy to eat. A five star cookery book, reduced to four only because of one or two pretentious puddings and the choice of chicken over red meat. It could well be five stars for you.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: April 2000
Publisher: Fourth Estate
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 1841151440

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We are on real food today, people. Real Food. As written about by Nigel Gotta Love That Man Slater. Real Food. As cooked and eaten by Jill Loves To Feed Her Face Wherever and Whenever Humanly Possible Murphy. Real Food.

Slater has divided the book into eight sections, all containing recipes based - sometimes loosely - around a particular ingredient. These are potatoes, chicken, sausages, garlic, bread, cheese, ice cream and chocolate. You will not find recipes you need to fuss over for hours. You will not find recipes with ingredients you cannot find except at outrageous prices in specialist delicatessens. However, you will find ideas for good, good food. This is the kind of food so good that you would serve it to guests but the kind of food so basic, so comforting, that you would serve it to yourself every day.

Nigel Slater writes about food with enthusiasm and joy. He, like me, thinks food is an important pleasure and his words are silky, loving, sensuous... sensual, even. He is also very witty. The recipes themselves are set out in a very clear, easy-to-follow fashion. Mostly, they are simple enough for the least talented cook to follow. The chapter introductions and asides, though, are full of Slater's food loves, reminiscences, jokes and descriptions. I defy you to read him waxing lyrical about even a dish you do not think you would like and not feel hungry. Above all, Slater comes across as an enthusiastic, witty, warm man. Real Food is full of these personal touches and it more than a reference book of recipes; it is a good, amusing, inspiring and satisfying read. The first time I opened it, I did not close it again until I had read it from cover to cover.

There are around one hundred and twenty recipes included, and it would be dull to try to précis them all. Suffice it to say that they are an eclectic mixture - some are very basic and some much more sophisticated. Toad in the hole sits next to something called Salcicce and Pepperoni. A garlicky creamed mushroom with parmesan potato crust concoction follows a chip butty. The cornflake cakes you remember from childhood are there, but turn the page and you are discovering the delights of a white chocolate mousse flavoured with cardamom. What binds these dishes together is a lack of pretension. Nothing is fiddly, nothing is over-complicated, all is mouth-watering. Slater does make clear, though, that you will need to buy good quality ingredients to get the best results: "When I say butter, I mean unsalted; when I say salt, I mean Maldon sea salt; and, when I say sugar, I mean the golden, unrefined stuff from Mauritius. Pepper is ground from a mill and not, absolutely not, bought ready-ground." So be warned!

The section on chicken has been least use to me. I am a red meat aficionado, I'm afraid. Many of the recipes call for breasts, thighs, or joints and I prefer to cook a chicken whole. I have yet to find a recipe for roast chicken that improves upon Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's delicious offering with honey and couscous. I would think, though, that the many people who prefer to choose white meat where possible would find lots to choose from here. Of far more interest to me are the many possibilities Slater offers for the humble banger - a good butcher's banger though, obviously. My favourite from these is the recipe for good old Toad in the Hole, embellished with some thin slices of pancetta around the sausages and some mustard in the batter. It is by far the best Toad I have eaten. The potato section is a revelation. Follow Slater's method for the most delicious, sticky-on-the-outside, fluffy-on-the-inside roast potatoes ever. Check out the wondrous variations on mashed Murphys. The star for me here is a smoked mackerel gratin - an easy to make, one dish recipe, it is scrummy and better still, CHEAP! There is a potato pizza too, which sounds odd, but is delicious and while good and interesting enough to serve to guests, is also homely enough for a lovely weekend supper dish. And, oh, my goodness, the potato cakes with pancetta and cheese has found its way from the cheese section of Real Food onto the Murphy Weekly Menu.

And then there are the sweet recipes... these will make you groan with delight. Nigella Lawson has donated a sticky chocolate pudding recipe that is to die for. I am not usually keen on Nigella, she takes that whole food-as-orgasm just one step too far for me. However, this is delicious and so easy. It is a one-bowl dish of loveliness. Every good recipe book should include something for children to make without too much cooking, and Slater comes up trumps with the richest, most scrumptious chocolate refrigerator cake we Murphys have ever tried. And we have tried a few. Do you want me to start with the ice-creams? We like the banana ice-cream and the pink grapefruit sorbet. These are both yummy and easy to make, although I must say it is so much easier with an ice-cream maker, if you have one. Slater insists ices are a doddle to make without one, but I think his enthusiasm gets the better of his common sense here. Ice-cream is a real pain to make by hand beating, whatever he says. There are some more rarefied dishes in this section too - deep-fried ice-cream and mincemeat parcels, for instance - and I do think, again, despite Nigel's nonchalance, that these are too daunting for a novice cook.

Ack, though, I am picking. Whatever your foodie preferences, if you like good food and you like to cook good food in a largely unpretentious, unfussy way, then Real Food is the manual for you. It is rare that more than a couple of recipes from any one cookery book make it onto my table as a staple meal cooked at least monthly. Real Food has provided me with more than any other. From the Smoked Mackerel Dauphinoise, through the Potato Pizza, the Toad in the Hole, the Grilled Marinated Lamb to the Prawns with Garlic, from the Steak Sandwich through the Potato Cakes with Pancetta and Cheese, to the ice-creams and the chocolate cakes, this is the cookery book I use most often. The recipes are clear and easy-to-follow - with the exception of a few ambitious puddings - and the accompanying blurbs never fail to make me smile and feel hungry. The photographs are enticing. What more could I ask?

More interesting and less patronising than Saint Delia, less fashion-conscious and experimental than Jamie Oliver, less downright irritating than the likes of Nigella Lawson, Nigel Slater is one of the most enjoyable, inclusive and interesting cookery writers around. He is only beaten in the Murphy Food Guru League by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Even then, I have to say that Slater scores points over my beloved Hugh in several areas. Where Hugh could well have moved too far down the organic and self-sufficiency scale for some, Slater makes the same basic prescriptions for quality and provenance, but allows his readers to retain some sense of comfort and familiarity with his ingredients. It is unlikely that you would find a recipe for cornflake cakes in a Fearnley-Whittingstall book, for Hugh would have to make the cornflakes himself first. And Slater's recipes certainly assume less technical culinary knowledge.

Ah, I'm rambling. Real Food is a four star cookery book - one star docked because I would prefer a section on a red meat to the one on chicken and because one or two of the puddings are a bit silly.

Booklists.jpg Real Food by Nigel Slater is in the Top Ten Cookery Books.
Buy Real Food by Nigel Slater at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Real Food by Nigel Slater at

Buy Real Food by Nigel Slater at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Real Food by Nigel Slater at


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Emorticia said:

Spot on review - I love this book, it's so unpretentious, and the photos are great!

jochrisbyan said:

I love cooking, and I have found that the best cookbooks are the ones where the author seems interested enough in the reader to make the recipes come alive.

Nigel Slater's Real Food literally makes me drool!

His description of frying sausages on a Sunday morning is so descriptive you can taste them, hear them sizzling in the pan.

He loves the food he writes about and the recipes are easy to make, but make a sumptuous feast.

I put on pounds just reading this book, but it is worth it.

I would agree with the review for the lack of red meat cookery, it is missing some good stews and maybe a page on frying a piece of sirloin.