Sunday, 5 September 2010

The Flavour Thesaurus

This is the title of a wonderful book by Niki Segnit subtitled Pairings, recipes and ideas for the creative cook. Published in June last year, it is original, witty and demonstrates a magisterial knowledge of food.

She chose 99 flavours, sorted them into groups (spicy, cheesy, sulphurous and fifteen others) and then wrote this manual to explain how and why one flavour might go with another, their points in common and their differences.

Some of the pairings listed are familiar: Bacon & Egg, Lemon & Chicken..., others less so: Apple & Horseradish, Coriander Leaf & Peanut (ugh!), Sage & Anchovy...  (One of my own favourites, Ice Cream & Sauerkraut, is unaccountably omitted.)

The recipes crop up in the book almost casually:
"To serve two [fried trout]...make a watercress sauce by blending a bunch with 150 ml soured cream, a squeeze of lemon and a pinch of salt and sugar".

I've tried this, and it works. Having bought the book as a gift for someone I knew would love it, I just had to read it, and there is now a nasty food-related stain on page 199, so I had to buy another copy to see if  Butternut Squash & Chestnut  ("sounds like a couple of fat Shetland ponies") is any good. But I shall not bother to find out whether Celery & Truffle make a good pair, as Segnit quotes food writer Elizabeth Luard reminding us that "truffles are an acquired tase, redolent of old socks, the locker-room after a rugby match, unwashed underpants, methylated spirits and a gas-pump on a wet Saturday".

Out of sheer curiosity, though, I might try Grapefruit ("lumbering old uncle of the citrus family") & Shellfish, or Rhubarb & Black Pudding.

Niki Segnit joins the tiny band of food writers (headed by Elizabeth David and Alan Davidson) who can  be read with enjoyment even by those who have no particular desire to try out their recipes.

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