I’ve been toying with the idea of writing about my favourite cookbooks for quite awhile now. I attempted it back in 2015 but wasn’t happy with the results and so pulled the post after a few weeks. I don’t want to review any books, just tell you about some of my favourites. I’ll start with my most used cookbook – The Ballymaloe Cookery Course by Darina Allen.
Ballymaloe Cookery Course
Three years ago, almost to the day, I started the 12 week course at Ballymaloe Cookery School in Shanagarry, Co. Cork. During the following three months I was immersed in every possible aspect of the food chain. From milking cows and sowing seeds to harvesting, curing and cooking all manner of ingredients, it was a comprehensive learning experience from start to finish. Some time before attending the course I picked up The Ballymaloe Cookery Course book, mostly to see if I still wanted to attend the course after reading it! I read it cover to cover, cooking numerous recipes along the way.
Although the book is obviously no substitute for attending the course, it does give you a basic insight into the style of cooking taught at the school. It contains a large amount of the recipes cooked on the course and was referred to as “the bible” on numerous occasions by the teachers on the course. The book begins with an in-depth introduction including a “store cupboard basics” section and a somewhat exaggerated “essential kitchen equipment” list.
Twenty five chapters follow with recipes, tips and tricks for cooking everything from stocks, eggs and salads to offal, game and desserts. Each chapter has a number of “Master Recipes” with dishes which use similar techniques following. For example: The Winter Beef Stew master recipe is followed by Lithuanian Beef Goulash, Braised Short Ribs and Beef Stroganoff along with others using similar techniques. This tends to demystify a dish, making it easier to see how a more exotic sounding recipe like goulash is actually quite similar to the beef stew you’ve been making for the past twenty years.
I tend to think of cookbooks in two categories. The first type are like reference books – they are factual, concise and recipe/technique heavy while the second type are bedside table books – these are cookbooks which focus on the story as much as the recipe/technique and are suited to reading almost like a novel. The Ballymaloe Cookery Course falls firmly into the first category and is the perfect addition to any bookshelf – all of the classics are in it.
This is the book I reach for whenever I want to cook something new – I may not always follow the recipe exactly but it’s a good place to start. It is also the book I reach for when I want to cook the basics – Chocolate Sauce, Custard, Sponge Cake, Chicken Stew etc etc. It has yet to let me down. Out of all of the cookbooks I own (well into the hundreds at this stage), this is the one I would recommend to everyone.
Tagine of Lamb with Preserved Lemon
1 Shoulder of Lamb (1.3KG)
1/2 tbsp Ground Cinnamon
1 tsp Ground Ginger
1 tsp Freshly Ground Black Pepper
generous pinch of Saffron
50g Unsalted Butter
2 Onions (chopped)
2 cloves of Garlic (finely chopped)
175g Raisins (soaked in water and drained)
2 tbsp Honey
3 tbsp Coriander (freshly chopped)
1 tbsp Sunflower Oil
50g Flaked Almonds
1 Preserved Lemon (or half if large)
Couscous (to serve)
Trim the lamb, discarding excess fat. Cut into 1 1/2 inch (4cm) cubes. Mix cinnamon, ginger, pepper and saffron with 4 tablespoons water. Toss the lamb in this mixture. If you have time, leave to marinade for up to 24 hours in the fridge.
Melt the butter in a wide pan. Add the lamb, onions, garlic, salt and enough water to come half way up the meat. Bring up to the boil, cover and reduce heat to a gentle simmer. Cook for about an hour, turning the lamb occasionally until the meat is meltingly tender. Add the drained raisins, honey and half the coriander. Continue simmering for a further 30 minutes or so, uncovered until the sauce is thick and unctuous. Taste and adjust seasoning.
While the tagine is cooking, scoop the soft flesh out of the preserved lemon and chop up the peel. Fry the almonds in the oil until almost golden brown, then add the diced lemon and toss 2 or 3 times. Drain on kitchen paper. Sprinkle preserved lemon, almonds and remaining coriander over the lamb just before serving. Serve with couscous.
Copyright/Recipe taken from Darina Allen’s ‘Ballymaloe Cookery Course’ published by Kyle Books