I used to be an impulsive cookbook purchaser. I’d see one that looked good, have a quick flick through, and buy it if a couple of the recipes looked enticing. But lack of room on the bookshelf, laundry bench, and an entire kitchen cupboard put an end to such reckless spending.
I vowed never to buy another recipe book on a whim. The new rule was that I had to wait, research the book, read reviews, look at it – longingly – at least half a dozen times, after which I could splurge if I still felt the urge – and more often than not, I didn’t.
The strategy was working well until I discovered Must Wine Bar in the Margaret River, the regional wine bar and bistro belonging to renowned West Australian chef Russell Blaikie.
We’d stopped there for dinner after an afternoon touring the region’s wineries and were delighted with the small plates of flavour-packed savoury bites (read The Food Sage review). As I was waiting to pay, I spotted a stack of Blaikie’s just released cookbook Must Eat and decided to take a slice of his culinary magic back home to Sydney with me.
Put to the test
Four recipes later, and at least half a dozen others bookmarked for summer, I have no regrets about my impulsive purchase.
Polenta bites and chilli tomato jam were the perfect place to start. Feta, gruyère, and parmesan cheeses are stirred into polenta which is left to set, then cut into cubes, breadcrumbed and deep fried. The result was a plateful of golden, molten, cheesy mouthfuls that were perfectly accompanied by a jammy relish that undercut the richness of the naughty snacks.
Moorish spiced beef skewers – which require a big slug of Pedro Ximenez sherry, thus a hefty up-front investment – are not the cheapest of barbecue dishes, but they are a crowd pleaser. Daubed in spices, including cumin powder, sweet and smoked paprikas, and cayenne pepper, then splashed with lemon juice and olive oil, doused in sweet sherry, and char-grilled, they were smokey, juicy, spicy and sweet.
A side dish of potato gratin was rich with cream, and topped with an overly generous grating of gruyère cheese, which bubbled and browned in the oven. To finish it off, glasses of summer berries, crème chantilly, meringue and crème de fraises were a warm and sunny winner.
What I like about this book is that it serves up quintessential French bistro dishes – such as sirloin steak with frites and bernaise, beef rib bourguignon, bouillabaisse, and bisque – with the Must team’s take on European classics, such as paella and pan-fried gnocci, and a liberal splash of Middle Eastern spices to create a unique and eloquent offering in the over-crowded cookbook market.
Blaikie also gives full credit where credit’s due, paying tribute to the oyster farmers, fishermen and hunter-gatherers that service his restaurants with produce such as plump Augusta oysters, Shark Bay pink snapper and tiger prawns, Manjimup black truffle, and Arkady lamb and Jarrahdene pork.
He also acknowledges the dishes that were originally created by Margaret River head chef Chris Cheong and head chef at Must wine bar in Perth, Andre Mahe, as well as those inspired during his apprenticeship at the Sheraton Hotel in Perth or his time at the Dorchester in London.
In doing so, Blaikie has created a recipe compilation that is as honest as the food he plates up. Each dish is accompanied with wine notes by Must wine consultant Paul McArdle and photography by Craig Kinder.
What I don’t like about the book is the fact that the cover came away from the spine after being used just twice. Blame it on cheap glue and balmy summer days, but it’s a disappointment given it will likely be very well used and will therefore probably fall apart well before its time.
However, recipe books that fall apart at the seams are usually a sign of having been put to good use. Hopefully Must Eat’s early demise is a sign of good things to come.
Must Eat, by Russell Blaikie.
University of Western Australia Publishing, $49.95.