I recently received two very attractive cookbooks originally published by Hardie Grant, an Australian publisher, which have been recently release in the United States through Rizzoli New York. GREAT PUB FOOD: Make Home Your New Local by Rachael Lane (paperback w/flaps; $24.95; ISBN: 978-174270451-7) and LE PETIT PARIS: French Finger Food by Nathalie Benezet ($19.95; 978-1742705965) have many fine recipes in them, but they are undermined by in the case of the former, some odd recipes that wouldn't quite qualify them as pub grub in the United States, and one giant boo-boo on the cover of the latter. Let me get that out of the way first.
The tasty-looking cake on the cover of LE PETIT PARIS is called a Canelé, which Wikipedia describes as “a French pastry with a soft and tender custard center and a dark, thick caramelized crust.” It’s distinctive shape—“a small, striated cylinder approximately two inches in height, is a specialty of the Bordeaux region of France.” Canelé are a relative novelty to the U.S., though I saw them on display in many pâstisserie shops in Paris this past April. Recipes are very hard to find (probably because you need special molds to bake them in), and I thumbed through many cookbooks in my library of nearly 1,000 volumes, and could only find one recipe. They are not mentioned in Julia Child’s cookbooks, nor in Madeleine Kamen’s encyclopedic The New Making of a Cook and not in the baking books of Dorie Greenspan, Maida Heatter, Nick Malgieri and others. I am going on at length here because there is no recipe for a Canelé in LE PETIT PARIS. So why is there a photo of one on the cover of the book? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to use one of the photographed recipes inside? It's a pity as my cookbook collection clearly proved, we're in need recipes for this pastry.
Taking a closer look at LE PETIT PARIS brought out the sourpuss in me. Who among us is going to make very small Foie Gras Burgers, using hamburger buns made from scratch? The recipe for classic Celeriac Remoulade is served on tiny plates. It is a common-enough recipe (as are all of the recipes here) that appears in many books—French or otherwise. But the height of absurdity is a recipe for Crème Brûlée, which is served on small spoons, sprinkled with brown sugar and blow-torched to a candied glaze! That’s right, folks—one bite for all this effort. This is the sort of thing you might find charming in a little pâtisserie, but a pain in the neck at home. That doesn't mean the recipes are bad, but aside from those of who prefer little plates, what is the point?
GREAT PUB FOOD is more Australian gastro-pub and than American pub and quite a bit of this kind of cooking is probably not available in your neighborhood pub—but then again, your pub food probably wouldn’t translate well in Australia. Still I don’t anticipate making Greek Lamb and Haloumi Burgers (Haloumi requires a special trip to your specialty cheese store—it’s not widely available). Nor am I a big exponent of deep frying at home, so while I would be delighted to encounter Tempura Fish Burgers with Wasabi Mayo at a restaurant, I’m not smelling up my house doing this at home. Getting rid of the used oil always drives me nuts anyway. There is a nice selection of British-style pies—Steak and Mushroom, Beef and Guiness, and Vegie Curry all sound interesting. The Smoked Fish Pie was an irksome recipe because the fish it calls for are not available here (what the heck are Blue Eye or Trevally?). At least suggest alternatives. I’m not being jingoistic. Most home cooks are going to see those ingredients and move on. There’s a main course chapter that features food I associate with ethnic or more upscale restaurant dining. Steak Diane is pure bistro—even old-school Continental cooking. Eggplant Parmigiana and Chicken Parmigiana and Ricotta and Spinach Cannelloni come from traditional Italian red-sauce joints, while Chicken Kiev, Beef Wellington, Veal Saltimbocca, Mushroom Risotto, and Maple and Mustard-Glazed Pork Cutlets with Roasted Apple Sauce, belong more to the higher-end gastro-pub. The next chapter’s fare from Buttermilk Fried Chicken with Chipotle Mayonnaise, Prawn and Chorizo Paella, Rabbit Cacciatore to Moroccan Spiced Lamb Shanks with Date and Roasted Almond Couscous and Osso Bucco, are simply not pub food at all. So much of this food is very sophisticated. I love Fattoush, a Lebanese salad of stale, toasted pita with tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and other vegetables, feta and a dressing of lemon, sumac and garlic. But it’s hardly pub food. Even desserts are primarily from Down Under or across the pond: Chocolate Stout Puddings, Lime Delicious, Sticky Date Pudding, Bakewell Tart.
Was GREAT PUB FOOD originally intended for the American market? Not sure. Maybe an editor decided to try because there are both metric and liquid and solid measurements used here). There is no Introduction from the author to establish the point of her concept, and none of the recipes have headers which could have explained her choices as pub food, or their appeal to her. In the end, the book didn’t work for me. We certainly have more sophisticated pubs that go well beyond serving a solid burger or pile of nachos. Here in south east Portland, Oregon, we need only to look at Sunshine Tavern to see a neighborhood restaurant that serves sophisticated, well-made food. I guess I’d rather have a pub cookbook featuring recipes that reflect what I can easily find locally.