Cookbook Club: Salt is Essential

Categories: Reflections and opinions

Angela Clutton reflects on the latest gathering of the Cookbook Club which this month focused on Shaun Hill’s Salt is Essential

May was an exciting month for the Borough Market Cookbook Club, as for the first time we ran two events for the same cookbook—not only giving twice as many members the opportunity to take part, but giving twice the opportunity to delve into the book, see what it’s like, and unlock its very best recipes.

The cookbook was Shaun Hill’s Salt is Essential. Which is not, as some members were expecting, a book focused solely on the wonder of salt. Its title comes from the book’s hopes to get us all thinking about how we cook—to take notice of seasons and seasonings alike. The cookbook is more than ‘just’ recipes; it is recipes with essays setting out Shaun’s philosophy on cooking and food. It is a philosophy won over his 50 years or so of being a chef in many of Britain’s most acclaimed restaurants.

Having two groups cook from the same book gave us a real breadth of the repertoire of the recipes. Some dishes were replicated across the two events; others were cooked just for one and not the other. There were some challenges met by our cooks on the way to their finished dishes and while a few were shared by both groups, what this mainly served to demonstrate was how different cooks can approach the same recipe in different ways. (A thought to strike fear into this food writer, currently writing 80-odd recipes for her own cookbook…)

Sweetbread pies

Rich and delicious
Rabbit with mustard creme fraiche and Parma ham was rich and delicious and declared a good-value win for a dinner to impress. We were thrilled twice by Mr Carrier’s pate aux herbes, which looked quite different when made by the two cooks but showed that having a terrine dish knocking about somewhere in your kitchen cupboards can be a handy—even if rarely used—thing.

There have been a couple of Cookbook Clubs now where versions of pressed salmon or gravadlax have been on the menu. I can always see their cook and the rest of the group making a mental note to do that again, maybe for Christmas. These ones came with chard and dill pancakes. One of the biggest wows across both events was the sweetbread pies (veal rather than lamb, as in the recipe).

Desserts were divine. From a bakewell tart which was hands-down the best that I (or maybe anyone) has ever had. There was somloi sponge, sandwiched with pastry cream then topped off with whipped cream and melted chocolate. As it was being built, to the gaze of the group, its decadence seemed to grow and grow. Yet it was surprisingly light and unsurprisingly delicious—as was the buttermilk pudding, which got a cheer as it perfectly emerged from its tin to be served with strawberries drenched with cardamom syrup.

Surmounted or sighed over
Members across both groups shared in each other’s cooking twists and turns, recipe tweaks and triumphs. Challenges were surmounted or sighed over, and our wonderful Cookbook Club cooks proved once again that when you gather a bunch of strangers together over food, they are not strangers for long.