It’s not often that chefs can manage to simplify techniques so that they are both intelligible and useful to those of us who confine our cooking to the home kitchen but Auckland-based Genevieve McGough has managed it in Brilliant But Basic. In this slim publication she deals with a total of 19 different techniques, teaching formulas for useful cooking basics such as meringue, risotto, slow-cooked meats and cheesecake.
Each section starts with an explanation, a basic recipe and then the cream on top – substitutions and variations. Where this approach really shines is in the Classic Dressings chapter. The area devoted to Pesto and Pistou runs through appropriate herbs and nuts to use in these dressings, offering combination suggestions. Just the idea of coriander and cashew nut dressing with camembert cheese had me almost raiding the herb patch, despite the fact that we’re a long way from having enough coriander to give more than just a dab of flavour! The vinaigrette and mayonnaise sections, too, offers some delightful innovations. For anyone who eats a lot of salad and is interested in expanding their dressings repertoire this chapter alone would make the book worth buying.
But that’s not all Brilliant But Basic has to offer. Hot smoking and brining techniques are a few of the more off-kilter, but appealing, ideas. One evening, lacking a starch to accompany a stew, I successfully road-tested McGough’s plain creamy risotto. The next time I’ll get stuck into some of her ideas involving smoked paprika and roast garlic.
While the recipes included in each section are sometimes too restaurant-kitchen for this home cook, the ideas behind them are sound and McGough gives the reader the knowledge and the guidelines for success. For cooks at any level, Brilliant But Basic is a book that will repay careful study.
Brilliant But Basic by Genevieve McGough is published by Penguin Books.