The Food Lovers' Cookbook Collection
The Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers
Judy Rodgers died recently but she leaves behind a lasting legacy through The Zuni Cafe Cookbook.
We have been drawn towards Zuni Café for many, many years. Sometimes when we arrive in San Francisco we have already developed a pact between us not to go to Zuni. Our logic is that we have been there so many times that we will miss the opportunity to find a new 'hot' location. However, we always end up dropping in for either a snack at the bar or a full meal.
Judy Rodgers launched The Zuni Café Cookbook in 2002 and it became an instant success. Foodies everywhere immediately realised that this was a very significant and important publication.
We love the fact that the book represents a complete departure from the worrying trend among so-called fashionable cookbooks of reducing all recipes to a few lines of description and only two or three ingredients. Instead, the recipes are accompanied by thoughtful, erudite and often witty dissertations that tell you why she does things and why the combinations of ingredients are necessary. She dives off into discussions about early salting (compulsive reading), the aquatic terroir of oysters, the meaning and importance of tempering, how to master braising and how cook a successful roast dish among many more.
Even dishes that look simple on the plate such as the much-heralded salt-cured anchovies require almost two pages of description as the technique requires the curing of the anchovies in salt and a description of how to prepare them for serving. And the beautifully simple, yet vibrantly flavoured roast chicken with bread salad that we have enjoyed so much takes almost five pages to explain the process.
When you read the technique for slow-scrambled eggs with bottarga you can almost taste the result forming in the pan.
The food descriptions are laced with adjectives. We have glistening anchovies and cold, crisp celery, we also find bubbling, amber syrup and we are urged to shave fennel into thin sickles- these descriptions tell you much, much more about how the ingredients should be treated and what you should look for.
We normally point to one or two recipes that you should try in a book we are reviewing, however this is not a recipe book - it is a lifestyle. This is a book that should be a constant reference in your kitchen or study. Whenever you are going to roast, braise, steam, pan fry or sauté a piece of meat or fish or cook some vegetables, then you should refresh your memory by diving into this goldmine of technique and inspiration.