The Flavour Thesaurus by Nikki Segnit is one of the best books about food and cooking that I have purchased this year, and to judge whether that statement has any value perhaps I should mention I have bought more than 50 other cookbooks (so far). In essence it is not really a cookbook per se, no it is rather more a guide of what ingredients to pair together (successfully). If you have stuff in the cupboard, or find yourself with a glut of something from the garden that you need to eat up, well this book is perfect as it guides you in list form through classic and other unexpected combinations. You find yourself reading it almost like the phone book, apples with this, apples with that, beetroot and this, beetroot and that. You get the idea. It is hard to put down. In their own words “There are 980 entries in all and 200 recipes or suggestions are embedded in the text. It covers classic pairings such as pork & apple, lamb & apricot, and cucumber & dill; contemporary favourites like chocolate & chilli, lobster & vanilla, and goat’s cheese & beetroot; and interesting but unlikely-sounding couples including black pudding & chocolate, lemon & beef, blueberry & mushroom, and watermelon & oyster.”
Lets just try one of the combinations – Today it is Chicken and Bell Peppers
There are a few recipe ideas in the book all interspersed with stories of meals eaten all over the world, and the easiest and most surprisingly tasty and almost ingenious that I have tried was the very simple Chicken and Bell Peppers. Honestly, ingredients wise, that is all there is to the recipe. You just take as much chicken as you need with the skin on and bone in (I found chicken thighs worked best) and another pile of bell peppers chopped up.
You stick them all it the pot, don’t add any oil, trust me. You need to stir it a bit for the first 5 minutes or so just to stop it sticking. Then soon something quite magical happens. The juices from the chicken and from the peppers release and you get this really quite amazing juice that is mix of light chicken broth and sweet pepper flavours. This is really the only point where you might want to add something else, and by that I just mean seasoning of salt and pepper. You just need to cover the pot with a lid, turn the heat down and let it bubble away for 20-25mins or until the peppers are soft and melting.
It is hard to believe when the time is up how much super juice there is in the pot and how good it tastes. It was only two ingredients and some seasoning. The better the quality of the chicken and the peppers that you are able to use, the better the dish will taste. This is a dish that I quite happily stick on the stove top when you get back on a cold day and within 30 mins everyone is sitting down slurping away and being sceptical that ‘it is really just chicken and pepper?‘. I like to imagine the scene on Masterchef or some such program when the judges see me sitting all casual by my station reading a well worn copy of some Bourdain book by my bubbling pot just waiting for the magic to happen, and then their unbelieving faces when they taste it. Of course we know how that would really go, it would probably be ‘its just chicken and peppers‘ – yes guys that was the point.
Seriously you have to try this dish out, it will be a revelation.
The Flavour Thesaurus by Nikki Segnit is published by Bloomsbury Publishing plc. It is available in many good bookstores, and on the usual websites like that one named after a really long river.