I love everything Nigella Lawson puts out into the world, but her earlier cookbooks are famous for including ingredients that are impossible to source unless you are the actual personification of Borough Market. Southampton’s food options are okay, and I can normally get what I want without resorting to the internet, but there are so many ingredients in her books that I have never been able to find. In fact, this was immortalised in the sitcom Outnumbered:
I’ve enjoyed cooking from her book Feast over the years, but that book by its very nature is special occasion cookery, so it’s more reasonable to hunt down moose extract and the tears of a hummingbird if you’re only doing it once a year. At My Table, one of her more recent offerings, is more grounded. As the name suggests, the focus is on practical, everyday cookery – on getting something on the table after a busy day at work. She also includes guidance for every dish on what can be made ahead, how it can be safely stored, and what can be batch cooked and frozen easily. Since I live by myself and tend to batch cook, I am extremely grateful for this – often I don’t find out that something doesn’t freeze well until I am sadly trying to coax life back into it with parmesan or hot sauce. Over the years, I’ve got better at guessing what will survive the fridge or freezer, but I appreciate Nigella taking some of the risk out of it for me.
Her recipe for Indian-spiced potatoes and chicken thighs contains all my favourite things, so it’s not really a surprise that I loved it. I am firmly of the opinion that almost all savoury dishes can be improved by the addition of fennel and/or mustard seeds, and many of my favourite meals contain both spices (this black eyed bean curry is wonderful, for example). It’s also ridiculously easy to cook: bung everything into a roasting tin, turn it over a bit, season the chicken, 200C for an hour. And Bob’s your uncle. This recipe already has the mark of one that is going to be well-loved, in that I’ve spilt turmeric and oil all over it. It’s still legible but doesn’t make a pretty picture – thankfully I found it online in case you’re interested.
It turned out wonderfully, and the friends I had over for dinner were very complimentary. Salty, citrusy, a little bit of aniseed from the fennel, and without any of those flavours shouting over each other. The chicken was crispy on the outside and tender in the middle. My friends ran late, and it did absolutely fine turned down to a low heat and covered in foil for another twenty minutes. All in all, a dish that was easy, delicious, and forgiving. What’s not to like? I forgot to take a photo when it was fresh out of the oven and still in its tin, but it looked nice on a plate the next day as well (before being turned into an enormous, and delicious, sandwich).
The book doesn’t provide guidance for how big the roasting tin should be. I was cooking for three people with an eye to the leftover sandwich, so I used seven chicken thighs and about 800g of potato, and reduced everything else a little. This all fitted in my medium roasting tin, and the potatoes mostly cooked in the lime juice, oil, and chicken juices, with just one or two crisping deliciously on the top. I think you want to have the potatoes pretty much covering the bottom of your tin, but crowded close together so that most of them stay soft. If you had them spread out in a big tin, I think the potatoes would probably either catch or dry out. I also found that the quick-pickled red onion was less quick than advertised, and I ended up not serving it with the meal as the onion still tasted pretty raw. It was nice in my leftover sandwich the next day, though. My last change would be slightly reducing the oil – the potatoes came out a bit too greasy for my liking.
Lots of the reviews of this book snottily say that, if you’re a confident or experienced cook, there won’t be anything here that’s new to you. For me, although I’m a reasonably experienced cook and have a decent repertoire of dishes, the make ahead/storage/leftover suggestions, along with an extremely useable index, make this a useful book to have at hand for planning meals. I also eat a lot of vegetarian food and am much less confident cooking meat, so the red meat recipes in particular are helpful. It’s true, though, that a lot of the stuff in here is pretty basic, and there’s certainly no exciting weekend projects to tackle. It isn’t that type of book. If you’re after something new and different, look elsewhere, but this is a lovely book of meals that could easily become household staples.