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The River Cottage Meat Book, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

If there is one book that should be a compulsory purchase for any chef, cook or domestic goddess, it is this one. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s The River Cottage Meat Book is a lengthy piece of work, jam-packed with information which no culinary brain should lack.

Cookbooks have become glossy coffee-table drivel over the years, perhaps lovely to look at but probably lacking in substance. There are, of course, exceptions, and this is certainly one. I cannot think of the last cookbook I read that was not only educational but a good read as well.

The first sentence in the book states: “I believe that the way we produce and use meat requires radical reform.” This gives you the gist of the book – it is an enormous can of worms to open, but open it Fearnley-Whittingstall does, and, in my opinion, embarks on the most comprehensive, user-friendly debate on the subject to date, aimed not only at chefs but at anyone who dares to read it.

He states his “Meat Manifesto” – a seven-point distillation of conscience-probing statements. He then expands on these, brilliantly debating subjects such as the morality of eating meat, vegetarianism, and the enormity of the problem of consumer-driven demand for low prices. I defy anyone to read these chapters and feel that he or she does not contribute to the problem – that is the fact that, as long as we continue to pick cheap, appalling meat off the shelves of the supermarket and feed ourselves on fast-food products, we will fan the flames of modern intensive industrial farming.

The book then turns to defining good meat, explaining all the factors governing such quality, and tackles each animal type in turn. Cuts of meat are discussed that most modern chefs would never have seen before or have any idea how to cook.

The final section of the book, the recipe component, is broken down into cooking methods rather than seasons or ingredients. Fearnley-Whittingstall explains the processes of roasting, braising, etc, and includes recipes for several dishes within each category. They are mostly pretty wholesome preparations – be it fritto misto of offal with sage and capers, or pigeon pƒt‚, or faggots with onion gravy. Others are classics such as barbecued rosemary lamb with salsa verde, and others are just his own favourites – Lucy’s jerk chicken being a prime example.

They are all mouth-watering; but, for me, they aren’t the most important reason for buying this book.

We can all directly and indirectly help change the way in which farming is practised in this country. All we have to do is change the way we buy meat, and this book is an invaluable part of anyone’s armoury with which to try to do it. Buy it.

Philip Howard, chef-proprietor, the Square, London

The River Cottage Meat Book, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
£25, Hodder & StoughtonISBN 0-340-82635-5

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