By Natasha MacAller
Jacqui Small, £25
For MacAller, an American-born ballerina turned chef/ culinary consultant, vanilla is a true passion which began as a young girl when her mother would spritz her with vanilla-scented cologne on her way to ballet class. The joy she associated with vanilla as a heady scent soon progressed to vanilla as a distinctive and unique flavour, initially in the form of vanilla ice-cream served with her mum's apple pie.
However, it was only when she started cooking professionally and worked at the first International Vanilla Food and Wine Event in Tonga with New Zealand chef Peter Gordon that she discovered the true versatility of the fruit, of which there are four distinct styles available commercially: Bourbon (from Madagascar), Mexican, Tahitian and Indonesian.
Vanilla Table is a compilation of her own recipes, together with those from chefs in the UK, the USA and New Zealand - the three countries where she regularly moves and works between.
From the UK's William Curley there is a beautiful and seriously professional-looking chocolate cadeaux entremet, featuring vanilla crème brÁ»lée layered with dark chocolate mousse, rum-soaked sultanas and chocolate biscuit; while Galton Blackiston of Morston Hall in Norfolk, who describes quality vanilla pods as "fruits from nature's gods", has plumped for a simpler vanilla and hazelnut bavarois.
When it comes to savoury dishes, vanilla has an umami quality that gives a flavour boost to the likes of seared scallops and roast tomatoes with vanilla, ginger and lemongrass dressing; oxtail pot pies with vanilla Shiraz gravy; and chicken stroganoff with chanterelles and vanilla.
Vanilla is not a cheap ingredient, but it is unique and only a small amount is required to enhance a dish. MacAller advises to only ever use 100% pure vanilla: "Although more expensive than imitation vanilla, a little bit goes a long way and produces the finest results."
By Janet Harmer
If you like this, you may enjoy these:
- Vanilla: Cooking with one of the world's finest ingredients Janet Sawyer
- Vanilla Black: Fresh flavours for your vegetarian kitchen Andrew Dargue