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Book review: Sour by Mark Diacono

29 August 2019 by

As you stare at the lime-green cover of Sour and its promise to uncover “the magical element that will transform your cooking” you may ask yourself two questions: “don’t I already know what sourness is?”; and: “do I really have space on my bookshelf for something so focused on a single flavour profile?” The answer to both should be yes.

After the opening ode to the taste, the book is split into two parts. The first is focused on the direction for using sourness in base recipes – a vast span of possibilities ranging from sourdough starters, to ricottas and paneers, kombucha and kefir – which plainly lays out how to tweak the variables to come away with the desired result. The second part features fully fledged recipes that are equally vital and gorgeous. They range from the usual possets and ceviches to the more surprising – the gooseberry and sage focaccia, and the sourdough with labneh, roast grapes and strawberry sambal stand out – and allow for a fully fledged portfolio of foundational flavour combinations to experiment with and hone.

There is a dry wit to the book. Diacono uncovers a gooseberry purée from the depths of his freezer to “make a fool of something, reversing life’s usual trajectory”. A sober chaat masala recipe ends with the recommendation that you “use enthusiastically on everything”; while trifle must be placed “somewhere no one else can find it” so you can “return regularly to demolish it in instalments”.

Such notes make the book much broader and more engaging than its niche concept, with Diacono making an amazing sensory experience of the narrow scope. His description of the flavours of his youth – “a yogurt I can still almost taste, despite the decades passed” containing chocolate “sour enough to set your back jaw alight” – will have you actively salivating as you flick through the pages, remembering meals you’ve had and imagining ones you could make. It makes for an engaging, exciting book, made exemplary by the quality of the recipes.

Sour, by Mark Diacono (Quadrille, £25)

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