Cookbook road test: James Martin’s French Adventure
From chicken blanquette to chocolate mousse, our Digital Producer puts some of the recipes from James Martin’s latest book French Adventure to the test and gives her honest feedback…
James Martin’s newest cookbook is very… French (surprising, I know, considering the title). The visuals are a mixture of landscape shots, images of James cooking outside, leaning against buildings or cars and wandering around France, plus a smattering of him with famous chefs. I’m glad to say the book has lots of recipe pictures, too, as the rest of the shots give the book a slight swanky feel which, initially, I didn’t find that inviting.
The book is sectioned into easy-to-follow chapters: starters, fish, meat, poultry, vegetable-based dishes and desserts, which makes it easy to head straight for recipes you’re interested in. James covers everything from spicy walnuts to beef bourguignon, and there’s even a recipe for a traditional pain au chocolat. While the readability of the recipes isn’t ideal (I prefer bullet-pointed ingredients and the method to be broken into numbered sections), they’re easy enough to follow.
The recipe test
I tested the chicken blanquette with heart-shaped croutons and, for dessert, chocolate mousse. I started the chocolate mousse first, so there was plenty of time for it to set. The recipe sounded simple when I read it through, but I was only halfway through hand-whisking the egg whites when I realised the chocolate (that I’d previously melted) had completely cooled – a speedier electric whisk is necessary for this recipe. In a panic, I mixed in the egg whites before they were properly forming stiff peaks, which meant the mousse had less air in it and was therefore heavier than it should have been. It was also very rich – so rich that I could only eat a few spoonfuls. The intensity may have been because I used chocolate with 80% cocoa solids – the type of chocolate wasn’t specified in the ingredients list. Note to self – try it with a less intense chocolate next time.
I had more luck with the chicken blanquette. To make the recipe easier (I lack both the knives and the knife skills to cut up a whole chicken), I bought a mixture of breasts and thighs. The cooking time was longer than I anticipated but the recipe itself wasn’t hard work. The sauce was rich and creamy and the chicken and mushrooms were cooked perfectly. I’d recommend serving the chicken alongside mashed potato, or crusty bread, as there is a lot of leftover creamy sauce to be mopped up.
Although you don’t need to be a proficient cook, there are a few recipes in the book that require some level of skill. Some, as I’ve suggested in my test of the chicken blanquette, above, can be adapted to make the cooking easier. Other recipes may require some practice. I’d recommend James’s book to anyone who has a passion for France or indeed French cooking. Just a note – and true to Mr Martin’s style – these aren’t recipes for anyone who’s trying to diet.
James Martin’s French Adventure by James Martin (Quadrille £20). Photographs by Peter Cassidy.