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What a fantastic Christmas present, I remember unwrapping the heavy present with no idea what it could be, I did not ask for this book or even expect to receive it. I have watched the Channel 4 program River Cottage for years now and have been inspired by some of Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall's ideas and recipes.
I am glad to see that on the hardback cover that it does not state that this is a cookbook, it certainly is not. The book is split into two main sections, part one is understanding meat and part two is cooking meet.
The first 199 pages are dedicated to understanding meat. Hugh has a 'Meat Manifesto' the manifesto wants you to think about the meat that you eat, think about the animals from which the meat you eat comes, where do you get your meat, think about the ways you cook meat and are you thrifty with meat. All of this is discussed in great detail within the book. Hugh also discusses the morality of killing animals; I recommend that you make sure that you read this section; this will give you a better understanding of the context of this book. The next sections are on what is good meat and buying meat. What Hugh is trying to stress is quality of meat is very important. Cheaper cuts of meat are just as important as the more expensive cuts; it is understanding what to do with them that counts.
What really sets this book apart from others is how much detail he goes into about each type of meat. The section on beef, for instance, covers everything from how it is hung, to a diagram of each cut (and how best to cook them), and what to look for when buying. He does this for veal, lamb & mutton, pork, poultry, venison, game and also looks at offal.
The next 300+ pages is the essence of meat cookery broken down into its major areas: roasting, slow cooking, barbecuing, preserving and processing. He breaks down each of the methods and explains the stages that occur during cooking such as sealing, caramelizing and resting. Each major area has a number of different recipes to follow and inspire you.
Hugh's passion for food (especially meat) in this book is evident from cover to cover. Throughout the recipes you feel that he is giving you little tips so you do not make the mistakes that he has made whilst perfecting his recipes. When you do get to the recipes they are very clearly laid out and easy to follow. Ingredients are listed on the left hand side of the page and some recipes have other suggestions or variations to the original recipe. You will need some basic skills in cooking to be able to use this book but it does take you through the recipes step by step. It is very important to read each recipe in full before attempting them, some are defiantly for the more confident of cook.
The section that I keep going back to is the preserving and processing section. I have always wanted to try and dry cure meat. I have looked at this section so many times but have not yet taken the leap in attempting this. This will be my next project.
The photography in the book is by Simon Wheeler. He has also done the photography in a number of other River Cottage books. A word of warning should be given as in the first charter there is a number of pictures in a slaughterhouse which some people may find inappropriate. Other than the aforementioned the book is well illustrated. I especially liked the pictures of the meat split into all the sections and which part of the animal it came from. Also a large number of the recipes are included.
A great addition to this book is the directory at the back. This is a personal selection of producers of humanely reared farmed meat in the United Kingdom. Most of them are from down south (as a northerner this may be a problem) but most producers seem to offer a mail order service. I have not yet used any of them but have checked quite a few out from their websites which are also listed.
The one criticism, which for me became quite an irritant was the persistent referral to his previous books for recipes. It seemed like he was trying to promote his other books through this one a little too much.
I thoroughly recommend The River Cottage Meat Book it is a must buy for any self respecting cook, the knowledge you will gain about your food is incredible. I have recommended this book to a number of different people now and have been thanked by each person who has bought it.
I have not given much information on any of the recipes as I think that it is important that you realize that this book is more than a cookbook and I do not want to spoil the excitement of reading through the recipes inside, I personally would not want to know.
The RRP of this book is £30.00. Amazon currently has it on sale for £17.91 new or £14.96 used. I know that it is expensive but see this as an investment, I have.