Everyone loves Mr Cravat, the judge, the juror, the man who makes cravats cool, Matt Preston. Popular judge on Masterchef, food critic, columnist for Taste (magazine) and general foodie whore of all fantastic foodie events around the country. But can the man cook? Sure he judges and writes, oh yeah, just like me but on squillions more money, but can he actually whip up sensational foods for the people? Well the lovely peeps at Pan Macmillan Australia kindly sent me a copy of his latest cookbook, THE SIMPLE SECRETS, and no word of a lie, it is now in my Top 5 cookbooks of all time. This book isn’t even hanging with the cookbooks, it gets to sit in the book opener for ready reading and showcasing, I just LOVE IT.
Firstly, my top 5 cookbooks including Matt’s simple secrets. Stephanie Alexander’s “The Cook’s Companion,” Richard H Turner’s “Hog,” “The Margaret Fulton Cookbook,” Katrina Meynink’s “Kitchen Coquette,” and now Matt’s “The Simple Secrets.”
But why? Firstly, the size, it is a largish cookbook, not in thickness, in size. And the stuff inside is freaking awesome, his recipes range from fairly simple to fairly, but easily, complex but the way it is presented, in a very modern pop art style is the penultimate winner to the clincher of the book, the hook for the sale and the title, THE SIMPLE SECRETS TO COOK EVERYTHING BETTER – and they WORK. The introduction is all logical explanation and then it is all about making “THE PERFECT……….” and this goes from salads, to prawns, to mince to pasta to roasts to baked fruit, biscuit, curry to pavlova – all fitting into “the perfect………” mould. The range is epic.
And the introductions to the recipes in each section are a totally awesome winning method – they all contain Matt’s tips on perfecting that dish, all simple pop art diagrammed or explained on how to better that dish. For example “salad is not always for summer with accompanying Jon Snow photo.” I should explain it was way more than the Jon Snow that got me hooked :).
Matt’s sense of humour in titling the dishes and in the explanations made actually reading the cookbook a fun experience. “An average salad that brings the sweetest memories” is mixed among the standard meal names like quiche lorraine or how about some jalapeño and cheddar souffles, or “just a simple seafood stew” or one of my faves “The world in black and white – a dish stolen, in part, from a fish obsessed Englishman and a crazy basque from Paris.” The tips are amazing: How to make perfect spuds, pretty much anyway, is invaluable (although the near naked Hasselhoff photo above the hasselback spuds was a turn off :). Simple tricks like oiling your hands before making meatballs, what can you mix with chicken for the best flavours and my favourite – HOW TO MAKE THE PERFECT CRACKLING. I tried it and had to cheat a bit at the end but it was the best crackling I have cooked so far.
Now the dish I cooked for a tester was the VIETNAMESE ROAST PORK WITH A RATHER ODD RHUBARB AND FISH SAUCE CARAMEL – this was a mega slow slow roast – I think I cooked it for about 6hrs and it is quite a unique and different dish. I was having a boy’s night in dinner party at my house for three of the finest lads and myself. And this had something unique in Matt’s suggestion to shred or slice it up and serve it in warmed banh mi’s with a spicy coleslaw. It had more of a relaxed dinner party atmosphere and it was perfect in every way. That rhubarb and fish caramel blew my mind and had a sublime taste to it. Matt suggested his own Asian killer slaw for the dish but I cheated and made my own favourite slaw from Rowie Dillon’s cookbook, “Indulge.”
Matt provided eight secrets to making the perfect pork crackling. and the best tip I can suggest is DRY THE SKIN – I spent about three hours before cooking drying it with salting and paper towels and while the standard cooking in the oven with the meat failed to give it the ultimate in crackling the all-else-fails tip is to remove the pork crackling and grill it while you rest the meat. It was perfection and I think all the crackling was nabbed and eaten by the gents before anything else was touched – it was the best crackling I have ever cooked and since then I have been perfecting it further (I eat too much pork – because YUM). My tip is the grilling method while resting – faultless as long as you follow all of the other tips from Matt that work for your dish.
I have the parents coming to stay next week and they will be the proud indulgers of Matt’s Banana Caramel Cheesecake – mum will lose her mind over it.
THE SIMPLE SECRETS is hands down the best cookbook I have received this year (I still have four more to post reviews about in the next couple of weeks). I will be treasuring this one for a long time and I will be buying copies for Christmas presents. It is a cookbook for the entire family that is not flavoured down to blandness, it has an epic range of staple meals to remember for life and gourmet treats to impress the shit out of people. And it offers tips, tricks and secrets that can be handed down generation to generation and for this I praise you Mr Cravat but I do have one bone to pick – I think there is 20 photos of you in or on the outside of the cookbook – AND NOT ONE CRAVAT!!! SHAME ON YOU 🙂