I have a serious love affair with Phaidon, who consistently release some of the most coveted books on the reader planet, and this latest addition is yet another book to teeter on the covetable pile.
Creole cuisine is a frontrunner in the world’s historical collection of fusion foods. One of the first to combine European food with African influences and ingredients native to the West Indies, this flavour-packed cooking style is known for its powerful punch of herbs and spices, guaranteed to wow even the most jaded palette.
And wow, does it ever add zing to a jaded palette: when I saw the front cover of Creole, my mouth ran with verjus. You can imagine, then, what happened when I opened the cover and dived headlong into an ocean of mouthwatering recipes.
This droolfest is the baby of author and head chef Babette de Rozières, who grew up in Guadeloupe under the culinary guidance of her grandmother – a time when the authenticity and true flavour of Creole cuisine first seeped under her skin.
From the flavours of the sea to a plethora of the freshest fruit and vegetables, the author shares this vibrant and colourful cooking style – mildly spiced and bursting with the fresh flavour endemic to this fusion of French, African, Spanish, Asian and Indian foods. The origins of each of these cuisines can be clearly seen in the recipes dotting the pages of Creole, artfully blended into a delectable mixture of refined pub food, homestyle fare, and bistro and fine dining.
With a distinct focus on gems from the sea, the book opens with Fish and Shellfish, treating us to a fresh catch of fabulous seafood photos. Opening with salt cod acras – a fritter usually eaten for breakfast – we are taken through an adundance of tongue-tingling recipes including deep-fried spicy calamari, mini fish skewers with wasabi, banana leaves stuffed with seafood, and a variety of pastry parcels, encasing bundles of oceanic flavour. The crab profiteroles on a saffron seafood cream simply couldn’t fail to impress at your next la-de-da dinner party, and the seafood bake with lemongrass would be perfect for a sunny Sunday brunch.
Seafood may take up the sealion’s share (a third) of the book, but there’s still plenty more bounty to be had. Meat and poultry treat us to chicken skewers with cumin, congo-style soup, West-Indian style pork ragout, even Guiana-style haunch of wild boar – all providing delectable photos that look so edible, you could lick the page.
Vegetables or Fruit takes full advantage of the bountiful fresh produce found in more tropical parts of the world, giving us recipes and ideas for the use of fruit and veg that are totally new and surprising – something I personally love. From curried cream of yam soup to yellow banana bake, this is comfort food at its best. There are also plenty of hearty bean and pulse dishes that will have your heart racing during these cooler winter months – kidney bean Creole consommé and lentils with rice, just to name two.
Sauces, desserts and drinks round out this abundant book, with recipes that will have you running to your kitchen. The four-spice and ginger cake, mango fricasee parcels and coconut jam are all on my baking list this week, along with papaya frappé and ok – yes, why not – Babette’s piña colada, embracing the author’s ever-present affection for spice by featuring a dash of cinnamon and vanilla.
Glorious photos showcasing island living and simple yet effective food styling, make Creole an attractive and well-rounded culinary tome. Dieters beware: there’s plenty of fried and high-sugar food, but that’s what makes this style of food so much fun to pull out and use for special occasions.
My only real book criticism would be the lack of that little extra info on certain dishes that would confound most of us in a culinary sense. Ouassou blaff? Ti’salé? Kilibibi? Sure, the photos and ingredients may give us a clue – but I wanted more. A teensy bit of history or description of the dish and how or when it is eaten, really would have rounded out this gorgeous food fest. I did eventually find this kind of glossary at the end of the book, but it would be ideal to have it sitting alongside each recipe, tempting us even more to rattle those pots and pans.
De Rozières has achieved an impressive feat with Creole and it’s clear the history and blending of many a beloved recipe has been tenderly and expertly prepared and so generously shared in this book. Now dividing her time between Paris and the French Antilles (the French West Indies), this talented gourmande has poured her heart and soul into Creole, packed not only with a flavour punch, but with lots of heart and soul.
Creole is published by Phaidon