I recently received the cookbook Bitter: A Taste of the World’s Most Dangerous Flavors, with Recipes by Jennifer McLagan. It is the first of what I’m assuming to be many books I will be reviewing.
Overall, I enjoyed the book. I have yet to try any of the recipes (for various reasons), but I did learn a great deal about unique foods I had either never heard of, or had little to no experience with. For the average person this one may be a bit overwhelming with information and too much of a culinary adventure. For someone who proudly carries the label of “foodie”, however, I believe this would be an excellent book to pick up.
Not only does this book provide recipes that would challenge a cook to work with new flavors, but it also describes the science, history, and psychology behind certain foods and their bitter flavor (which I found very interesting). It encourages readers to not shy away from using “bitterness” in their cooking, but rather work with it to enhance the culinary experience.
The recipes provided in the book are extremely intriguing, and as soon as I get my chance I will most definitely give them a try. They require various foods that I had never thought to work with, or maybe even heard of. Whether it’s bitter alcohols, chicory, coffee, particular types of chocolate, or dandelions, most of the food in this book would be a very new experience for me, and the majority of Americans. I even came across a recipe that uses tobacco (which is very intriguing, even if I might skip that one).
There were two faults I did have with Bitter, despite finding it intensely fascinating. First of all there were a couple of foods she (McLagan) described in great detail, only to then admit that she never tried them. I found that a little disappointing, since I personally expect the author of a cookbook to have experienced the food they describe in their own writing. The second issue I have is the fact that most of the foods will require me to search through specialty grocery stores. I found very few (if any) recipes that had ingredients I could pick up at my normal everyday store. This I’m willing to forgive since the book doesn’t seem intended for the everyday cooking experience, but it still would have been nice to have at least a couple recipes that were more practical. The regular everyday housewives who don’t get out to specialty stores might want to play with bitter flavors as well!
Overall I’m very glad I have this book around, and I will definitely try a couple of the recipes here and there. Jennifer McLagan has a variety of other cookbooks that seem to be written in the same style, and I do look forward to tracking more of her work down.