If you are a die-hard fan of the experimental dishes that settled Ferran Adrià in the loftiest layers of today’s culinary stratosphere, “The Family Meal: Home Cooking with Ferran Adrià” (Phaidon, 2011, $29.95) is not the book for you. Nothing is done sous-vide here, there are only a few wisps of foam to be found, and not a jot of chemical wizardry. “The Family Meal” features the food that was served to the staff of Chef Adrià’s late great Spanish restaurant, elBulli.
Famed for its wild dishes and impossible wait list (8,000 seatings vs. two million requests), elBullì served its last diner this past summer. The fare the staff ate was nothing like what their patrons were served. “People are often surprised,” Adrià writes, “when we tell them that that we eat ordinary food.”
Ordinary food from Chef Adrià? Well, not exactly; it’s more a case of his placing his stamp on traditional recipes, such as Fried Eggs With Asparagus or a Potato Chip Omelet or his luscious Santiago Cake, a traditional Spanish almond confection sparked with cinnamon and lemon.
The cookbook starts with recipes for basic stocks and sauces, as well as the expectations of a restaurant-level pantry. Although he spares readers his more fanciful chemical trajectories, you will still be cooking in the style of Ferran Adrià, not from “The Joy of Cooking,” so a little exoticism is to be expected.
Organized by menus, 31 in all
Adrià provides 31 menus composed of three courses: starter, entrée and dessert. Each meal has a double-page color spread showing all the ingredients, as well as a timeline for organizing each step, a thoughtful boon for beginning cooks and also for those who might want to become more organized in the kitchen.
The dishes are delightful. As might be expected, quite a few have a Spanish flair, such as Gazpacho, Calatan-Style Turkey and Coconut Flan and they, by and large, feature ingredients easily found in most cosmopolitan areas: achiote paste, filini pasta and shichimi togarashi, a Japanese spice mix he employs in his satisfying take on an Asian hybrid called Noodles With Shiitake & Ginger.
For the most part, the recipes are straightforward, with a minimum of ingredients. Each step is illustrated in color, which is not only extremely helpful, but also liable to incite ravenous hunger. Everything in Meal 24, for example, had me wishing I could lick the dishes off the page: Garbanzo Beans With Spinach & Eggs, Glazed Teriyaki Pork Belly, Sweet Potatoes With Honey & Cream.
Recipes for a couple or a crowd
Adrià also does something extremely unusual in his cookbook: For each recipe, he offers ingredients for two, six, 20 and 75 servings. Readers can plan anything from a complete dinner à deux to a feast for a crowd. Although this edition was most likely a translation, all of the measurements are American with no metric equivalents. Because of the bare-bones table of contents, the book is a bit hard to navigate.
It should be pointed out that the title could be misunderstood. Many people may assume that “family meal” means this is kid-friendly fare. In restaurant-ese, the family meal is the staff meal. As the introduction notes, “It is an important moment when everyone sits down together to eat.” The recipes are born of the hearty fare served to hard-working adults, accompanied by baskets of bread to get cooks and servers through long evenings in one of the world’s most applauded restaurants. Delicious as they are, many of the meals in this book are heavy on the carbs and have protein at levels that I haven’t seen since my grandmother’s cooking in the early ’6os. Greens, raw veggies and salads show up rarely, except as garnishes.
This is a minor quibble, for “The Family Meal” is otherwise remarkably well conceived and executed. Readers who don’t have to face a long shift in a busy kitchen can select one of Adrià’s heavier entrees and a dessert, then supplement them with something light and fresh — a salad or a vegetable soup. Some more spinach, perhaps, at the bottom of that bowl of beans, with a lush green salad and roasted Brussels sprouts mitigating the sins of that luscious pork belly. … Under those circumstances, I could gleefully reach for my bowl of sweet potatoes with honey and cream without looking furtively over my shoulder for the food police.
Zester Daily contributor Carolyn J. Phillips is a Chinese food wonk and illustrator who has a cookbook to be published by McSweeney’s in 2014. In addition to Zester Daily, you can find her on her blog and as @MadameHuang on Twitter; her food writing can be found in places as disparate as Lucky Peach and Pork Memoirs.
Top photo composite: Ferran Adrià; “The Family Meal” book jacket.
Photo credits: Francesc Clemente, courtesy of Phaidon Press