Chef Gizzi Erskine tells why good cooking requires proper technique
Gizzi Erskine is not into fast recipes, or ‘easy’ ones, for that matter. Don’t expect corner-cutting tricks and 10-minute meals with this new recipe collection. In fact, she’s of the mind that, if you’re going to eat a crab, you ought to know how to buy one fresh, crack it open properly, and unhook the creamy flesh yourself. It’s this style of cooking — investing time, energy, care, attention — that’s “how I genuinely get my thrills”, explains the 39-year-old chef and TV presenter.
So, if you’re always in a hurry, the London-based food writer’s new cookbook, Slow, might not be on your ‘must-read’ list — although it ought to be.
Erskine’s food is “technique-based and ingredients-led”, meaning Slow is laden with dishes that require a little more effort than hungrily snatching at the nearest available supper. “What I really love to do is sit around a crock pot or a lovely roast — a dish that’s been in the oven for a really long time,” she explains. “Everyone sits together, shoulder-to-shoulder, with glasses of wine, helping each other serve.”
Within the book, you’ ll find a sticky oxtail stew and salt-baked sea bass, Polish golabki (stuffed cabbage leaves), pastries and cloudlike lemon puddings, as well as hand-pulled noodles and a rich lamb hotpot. It’s structured around process, the aim always being to cook meat so luxuriantly that it falls from the bone with barely a nudge.
Essentially, she’s not going to dumb-down cooking, but that doesn’t mean her food is out of reach: “I want people to be challenged. Often, we’re told we’re not capable when we are, we are all capable to do anything we want.”
She’s interested in the slow growing of foods too. Not interfering in terms of antibiotics being given to enhance animals, or pesticides being applied to crops, as well as the cooking of them — provenance and quality of ingredients, she says, is crucial.
“I want people to understand that to make the best food, you have to have the best ingredients,” she notes.
But Slow isn’t designed to be “worthy” or to make you feel bad. “I’m very, very aware of the implications of money on better quality food,” Erskine admits, “but also, if we want to make a difference in the world, we all need to start cutting back on industrially farmed meats.”
Despite a stint as a professional body-piercer, Erskine cannot remember a time she didn’t cook and she spent a lot of her time in Asia as a child, due to her mother’s work in Bangkok.
“I got to eat as much Asian food as I could. That’s probably where I learnt to cook,” she remembers. “Me and my mum will eat anything, and we’d clear off and go to the markets and eat all the seafood.”
It was a bonding experience. “My mum always said to me when I was younger, ‘You’re so good, you eat everything’, and that pushed me to eat.” The flip side to that is the satisfaction Erskine now gets from feeding others.