The Flexible Pescatarian is Jo Pratt‘s latest cookbook, of which the title is along a similar line to her recent publication The Flexible Vegetarian. The concept of both books is simple and yet timely, as lots of people are cutting down the amount of meat in their diets and looking for flexible recipes that work with or without meat, and with or without seafood.
One of the things I like to do when reviewing a cookbook is try several recipes out, then with the author’s permission share a recipe from the book here so my readers can have an insider view of the contents – a kinda “try before you buy”. Being a blog, I also have the luxury of space that other reviewers like newspapers cannot afford.
Whenever I get my first glimpse of a new cookbook it doesn’t take long for it to make a first impression. Just like perusing a menu at a restaurant, if after a few minutes I am torn between three or four choices then the author has achieved their first aim, to make me want to go back to it again and again.
In the forward Jo explains that all of the recipes have been tried and re-tried by herself and friends and family to make sure they work, which is not always the case with some cookbooks. Jo thinks along similar lines as I do when writing a recipe; I want readers to be able to buy all the ingredients easily from regular supermarkets and local stores.
The book consists of 75 easy to make recipes and Jo breaks these into 4 helpful sections: Snack and Small Plates, Broths Soups and Curries, Mains and Sharing and Salads and Sides.
Many of the recipes offer flexible tips at the bottom that suggest imaginative alternatives, turning a seafood recipe into a vegetarian recipe and vice versa. Jo’s recipes also offer other helpful suggestions on how to turn a side dish into a more substantial lunch plate.
As with any cookbook in such a competitive market, the photography can be a deal maker or breaker, so I thought it only fair to mention Susan Bell who’s work in this book is a key contributing factor in its ability to win us over.
At the back of the book is a very useful section called ‘Fish Preparation’ which covers: buying fish, choosing fish, types of fish and of course preparing fish. These pages contain many good and sensible tips similar to ones I wrote myself a while back called buying & storing seafood such as, “take a cool bag with you when shopping for seafood”. And just like the title of the book, be flexible when shopping and buy what looks the best rather than whatever is on your shopping list.
Many of us have bookcases full of cookbooks, sometimes to the point of sagging under the weight, but how many of those books get used often? The Flexible Pescatarian is written in an assured and yet relaxed style, that helps make it very user-friendly. For example although the author is British, the recipes in this book have ingredients listed in both metric and pounds & ounces making it accessible to American audiences as well. In years to come I suggest it will be hard to find a pristine copy of this book, as many of them will be well thumbed and stained from spending time in the kitchen.
The recipe I’ve chosen to share from Jo’s Flexible Pescatarian is Steamed Mussels with Creamy Cider Broth.
Steamed mussels with creamy cider broth by Jo Pratt © 2019
This is my fruity twist on the incredible French dish of moules marinières.
Instead of white wine I’ve used cider, which works so well with the sweet juicy mussels, and the diced Bramley apple adds a sharpness to the creamy sauce.
This really can’t be eaten elegantly, so embrace it and use your fingers to pick up the mussel shells, and have plenty of fresh crusty bread on hand to mop up the juices.
Time taken 30 minutes Serves 4
1 kg/2 lb 4 oz fresh mussels
1 tbsp olive oil
50g/1¾ oz butter
1 leek, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 medium Bramley apple, peeled and diced
400ml/14 fl oz/1 2⁄3 cups sweet cider
200ml/7 fl oz/scant 1 cup single cream
2 tsp Dijon mustard
small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
flaked sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
crusty bread, to serve
Wash the mussels and pull off any ‘beards’ that are attached at the end of the shell. Discard any mussels that are open and don’t close when lightly pinched together, and any with damaged shells.
Place a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the olive oil and butter. When the butter has melted and starts to bubble, add the leek, garlic and apple. Sauté until the leeks are tender and the apple has started to break down to a pulp.
Increase the heat and add the cider, cream and mustard, and season with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, then throw in the mussels. Stir around, then cover the pan with a tight-fitting lid. Cook for 3 minutes, shaking the pan a couple of times, then check to see if the mussels have opened. If not, replace the lid and continue to cook for a further 1 minute, or until the mussels are all open.
Scatter over the parsley and divide between bowls. Discard any mussels that have refused to open. Serve hot, with crusty bread to mop up the creamy cider broth.
Mussels aren’t available all year round. If you can’t get hold of any but see some clams, then grab a net of those instead. They are smaller but just as tasty, and work well with this sauce.
The recipe and photo reprinted here are with kind permission of White Lion Publishing
*If you read this review before 31st May 2019 then why not enter the contest to win a signed copy of Jo Pratt’s book.