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Robert Carrier triumphs again

“the first taste [that] may surprise.., but adventure your palate as your ancestors did. And remember the history of the world in this food."

Robert Carrier

Yesterday was our cooking class day and we chose to make Robert Carrier's jerk chicken.

A long time ago I assembled some quick and easy recipes for my daughters-in-law in a home-made cookbook so I checked it out to see if there was something we could make from it. I gave them a few suggestions and they voted for jerk chicken - which was a Robert Carrier recipe. It seems to have been a total success - in all three households with all of us vowing that it was a newfound favourite.

Which made me think, all over again, how under appreciated Robert Carrier is, indeed was. Elizabeth David was scornful - although I am not entirely sure why because he really espouses the same principles about food as she does, but perhaps in a more flamboyant way.

"David could be difficult; this is no secret. But [Simon] Hopkinson knew how to handle her. "Well, I knew never to bring up the Carrier word," he says"

Well that's what they say, but if you only have the books and have not seen him on television you only have the two writing styles from which to compare them.

"The great Elizabeth David sometimes gave the impression she was sharing the recipes she had gathered under sufferance. Carrier, meanwhile, was an unashamed entertainer." Jay Rayner - The Guardian

Which is sort of true, although Elizabeth David can be quite lyrical in her writing as well, but food and cooking it correctly is a serious thing for her. For Robert Carrier it was fun and this is conveyed in his books, even though there is not actually as much comment in them as in Elizabeth David's oeuvre. Mostly with Robert Carrier you just get the recipe. And they never fail.

He has a reputation for being over the top and extravagant - oodles of cream, butter and cognac, but frankly I have never really noticed this.

Personally I guess Elizabeth David sort of taught me to cook - I have made huge numbers of the dishes in her books - virtually all of her meat dishes and the soups, and lots of other things besides. But it is Robert Carrier's dishes that have become firm family favourites that are cooked over and over again - Spaghetti and meatballs, his California Beef Kebabs (well I think that's what he renamed them as). We just know them as kebabs in this household and there I am ladling the precious sauce/marinade over the meat. Then there's Egyptian lemon chicken, Beef stroganoff, Chicken paprika ...

I came to Robert Carrier a little later than Elizabeth David I think, and initially through his columns in The Sunday Times. It is a tragedy to me that the carefully cut out, mounted and assembled columns that I collected disappeared somewhere along the way of my life. Shortly after we moved here I think. Why, where did they go? Surely I did not throw them out. But I do now have most of his cookbooks, thanks to my son and daughter-in-law who have trawled the second hand lists on the net for me at Christmas and birthday times. His books are mostly out of print now. So I've probably got all the recipes. But not the commentary.

And those books made him a fortune. "if the mandarins are loath to give him credit, just look at the sales." says Dennis Barker of The Guardian or:

"While middle-class arbiters of British taste have always handed the palme d'or of postwar culinary revolution to Elizabeth David and her disciples, it was the showman, the publicist, the camp outsider Carrier who broadened the appeal of fancy foreign food and cookery into something that might be said to have been actually revolutionary - as radical, perhaps, for British mores as the contraceptive pill or the Beatles.

His was the cooking that launched a million dinner parties: the great engine of British social change during the 1960s. " Dennis Barker - The Guardian

And maybe it was those columns in The Sunday Times that did it rather than the books themselves, although the books - or the recipes within them - were compiled from those articles.

So yesterday it seems, by making his version of Jerk chicken, we have established another family favourite. And note that whilst we may think that jerk chicken, well jerk anything is a very trendy and recent thing, he was introducing it to us way back in the 60s. Not a surprise really considering his interest in foods from other cultures and the large West Indian population of London. Below are the three different versions that resulted from our cooking class yesterday - same recipe, different results, mostly because of how they were cooked - I cooked it as kebabs under the oven grill, one family baked them in the oven and I think the other may have barbecued them.

The recipe was very simple. And this is another thing that people don't appreciate about Robert Carrier - his recipes are indeed, by and large, pretty simple, and yet somehow he has the reputation of being fussy and over the top. And his recipe is also pretty authentic - at least in terms of what is in the marinade. He suggests grilling your chicken, but of course, if you are going to be truly authentic then it has to be barbecued - with the lid down - over wood from the pimento tree.

Because jerk is so ubiquitous these days I also had what started out as a quick look at jerk food but this rapidly turned into a whole lot of other things. So I think I'll leave that for tomorrow. You've probably had enough for now.

The recipe is not online of course. Not many of his are and nobody seems to have decided to cook their way through his books. I started to once but didn't get very far. Anyway - here are the marinade ingredients for 1.4 kg of chicken. Of course back in the 60s you would have just cut up a chicken. These days you buy bits. You're supposed to do all the pounding, etc. in a pestle and mortar of course, but we did it in various forms of food processor.

8-10 allspice berries; 2 spring onions, green parts only, thinly sliced; 2 tbsp chopped garlic, pinch of finely chopped fresh ginger; pinch freshly grated nutmeg; 2 pinches ground cinnamon; 2 hot chillies chopped; leaves from 2-3 sprigs fresh thyme; 2 tbsp soy sauce' 4 tbsp vegetable oil' 1/2 tsp salt; freshly ground black pepper.

I think the only thing that got left out was sugar or honey which seemed to pop up in other recipes that I found. Otherwise it seems to be pretty spot on. But that's for tomorrow.

We all made a salsa to go with it - making up our own from a variety of things, and this seems to have pleased even more than the chicken.

As usual the cooking class was a joy, which would have pleased Robert Carrier immensely. He was very much into joy and fun.

"He made making food seem a joyful art." Dennis Barker - The Guardian

I must find another hidden treasure for our next class.

“I’ve worked with flavours and spices from all over the world my whole career, learning and drawing inspiration from different countries and cultures to give a fresh twist to the food we eat every day." Jamie Oliver


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