We have been quite fond of Allegra McEvedy since we got a copy of her first book, The Good Cook. McEvedy believes in straightforward cooking with great ingredients. That's it. Since The Good Cook, she may be best known for starting Leon, a healthy, fast-food, restaurant chain, like McDonald's only the Big Mac is butternut squash with lentils. (She has since moved on to other things.)
Bought, Borrowed & Stolen is a cookbook, travelogue, and knife lovers dream. The premise of this cookbook is a bit different and engaging. McEvedy shares recipes from her numerous travels based a a particular knife she procured, legitimately or not, from each culinary adventure. Since the recipes are far flung and a sometimes a bit exotic, they may be a bit more complicated than some of McEvedy's usual fare, but they are worth every story. If there is a drawback to this book, it is the fascination with the knives. It would seem that more ink has been given to the tools rather than the food. And why should we be different. (Seriously, you know we love kitchen gadgets!) So here are some knife facts cribbed from The Guardian and the book.
1. Picnic knife, Turkey
My mum bought this one in a Turkish hardware shop because we were going to have a picnic. It is so basic and has no place among my professional tools, yet I love it because when I hold it, it takes me back to that lunch in the biggest pine forest I had ever seen.
2. Artisan knives, New York
The chap responsible for these beauties is a blacksmith (and ex-farrier), with a suitably grizzly beard for a bloke whose best friend is an anvil. Michael Moses Lishinsky operates under the name Wildfire Cutlery (he actually works out of Oregon). His knives are full tang, which means the metal from the blade extends all the way through to the heel, making them stronger. These are made of heat-treated carbon steel, as opposed to stainless steel, so you have to dry them after use (I oil mine too), but they stay sharper longer.
3. Suction-free, San Francisco
I was sitting at a bus stop between restaurant shifts when I noticed my knife roll had gone. Like the scars on my arms, my knives represented my professional culinary journey. Next payday I went down to Japantown to get my first replacement. I had never seen a knife with holes in it before. The idea is that as you are chopping veg super-fast, the holes help to break any suction, so the slices don't stick to the blade (although I have never noticed them make much difference). I was feeling nervy about knife theft, so I went straight to an engraver's and carved my initials on it.
4. Pig-leg boner, Brazil
As I walked past a hardware shop in Salvador, I was attracted to this by its weird shape. When I got home I took it to my butcher but none of us could see how having the handle so high above the blade helped. When I return to Brazil I'm taking it with me and getting a demo – until then it remains my strangest and least-used knife.
5. Pastry slicer, Morocco
The knife man in the main souk in Marrakech sat on a carpet, surrounded by wood shavings. He carved this one to tackle pastry (especially filo) and cakes and I have found it most useful. Shaped from lemonwood, it is the most pleasing thing to hold.
6. Butcher's Chopper, Hong Kong
As I wandered around a vast indoor market in Kowloon, with about 100 butcher's stalls, I noticed that all of them had this knife. It's a serious butcher's knife, made of wood and stainless steel, with well-balanced weight for one so large.
7. Lorenzi's ceramic knife, Italy
G Lorenzi's in Milan is one of the finest names in sharp implements. Ceramic knives keep their edge much better than steel knives, and with that comes an almost surgical precision (mine is the only straight-edged – as opposed to serrated – knife that I use to slice tomatoes). And they are easier to keep clean as the ceramic doesn't absorb odours as much: I've done the garlic test on that.
8. Unagi-Saki, Japan
In Japanese cuisine, almost every job has a specific knife for it. This one is for cleaning eels.
9. Cleaver, Mexico
I like the mid-size of this cleaver: not as daunting as my enormous Chinese chopper, which I use only for the occasional precision strike. This is in my regular armoury for the way it goes through chicken bones, pork ribs, racks of lamb, even fish steak.
10. Fisherman's Friend, Norway
This is a Scandinavian design classic. It has a Japanese steel blade and is extremely efficient at filleting fish.
11. El Jamonero, Spain
No prizes for guessing what my jamonero is for: all 25cm of it are designed to slice ham. Factory-made by Arcos (a well-known Spanish knife producer), its handle is cool to hold and there is a reassuring weight to it. Slicing this dense meat is suprisingly difficult, but the dimples down both sides of the blade help by letting air in, so less pressure is needed and you can keep your strokes smooth. I like the fact that the Spanish still carve ham by hand.
While the cutlery is impressive, the recipes are also quite grand. We are willing to admit that most of these recipes will never end up on our plate, but just seeing them is enough for us.
Burmese Duck Egg Curry
6 duck eggs
125ml / 4fl oz light oil (such as peanut/grapeseed)
2 banana shallots (or 4 regular), peeled and sliced into thin rings
2 onions, peeled and chopped
½ teaspoon turmeric
2–3 bird's-eye chillies, sliced very small
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
½ a thumb of ginger, washed, gnarly bits trimmed (but not peeled), finely chopped
1½ tbps tomato purée
1 tbps curry powder
250g/8oz okra, trimmed and cut into thirds/halved, or little ones left whole
3 medium tomatoes, chopped large
½ tsp shrimp paste (optional but authentic, though if you want to keep it vegetarian just add a bit more salt)
A handful of chopped coriander
Bring a pan of water to the boil and carefully lower in the duck eggs. Cook them for 4–6 minutes, depending on size, then drop them into the sink to crack the shells and run them under cold water.
Heat the oil in a wide saucepan. When it's hot, drop in the shallots, breaking them up into rings. Once they are a deep golden brown (5–8 minutes), use a slotted spoon to transfer them on to kitchen paper and sprinkle immediately with salt.
Put the duck eggs into the hot oil and lower the heat. Fry them for 3–4 minutes, turning them to brown on all sides, then take them out of the pan and sit them on kitchen paper, too.
Keeping the pan on a medium heat, add the onions, turmeric, chillies, garlic and ginger and fry for a few minutes, until it all starts to soften, then stir in the tomato purée so that the onion is well covered in it. Cook for a minute or two before adding the curry powder and then stir that in well, too.
Add the okra with a big pinch of salt, followed by the tomatoes, and give it all a good stir. Dissolve the shrimp paste in 500ml of hot water, pour it into the pan and bring to a fast simmer. Let it bubble away busily for around 10 minutes without a lid to reduce, then lower the eggs back into the pan giving them a prod so they are mostly submerged in the liquid. Put the lid on and simmer for just another couple of minutes so that the eggs warm through, then turn the heat off and give it a 3 minute rest.
Finish by sprinkling a little salt on each egg and scattering on the shallots, with roughly chopped coriander on hand to top off each serving.
As someone who may have a ill-gotten knife here or there, I found this book to be great fun. Thanks, again, to The Guardian, we have the opportunity to actually watch Allegra McEvedy cook the above recipe. Check her out.