Cookbook Review - The Prawn Cocktail Years - Cooking Index
Author: Simon Hopkinson and Lindsey Bareham
The Prawn Cocktail Years was first published in 1997 but was re-released in 2006 following the huge success of Simon Hopkinson's Roast Chicken and Other Stories, in which Lindsey Bareham was a collaborator.
The book was written when Hopkinson and Bareham were sitting round the kitchen table (over a nice bottle of Alsace) talking about the restaurant food of the 1950s through 1970s that had been lost from the menus in favour of more modern offerings. Their list grew rapidly - starting with Prawn Cocktail and Black Forest Gateau before swiftly moving on to Swedish Meatballs, Chicken Maryland and Sole Veronique.
They explain in their introduction that "the purpose of this book is to redefine the Great British Meal and rescue other similarly maligned [as Brown Windsor Soup, Steak Diane and Peche Flambee] from years of abuse, restoring them to their former status". This they have done with aplomb. I was recently asked by a Chilean visitor to London which cookbook was the best for her to learn about British food and I had no hesitation in recommeding The Prawn Cocktail Years.
The cookbook is divided into the following sections and I have listed some typical dishes from each section:
In other words, if you were born in the 1940s, 1950s or 1960s and are looking for the restaurant food of your youth then this is the book you are looking for. If you were born in the 1970s there is every chance that dishes you were given as a special treat at home are in this cookbook.
However the difference with this book is that the recipes are updated for the modern shopper and cook and use fresh ingredients, whereas many of them would have been originally preprared in restaurant and home kitchens with the best available ingredients that were available at the time.
I find this an invaluable book and often refer back to it, especially when I am preparing comfort food which I know will be appreciated by a large group. The reason why so many of these recipes remain in our brains as something treasured from our youths is that while the recipes may now be unfashionable, they actually tasted delicious.
Michael Joseph (Penguin), originally published 1997, reviewed edition 2006, £25, 272 pages (hardback)
Joe Saumarez Smith (19 October 2007)