Making my cookbooks earn a place on the shelf: The Naked Chef


Ooh look, a baby Jamie!

I’ll admit, this week’s cooking was a foregone conclusion, I was no more likely to chuck out Jamie Oliver’s The Naked Chef as I were to chuck out an old family photo album. The Naked Chef was one of my foundation cookbooks, one of the one’s that taught me how to cook, so out of respect only, I’m never going to get rid of it. Mind you, when was the last time I cooked from it? Can’t remember. So I had a fun week going back down memory lane, it was weird, there I was standing cooking in my new kitchen but I was getting vivid flashbacks to cooking in my bright red and yellow kitchen in our first flat we owned, it’s amazing but probably not that surprising how vividly memory can be tied in with food and the act of making it. Anyway, what did I make?

Spicy roasted squash


Reading the intro to this recipe is like a blast from the past, as when this book was first published butternut squash was not that well known, unlike now. I don’t recall actually making this recipe at the time because I think I couldn’t find any. Jamie extols the virtues of the vegetable and tells everyone that they should try it.

The actual recipe itself is fine, a nice way of fancying up squash and it made the whole flat smell amazing with the spices but if I make it again (and I probably will), I’ll probably use the spice mix to coat cubes frozen butternut squash instead, I’m a big fan of that stuff.

Fennel seed, thyme and garlic rub


I then had a temporary detour to The Return of the Naked Chef, as the spices of the squash got me wanting more and Jamie does love his spices and I remembered seeing a rub recipe in one of his other early books. Eaten outside during the first decent day of the year (as I write it’s now sodding snowing, grrrhhh), with the first use of our new garden furniture, this was pretty nice. I also used the rub to coat some roasted veg. I did find though that I had to flick off some of the fennel seeds off my chicken as I had put too many on and it was a little disconcertingly seedy.

Dry grilled chicken with ginger, chinese greens and noodles in a herb broth


(Back to The Naked Chef) I used to make this a lot and I remember absolutely loving it, so I was disappointed a little when making it again for the first time in years and years that it wasn’t quite as good as I remembered. I think in the intervening years my taste buds have got a little more sophisticated.

Couscous salad


The same happened with the couscous salad, I used to make this even more than the dry grilled chicken, it was my go to recipe for when I needed to make something cold for a buffet or a picnic butpeople rarely ate it or not that much of it anyway, I think I always put too much garlic in for other peoples tastes.  But it was such a useful recipe, quick to make and it lasted a while in the fridge (stinking out said fridge with onion), so you could make a big batch. So, on making it again, on the first time in years (I think the last time I remember making this was for Girl Lacer’s naming party), I dunno, I think my remembered expectations were too high, it was still pretty nice and I liked having the leftovers for lunch the next day.



Another recipe that was on heavy repeat rotation ‘back in the day’, although back then I used to make a big lot of crumble mix, store it in the fridge and make myself individual crumbles with whatever I had in the kitchen when I fancied a hot pudding (ah the joys of cooking mainly for myself back then). This again was not as good as I remembered it, I think it would have been nicer with some oats in the mix but it has reminded me about how useful and quick crumbles are.

So, in summary I think I may have been giving Jamie a bit of an unfair bashing over recent years, with the cry (heard on other food blogs to) that “his earlier books were better”, I think such a rosy opinion of his earlier books, if my week cooking from The Naked Chef is anything to go by, is in part due to heavy dose of nostalgia. Jamie’s career is getting so long now, that a lot of us who were there at the beginning, our lives would probably have changed almost as much as Jamie’s has, at the start it was all about cooking for fun, no fussy kids to worry about, more time to spare, so anything made back then would of course have tasted better, in memory at least. It makes me almost apprehensive about going back and cooking from some of my other really early cookbooks, but I shall be brave*.

However this book is of course staying, as I said. It will get used but not that often. This week has been a pleasant reminder of some dishes that I used to cook a lot but now don’t do and I can easily see bits of them creeping into dishes I make now, adapted to my 21st century tastes, so an adapted crumble, couscous salad and chicken and noodle dish, almost certainly coming up in my kitchen some time soon.

* However I should point our that I’m choosing books from the random order they were placed on my bookshelves when I unpacked them, so next week is one of Bill Granger’s later books, so honest, I’m not chickening.


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