Stirring the Senses: A Review of Christine Manfield’s Stir

Most of the recipes are either quick or fuss free, most are simple, and all involve strong spices, the freshest ingredients, and full use of the olfactory glands. Few home (or professional) cooks have Manfield’s dedication to detail, skill, or food design flair, but Stir is the easiest of Manfield’s cookbooks to date, full of Asian influences, rich flavours, and heady descriptions.

Reviewed by Magdalena Ball

Stir
By Christine Manfield
Penguin Books Australia
RRP $A45.00
October 2001
ISBN: 0670896381

I ate once at Manfield’s restaurant The Paramount in Sydney, Australia. It was a sublime experience. The décor was fairly basic – white tableclothes, white walls, and minimal decorative elements, but the food was delicious, decorative, the focus of all our attention. As soon as it became available, I purchased Manfield’s cookbook Paramount Cooking and tried to recreate her tuna with garlic aioli, or the chocolate mocha tart with its architectural cone of expresso ice cream that nearly had my chocoholic husband in tears, but they were really hard, and my versions had little to do with those gorgeous creations we had in the restaurant. Most of Manfield’s recipes were similarly complex, involving ingredient lists that referenced other recipes, so that each recipe was 2 or 3 recipes deep, and the final product involved a kind of artistic touch where colours, layers and textures were combined in a way that would cause Alice B Tolklas or even Frank Lloyd Wright to swoon.

That was then. Now Manfield has closed the Paramount Restaurant (alas), and created her own line of ready made spice pastes, pickles, and jams, which removes a few steps from her incredible recipes, bringing the avid beginning closer to perfection. Manfield’s latest cookbook, Stir is actually much simpler than Paramount Cooking. There are none of her extraordinary (and complicated) desserts, and most of the recipes can be made with ready prepared ingredients, in very short time. For those readers keen to create, there are a range of pantry/long term fridge items which form the basis of these recipes, including Chilli jam, Harissa, Sambal Bajek, Spiced Eggplant Pickle (tried this one – very successful), Black Pepper and Lemongrass Stir-Fry Paste, Satay Spice Paste, Spiced Tomatoe Chilli Pickle, Preserved Lemons, Green Masala Paste, Coriander Peanut Pesto, Massaman Curry Paste, Green Curry Paste, and Red Curry Paste. Most of these will keep for several weeks or even several months, making the day to day cooking process quite quick. At the back of the book there are a range of recipes for basics like spice powders, liquids, butters, essences, syrups, batters, and stocks.

Despite Manfield’s philosophy that food should be created for taste and quality first, with full cream products, quality oils, real stocks, real quality meat, coconut cream and milks, the recipes in this book are very healthy, with lots of fresh seafood, fish, vegetables, fresh herbs, and spices for flavour. The recipes are innovative, and include things like spicy soups, satayed seafood, unusual salads, vegetable and seafood tempuras, fresh fish like salmon with lemon chermoulas, curries, and rices. Most of the recipes are either quick or fuss free, most are simple, and all involve strong spices, the freshest ingredients, and full use of the olfactory glands. Few home (or professional) cooks have Manfield’s dedication to detail, skill, or food design flair, but Stir is the easiest of Manfield’s cookbooks to date, full of Asian influences, rich flavours, and heady descriptions.

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