Cookbook Survivor: Samuel Clark and Samantha Clark, Moro: The Cookbook
Saturday's Child Works Hard for a Living
Yet another cookbook I bought after eating in its titular restaurant and feeling immense gratitude and attachment to the meal I’d just had. In this case, I was working on some historical research in London by myself for a week. At the end of a day in a city I don’t live in in an archive I don’t get to often (in this case the British Library), I always try to go for a long walk to soak in the experience of being there, unless the archive is just in an isolated area that’s no fun to walk around in. (Hello the Colindale Newspaper Library before 2013.) So one of those days that week I ended up in Exmouth Market and I was a bit tired and hey, I had Moro on my list of places I’d love to eat. I’m one of those people who likes to eat by myself in a restaurant when I’m travelling (though if I know you and like you and you’re where I am, totally I’m glad to eat with you! it’s not generalized misanthropy!). Nothing better than having a book and sitting at a bar in a good-to-great restaurant at an early hour like 6pm where they’ll serve you off the main menu and just savoring the whole thing. In this case, I ordered some olives to start and I almost felt like ending there—they were and remain the best olives I’ve ever had in my life and I can remember their taste right now just in thinking on it. I moved on to a lovely salad and I think then a roasted chicken dish that was fantastic. With quite a bit of excellent Spanish red wines by the glass. It’s one of the meals I can most remember in a physical, embodied sense: being tired, being interested in what I was reading, loving the food, loving the feel of being where I was and doing what I was doing.
Hence the desire to have the cookbook.
However, these turn out to be the cookbooks that I find it easiest to judge as losers in this column, and it may honestly be because the experience of cooking from them just doesn’t match the pleasurable intensity of the memory that motivated acquiring the cookbook. It doesn’t because it can’t—it’s an unfair standard. But hey, it’s my kitchen and my shelves—I’m not trying to write reviews from some grandiose height of sweeping judgment. The question is always, “Can I use this? Use it enough to justify keeping it when I know I’ve got to thin the collection down some?” Because, you know, I’ll always have Moro. Here’s looking at you, kid.
In the case of this cookbook, it is at least not for lack of trying. I’ve used the book fairly substantially and it does have a couple of recipes that I’ve been very happy with, so the balance sheet is weighted in its favor in that respect. (It’s also a fairly thin book and rather beautiful to look at, so more thumbs on the scale there.)
On the other hand, it has a couple of recipes that I’ve tried several times that I don’t think work very well.
It has some combinations of ingredients and flavors that I like (and that remind me of that great meal). It also has some barriers to use that I forgive: getting squid ink from fishmongers around here is a no go, and a lot of the best Spanish and North African artisanal ingredients are not to be had—I don’t think I’ve ever seen any version of blood sausage in any food store in Philly, let alone morcilla, though maybe the scary sausage guy in the Italian Market has had it. To work with mojama (cured thin-sliced tuna), I think I’d have to make it myself in my dehydrator.
I think in the end my main issue is that the cookbook reflects the restaurant’s strengths, which is that many recipes basically depend on getting the absolute best-quality version of the main protein or vegetable, using the most flavorful version of broths and spices and other flavoring elements, and making a simple dish within the general patterns of Spanish and North African cuisines. So, for example, there’s a pork belly recipe that is basically: score the fat on the pork belly, rub in fennel seed, roast it for a long time, make a gravy from the rendered fat. Which, yes, is delicious. But it pretty much defines, “I don’t need a cookbook for that”. I sometimes feel with restaurant-based cookbooks that a restaurant that is glorious because it has a tight, well-managed menu that is extremely focused struggles to populate even a short cookbook and that results in a feeling of repetition: here is a recipe for tuna that is like the recipe for sausage is like the recipe for quail.
But I do love the food in the book as well as the restaurant, so I want to push myself to go back into it and look for things I haven’t made. I’m also going to be opportunistic: there are things in my refrigerator that need to be used. I’m going to pickle some turnips, make some beets with yogurt, make some squid with bulgur and almonds, make a really interesting version of migas (which I’m accustomed to thinking of as a breakfast dish made with corn tortillas, but this is a dinner dish made with bread and bacon), and an interesting recipe for slow-cooked ribs with sherry and mushrooms.