Pros: delicious dishes, relatively easy prep
Cons: hard to find ingredients, lots of specialty cookware
Since I'm probably never going to experience Ferran Adria's molecular wonders in Spain, I wanted something of his that I could experience in my own kitchen. His book of recipes used for the family meal at El Bulli looked just easy enough to attempt. The book is presented much differently than the typical cookbook. The preparation steps are storyboard pictures, and the ingredients are listed based on 2, 6, 20, or 75 servings (what home cook needs 75 servings??). It takes a little time to get used to, but I really liked being able to see the dishes in process, especially when I was making something I had never tried before.
Now to the food... It's amazing. For such simple fare, I'm honestly shocked how much I loved it. I even started to like peas after trying his peas and ham recipe. I roasted a perfect chicken. I made my own ceviche. I made these stewed turkey legs that left me sucking on the bones. Out of the maybe 15 full meals I tried, I only found 2 recipes I wouldn't try again. Yes, 2 out of 45. That's a pretty amazing accomplishment for a cookbook.
Some people have mentioned that the ingredients may be a little off for the 6 person servings, but when using the 2 person servings, I had no problem. The only thing that irritated me a little was the difficulty of finding some of the ingredients, despite the note at the beginning of the book mentioning that these meals were specifically chosen because the ingredients are easy to find. I had to visit ethnic groceries to find: lamb neck, pork belly, yellow curry paste, and sardines. Most of the fishes he calls for are not found in US markets, but I was able to locate close substitutes with the help of my fishmonger. And there is some specialty equipment that is needed, such as a pressure cooker and a whipped cream siphon. Adria gives instructions for how to make the dish if you're missing the equipment, but it just doesn't seem the same.
Overall I love this cookbook. I think making a whole meal would probably be a stretch on a weeknight, but individual dishes are definitely doable. The instructions are pretty simple and clear, so anyone with a basic knowledge of cooking could be very successful. Highly recommended.
Peas & Ham
2 tsp olive oil
1 small onions, finely sliced
2 thin slices cured ham (Serrano, Iberico, Bayonne, or Parma recommended)
1/4 oz ham fat (I found lardo in the deli counter)
2 cups frozen peas
1 cinnamon stick
1 sprig fresh mint
1/3 cup ham stock (I used Better Than Bouillon)
Heat the oil in a large frying pan, then add the onion and cook gently for 10 minutes until softened. Cute the ham into thin, 1-inch long strips. Chop the ham fat into very small pieces. Add the chopped ham and fat to the onion. Fry gently for 2 minutes, or until the fat has melted and the ham and onion are golden. Stir in the frozen peas and continue to cook for 4 minutes. Add the cinnamon stick and mint, then cover the pan and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. Pour in the ham stock and simmer for another 5 minutes, covered, until the peas are very tender. Remove one tenth of the peas and process with a hand-held blender until creamy. Add this back to the peas to make the sauce creamier. Mix well. Season to taste with salt and serve in soup plates.