Luke Mangan’s Sharing Plates

UnknownThis book was sent to me by the publisher, Murdoch Books, at no cost. It’s out now; RRP $39.99. (See here for my discussion of some recipes.)

Overall, this book is well presented and the format of the recipes is basically approachable. The binding of my copy seems like it will cope well with wear and tear; the pages are not going to be destroyed by some cooking splatter. I do, however, have some reservations.

I was really excited about the idea of ‘sharing plates’ because I like the tapas/mezze concept a lot. While some of the recipes here do allow for a tapas or mezze style presentation, many of them don’t, really: they’re just recipes that scale well for more than two people, and that would make nice dinner party meals. They do not all lend themselves to being presented on a central plate, for instance, any more than any other meal does – I mean, you can put spaghetti bolognese in the middle of the table and let people serve themselves; I love that idea and I would totally do that but it doesn’t automatically make it a ‘sharing plate’.

In the advertising copy, the book is suggested as showing “how to keep menu planning easy, it’s often simplest to stick to a general style of cuisine” (that’s [sic]), and that the book “shows us how to think about balancing flavours and textures, how much time you have for preparation and what elements of the menu can be made well in advance.” In the introduction, Mangan does say that balancing flavours and textures is important and that you should think about what sort of time you have, and that “to avoid a confusion of flavours, and to keep menu planning easy, it’s often simplest to stick to a general style of cuisine… but don’t be afraid to be a bit adventurous too” (7). All of this is sensible advice.

However. Firstly, while some recipes are identified by their provenance – parathas as Indian, braesola as hailing from Italy, ‘po boys’ as a traditional sandwich in Louisiana (um, and Thai beef koftas…) – this is not the case with every recipe. So in order to “avoid a confusion of flavours” you either need to know the cuisine of the recipe you’re looking at (or look it up), or spend time comparing ingredients to figure out if they’ll be complimentary. And there’s no “this goes well with that” throughout the book – and no suggested menus – to help someone unfamiliar with any of the recipes. So… not so much with helping in that respect. Secondly, while some of the recipes do tell you what can be made ahead of time, none of the recipe pages tell you how long each step will take. There is no Prep Time/Cooking Time to give you an immediate indication for how time-consuming a recipe is. This is a serious deficit and to my mind negates any notion that this book wants to help you in how you plan your time.

The book is divided into several sections: Breakfast and Brunch; Bread; Snacks and Salads; Oysters and Sashimi; Fish and Shellfish; Meat; Poultry; Sweets. There’s a Basics section, too, with salad dressings and such. I have never seen a cookbook with an entire section on oysters and sashimi! They are very much not my bag but I understand that if you do like them, and have access to a good fishmonger, then such a chapter would be brilliant – they can definitely work as sharing plates. Each section starts with a little introduction from Mangan… to be honest I didn’t feel like they added much to an understanding of what each section is about; they mostly have a few platitudes (“I’ve never really been one for food trends; I believe in good, honest food that’s approachable for everyone”, p131) and some suggestions of which recipes might be particularly good in the coming chapter. As with Julie Goodwin’s book, each section is a different colour so it’s straightforward to flick to the section you want (grey for meat, though? not so appealing).

The recipes themselves are presented one per page, with many having nicely-styled photos accompanying them. The ingredients are listed in bold on one side, the instructions on the other side of the page. If there are multiple parts to the recipe (lamb filling/empanadas/mayonnaise, for instance), then they are clearly separated on the page with bold headings. How many of each thing, or how many people are served, is made clear at the top of the recipe. However, as already noted, there is no indication of how long each step will take. Each page has nice big margins for writing in if that’s your thing.