There are exceptions. Chef Thomas Keller writes great recipes, and I love some of the dishes in Martin Picard’s Au Pied De Cochon cookbook, especially his "Tomato Tart." I also love Chef Paul Wilson’s book Botanical from the namesake restaurant in Melbourne. I bought Wilson’s book in October 2008 (I inscribe the purchase date in all my books) and cooked from it a lot, the recipes I treasured most coming from the "Basics" section at the back. His book is sadly out of print but worth searching for in second-hand bookstores.
There’s something fresh, appealing and unaffected in Wilson’s cooking. I can easily look beyond the expensive ingredients and lengthy methods.
One recipe in particular, "Chermoula," is worth the price of the book ($110 at the time). I care little if it’s not traditional and believe a better result could only come from a woman working a charcoal brazier in a Marrakech Souk.
Because grilling season has finally arrived in Canada, I asked chef Paul Wilson if I could include his recipe in a post and he graciously agreed. I’ve tweaked the recipe to suit my way of working (there’s a photo of the original recipe to compare).
I buy ras-el-hanout as a whole spice blend from the esteemed Quebecois spice purveyor Épices de Cru. It’s a gorgeous and exotic mixture that is worth the expense and can be ordered online.
Adapted from Botanical by chef Paul Wilson (Hardie Grant Books)
1 bunch coriander (cilantro)
1/2 bunch Italian parsley
1/2 large bunch mint (or 1 small package)
1-1/2 cups extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons coriander seeds
3 tablespoons cumin seeds
2 tablespoons whole ras-el-hanout
2 medium red onions, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Grated zest of 2 lemons
Strained juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
2 tablespoons cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
2 tablespoons salt
Pick all the leaves from the herbs, discarding the stems. Soak the leaves in a bowl of cold water to clean. Dry in a salad spinner.
In a food processor, combine the herbs and enough oil to make a slurry and process until the leaves are finely chopped (like pesto). Transfer the slurry, and any remaining oil, to a large bowl.
Place the coriander and cumin seeds, either together or separately, in a cast iron skillet and toast over medium heat, shaking the skillet often to ensure the seeds don’t burn. When fragrant, remove the seeds from the skillet and process to a powder in a spice grinder. Add the ground seeds to the herb slurry.
Grind the ras-el-hanout to a powder in a spice grinder and add to the herb slurry.
Run the chopped onion and garlic through the food processor being careful not to over-process so that the onion starts oozing liquid. Add the onions and garlic to the herb slurry.
Add the lemon zest, juice, and the remaining spices and seasoning and combine.
The chermoula recipe yields enough marinade for four meals. It freezes well and is perfect to have on hand in the summer for a quick and delicious meal. I like if for marinating chicken but it’s also delicious on meaty fish or lamb.
Put the meat to be marinated in a heavy-duty zipper-topped bag and add the chermoula. Seal the bag, rub the marinade into the meat and refrigerate overnight.
The meat is best cooked over a charcoal fire but is delicious on a gas grill, rotisserie or roasted in an oven.