Sour by Mark Diacono

Book review

The purveyor of our pedigreed hazelnut boscage, and hence known to local squirrels as the messiah; Mark Diacono, has once again taken to pen and paper. The latest resultant oeuvre is called, ‘Sour/the magical element that will transform your cooking‘. An acidulated gastronomic rollercoaster, with a bounty of tart tongue tickling recipes thrown in. Have you fond memories of eye squintingly sour sherbet lemons, and find yourself forever seeking that zingy buzz in food, then this is the book for you.

On parr with monsieur D’s thinking, a taste of sour in the kitchen is not alien chez nous. Be it, solely with a soupçon of lemon, or full blown dive into a generous helping of sauerkraut, we are keen followers of this fashion. So much so in fact, that my ultimate kitchen secret is a stash of very special (red & white) vinegar. Vinegar doesn’t excite many I realise, and countless gift recipients of said treasure would probably have preferred a bottle of it’s more vibrant cousin – but I love it. To yours truly, the whiff of a corked wine doesn’t bring disappointment, rather the promise of impending zingy delectability. My stash is the product of an incredible (40+ yr old) aged ‘madre’ vinegar discovered in the back of my grandfather’s pantry, paired with the rather erudite rejects of my brother’s (ex) fine wine portfolio; Barolo, Brunello di Montalcino, Barbera, Gavi, Riesling, and Gruner Veltiner to name but a few. A quality aged vinegar, will most certainly excite Mr D in terms of its excellent sour rendering properties, but the best ones also have a mellow, magical sweetness which is quite a taste sensation. My excitement for this glint of a book by his Otter highness, hence duly explained.

Pickled celeriac
Tarragon vinegar
Making paneer
Red grapefruit and radish kimchi
Kombucha mayonnaise

According to Diacono, ‘sourness is where so much of food’s magic is’. With each page of this barbed bible of sourness, his point becomes salivatingly valid. Beyond the ye oldie pickle jar, there is a world of intriguing ingredients/techniques, all with varying levels and types of sourness that need immediate exploring. The book goes into quite some detail as to how to get to grips with and understanding sourness in all its glory. We are to use sourness as a ‘creative tool’, either to build complexity in a dish or drink, punctuate flavour or simply, to refresh. Sourness can be used to change the structure of protein, such as lemon to fish in ceviche, souring dairy products to create cheeses, slacken too-thick sauces whilst enhancing flavour, or enhance colour and/or texture of food by the addition of lemon juice or some of my esteemed vinegar during cooking. Moreover, it seems we need sour foods in our diet. Sour foods nourish as well as feed, promote healthy digestion in aid of improved physical and mental wellbeing. We have much to learn and with his track record in all things cooky but tasty, one can trust his Otter Lordship to take us on this journey. Or as he puts it, ‘Jump in the pool, the water’s fine’.

With monsieur D’s help, supermarket bingo has improved tenfold. Querying staff with lists of inscrutable ingredients always amuses and now armed with Amchur, Anardana, Kokum and Black Lime, I’m bound to win. Joking aside, the book provides a wonderful overview of ingredients, which will enhance any recipe. Following on, Mark takes you through a series of souring skills, such as making sourdough; souring dairy – eg; yoghurt making, buttermilk, kefir and most exciting ricotta; producing vinegars (been there, done that); and my soon to be new hobby – fermenting fruit, vegetables and drinks. Kimchi has yet to make it to the North Oxfordshire territories, so with the help of his Ottership, I shall conquer.

Once you’ve worked your way through the theory, the remainder of the book brims with recipes that can be followed or inspire newly spawned sour inventions. From excitable small things in shiny jars; to sides, salads, and soups; hearty main courses; puds and drinks, Mark is sure to sour up your life in some way or another. Beautifully presented, photographed and written, this book is bound to be a classic and I for one am delighted to have a copy.

Sour by Mark Diacono (Quadrille £25) is available from today in all the usual places. As he has generously done with previous books, Mark is keen to share his skills with all regardless of income, so the book is available on his website at three prices: full price for those who can afford it, cost price for those on low income, and free to charities, other organisations and individuals less able to pay.

So you see despite eating and drinking enough of it, Sir Sour-a-lot isn’t actually so sour after all….