Action Cook Book & Ou est le Garlic, Penguin Boxed Set edition, 1966
This is a companion volume to Len Deighton's Action Cook Book. That dealt with all sorts of cookery skills, including the basics. This volume is focused on collating the cookstrips which dealt with French cooking, which in the sixties was seen as the basis of all haute cuisine. It is stripped down cooking advice, clearly based on Deighton's own expert knowledge and knowledge gleaned from restaurateurs and food buyers in London and Paris.
Why it's interesting
What comes across strongly is that French cooking is territory that Deighton feels very comfortable on. There is no hint of pretence, no suggestion that Deighton has not at some point tried every one of the recipes in this book and is prepared to eat every part of every animal he cooks: "a pound of necks and a pound of gizzards and hearts will make a fine stock."
His stylistic illustrations, characterised by heavy black outlining to each element, well spaced on what is a small page format, are truly wonderful and make this still a unique cookbook. The Guardian's food writer recently cited it as one of the best cookbooks of the twentieth century; the idea was so simple, yet it took Deighton's skill and panache to realise it so successfully. This book came out only three years after his first book, demonstrating the marketing power of a writer who could switch between two separate markets without any loss of recognition.
'LARD. The finest - lard gras - is from the fat of the loin of the pig. It's in two layers, that nearest the skin is the firmest and so it's used for making bardes which are sheets of fat for protecting the outside of roast meat and chicken. It is also cut into strips, called lardons, that are stitched through meat that would otherwise be dry (more about this in Strip 38). The layer below that is easier to melt and is used for cooking; particularly popular in S.W. France is rendered down pork fat called saindoux, and that's what you get inside a packet marked lard in Britain or the U.S.A. Saindoux is find for pastry making. Other parts of a pig, e.g. the head and the belly, make fine fat. The latter is called lard maigre.'
The cookstrips were never meant for publication. When studying at the Royal College of Art, Deighton worked in restaurants, and created the strips as a useful way to pin up the essential facts of a recipe in the kitchen. Turning them into a column was suggested by Raymond Hawkey.
Alex Szogyi in New York's Village Voice wrote of the book as 'one of the best arranged and explicated works on French cuisine.'