SPEAKING AS one whose shelves groan with the hits and misses of an overactive culinary press, it was a sheer joy to work through The Family Meal, the latest cookbook from legendary Spanish chef and Michelin-starred restaurateur Ferran Adrià. This thick volume, based on the staff meals prepared daily for El Bulli's 75-person team, is far from the complex, modernist cuisine that has made Adrià famous. These recipes, driven by simplicity and economy, are carefully documented methods for making inexpensive and accessible ingredients shine with a minimum of technique and experience. The book is satisfyingly dense with full-color images and information, making this as close to foolproof as a cookbook gets.
Beginning with a thorough primer in such basics as pantry management and kitchen equipment—supplemental information that is typically fluff, but here is concise and useful—the book moves into stocks (four) and sauces (10 classics, ranging from aioli to Bolognese to teriyaki). From there, the book is organized into 31 complete menus of appetizers, entrées, and desserts. Numerous jumping-in points will appeal to even the most timorous of home cooks, from the charming and simple potato-chip omelet that scandalized Spain to the dead-easy and delicious basic osso buco (an extremely forgiving braise for beginners). The desserts tend to be brazenly spartan preparations of fresh fruits, custards, and sauces, so those of us who claim that only certain types of brains can attempt pastry should shed that fear and prepare mango with white chocolate yogurt (three ingredients), and a versatile pistachio custard.
Favorites are the rich, meaty Bolognese, a comforting kitchen staple with a sweet, buttery baseline, and a Germanic potato salad (with sliced frankfurters, which seem okay given the Adrià stamp of approval) that will reawaken guests to the possibilities of this typically stodgy dish. As with even the best cookbooks, some recipes take a little personal refinement, such as hitting the Bolognese with an immersion blender in order to create the smooth texture that coats pasta so well, or doubling the caramel ingredients and cooking time for the flan (my Spanish mother says recipes never get this right, even if written by chefs with three stars).
A keeper, this book will provide years of revisiting and reference. This belongs alongside your Larousse, Pepin, and America's Test Kitchen compendiums.