Way back when, a chef who had just returned from London told me that she had eaten the best meal of her life. I wasn’t surprised. London has long been known as a gastronome’s North Star, thanks (as always is the case) to its ethnic diversity and its status as a hotbed of culinary experimentation. Lucky her. She was able to not only visit London but also score a spot at Nopi, one of chef-author Yotam Ottolenghi’s standout restaurants.
One thing that strikes me about Ottolenghi’s food is that his ingredients don’t always behave like they normally do. You think you’re getting a fastball right over the plate, then, surprise! It’s a slider. A lemon, for example, will step outside of its lane to become more than just a lemon. Why is this? Well, I thought, why not ask him? Lucky for me, I recently had the opportunity to chat with Ottolenghi and Noor Murad, his co-author and collaborator, about the inspiration for their latest cookbook, Ottolenghi Test Kitchen: Extra Good Things. I also selfishly wanted them to dissect their Double Lemon Chicken recipe, which I can’t seem to get out of my head.
Robert Seixas: Why this book, and why now? I read in the introduction that the book is “an exploration into the Ottolenghi Test Kitchen pantry.” Can you elaborate?
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Yotam: It really started with Covid and the lockdown. We responded to the idea of filling the fridge, of the use of shortcuts, but shortcuts in the best possible way. And the bonus is you make your own condiments.
Noor: Yes, you don’t need to really cook from the ground up.
The Double Lemon Chicken with Cheat’s Preserved Lemon. I’m pretty obsessed with this recipe. What was the thought behind it?
Noor: I would say that the inspiration was my time in New York and eating at Wo Hop in Chinatown. So I am thinking Lemon Chicken as the base. Then going off in certain ways.
Yotam: You get an instant kick from the lemon. A common technique for us is to introduce a flavor or ingredient, then make that flavor or ingredient the base, then introduce it again later in the dish.
So in this recipe, it’s like a tripling-down of lemon?
Noor: Pretty much. It’s also like accessorizing the lemon in different ways, and embellishing it throughout the dish.
Yotam: And the idea of frugality—you use an ingredient and amplify it, taking it in different directions.
Robert Seixas is the Food Director at Delish. Previously, he was the Director of Education at the International Culinary Center (French Culinary Institute), a senior editor at Zagat, and began and directed food training programs in homeless shelters across NYC. He lives in and loves the Hudson Valley, and enjoys a mean smoothie any time of day.