`The Spanish Kitchen' by UK culinary journalist and Glenfiddich Food Writer award winner, Clarissa Hyman is an informative and useful book on it's subject, but it is much less than what it's title may suggest to the reader's mind. For starters, it is clearly NOT a comprehensive survey of Spanish cuisine, along the lines of Penelope Casas' classic `The Food and Wine of Spain' or even of Casas' more recent books such as `Delicioso' or Teresa Barrenechea's `The Cuisines of Spain'. The oversized format and plentiful photographs mark it as a book on the fast track to the Bargain Books table. It is, however, just a bit better than the average piece of oversized hack work.
The subtitle to the book, `Regional Ingredients, recipes, and stories from Spain' is a much closer picture of the book's contents. It consists of 17 chapters for the 17 regions of Spain, and begins each chapter with a story about a `signature' ingredient from that region. With my rudimentary knowledge of Spanish `terroir', I find some of the selections appropriate, such as the obvious pairing of Valencia with oranges. However, I find some pairings pretty arbitrary, as when Mallorca is used as a basis for discussing black pigs and sobrassada (a type of cured sausage). According to the excellent `Pig Perfect' by Peter Kaminsky, the center of pig culture in Spain is in the western Extramadura region, for which Hyman presents `pimenton de la Vera' (red peppers, pimento, and paprika). Like so many ingredients, as Hyman says herself, sweet peppers and pork are practically a universal ingredient for Spain. There may be a bit less pork in the beef-eating north, but its all a matter of degree. I'm especially puzzled why Hyman doesn't include Serrano ham as a central ingredient, as it is commonly considered equal to or even superior to the more famous Italian prosciutto de Parma among European dry cured hams.
I'm also a bit puzzled by Ms. Hyman's take on geographical names, especially when it comes to the Spanish Island groups. Instead of referring to the Balearic Islands or the Canary Islands, she uses the name of one locale within each island group, Mallorca and Tenerife respectively.
Each region and speciality gets about four pages of text to talk about the featured ingredient(s) and six to eight recipes. Certainly not enough room to cover in depth one of the world's most important and influential cuisines.
This book is actually far more interesting as a set of clues to where one may wish to visit in Spain. The especially good (and well-LABELLED) photographs add a lot to the book. So, if you want a good culinary source, go to Casas or Barrenechea, or Mendel or Anya Von Bremzen's `The New Spanish Table'. If you really like to read about Spanish food, this book strikes me as a cross between a travelogue and a collection of newspaper articles on Spanish food which is, however, not as successful as the classic `The Food of Italy' by Claudia Roden, which WAS a collection of newspaper columns.