Bitter: A Taste of the World’s Most Dangerous Flavor, with Recipes

Review by Kristina Sepetys

Bitter:  A Taste of the World’s Most Dangerous Flavor, with Recipes
by Jennifer McLagan
(Ten Speed Press, 2014)

“Bitterness is a double-edged sword: it signals toxic and dangerous, but it can also be pleasurable and beneficial. In the kitchen, eschewing bitter is like cooking without salt, or eating without looking. Without bitterness we lose a way to balance sweetness, and by rejecting it we limit our range of flavors. Food without bitterness lacks depth and complexity.” So explains Jennifer McLagan, the award-winning chef, caterer, food stylist, and author of the widely acclaimed Bones (2005), Fat (2008), and Odd Bits (2011), in her intriguing and well-researched latest effort, Bitter.

Chapters titled “Born to be Bitter,” “Liquid Bitter,” “Pungently Bitter,” “Subtly Bitter,” “Surprisingly Bitter,” and “Dark, Forbidden, and Very Bitter,” present recipes and helpful headnotes together with the the science, culture, history, and health benefits of various bitter foods. The text is enhanced by an extensive bibliography and darkly beautiful photographs of fruits, vegetables, and other foodstuffs by über-talented East Bay photographer Aya Brackett.

The recipes are fairly simple and taste good, prepared with just a handful of good-quality ingredients and a few steps. Despite their bitter elements, they combine ingredients and flavors in unexpected ways to make very appetizing dishes like Pork Chops in Coffee Black Currant Sauce, Horseradish and Bone Marrow Toasts, Lamb with Dark Chocolate Pepper Sauce, Methi and Spinach with Baked Eggs, Tea-Infused Prunes, Radicchio and Pumpkin Risotto, and White Asparagus with Blood Orange Sauce.