Nigella invites you to eat at her table {#CookbookReview + #Recipe}

Cookbook author and TV personality, Nigella Lawson celebrates the home cook with her latest book, "At My Table"

“Our lives are formed by memories, and the focus of mine is the food I’ve cooked and the people I’ve cooked for, the people who have sat at my table, as well as the other tables I’ve eaten at, from the formica table of my childhood, to the mottled zinc one that is the nexus of my life now,” writes cookbook author, food journalist and TV personality Nigella Lawson in the introduction to her latest cookbook “At My Table: A celebration of home cooking.”

Not a trained chef, Nigella continues:

“The food in this book–which comes from my table, is eaten at my table, and will be eaten at yours–is the food I have always loved cooking. It doesn’t require technique, dexterity, or expertise, none of which I lay claim to.” 

After cooking four of the book's recipes and marking another 20 I must try soon, I have to agree with her assessment of the recipes: they're unfussy, paired down to their most basic components which requires that each ingredient be it’s own flavor bomb, contributing to the overall harmony of the finished dish. 

The recipes, many of which have stories and memories woven through their accompanying headnotes, are written in Lawson’s famously intimate, sensually unique voice that, to me, also seems a little cheeky in places that I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. I can picture her writing with a smile and a wink, wink, nudge, nudge vibe as she writes her headnotes. Take for instance this one from her Chicken Fricassée recipe on page 150:

“This is what chicken fricassée says to me: my grandmother’s apartment on a Monday evening, when the leftovers from Sunday’s roast chicken would be warmed up with some sliced button mushrooms and coated in a thick and creamy béchamel sauce, to be eaten on top of a small, mounded pyramid of rice.” 

Later she describes her substitution of Marsala and thyme as giving a “bosky depth, very different from the muffling blandness of the traditional béchamel.” She ends by saying that this very brown on brown dish, though one of her favorite things to eat, has “a face only a mother could love.”

Many of the headnotes are written in the same vein.

The Good

There’s much to love about this cookbook: every recipe has a gorgeous color photograph accompanying it with no fuss food styling to show you exactly what the finished dish should look like; straightforward yet utterly descriptive instructions make you feel like Lawson is in the kitchen cooking with you; and my favorite part, the ingredient list organization which lists the ingredient first followed by the measurement (Pepper–a good grinding; Garlic–one fat clove; Sea Salt–one fat pinch; Dill–a few fronds; Olive oil–1 tablespoon, etc). So, with one scan, you can see what the ingredients are which enables you to assess quickly which ingredients you already have in your pantry. It’s making me rethink how I write my own ingredient lists.

Design wishes

I wish the typeface for the steps was one weight heavier. The size of the typeface is fine, it’s just a little light–my eyes struggled to read it, especially if there was the slightest glare just barely skimming the surface of the page. Forget trying to read it at night after a full day of my own design work on a computer at my day job. By evening, the light typeface nearly disappeared for these tired, older eyes of mine.

Testing the recipes

My sister (@debbies_table_sd) came over this past Saturday to help me cook several of the recipes from the book. I came to “At My Table” because it is the January pick for the monthly Instagram cookbook club run by Deborah Balint (@rainydaybites). I’ve been following #rainydaybitescookbookclub on Instagram for quite sometime, amazed at all the gorgeous food being made and shared. This year, I decided to play along, forcing me to cook outside my wheelhouse and learn about new ingredients and methods of cooking. 

Playing along is easy. Deborah identifies the cookbook then picks two recipes that will be the challenge recipes. For those, she chooses a date for each recipe photo to be posted live on Instagram with #rainydaycookbookclub so everyone can see how the dish came out for you. Other than these two challenge recipes, you’re free to pick and choose what to make and share with #rainydaycookbookclub throughout the month. Anyone can participate and join anytime. You just have to find the cookbook announcement post on Deborah’s feed and follow the directions. The first recipe challenge of the month, posted on Sunday, January 13. It was Butterflied Chicken with Miso and Sesame Seeds (p. 140). 

Can I just say, I’ve made a lot of chicken in my life but this roasted spatchcocked chicken was by far the best I’ve ever made. Emblematic of Lawson’s no fuss yet flavorful cooking style, the chicken sits overnight in a bath of white miso, vegetable oil, sesame oil, fish sauce, soy sauce, grated fresh ginger and garlic. An hour before you’re ready to roast, it sits on the kitchen counter, coming up to room temperature. Then it gets roasted, covered, until nearly done then drizzled with more sesame oil and generously sprinkled with sesame seeds before returning to the oven uncovered until the skin is crispy, the color is golden and the chicken is cooked through. I cooked mine for about 10 minutes longer so I could achieve the golden color and the chicken faired none the worse for the extended time; it remained succulent and enticingly fragrant, scented with the sesame, ginger and garlic. 

Our sides for the evening included the following:

To snack on while we prepared the sides we made White Miso Hummus (p. 111): And here is another thing about this book: if Lawson has you buy an out-of-the-ordinary ingredient, she has included more than one recipe to utilize it. Making this white miso hummus was a no-brainer since I already had the white miso for the recipe challenge. Swapping out the traditional finishing drizzle of olive oil for sesame oil and the addition of sesame seeds was genius. Subtle changes yet the result was a burst of unexpected umami with every dip of our bread. 

Bulgur Wheat with Sliced Almonds and Nigella Seeds (p. 176): This recipe made a ginormous amount of grain. The recipe says it serves 6-8 but I’d amend that easily to 10. Lawson indicates in her introduction that she abhors having to list serving sizes because there are so many variables from size of the person eating, to level of hunger to what else might be served alongside the dish. Clearly, her portions are quite generous. Aside of that, the flavors in this were very satisfying and bonus! It introduced me to nigella seeds (which come from the nigella stevia plant and is not to be confused with black sesame seed, black caraway seeds or black cumin though all of these could be substitutes for the seed in a pinch). The recipe also calls for whole coriander which I cook with a lot but I tend to either freshly grind or include it tightly bundled away in a bouquet garni. The whole seed proved to be a bit jolting when bitten into so next time I’ll be whacking the coriander seeds once or twice with a mallet to crack it so the flavor is more evenly dispersed. I also think instead of the sliced almonds, I’ll rough chop them for added texture. 

Brussels sprouts with Preserved Lemons and Pomegranate (p. 76): My sister and I love Brussel sprouts so we both liked the idea of this recipe. I picked up pickled lemons at the Middle Eastern market where I bought the nigella seeds after reading that pickled lemons and preserved lemons where the same thing. Never having had preserved lemons, we were quite surprised that upon opening the jar we were hit in the face with the smell of Pine-Sol: it really was astringent and smelled of industrial cleanser–the taste was just as off-putting. Neither of us have a point of reference for how these are supposed to taste and smell. So for me, this off-putting astringency detracted from the dish as it's all I could taste and smell. I don’t know if I should go to Trader Joe's and pick up their brand of preserved lemons, make my own preserved lemons, or simply swap them out entirely for fresh lemon zest next time I make this as I think some lemony freshness would certainly brighten the dish. That said, we both really liked the contrast of the Brussel sprouts and the pomegranate. 

Bashed Cucumber and Radish Salad (p. 98): For a fresh and crunchy contrast to the chicken, grains and veggies, we opted to go with this salad, Lawson’s suggested side. Beautiful on the plate, this salad was bright, peppery and refreshing all at once. Definitely will be making this one again.

Butterflied Chicken with Miso and Sesame Seeds
Adapted from “At My Table” by Nigella Lawson available on Amazon


Vegetable Oil – 1 tablespoon
Sesame Oil – 2 teaspoons, divided
Mellow White Miso – 4 teaspoons
Soy Sauce – 1 tablespoon 
Fish sauce – 2 teaspoons
Fresh ginger – 1 tablespoon finely grated (Tip: I keep my well rinsed, unpeeled ginger in the freezer and use a microplane on the frozen ginger for the lightest, fluffiest and finest grated ginger)
Garlic – 1 large garlic, peeled and minced
Whole organic chicken – approximately 4 pounds
Sesame seeds – 2 teaspoons


Make the marinade: In a small bowl, whisk together the vegetable oil, a teaspoon of the sesame oil, the miso, soy sauce, fish sauce, ginger and the garlic.

Butterfly (spatchcock) the chicken: Remove any giblets from the chicken and set aside. Place the chicken breast side down on a board butt side facing you. Using a very sharp pair of kitchen shears, cut along one side of the back bone starting at the butt end and working your way towards the neck. Repeat on the other side. Flip the bird around so it’s breast side up. Place one palm in the center of the breast and your other palm on the back of your hand and press down firmly until you hear and feel the breast bone snap. Your chicken should now lay flatly against the board. Congratulations, you have just butterflied a chicken! Place the backbone and giblets, if there are any, in a resealable plastic bag and freeze for another day when you are able to devote time to making a bone broth (I collect chicken and veg scraps to freeze, pulling out when I am ready to make broth).

Marinate the chicken: Place the chicken in a large, resealable bag and pour in the marinade. Seal the bag tightly then flip the bag a few times, massaging the marinade into the chicken until it’s as evenly coated as you can get. Refrigerate overnight. 

Prep to roast: Pull the chicken out of the refrigerator an hour before you plan to roast it. Empty the contents into a quarter sheet pan (or any low-sided pan just big enough to hold the chicken). Make sure the chicken is breast side up and position the legs so that the thighs are flat against the pan and the ends of the legs are each touching their respective corners (see photo above). Tuck the wing tips behind the neck of the chicken. Leave the chicken on the counter to come to room temperature.

Roast the chicken: Place a rack in the bottom third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Tightly cover the chicken with heavy duty aluminum foil. When oven is up to temp, put the chicken in for 45 minutes.

Finishing touches: Take the chicken out of the oven and carefully remove the foil. Baste the chicken with its juices then evenly drizzle the remaining sesame oil over the chicken. Sprinkle the sesame seeds on top and return the chicken to the oven for 20 to 30 minutes or until the skin has crisped up, the chicken is a wondrously golden color and the chicken is cooked all the way through. 

Serve the chicken over sushi rice with a drizzle of the pan juices. 

Final thoughts

There are no chapters to this book, the recipes rolling from one to the next, much like Lawson says home cooking is. That can be a little disconcerting to those who like to plan meals, starting with appetizers and going directly to the seafood section or poultry section, etc. Instead, we found we just flipped through the book, randomly picking the sides after knowing what our main was. It gave a sense of spontaneity to the process that I rather enjoyed.

Want to join in on the fun?

Order At My Table as soon as you can. Our next recipe challenge for #atmytable is Slow Roasted 5 Spice Lamb with Chinese Pancakes (p. 160) to be posted on Sunday, January 27. Here are the rules and details for this #rainydaybitescookbookclub challenge.

If you want to wait until February, we’ll be cooking from “Modern Baking” by Donna Hay. In March, our book will be “Simple” from Yotam Ottolenghi.

“At My Table”

By Nigella Lawson
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Pages: 288
Recipes: 110 ranging from breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks and dessert
List price: $40 

Until next week … ¡Buen Provecho! xo, ani

I purchased my own copy of this book and was not in any way compensated by the publisher or author. All opinions are my own. Recipe re-written with my notes and in my own words. Photographs are ©2019 Anita L. Arambula | All rights reserved.

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