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Meet the Expert – Jill Norman

Meet the Expert

Please could you tell us about yourself?

Hello, I am a former publisher and food and wine writer. I’ve lived in London for most of my life, with spells in New York, France and Holland.  During lockdown I’ve been looking at how English food has evolved throughout our history and revisiting dishes from many different parts of the world.

Why did you pursue a career in food?

My career in food came about by accident.  I learned about food while a student in France, appreciating and learning about different regional cuisines.  I enjoyed eating but didn’t do much cooking.

After university I joined Penguin Books as an editor, and one of my responsibilities was to develop a food and wine list.  In the 60s and 70s there were virtually no inexpensive cookery books on the market, and so the list took off rapidly with authors who became household names like Elizabeth David, Jane Grigson, Claudia Roden and Alan Davidson.  Penguin did not have test kitchens, and I tried out recipes I thought sounded particularly interesting or rather dodgy; in the process I became a reasonable cook, and my family got used to eating meals from all parts of the world. I’m pleased to have children and grandchildren from 8 to 18 who all cook well.

I pursued a career in food originally as part of my publishing brief. It took a long time to agree to write; I felt my role was the editorial one.  Eventually I realised that I enjoyed writing and still continue to work in both roles.

What is your biggest achievement/lesson you have learnt?

My curiosity to know more about foods in the country of their origin led to travels in pursuit of food and drink, to research into the spice trade and a passion to discover the origins of spices and their use.  A fellow publisher talked me into writing The Complete Book of Spices, which was translated into many languages and won several awards.


This led to updating Encyclopedia Britannica’s entries on spices, to writing more books, and occasional journalism for The Times, The Guardian, The FT, The Telegraph, The Sunday Times, The Observer, and to contributing to radio and TV programmes.


While at Penguin, I worked closely with Elizabeth David, who appointed me literary trustee of her estate on her death. I finished her last book, Harvest of the Cold Months, compiled collections of her unpublished work and two anthologies.

I have been fortunate to win many awards here and overseas. In 2014 The Guild of Food Writers gave me its Lifetime Achievement Award.

How do you use your favourite ingredient and why?

My favourite ingredient is green cardamom.  On my early travels to Kerala I visited a cardamom plantation, where I saw the bushes and understood the intensive and expensive work of harvesting and drying.  I love cardamom’s mellow, fruity yet penetrating aroma and the lemony, flowery taste with a warm bittersweet note and hint of camphor. I often use it to flavour coffee, as they do in many parts of the Middle East.  Cardamom is good to flavour lentils, is a key ingredient in gingerbread and speculaas, and makes a wonderful ice cream.

Could you share your favourite recipe?

Cold Spiced Chicken

Serves 6

  • 45ml yogurt
  • ½ tsp garam masala
  • ½ tsp ground turmeric
  • Salt
  • 6 chicken breasts, skinned
  • 600ml chicken stock
  • 4 green cardamoms, crushed
  • 1 curry leaf (optional)

Sauce

  • 25g butter
  • 1 tbs gram flour
  • ½ tbs plain flour
  • ½ tsp garam masala
  • ½ tsp ground turmeric
  • about 450ml reserved stock
  • ¼ tsp ground mace
  • ½ tsp ground cardamom
  • 60ml thick yogurt or crème fraîche
  1. Blend together yogurt, garam masala, turmeric and salt to taste.  Rub the chicken breasts with the mixture and marinate for 1 hour.
  2. Heat the stock with the cardamoms and curry leaf. Put in the chicken breasts and simmer for about 20 minutes, until tender.
  3. Lift out the chicken and put aside to cool. Strain and reserve the stock.
  4. Melt the butter in a pan and stir in the flours. Add the garam masala and turmeric, then whisk in the reserved stock.  Bring to the boil and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring from time to time. 
  5. Stir in the mace, cardamom and yogurt or crème fraîche and taste for salt. 
  6. Spoon the sauce over the chicken and chill before serving.

Explore Jill Norman’s books

Jill Norman is a renowned food writer. Her literature focuses on herbs, spices and food and wine pairing that considers locally and sustainably sourced products and their flavours. Some of Jill’s work has been translated into different languages and she has been presented with awards such as The Guild of Food Writers Lifetime Achievement Award. As well as writing, Jill is a frequent speaker on gastronomy at literary and food festivals.

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