`Cooking' by culinary teacher extraordinaire, James Peterson has every symptom of being this veteran writer's magnum opus. Since Peterson has written many other excellent cookbooks, he may have created the problem for this book of living up to his earlier works. In fact, he has written the definitive book on `Sauces' plus `Fish and Shellfish', `Splendid Soups', `Essentials of Cooking', `Glorious French Food', and `What's a Cook to Do', which are among the best on their subject. This last volume is possibly the best book of the `Tips and Tricks' genre.
If you have none of Peterson's other books, your decision easy. Like most of his other books in their genres, this is among the best textbooks on cooking techniques for amateur cooks. Other books in this class are Madeleine Kamman's `The New Making of a Cook' and Darina Allen's `Ballymaloe Cooking School Cookbook'. It is better than the CIA's `The New Professional Chef', which is oriented toward restaurant cooking. The only cooking textbook I would recommend to supplement this book for most people is Jacques Pepin's classic `Complete Techniques'.
Peterson sees and says things which most other culinary writers miss or take for granted. High among this list of insights is that for the dedicated amateur cook, specific recipes are far less important than the mastering of general principals, so that one can reach that desirable plateau of culinary skill where you can cook without a cookbook. Two of my favorites I found in this book are the observation that olive oil is NOT a good oil for vinaigrettes (it becomes bitter) and when sautéing fish in aluminum pans, they must be heated quite hot or the fish will certainly stick.
To be sure, the objective of dedicating time exclusively to learning how to cook may not be for everyone. One can eat well and be well nourished by following Rachael Ray's recipes by rote, even if it takes you twice as long as the speedy Rachael. If cooking quickly is what you need, this book may not be for you (however, following Rachael's recipes is improved greatly by mastering techniques in this book). Thus, Peterson begins his book with a discussion of the ten basic cooking methods. From there, Peterson has chapters of recipes covering virtually every major ingredient and style of cooking. And, that is all he has. True to his title, this book is about `Cooking' and nothing else. It has no bibliography, no chapter on cooking equipment, no chapter on sanitation, no chapter on kitchen safety, and no chapter on nutrition. All of these things are important, but to paraphrase the famous line from `The Hustler', "This is Ames, Man. No gambling, no bowling, no card playing, just `Cooking'".
To enhance that concentration on cooking, Peterson begins with one of the best Tables of Contents I've seen in a fair while. Every recipe in the 22 chapters from `Starters' to `Cookies' is in the TofA. Another major feature of the book is the truly encyclopedic array of `How To' photographic essays demonstrating how to perform specific techniques. Like the insights and observations, this feature is also more important than the specific recipes. There are over 220 of these, more than the number of recipes you get in most cookbooks. Notable is the fact that all photographs in these series were taken by the author. By the author's count, there are 600 recipes in the book. It is obvious that this may not contain every recipe you may ever need (`Joy of Cooking' has 4000 recipes), but it is a pretty good bet that it contains virtually every familiar recipe, especially from the French canon and from the classic American table. Thus, this book becomes an excellent reference for when you wish to make a Caesar salad, a French Potato salad, veal Marsala, buttermilk biscuits, or a simple omelet. Not only will Peterson give you everything you need to know about making an omelet, he will offer up some insights about the process which may have even escaped Julia Child and Elizabeth David.
This is not to say every recipe will be the most authoritative last word. Since Peterson has already written the definitive book on `Sauces', his information on that subject will be sound, but not exhaustive. His recipe for buerre blanc in `Cooking' is less detailed than the recipe for the same sauce in `Sauces'. But then, `Sauces' was, to a certain extent, written for the professional chef.
Just as this is not the book for those who wish to be in and out of the kitchen quickly, it is also not for anyone with major weight loss issues. There is much butter, cream and pork fat to be found on these pages. Unlike the superb Alice Waters book, `The Art of Simple Cooking', this is not for those who wish to limit themselves to simple recipes. It includes famously difficult or time-consuming recipes such as soufflés, duck comfit, cassoulet, and risottos. On the other hand, most of these seemingly intimidating dishes become easy once you actually know how to do them, and do them a few times.
I am especially fond of the fact that the author gives us just as many recipes for lamb as he does for pork. That means, regardless of what your personal tastes may be (unless you are a dedicated Francophobe or a vegan) you will almost certainly find much in this book you will find useful. And, most cookbooks this size with this many pictures easily run $20 more expensive. So, if you own few or no other James Peterson books, this one is a must buy if you wish to learn to improve your cooking. If I were to find anything amiss with the cookbook, it is the size. It will really tie up real estate on the kitchen table. Thankfully, the book is a great read for the armchair, so it pays its way outside the kitchen!
on December 31, 2007
I cannot overstate how good a book this is for the maniacially dedicated amateur. While I have dozens of classics to choose from, my favorite go to books for real "stretching" over the past twenty years have been Pepin's Technique/Methode and Kamman's New Making of a Cook. Peterson's 'Cooking' is far broader than Pepin's and comes with much better instructions and pictures than Kamman's, whose incessant scientific editorial comments can be bothersome.
Peterson's approach is no nonsense, modern and worldy; many of us view Hot and Sour Soup, Chile Rillenos or Indian Chutney as everyday eating out staples, and if we like the presentation or want to "shoot" the chef in action, our cell phones are on the ready. This then is the sheer genius of the work. Peterson teaches, with simple instructions and copius "how to" color photos (1500), both basic and advanced principles and then gives us recipes (600) tips and techniques that employ these skills for an evolving everyday mastery of more than just basic french cuisine. Beginners can easily master fluffy omelettes, linguine with clam sauce or thai curry. More advanced cooks can go for terrine of foie gras or croissants from scratch. Even the holiday only cook can find out how to roast turkey and get a carmelized crust for the gravy- how many once in while cooks get treated to those kinds of tips? Everything seems so accessible!
To be sure other texts offer more in depth text and picture coverage of specific areas (Rinehart's 'Bread Bakers Apprentice' or Pepin's 'Technique/Methode' with instructions for the arduous but rewarding 48hr. meat glaze are good examples). And there are more genuinely encyclopedic books of great value- James Beard's 'American Cookery' comes to mind. Still, with numerous alternative recommendations to the recipes, this book covers a vast canvas of modern cookery. We even get a colored pictorial "degree of doneness" guide to steak "bleu" showing 90 degrees all the way through to medium well at 145. Your guests will be fascinated choosing their "color" and will leave your home knowing what temperature they like!
One glaring deficiency is that Peterson does not provide US or metric weight measurements to more easily execute and scale recipes- a major disappointment. Another early complaint- I've only had this book two weeks but have already spent many hours with it reading and cooking- is that Peterson tells his audience that plain jane salt is "fine" for regular use when even the most novice cook should be instructed to use Kosher salt (at minimum) for reduced salinity and increased control. I know- get a life!
In summary, the beauty of this book more than any I've seen is that rather than showing us how to prepare a fish dish, Peterson teaches us how to fish (figuratively). This fundamental skill development, so available at both the novice and advanced levels, across so many genres of food, is what makes this work a "budding" classic. Peterson is no stranger to James Beard Foundation and other awards. And as there are only two reviews on Amazon at 31 December, we can see just how new and relatively undiscovered this work is(published 2007).
I have ordered copies of this for my children, nieces and nephews. They are aware of my obsessions, as well as the the smells and tastes of my kitchen, and so too have begun gravitating toward more adventurous eating and cooking. What a great introduction to the joys of mastering a broad array of culinary skills, from the how to's of vinagrettes, starters and sauces, through meats, fish, veggies, eggs and souffles, complemented with a surprisngly strong take on breads, pies, pastries, and cakes. 'Cookbook' is the single best of its kind. A real winner.
on May 21, 2009
Ok, so where do I begin?! I think that I'll start off by saying that this is simply a GREAT book! It does what it says in the title - "Cooking". There're over 500 pages worth of recipes, step-by-step techniques, over 1,500 pictures for those of you who are visual learners, and more! How do I emphasize this enough.. The table of contents are 6 large pages long and consist of:
1. Techniques - e.g. roasting, braising, poaching, smoking, steaming, sauteing, barbecuing, boiling.
2. Starters - e.g. cheese puffs, canapes, tartlets, foie gras terrine, chicken liver mousse, fried squid, crab cakes.
3. Broths and soups - e.g. brown chicken broth, fish broth,, beef consomme, mushroom soup, miso soup, tomato soup, french onion soup, gazpacho, Thai hot-and-spicy shrimp soup, Chinese hot-and-sour soup, oxtail soup.
4. Salads - e.g. vinaigretter, caesar salad, mushroom and duck confit salad, salad nicoise, japanese cucumber sald, pasta or rice salad.
5. Eggs and cheese - e.g. cheese souffles, quiche, cheese fondue.
6. Shellfish - e.g. mussels steamed in white wine, clam chowder, oyster on the half shell, sauteed scallops, shrimp tagine, boiled lobster, blue crab soup, braised squid.
7. Fish - e.g. Salmon teriyaki, red wine fish stew, skates with caper and lemon, grilled tuna, Indian style braised fillet of stiped bass.
8. Beef - e.g. grilled/broiled steak, tenderloin sandwich, the best burgers, beef stew, boeuf a la bourguignonne.
9. Veal - e.g. roasted veal, veal pot roast, veal piccata, sauteed calf's liver, braised sweetbreads with root vegetable mecedoine.
10. Lamb - e.g. braised lamb shank with garlic, roast lamb, lab stew, lamb korma, lamb pot roast.
11. Pork - e.g. roast country ham, pork loin roast, pork tenderloin with apples, barbecued pork spareribs, sweet and sour pork.
12. Chicken and turkey - e.g. roast chicken, provencal chicken with aioli, tomatoes and basil; chicken fricassee with morels, Thai chicken curry, Fried chicken, roast turkey and gravy.
13. Duck and small birds - e.g. sauteed duck breasts, slow roasted duck with red cabbage and apples, duck confit, sauteed whole quail.
14. Vegetables, beans, and herbs - e.g. boiled/steamed vegetables, basic spinach, glazed baby carrots, roast vegetables, baked potatoes, french fries, grilled zucchini, bell peppers with herbs and anchovies, cauliflower gratin, cassoulet.
15. Sauces, salsas, and chutneys - e.g. bechamel sauce, creme anglaise, beurre blanc, bordelaise sauce, brown sauce, bolognese sauce, mayonnaise, tartar sauce, pesto, yakitori sauce, guacamole, Vietnamese basic fish dipping sauce, herb chutney.
16. Pasta, rice, and polenta - e.g. fresh egg pasta noodles, raviolo, aioli, linquine, lasagne, risotto, couscous, rice pilaf, polenta.
17. Quick breads and flat cakes - e.g. blueberry muffins, scones, pancakes, waffles, french toast.
18. Breads - e.g. basic white bread, baguettes, ciabatta, sourdough bread, rye bread, pizza dough, pita bread, focaccia, brioche, cinnamon rolls.
19. Cakes - e.g. classic sponge cakes, pound cakes, angel food cake, Devil's food cake, cheesecake, strawberry shortcake, meringue.
20. Pies and tarts - e.g. apple pie, pecan pie, banana cream pie, cherry cobblers, lemon curd, brown butter.
21. Pastries - e.g. puff pastry, napolens, croissants, danish pastries, eclairs.
22. Custards, souffles, and mousses - e.g. cremem brulee, ginger pots de creme, zabaglione, panna cotta, souffles, narquise, chocolate mousse.
23. Cookies - e.g. butter cookies, shortbread, madeleines, almond tuiles, macaroons, biscotti, brownies, lemon bars.
Plus MANY MANY MORE!!!
The recipes are very straightforward and clearly written, making it extremely easy to follow. The book doesn't call for too many hard-to-find ingredients, which is always a bonus! I've tried several recipes already and they've all worked wonderfully and are fail-proof! I cannot recommend this book enough. It'll be suitable for all levels, but especially good for beginners and casual cooks who wants to learn new and correct skills and techniques - as this book has sooooo many pictures showing you how to do things. For those who are experienced cooks, you'll also benefit from this book as it gives you plenty of ideas on what you can do with different cuts of meat, etc.
Overall, a must-buy, a kitchen bible, a good reference. Buy it! You will not be disappointed!