213 of 221 people found the following review helpful
`Jacques Pepin's Complete Techniques' may be one of the landmark works signaling the beginning of the Renaissance of American culinary practice. This volume, published in 2001, is an omnibus of two earlier works, `La Technique' published in 1976 and `La Methode' published in 1979, just as Pepin was changing his career from leading French chef to culinary writer and educator. These will probably always stand as his most important books.
The book in English that is most similar to this is James Peterson's `Essentials of Cooking'. This newer volume is an excellent book with color photographs and coverage of subjects which is probably pretty complete for the average culinary amateur. Pepin's work is in an entirely different class, aimed at the professional and, by extension, the foodie wannabe professional.
In Peterson's book, the first chapter, `Basics', covers twenty-four (24) topics. In his first chapter of the same name, Pepin covers seventy (70) subjects. Even allowing for the fact that Pepin includes nine (9) egg topics in Basics that Peterson puts in a later chapter, this is an impressive margin of coverage from Pepin. Pepin's topics tend to be somewhat more basic and focus heavily on knife skills, even including a section on how to sharpen knives. Even though these topics are simple, Pepin gives each technique all the attention it needs. One of the clearest examples of Pepin's great attention to detail is in his treatment of my favorite subject for evaluating one's culinary writing. This is how to make a classic French omelet. As I noted in my review of Peterson's book, Chef James is just a bit short on some important details. Pepin not only covers all the bases, but also adds a few tips to omelet making technique that I have not seen elsewhere. The only warning I give about his technique is that since it was written before non-stick surfaces on saute pans were perfected and available on high-end cookware, the author does not recommend them. All recent descriptions of omelet making strongly recommend non-stick pans for all egg cookery.
The chapter on Fish and Shellfish continues Pepin's emphasis on basics, including several topics for which the average amateur chef may never have a use, such as methods for handling sea urchins, frogs legs, salmon in aspic, and pate of fish. Conversely, I am surprised to find no section on the `en papillote' cooking method that Peterson covers in detail. Other Peterson topics on which Pepin passes are methods for squid and preparing salmon steaks. The differences in coverage in this chapter alone make it worth one's while to own both books.
The chapter on vegetables is a real wealth of techniques for making really cheap ingredients into impressive presentations. You can dream about poaching or smoking whole Scottish line-caught salmon, but you can easily afford to do one of the eleven (11) different techniques Pepin describes for potatoes. In fact, this is probably some of the most dramatic evidence of the French obsession with food preparation. When I think of Irish potato preparations, I think of boiled potatoes, champ, and colcannon. In this chapter, the French have eight (8) different ways of just cutting potatoes, let alone all the methods used to fry, gratin, roast, boil, and saute potatoes in the French lexicon.
Pepin uncharacteristically combines poultry and meat into one chapter, but this is incidental. Pepin and Peterson cover a roughly equal number of chicken subjects, with Pepin covering some more typically French subjects such as glazing and sausage making. On cutting up a chicken, I give extra points to Peterson for the efficacy of his color pictures detailing his technique. Pepin very usefully separates all his carving techniques into a separate chapter that covers fish, birds, and beasts.
In the next chapter on `Breads', Pepin covers a topic that Peterson simply does not even touch. Pepin points out that bread making is one of those activities which involves a few simple ingredients, but a highly sophisticated technique. Like making a good omelet, it's all in knowing how. Having made a fairly wide variety of loaves of bread in my time, I would not recommend Pepin's book as the best introduction to breadmaking. His book is all about technique. It gives practically no understanding of why you do each of the steps in a particular way. And, his basic breadmaking technique is a little different from any other I have seen. On the positive side, I would strongly recommend anyone attempting to make baguettes to check out Pepin's description, as it is the only place I have seen pictures of classic baguette making equipment in use.
The real jewel in this book is the last chapter on `Pastry and Dessert'. This is the first indication I had of Pepin's skill as a pastry chef in addition to his great reputation as a savory chef. This by far the longest chapter in the book and has the greatest potential to adding a bit of `wow' to one's entertaining. One of the more important gems hidden in this chapter is Pepin's technique for making crepes in the section on Crepes Suzettes. I have successfully made crepes using Julia Child's recipe for years, yet Pepin's pictures and comments succeed in adding to my knowledge of the technique. For the supreme `wow' effect, check out the technique for the Christmas Yule Log (Buche de Noel). Another major topic absent from Peterson's book you will find here is the method for soufflé. In spite of all these flash dishes, the chapter still concentrates on a lot of very basic building block techniques such as recipes for custards, creams, meringues, toasts, galettes, caramel, brittle, and chocolate leaves.
If you are an aspiring professional or serious foodie, Pepin's book is probably the most important book you can have in your kitchen. It covers twice the material of Peterson's book with greater authority and fewer lapses. If you are an amateur who enjoys cooking, get both. Highly recommended.
103 of 108 people found the following review helpful
on August 2, 2001
Finally! The excellent and extremely clear and well written collection of techniques assembled by Jacques Pepin, one of the most knowledgeable and well respected chefs in the world, have been published in a reasonably priced, paperback book.
If you are lucky enough to own Pepin's original hardcover books La Methode and La Technique, you already know how excellent the information is in these books. It is concise, practical, well written, and most of all, very useful! Even if you own La Methode and La Technique this book is worth purchasing. Both books are out of print and are hard to find and are reserved to my cookbook collection. This book is worth buying to keep readily on hand in the kitchen at all times.
If you don't own the original two books than this book is doubly worth purchasing. Whether your are a complete novice cook or an experienced home chef you will find this book extremely valuable. The information is well organized which makes it to find the techniques that you are looking for almost instantly.
Almost as important as the techniques are the recipes. Many of them have been used by Pepin for over 30 years and are truly time tested. They are well written, making it easy for any cook to get superior results at home.
All in all, this is truly one of the best cooking technique books you can buy regardless of what level of cooking experience you have. The soft cover edition is lighter and easier to use, making it more practical to have on hand in the kitchen�as well as less expensive than the hardcover edition.
39 of 39 people found the following review helpful
If you've ever seen Monsieur Pepin on television, you know he is charming and clear, and a wonderful teacher. These qualities come through in this volume, a combined reissue of two classics from the '70s which have been out-of-print: La Methode and La Technique.
After a short section on equipment, there are seven longer sections (with a varying number of techniques): The Basics (70), Shellfish and Fish (33), Vegetables (39), Poultry and Meat (54), Carving (9), Breads (8), Pastry and Dessert (96). An example of specific techniques covered -- in Poultry and Meat you would find, among others: Trussing Chicken and Other Poultry, Tying a Roast, Kidneys, Cold Parsleyed Ham, Trimming and Cooking Meat, and Cuts of Fillet. Each technique is several pages long, and is presented as a series of photographs, each accompanied by a sentence or two describing the step being taken. Directions are clear, pictures (of Jacques's own hands, he assures us) are well selected and illustrative.
There are also many fine recipes, including many you may have seen on various television shows in which the author has appeared, such as the beautiful Christmas Yule Log. You will find basic recipes, like pie shells, as well as more advanced.
The volume ends with conversion charts and an index.
This is an indispensable resource for the serious cook.
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on July 29, 2002
jacques pepin has taught me so much over the years,it would take 10,000 words to give him the respect he deserves. in 3-4 minutes he can debone a whole chicken then make it look whole again!(i've got to find a video on that one). this book details many of his techniques and does a fine job of it.the photos should be color,and there should be more of them! photos make a cookbook easier to work with,especially for the novice.even so, this book is well worth the price, make it part of jacque's contribution to your cooking style. i'm the home cook version of a chef, i don't follow all recipes exactly and i've been known to substitute ingredients(such as mushrooms in place of truffles)but, following the advice of a chef of pepin's experience has sharpened my skills and i'm certain it will do the same for you.detract one star for the photos, but get the book!
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
I'll start with this: the average cookbook buyer is not going to have the money or the justification for The Professional Chef,The Fundamental Techniques of Classic Cuisine, or the like. For someone learning to cook and wanting a basic reference on the techniques of professional cooking, this book is far less expensive and friendlier to a home cook. It's not quite suitable as a basic text on cooking unless you want to specialize in classic French cooking, but it should certainly be in your library.
Pépin's approach in this book is an interesting one. He's not wedded to sacred cows -- arrowroot and beurre manié rather than roux in his sauces, for example, an approach advocated by none other than Escoffier himself, but largely ignored. It is of course the case that the source material that Pépin built this book from was published in the 1970s, and the recipes and techniques reflect that era -- aspics, carefully constructed installations of bread and fruit figures, and the like abound, but that isn't really a criticism -- just because a technique isn't widely used anymore doesn't mean it a) is completely useless or b) might not come back some day (a friend of mine's boss still makes aspics for parties for example). The point is not to give recipes but to teach technique, and this book is certainly an excellent choice for that.
And it does cover a lot of ground as well -- in addition to expected things like braises, cutlets, and the like, Pépin includes things like how to make a prosciutto-style ham, how to make numerous garnishes that would make your grandmother proud, and how to glaze fruit like strawberries to place on top of an Old World-style cake. The black-and-white photos, while it would be nice to see them updated to color, aren't the handicap many other reviewers think, and unlike many other so-called picture cookbooks, which seem to use pictures as window dressing, are carefully arranged to match up to the steps. Overall, the effect is as close to a well-produced cooking show as it's possible to be without moving images.
The major flaws of the book aren't the author's fault. It can be argued that at least part of it was sloppy integration of La Methode and La Technique into a coherent whole, but even then that doesn't really justify the weirdly claustrophobic feel in the book. That's because it's not a browsing book -- the table of contents is small, the index is recipe-oriented rather than technique-oriented, and the page headings are simply technique numbers rather than titles. This last is a major liability in a book where any given entry can be three to five pages in length. There are a few techniques that would have been useful as well; while almost everything in classical French cuisine is adaptable to other cuisines, it still would have been nice to have coverage of things like batter-frying (breadings are used, though). Marginal chapter tabs would also have been nice, since it's not very straightforward to tell what section you're in when you simply flip to a random page. A third edition with these changes, as well as color photos, would be nice, though not at the expense of a drastic price increase; fortunately Workman (of which the publisher, Black Dog and Leventhal, is a subsidiary) seems to have done a fairly effective job of doing precisely this to other flagship titles like the Silver Palate Cookbook and The Barbecue! Bible without impoverishing readers.
Overall, though, for a home cook that needs a good reference on techniques, this is a very good choice, and indispensable for someone who wants to know a little about professional cooking (at least in the French tradition) without spending outrageous amounts of money on a culinary textbook. I would also recommend it highly for anyone who has a more visually-oriented learning style; it's perhaps a bit text-heavy, but the pictures are excellent.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on April 2, 2004
I just bought several cookbooks that espouse to teach one how to cook rather than simply supplying recipes. I will compare the others to this one, but let me start out by saying that this book is my favorite. Although I agree with other reviewers that the black-and-white photos are a serious flaw, I still gave it 5 stars because of the sheer comprehensiveness and imagination of the techniques and the recipes. It far outstrips the other books I bought. While I am a very visual person and totally dislike black-and-white photos, particularly small ones, the advantages of the book are such that I would not do without it, while I would cheerfully sell the other books I bought. The pictures are generally series of small black-and-white photos that show in a stepwise fashion how to each of the techniques. There is generally a picture of the finished product included. While I don't like this feature of the book, I find that, most of the time, one can glean the information needed from the photos. There are many occasions when it would be better with larger, color photos, and there are some occasions when the photos are quite useless, such as in the instructions for deboning a bird.
In comparison, Le Cordon Bleu Complete Cooking Techniques, has only extremely basic recipes, and the techniques included is less comprehensive. Still, I am glad to have it so that I can actually see how to debone a bird.
Another book Cooking at Home with the Culinary Institute of America, is less about techniques, though there are some instructions for very basic techniques. It espouses to do everything, from technique to recipes, and it is a good cookbook for the beginning cook that wants to create sophisticated recipes without outrageous demands one's skill, time or grocer.
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on June 10, 2001
"La Technique" by Jacques Pépin rates as about the best book on cooking technique ever written. I have a set of the videos from Chef Pépin's shows on PBS that are based on this book, but I did not have my own copy of "La Technique" until now because this excellent book has been out of print and unavailable for some time. It has good illustrations and explanations of all the basic techniques necessary for prep work and cooking. My most-used technique that I have learned from Chef Pépin is how to slice and chop an onion quickly. Also, I learned about how to keep my knives properly sharpened at all times! "La Technique" is my kitchen bible.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on January 31, 2007
Most cookbooks these days feature graphic 4 color photos, impossible to get ingredients, some sort of philosophy, trendy flavors, impeccable food styling, and recipes with desultory procedures. This book is NOT any of those things.
This book is an important culinary teaching tool, and this applies to both professional and home cooks. When I cook, this is the book I look up more often than any other: the recipes always work, and I usually learn something to boot. I hasten add, however, that this by no means a comprehensive manual: there are many 'classic' sort of dishes you might expect to find, but are absent in this book. It demonstrates those things that the author has mastered and learned how to teach to others. The 'procedures' in this book seem to have been chosen for their educational and training importance, not their popularity in a Guide Michelin 3 star restaurant.
Rather than emphasizing ingredients and final product, this book focuses like a laser beam on the exact, specific, individual steps of a recipe and how to do each step correctly in exquisite detail. The typical recipe has a dozen or so b/w photos, each with a detailed description of what is happening in that step. Assuming that you actually follow all the instructions, it is hard not to learn something by doing one of Pepin's recipes. Although many procedures have recipes with ingredients and measurements, many more do not inasmuch as it a description of how to do a specific culinary task.
This book was originally 2 volumes: La Technique and La Methode. Here, the new editors have collated and re-organized the recipes. It is now 800+ pages with 309 complete procedures; some of them have more than a dozen individual steps. At the head of each chapter there is a complete list of all recipes. It has: Equipment, Basics, Shellfish and Fish, Vegetables, Poultry and Meat, Carving, Breads, Pastry and Dessert. I am also happy to note that they have improved the quality of the photos (all of which are b/w).
Just casually flipping through this book over a cup of coffee, it is hard not pick up a trick or two (I have made my share of truffles, even professionally; yet, he has a neat and clean method of dipping truffles I have never heard of: just use toothpicks and stick into some Styrofoam until dry). It seems like all of my really good tricks and culinary techniques have come from this or one of Pepin's other books or TV show. Sometimes the best recipe is really just a proper technique. I enjoy using this book.
So, if you are a culinary professional, this book is a must have. For home cooks, the situation is a little different. Many techniques in this are quite simple and, in fact, good for the home kitchen and not the professional one (#185 sausage in brioche). The trick is knowing which is which. There are many good kitchen methods that the typical home cook can do, and many that you should leave alone, e.g. #152 (chicken galantine) you should probably let your butcher do, but #146 (disjointing a chicken) or #143 (trussing a chicken) is something everyone should know how to do.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on August 20, 2007
This is NOT a recipe book. It's a photographic how-to-do-it guide to basic French culinary techniques.
As I mentioned elsewhere (re: Julia Child) this is another one of those special interest books intended primarily for serious home cooks and novice pros, who'd like to broaden their inventory of classic culinary prep-skills (i.e., basic butchery, and fruit/veg preparation, processing, and presentation, etc.)
* Jacques Pepin is classic old school. That means he doesn't roast chickens unless they've been properly trussed, poussins unless they've been spatchcocked and/or deboned, and racks of lamb unless they've been properly 'Frenched' ... and this book does an excellent job of showing (with words and photos) the basics for those techniques, along with many others. Wanna learn how to clean & truss a whole fillet mignon for grilling & roasting ? It's in there.
* The verbal descriptions are a bit too sparse and ambiguous in places, due to poor culinary editorial oversight.
* The photographs are rather disappointing at times ... especially the fact that they're all black and white, and that they're all cold, clinical and lifeless. There is neither photographic artistry nor joy to match the artistry and joy of the chef being photographed ... and that's sad, because everyone who loves to cook deserves to be exposed to Jacques (one of my favorite chefs). I could have done a better job of the photography myself, and I'm not even a photographer.
* I think this book would have benefited from being less purely procedural oriented, and a little more recipe oriented ... without the latter, it falls a bit flat. As it, the book has a dry, surgical-like feel to it, and the black and white photos left me with a somewhat colorless impression.
Bottom line is that this book needs an expanded 2nd edition, featuring better edited and polished descriptions, and (more importantly) high quality full-color photod, by someone with an eye for both instruction, fun and artistry.
Very useful, and exhaustive, but uninspiringly photographed.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on March 18, 2002
Jacques Pepin starts by teaching basic food preparation and cooking techniques with step-by-step instructions, which are accompanied by detailed photographs demonstrating the actions. The book also includes many "advanced" techniques which are used soley for presentation and turning the dining experience into high art. This book is a must have for any home cook that aspires to join the culinary gods, but I still believe it offers a lot to those who simply hope to figure out how to "julienne" a carrot.