Most helpful critical review
112 of 128 people found the following review helpful
If You Like Meat, Buy This Book
on January 10, 2005
In general, this book is reliable, complete, and extremely useful to anyone who eats meat more than once in a while. It is good addition to your bookshelf and recommended highly. The primary value of this book is completeness. No matter what type of meat or cut you have, there is a relevant chapter and recipes for it; this book covers it all. Systematically developing recipes for all types of meat must have been a daunting task. Although this book is seriously flawed, if you cook based on the wonderful piece of meat you got at the supermarket or butcher rather than cooking from a cookbook from a famous celebrity chef, this book is pretty much the only game in town and rather indispensable. My main warning about this book: the recipes are focused on the proper procedure and technique, not on what is easy or convenient; some of the fussiest recipes I have ever seen come from this meat cookbook (I will refrain from complaining about the futility of Yankees trying to cook oriental food, chili, or barbecue).
The authors have focused on those wonky little details that are usually glossed over and can make or break a good meat dish: correct breading technique, meat thickness, internal temperature, proper resting method, etc. The first part of the book has a valuable catalog of meat cuts. Each cut has alternate names, a drawing, and ratings for flavor and cost. Only professional references available to butchers are more comprehensive. The chapter organization based on cut (ground, steak, etc.) rather than the usual type of meat (lamb, beef, pork, veal) is a good educational tool: it emphasizes proper preparation technique rather than animal type. Some recipes have been successfully re-engineered (mock Cassoulet; Beef Wellington, halleluiah), while others (osso buco, pot au feu) are no better than the ones I got from Joy of Cooking.
Although this book is indispensable to everyone but vegetarians, there is plenty to criticize and much room for improvement.
1) The authors have bland, Yankee taste buds (Cook's Illustrated facilities are located in New England). Many of the dishes are boring and insipid, and their renovations amount to little more than cutting back on spices and flavors (steak au poivre and pan-based wine reduction sauces to name just two disappointments).
2) The procedures seem to be rather fussy; I doubt that their version of blanquette de veau is any better than the one I have prepared successfully several times in a number of different circumstances (Professional Cooking, Gisslen).
3) The book suffers from side-bar mania: putting important information in little asides in random places in the text where you will never find them if you try to look them up.
4) There is the problem with names: they vary greatly depending on which part of the country you are in, and this issue is never addressed (ask a butcher in California for a spencer steak or shell steak and you will get a blank stare unless he is an old-timer).
5) The chapter organization by type of cut and preparation method (e.g. stew, chops outdoors, skewers, etc.) is intellectually more satisfying than a traditional one based on meat type (beef, veal, pork, lamb), but is more difficult to use. If you come home from the supermarket with some meat you got on sale, you will have to thumb through several different chapters to find relevant recipes.
6) The catalog of meat types would have been more useful if it also included tenderness, preferred preparation method, and recommended best recipes.
7) There are a few cases of sloppy editing (dried fig ingredient in a lamb dish disappeared halfway through the recipe; title confusion of Au Jus versus Yorkshire Pudding; skillets that magically become roasting pans ; not telling whether accumulated oil should be drained or used in the next step; the page reference on p. 347 should be "350", not "35"; p. 384 has "see page 000").
8) The home made tonkatsu sauce (Japanese pork cutlet) is a terrible, grade school imitation of the real stuff.
9) One sidebar suggests a dangerous procedure: picking up an electric wok by the handle with one hand and scraping out ingredients with the other hand (woks, electric or otherwise, should never be picked up with one hand, even those with western style stick handles). To remove ingredients from a wok, use one of those funny, shovel shaped wok spatulas.
10) The recipes tend to be long and fussy. Working your way through multiple steps can be frustrating.
11) A "time to execute" for each recipe would have been useful for beginners, as some recipes take many hours (or even days) to execute from beginning to end.
12) Some of the recipes are diffcult and for seasoned carnivores only. A difficulty rating would have been useful.
13) Even though a plurality of recipes require a grill, the authors never cover which one to get (also for gas grill recipes). It is clear that the recipe procedures assume that you have a Weber kettle grill; the recipes make no sense for some other commonly available grills.
It has chapers on: steak (grilled and indoors), kabobs, chops (grilled and indoors), cutlets, stir fry, stew, pot roast, roast (grilled and indoors), chili, barbecue, burgers, cured pork, and sauces.