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Essentials of Cooking Paperback – April 5, 2003

4.6 out of 5 stars 51 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

After reading Essentials of Cooking, you will grill any fish with confidence, make delicious gratins using whatever vegetables are nicest at the market, and know that any pilaf, risotto, or paella you cook will come out just right. Author James Peterson's goal is to get people to cook comfortably without hewing to the precision of recipes and to feel relaxed in the kitchen whatever the task. Peterson accomplishes this by combining text with detailed color photos and paying attention to everything that makes a cook proficient. He teaches both small techniques, such as how to hold a swivel peeler, as well as large ones, such as how to determine the doneness of a steak, roast, or fish using just touch and sight and how to dress a salad by coating the leaves with oil, then dissolving salt in a spoon with vinegar and drizzling this over the greens before tossing them. In every case, the 1,100-plus color shots give a precise picture of what the reassuring text explains.

To teach skills and technique, Peterson leads you, for example, through sweating the leeks for Pureed Leek and Potato Soup in butter, then cooking the potatoes until they soften, and so on. This explanation includes no quantities or timing. Peterson's point is that these vary according to how much soup you are making, so he tells what to look for and when, enabling you to make this soup for 4 or 40. One possible drawback of this book is that you may have to consult its well-organized index when you need to locate one of the valuable hints grouped in any of the Kitchen Notes and Tips boxes, like the fact that chicken can be cooked over lower heat than steaks and chops because it takes longer to cook through. But cooks and eager students will settle into Essentials of Cooking, as one dives into a good novel, becoming immersed in its depth and practicality. Complete beginners might feel overwhelmed at first by the density of information and the tightly packed layout on each page. If they view this volume as a handbook, reading particular sections as needed, they will comfortably appreciate the nurturing Peterson offers their kitchen skills. --Dana Jacobi --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Having written the masterful Vegetables and Fish, Peterson delivers an all-encompassing cookbook that is equally accomplished. This comprehensive manual is accompanied by extensive photographs and runs the instructional gamut, from boiling an egg to curing seafood. Paris-trained Peterson highlights basic French techniques, such as making beurre blanc, hollandaise sauce and stocks, blanquette de veau (creamed veal stew), beef daube and roast chicken. Chapters cover the "basics," such as cutting vegetables, making a green salad and clarifying butter, as well as "working from scratch" (e.g., gutting a fish, making fresh pasta dough). Explicit cross-referencing and applicable "Kitchen Notes and Tips" follow every demonstration. Since the focus is specifically on technique (e.g., poaching, saut?ing, deep-frying, grilling), traditional recipes are omitted. So, while Peterson explains the steps involved in making a basic mayonnaise, he does not provide measured quantities of ingredients, forcing readers to actively engage their senses during the cooking process rather than just read a recipe. He also introduces various kitchen equipment in his demonstrations, discussing the difference, for instance, between a ricer and a potato masher. Throughout, Peterson displays his culinary virtuosity, creating an invaluable, timeless reference that demystifies the cooking process. (Jan.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Artisan (April 5, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1579652360
  • ISBN-13: 978-1579652364
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 1 x 9.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,228,830 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Stephen Sykes on June 1, 2000
Format: Hardcover
"Essentials of Cooking" is one of a couple books that have appeared recently (Pam Anderson's "How to Cook Without a Book" is another) that are designed to help home chefs wean themselves from over-reliance on recipes. James Peterson uses a visual approach by presenting well-over 1000 photographs (taken by Peterson himself) that show how various basic culinary techniques are performed and fundamental dishes prepared. Everything from dicing apple to trimming a saddle of lamb is included, with just enough narrative to keep the reader on track. A lot of cross referencing gives the book a 'hypertext' quality. Your can read it from beginning to end, or you can just bounce around. I would not think that this would be a very good book for beginners, though. The general thrust is toward cooks with enough experience to want to loosen up and generalize their knowledge rather than newcomers just trying to find their way around the kitchen. And the "recipes" aren't really recipes in the way most readers will be familiar. They're more in the nature of general models to which you can add or subtract individual ingredients to your own liking.
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Format: Hardcover
Peterson's book is an important contribution to cooking literature because it focuses on techniques. Through detailed pictures and explanation, Peterson does an excellent job of conveying the concept that cooking is a craft. Once you master the basic techniques of this craft, you can buy whatever is fresh in the market and prepare it without a recipe. I have taken years of cooking lessons, and feel this is the finest example I've seen of a book that makes cooking instruction readily accessible to non-professionals.
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Format: Hardcover
I buy cookbooks for fun. This book will develop cooking skills as opposed to cooking following the many creative recipes from the numerous cookbooks we all own and freqently use. Peterson's goal is to have you cooking without the crutch and the burden of following someone else's game plan. This book will help your confindence in the kitchen without resorting to books. (The pictures are quite helpful.) If you are a really good cook already, this book isn't for you. If you are a reasonably competent cook, but not a chef, you will find this book valuable. Peterson is top flight, and he wrote this one for all of us who have a life outside the kitchen but hold a passion for cooking nonetheless.
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Format: Hardcover
When I make my list of top ten (10) most useful books on food, this volume, `Essentials of Cooking' by James Peterson will be near the top of my list. The reasons are as simple as they can possibly be. First, the book covers virtually all the really important basic techniques you need to do serious cooking well. Second, the author does a very good job of explaining these techniques in words and pictures. The only other book with which this book can be seriously compared is `Jaques Pepin's Complete Techniques', which I have not yet read critically and reviewed, but I will point out that while that older volume was done by an extremely talented chef with a flair for teaching, with black and white photographs, the current volume is done by someone who is more of a teacher with a talent for cooking, and it is done with color pictures.
I generally discount the value of photographs of prepared dishes in cookbooks, but I make a huge exception for photographs that demonstrate techniques. The only thing better than a really good set of pictures for explaining a culinary technique may be a really good set of colored drawings, since they can eliminate the distractions and focus one's attention on the important details of the technique. In this book, the photographs range from useful where all the action is done in a saucepan as when you are making a beurre blanc to absolutely essential when you are forming a salmon steak into a medallion for poaching.
The range of techniques covered by this book is truly impressive. As I turn each page to a new method, I find myself thinking `Of course, there is a right way to do this... and I can never seem to find an authoritative description of the method.' This happened to me just yesterday as I was looking for the method to poach pears in wine.
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Format: Hardcover
I find this cookbook to be very USEFUL for the beginner cook. I work in a library and several new books go through my hands every day. This book is not a traditional cookbook where you follow a recipe; it shows you, with step-by-step color photographs, how to perform the basic and advanced techniques involved in cooking. How DO you prepare an artichoke, a chicken for roasting, etc.? Recipes too often tell you to DO something that you don't know how to do, and this book is a great reference tool for the novice and expert cook. After all, I can borrow this book any time but I am buying it for myself...what does that tell you?
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Format: Hardcover
Few cookbooks can boast of over 1100 color photos providing a step-by-step coverage of techniques and recipes in progress: this covers all the basics needed to prepare food for cooking, from how to dice an onion to producing broths, sauces and dressings. The result is a fine comprehensive guide which is a one-step cooking course for beginners, with over two hundred core techniques and recipes. Highly recommended.
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