For Christmas, I received a wonderful cooking reference book: The Essentials of Cooking by James Peterson. The contents of the book are exactly as advertised in the title. This book provides all the essentials you’ll need to start cooking, with step-by-step instructions and many, many helpful tips, all illustrated by gorgeous color photographs. Armed with this book, you really don’t need anything else to learn how to cook and to put dinner on the table.
The book starts off with the “basics,” which range from peeling, seeding and cutting vegetables and fruits to making broth, vinaigrette, beurre blanc and tomato sauce, among many other key recipes. For most of these basics, Peterson provides a base recipe and ideas for embellishing or varying it; for instance, from mayonnaise you learn how to make green mayonnaise, gribiche and aioli. Some of Peterson’s “basics” don’t fit my definition of the word, such as fresh pasta dough or blinis, but it’s nice to have the blueprint handy if I ever do want to give these a try.
Following the “Basics” chapter, the book is divided by type of food, with chapters devoted to “Vegetables and Fruits,” “Fish and Shellfish,” “Poultry and Eggs” and “Meat.” Peterson covers the primary cooking techniques for each food type and notes which ingredients to choose for each technique. Beyond cooking, you’ll also learn how to prepare most ingredients, including how to shuck oysters, kill a lobster, cut up a chicken and prepare sweetbreads, making this an invaluable reference to pull out anytime it’s needed.
The final chapter, “Working from Scratch,” explains how to start with a large piece of meat or fish and end up with a meal–useful tips for when you want to bypass the butcher. You’ll learn how to bone and scale a fish, cure seafood, butcher, trim and french a rack of lamb, and cut up a rabbit. Sure, you may not turn to this chapter every day, but it’s a useful reference for those special occasions when you don’t know what to do with the leg of lamb you’ve just bought. The glossary at the end of the book explains common cooking terms used throughout.
What a great present! I would highly recommend this reference to any home cook.
Tagged: James Peterson