Reading this cook book is kind of like going on a vacation to get a fresh outlook. Just like a vacation, this book urges and pushes you out of your normal routine. I'm not sure how you will view this cook book, but for me, well, it might have pushed me a little too far away from normal.... The verdict is still out--and it may take me a few seasons before I really know what I feel about Pelaccio's book. How I feel about Pelaccio himself? After reading this book, I picture him with a vibrant and lively personality, a man who throws himself into everything he does, a man who is on a constant mission to learn all he can, a man who tastes with everything he's got. His writing style and recipes are exuberant and alluring--and they sucked me in. I'm willing to delve into these recipes further, and go out on a limb and give 'em a try. I could give this book three stars, but because it excited me so much, I give it four stars.
In one way, this cook book is right up my alley: Unusual ingredients (lots of `em), words of wisdom (as in a wide range of tips and lots of `em), lively thoughts, colorful language that's a bit risqué, seafood recipes, pork recipes, veggie recipes, goat and lamb recipes, and a terrific intro. As I kept turning pages though, I realized that while it was a fun read, it was not a practical cook book--for me.
So before you order this cook book, I suggest you head to your local library to check it out first.
There's nothing timid about the flavors used in these recipes--or the combinations of ingredients: Spicy hot, salty, fishy, sweet, tangy; did I mention spicy hot--I mean a lot, of spicy hot? If you can't cozy up to hot peppers and chilis then there won't be a lot of recipes for you to choose from. The author loves his peppers and chilis and he uses them with both precision and abandon in his very creative dishes.
You'll find a LOT of unusual, hard-to-locate and/or expensive items: Fresh frog legs, guanciale, Tamaki Gold short grained white rice, belacan, daun salam, Vietnamese mint, assam gelugor, ikan bilis--and that's just a short list from the first few pages. But if you do investigate these unusual ingredients, you will be greatly expanding your food and cooking knowledge--and that's a good thing.
There are many out-of-the-ordinary cooking tips: How to clean a frog, how to get a crispy crust on white rice, how to toast belacan, how to render leaf lard, par-cooking lobster for easy shell removal, cooking a pork shoulder in its own fat. Oh, I could go on and on, but I'd like to keep you tempted enough to go and check this book out.
Other pleasant surprises: This is the first in-depth philosophical and instructional discussion on the mortar and pestle that I've ever seen; there are way-cool chapters on pickles and condiments, and there's a very worthwhile glossary--with pronunciations (yes!!).
There are about 130 recipes in 360+ pages and even though I have a lot of experience and a very large pantry, there are only a few recipes that I would be able to try out without a major shopping expedition. You'll need daily access to Asian markets for your seafood. You'll need a good butcher shop for your goat, lamb, and pork. I'm not sure where you'll find your fresh frog and rabbit....And you can probably use mail order for the other special ingredients. But for myself, I'm thinking that once I make my initial purchases and know where to find these items and get acquainted with them, then it will keep getting easier and easier.
This weekend, I'm going in search of fresh sardines and pig jowls--there's several recipes that I want to experience and experiment with! I'm not sure I'll like fresh sardines (I don't like canned for sure), but I'm willing to give them a try. Then I'll try something else, because--like Pelaccio--I love to learn: One of my philosophies being "If I'm not learning, I'm dying."
UPDATE: Took an hour-long drive (each way) to go directly to the Houston area's main (maybe only?) pork packaging plant. Tried to explain to them about the fat that I wanted to buy to make the leaf lard. They claim they never heard of it (including the manager of the plant...). They only had fat back and cawl fat. They did sell me pork jowls--I didn't have a choice in size. All I can say is: We won't be making the jowl recipe again.....amidst many pounds of fat, there was very, very little meat--it was pretty awful. I think Pelaccio was a bit irresponsible in not providing enough information on what to look for when buying a pig head or jowls or whatever piece of the head--like what size head? 'Cause there are pig parts out there from 50 lb. pigs up to over 200 lb. pigs. And without detailed info from Pelaccio, how do you know what to look for in an unfamiliar cut? For instance, did the packing company sell us an inferior cut of jowl? How much meat should we have expected to pick off?
ANOTHER UPDATE, Aug. 1, 2012: Hey, I've learned that I DO like sardines--even flash-frozen-thawed, which is all I'm able to find at our fish markets here in Houston. I bet fresh sardines on the grill would be terrific! (The new knowledge has helped me rationalize the purchase of this book...)