Over the years I have come to realize that there are two kinds of cooks in this world - those who follow a recipe like they are conducting an experiment in nuclear chemistry and those who look at a recipe more as a general set of guidelines to build on. While the "nuclear science" sort of cook will find Jacques Pépin New Complete Techniques helpful, it really was written for those of us who belong to the "guidelines" group. Here are the basic techniques to build on.
I came to appreciate Jacques Pepin rather late in life. Yes, I had acquired a cookbook or two of his over my five decades plus of collecting and seen him on TV a few times, but it wasn't until after I had watched Julia Child truss a chicken a few years ago that Pepin's quiet competence really struck me. Why it hadn't struck me before, I'll never know. Heaven knows I've watched Julia a thousand times or more, from her very earliest days on TV. Here was Julia Child, one of the world's most famous chefs, busily cutting and snipping and tying here and tying there for several minutes, until the chicken she was trussing for the rotisserie looked more like a badly wound ball of yarn than a chicken! And yet, my old-fashioned butcher of years gone by knew how to turn a rolled roast into a neat package with a single piece of string in a flash. So did my Dad. And that was when it dawned on me that Julia Child, Kitchen Goddess, did NOT know how to properly tie up a piece of meat.
My TV shows of choice are almost always cooking shows of one sort or another, so it wasn't long after that revelation that I began to notice that virtually none of today's younger TV chefs do either. Everywhere you look, when something needs to be tied in the kitchen little snippets of string make their appearance. And then one day I happened across a show that Jacques Pepin and Julia Child did together - a holiday Cooking in Concert show where they produce a boneless stuffed turkey. Jacques did the tying up - one piece of string, still hitched to the ball, not a pair of scissors in sight, quick as a wink! That was when I began to really take notice of Jacques Pepin and his quiet competence.
When Essential Pepin: More Than 700 All-Time Favorites from My Life in Food was released, I was among the first to preorder. The CD that comes with the book is, to my mind, worth every penny all by itself. It also happens to contain the "secret" to tying up something in the kitchen without a gazillion pieces of string everywhere. (Oddly, my Dad actually did insist that I learn this along with how to pitch a campsite - he just never connected it to the roast beef!) Essential Pepin made my short list of the books I would grab on the way out the door in case of fire almost immediately and when Jacques Pépin New Complete Techniques was announced I immediately put in my preorder.
Jacques Pépin New Complete Techniques is divided into a number of sections - Basics, Vegetables, Eggs, Fish & Shellfish, Poultry, Meat, Offal & Charcuterie, Carving, Bread & Pasta, Pastry & Dessert and Presentation - with each section clearly delineated by a band of color at the outer edge of the pages - convenient for finding the section you want quickly and easily. Within each section you'll find a list of the individual contents of the section followed by a short introduction and then a selection of techniques or recipes that illustrate certain basic principles that can then be extended elsewhere.
(I did check some of the recipes against Essential Pepin and found no duplicates.) The print is quite reasonably sized, the page numbers definitely large, each step accompanied by a photograph, many in color. You won't need your reading glasses for this book. The book is nicely bound and includes a ribbon book mark.
While Jacques Pépin New Complete Techniques is not exhaustive (you'll find no techniques common to Asian cooking for example), it is extensive and strongly reflects Pepin's background & training. Jacques Pepin was raised in World War II France and began an apprenticeship in the professional kitchen not long afterwards. Like those of my parents' generation who grew up during the Great Depression here, Pepin is clearly a believer in "Waste Not - Want Not". He utilizes every scrap and always has an eye to economy. Pepin's recipe for Pain au Chocolat does not call for those special bars of chocolate you might buy from a famous baking site but instead shows you how to make your own and when he tells you that the fat from trimming a saddle of lamb can be discarded you can rest assured there is nothing else to be done with it.
Jacques Pépin New Complete Techniques is heavy on techniques not often covered by other authors - trimming your own meat, dividing a large cut into smaller portions, cutting up & boning your own poultry, (a great way to save money!) making Pullman bread (something I do not have instructions for anywhere else, despite my extensive collection of bread baking books), even two different ways to make puff pastry, and the techniques he illustrates run a gamut of skill levels from rank amateur just starting in the kitchen to professional.
If you would like to learn to really cook well, then Jacques Pépin New Complete Techniques will be a treasured addition to your library.