on May 3, 2004
'The Way to Cook' was written by Julia Child and published by Knopf about 27 years after the first publication of 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking' which established Child's reputation. So, it was published when Julia Child was a household name for over two decades. It was meant to be her most important culinary work. It has never replaced Child's first book in the hearts and minds of America's foodies, in spite of the fact that the book opens with a statement that the book means to address Americans' new health consciousness and their diminishing time available to cook.
This is still a very, very good book. Unlike the more famous 'French Cooking', this book is much more concerned with teaching the art of cooking. In fact, Ms. Child originates an idea here that has reached its fullest fruition in the style of Rachael Ray's 30-Minute Meal rubric. Ray succeeds in putting out fast meals not by using a lot of processed supermarket preparations, but by using knowledge of cooking to make the best of basic ingredients. This is not to say Ms. Child is doing fast cooking. Many recipes are pretty involved. I can still remember doing Julia's take on a barbecue recipe which involved making both a sauce and a rub from a goodly number of ingredients and a substantial amount of time required to slow cook the ribs. I got pretty hungary by the time I was finally finished.
Teaching is so important to the object of this book that it is one of the very few books I know which could easily serve as a good textbook for a course on cooking. The only other book I know in this category would be Madeline Kammen's 'The New Making of a Cook'. It is important to distinguish both of these books from the 'how to cook everything' titles such as the 'Joy of Cooking', 'James Beard's American Cookery' or Mark Bittman's 'How to Cook Everything'. The purpose of these books is to give detailed coverage to a wide range of methods rather than simply be a repository of a large number of recipes.
The most distinctive feature in this book which supports it's object to teach cooking is the notion of the master recipe. A classic example of this approach is the master recipe for 'Ragout of Chicken and Onions in Red Wine'. If this dish doesn't sound familiar to experienced cooks, it should be, because the very famous French recipe 'Coq au Vin' is a variation of this master recipe. The classic simply adds lardons, mushrooms, and brandy and replaces sliced onions with 'brown braized white onions'.
In addition to master recipes and variations, there is a wealth of notes on techniques to improve your results. In discussing the use of lardons, there is a note which recommends blanching bacon and salt pork before adding it to a recipe to remove salt and smoky flavor. I am certain this is an optional step, but it is welcome to me as I often avoid recipes using salt pork to avoid the somewhat noisome smell of smoked fatty tissue which may come from cooking smoked pork.
Another feature of the book which fits the master recipe model is that variations on the ragout master recipe are not limited to recipes for chicken. Rather, the same section includes ragouts of turkey and rabbit. The same principle is used throughout the book where foods are grouped by method of preparation rather than by source (pig, cow, lamb, calf, fowl).
Still, the chapters are true to a fairly classic organization, with some topics you may not find in the usual work. The chapters are: Soups, Breads, Eggs, Fin Fish & Shellfish, Poultry, Meat, Vegetables, Salads, Pastry Doughs, Desserts, Cakes & Cookies.
The chapter on Breads covers just four master recipes, but it will give you a thorough and satisfying experience which will tell you if you have the kind of love for baking which warrents exploring specialized works by such experts as Peter Reinhart or Nancy Silverton.
The chapter on Pastry Doughs also just covers four master recipes, Pate Brisee, Puff Pastry, Pate a Choux, and Crepes. I may not be willing to take on puff pastry any time soon, but I would expect that the other three master recipes should be enticing enough to remove a cooks fears about making pies, crepes, and eclairs. Crepes especially should be an entertainer's best friend in that the batter can be made well in advance and, if necessary, the crepes themselves can be made in advance and reheated. If you want them fresh, it takes but a minute or two to cook a crepe, and it makes great kitchen theater, especially if you master the technique of flipping the crepe.
I suspect the must useful chapter may be the one on eggs. Knowing ones way around egg cookery will take you a goodly distance toward being able to prepare really great dishes from standard pantry. I find that an author's discussion of how to make an omelette is often a good test of the quality of their book as a whole. I can say that Julia comes through for me by citing an omelette technique I have seen nowhere else. That is, the warning to limit oneself to two eggs when you have only a typical household burner available.
As the book is published by Knopf, the layout, editing, and photography are first rate. I was just a little surprised when I could not find 'barbecue' in the index, yet there is clearly a master recipe for barbecue in the chapter on meats. The very best feature of the book is Julia's very familiar voice and attitude which carries you on with reassurances that you can do it and these techniques will do you great service in your life.
Very highly recommended. Lots of French recipes and lots of modern appliances put to good use.
on October 6, 2003
Don't be put off as I was, for far too long, by the clutter of colored fonts, photos, sidebars, and afterthoughts which give the pages of this overproduced book its appearance of chaos. Julia's clarity of thought and her passion for good food are undimmed and she tells you The Way to Cook everything from Haute Cuisine (well, fairly Haute) to Boston Baked Beans and Potato Salad. Yes, the pages are a mess. Yes, the heavily coated paper is a disaster in the kitchen and adds so much to the weight (its 512 pages in paperback weigh nearly 4 1/2 lb; "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" I's 720 plus pages in hardcover weigh only about 3 1/4 lb) that Amazon not only won't count it for free shipping but charges extra to ship it. But it's a book not to miss for its glorious breadth of content. Drawings always seem to make technique clearer than photos, but I treasure the many photos of Julia's own hands stirring, kneading, and especially cutting all manner of food. A million stars for the book's content --dare we hope for a more sensible edition one day?
on November 24, 1999
Julia Child's "The Way to Cook" is one of the essential cookbooks every kitchen should have. Julia's straight forward instructions, her outstanding recipes and the quality of the dishes she recommends make this and fantastic cookbook.
While Julia covers a wide range of dishes in this book (Soups, Breads, Eggs, Fish, Poultry, Meat, Vegetables, Salads, Pastry, Desserts, and Cakes & Cookies) her emphasis is definitely on French/European cooking. If you are looking for recipes from different ethnic groups, you will need to find other cookbooks to compliment this one.
In the last five years that I've owned this cookbook, I've made a wide selection of recipes and have never been disappointed. From simple dishes such as crepes to complex day-long affairs such as Lamb Stew Printaniere, her instructions have been complete, straightforward, and detailed. If you follow her steps, you're guaranteed to have incredible results.
The book includes both beautiful and useful photographs. This is important, because one of the big drawbacks with most cookbooks are that they have incredible imagery of the finished dish, but don't actually show you how things should look as they are being prepared. The way to cook does an excellent job at showing you both... which is one of the reasons it is such an outstanding book.
Julia's other books are also excellent. Both "Baking with Julia" and "In Julia's Kitchen With Master Chefs" are outstanding.
One last word of advice... if you ever make A Fast Saute of Beef for Two from this book, use heavy creame instead of cornstarch (she says you can use either). The cream will make the difference between a good meal and a great one!
on October 5, 2001
An avid cook I only recently was won over by the legendary Julia Child. And I have to say that "The Way to Cook" is one big, beautiful cookbook. The huge tome is filled with full color photographs of not just completed dishes (the so-called "beauty shots") but detailed shots of the step-by-step techniques needed to prepare the often complicated recipes--a feature I found extremely helpful.
I really liked this book, but I have to say the title is a real misnomer. This is NOT a book for beginners who want to learn to cook (for that I'd recommend "The Betty Crocker Cookbook" or maybe "The Best Recipe" from "Cook's Illustrated), it's an advanced course for wanna-be gourmets. If you don't love to cook, or don't enjoy making "fancy" dishes (though there are a few "basics," this book focuses on Child's forte, classical French cooking that's pretty enough to serve in a restaurant), then this cookbook isn't for you. But if you're ready to expand your cooking horizons, I think this title is perfect.
One more note ... a fan of Martha Stewarts television cooking segments I noticed that a great number of the techniques that Martha promotes come straight from Child. Something I never realized before reading "The Way to Cook."
on June 28, 2000
I bought this book when it was first published (and it cost me almost 10 hours of wages), and of all the cookbooks I own (maybe 40 or so), this is the one I use the most. Even when I moved to Hawaii for a short-term internship, I used precious luggage and weight restriction space to take this heavy book with me. Why? Not just because it has great recipes, but because it is just what the title says - a book about how to cook (at least, how to cook Northern European). I don't go to it very often for specific recipes (although her French Onion Soup is fantastic), but to see how to do something in general - like, how to make a cream sauce, how to make a chowder base, how to clean mussels, how to clean fowl, etc. If you master this book, you will have mastered the theory of (Northern European) cooking, and will no longer be tied down trying exactly to reproduce a recipe in one of countless thousands of generic cookbooks. You will have courage to experiment, because you'll know what the ingredients are doing and how to handle them - you will, in fact, become your own recipe inventor and creative, tasteful, confident cook that you and your family (and friends!) will appreciate. This is, really, the proper model for what cookbooks should be, and I wish someone would do something similar for other cuisines (and if they have, send me an email about it!).
on February 21, 2000
I have had this book for several years, and it's dawning on me how important a work this was, because I use it every time I make certain dishes. For example, I always use it to make rice (who can remember whether it's 2 cups of water or 1 1/2?) and also for hard boiled eggs. These are the types of things that other cookbook writers take it for granted that you know, but which are crucial to the success of the recipe and which Julia Child considers important enough to devote several pages to. I find this book to be an essential tool in my kitchen.
I admire her ability to explain, in common sense terms, how to achieve basic cooking recipes (she calls them "Master recipes"), and how to incorporate them into more complicated recipes. This makes the book useful for beginners as well as more experienced cooks.
She especially handles the subject of cooking with meat and poultry well, offering a wide range of dishes with an international, yet traditional flair. Many of the recipes are reminiscent of her televsion show, "Julia Child and Company." They have a sort of 60's trendiness to them, which makes them fun and evocative of food one's Mom used to make, while at the same time not being out of date. You just sort of expect that there will be a fondue recipe or two, plus a few "chafing dish" preparations!
The pictures are very helpful, as are the instructions that are drafted in laypersons' terms. Her recipes are basic standbys, nothing particularly fancy, but everyone needs at least one of those types of cookbooks in their kitchen. A tour de force for Julia Child, who seems to get better with each succeeding effort.
on December 8, 1999
I got this cookbook as a Christmas gift four years ago after taking cooking seriously for four years. The knowledge Child imparts took me to another level of understanding good food and good cooking.
I don't consider myself a gourmet. I am a good home cook who appreciates delicious, hearty food and I gravitate towards these types of dishes and chefs. By the time I read The Way to Cook, I'd already owned and read three or four cookbooks (all from the Silver Palate ladies) and I didn't learn about the process and intellectual thought of cooking until Child. Wow. She truly brings everything to its most basic point and then, tell you how to treat the food. Additionally, the book is organized well; written in a straightforward manner; and the recipes are simple to follow and delicious to eat.
True, this is more continental than it is American, but I think if you could only have two or three cookbooks, this would be one of them. The others would be Cook's Bible and Joy of Cooking (new ed).
One warning, like most cookbooks, the food is rich, so if you're on a diet, eat breakfast, make this for lunch or an early dinner and don't eat anything the rest of the day!
on December 30, 1998
This book is incredible. Nobody beats Julia as a cooking teacher. This book blends her traditional French classic cooking techniques with more contemporary types of cooking.. It also provides great references for all sorts of different foods and techniques. For example, I needed to make a hazelnut cake in another cookbook that required toasted hazelnuts. I couldn't buy then already toasted, and the book didn't tell you how to do it. However, The Way To Cook had an entire paragraph about how to work with hazelnuts!! Its truly a valuable addition to anyones cooking library. There are few chefs who have been around as long as Julia Child or who have her gift of teaching. This book is rare in the sence that it TEACHES HOW, and it is applicable to both master and novice cook. In this day with so many different chefs on TV, its hard to know who the experts really are and who are just out to entertain their live audiences without really teaching anything ( hmmm--who could that be?) .I think that nearly 50 years of cooking and still going strong is a pretty good sign that this woman knows what she is doing. You will NEVER go wrong with Julia! Other chefs may be younger, more "hip", or entertaining, but truly--Julia and her books are in a class by themseves.
on May 23, 2001
We use The Way to Cook religiously in my small restaurant. It has also become one of my favorite gifts to give. Interestingly, everyone I know who uses (and therefore loves) this cookbook refers to it as "Julia". That affectionate title says it all: it is not merely a cookbook, but an extension of Ms. Child and her extraordinary teaching skills.
The Way to Cook will be most appreciated by those who are willing to spend a little time in the kitchen. The recipes are quite traditional, and don't ask for hard-to-find ingredients. You will find many variations to expand on the basic recipes. Ms. Child's French Bread recipe is the best I've come across--so tasty, simple and foolproof that it makes the ideal "first bread" attempt.
If you are only going to invest in one major reference cookbook, this one should be it. The Way to Cook is so brillaint and thorough, it deserves to be purchased in hardback.
on August 18, 2002
"The Way to Cook" is the distillation of Julia Child's 40 years in the kitchen, her magnum opus. Definitive, gigantic in scope, and lavishly illustrated throughout with color photos, it is designed to replace "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" (which is still valuable for a few older French recipes). It is the one cookbook everyone must own.
People tend to think of Julia Child in terms of French cooking, but this book is not French. Rather, it is an American book based on French techniques, teaching American cooking with significant French and Italian influences. For instance, she provides a brilliant recipe for American meatloaf, BUT she places it next to equally brilliant recipes for French pates and for scrapple. She provides you with a basic beef stew recipe, and then shows how Boeuf Bourgignon and Hungarian Goulash are really just variations on the same idea.
Since the late 1970's, no one has used cookbook illustrations better than Julia Child. Here, the important techniques are photographed, as are the finished dishes, but the food stylists are kept at a distance. The photos show you clearly the steps you take and the results you get, but don't indulge in flights of fancy. Julia Child's concern here is food, not table settings.
Whether I'm looking to make a traditional roast, or onion soup, or braised veal breast, this is the book I turn to. I own over 300 cookbooks, yet if I could choose only one, this would be it. Buy it in hardcover: it will take quite a beating!