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Julia Child for Everyday Cooking. Excellent Teaching Source
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.