From Publishers Weekly
A literal encyclopedia of recipes (culled from the magazine), this revision to Cook's Illustrated's popular The Best Recipe is almost double in size and includes more than 1,000 recipes. Cook's Illustrated is known for careful (some would say compulsive) testing of recipes with a focus on foolproof technique; detailed line drawings that take readers step-by-step through recipes; and opinionated guides that assert that their way is the best way. This methodology appeals particularly to a specific kind of cook, one with a primarily scientific rather than artistic or intuitive approach to cooking. Though there are a few photographs, readers who buy cookbooks for full-color photographs and personal anecdotes aren't likely to be drawn to this work. Twenty-two chapters cover appetizers to desserts. Even the simplest tasks, such as blanching vegetables or peeling an egg, are explained and illustrated in detail. More involved techniques include brining poultry and roasting a turkey. Pad Thai gets a full-page description with photographs to help home cooks learn how to properly soak the noodles. Well organized and extremely clear, the book has only one drawback: its heft may make it tough to hoist onto kitchen counters.
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Christopher Kimball, founder and editor of Cooks Illustrated Magazine, has a simple philosophy about cooking. Essentially, it comes down to precision. Like any science, recipes should be exact when it comes to ingredients, quantities, cooking times and temperatures, cook ware and other instruments, and the preparation of ingredients before the use of oven or pot. I mention this knowing full well that many proud cooks reading this review will scoff at the notion of such precision. Shouldnt the preparation of food leave room for experimentation, culinary talent, or simply personal preference? Depends on the market. I for one fear guesswork in the kitchen. The more instructions and pictures showing me precisely how to execute everything within a recipe, the more confident I feel that Ill be able to pull it off. It seems that Im not the only one who thinks this way. The original Best Recipe, published in 1999, was an instant success. We have sold almost 400,000 copies since then, Kimball writes in the Introduction to this new book, which offers 500 new recipes and 800 hand-drawn illustrations. Personally, Im reassured by the editors stated mission to test recipes over and over again until we understand how and why they work and until we arrive at the 'best' version." I appreciate that [they] make the mistakes, so [I] dont have to.
True to their word, just about all of the recipes in the book are accompanied by a great deal of text that explains what is right or wrong about the traditional or most common method of preparing a dish. This is followed by a detailed account of how the Test Kitchens cooks arrived at their best recipe; the pros and cons of various approaches is described so that a knowledgeable cook will know what not to attempt if she still believes that a different avenue could lead to better results. The following portion, one fifth of a preamble to a recipe for Shrimp Bisque is typical:
The fundamental challenge in making a shrimp bisque is extracting flavor from the shrimp and shells. The recipes we tested did this in a couple of ways. Some recipes we tried pureed the shrimp meat into the base and left there; others simmered the shrimp in the base until spent and then strained them out. The bisques made with pureed shrimp were grainy with shrimp curds; the ones in which the shrimp were strained out achieved the velvety texture properly associated with a bisque. . . .
Its impossible to discuss 1,000 recipes. Suffice it to say, the book has a marvelous international range of French, Italian, Oriental, Middle East, and Mexican dishes as well as many North American favorites, and covers everything from appetizers (my favorite section) to a great variety of desserts. I liked the illustrations throughout the book which depict everything from types of roast (in the Pot Roast section, Beef chapter) to ways of cutting and deboning fish before and after cooking (Fish and Shellfish chapter).
The instructions and illustrations in the Guide to Grilling and Barbecue are based on the same principle of determining the best recipe and technique. Outdoor Cooking 101 explains everything to do with charcoal grilling and gas grilling (even suggesting the best, most reasonably priced grills). There are 450 recipes and numerous accompanying images. One section addresses how to buy beef steaks for the grill. It includes pictures of 14 types of steaks and rates their tenderness, flavour, and cost. Many other types of illustrations follow: for example, were shown how to pare away outer layers of fat on a rack of lamb, bone a leg of lamb, butterfly chicken, remove pinbones from a side of salmon and then barbecue it without leaving chunks stuck to the grill. All this might seem basic to some, but in fact there are enough tips to enlighten even the expert. Not so basic are some of the wonderful recipes: Greek, Indian, Turkish, Caribbean recipes for marinates, salsas, kebabs, various parts and cuts of beef, lamb, and poultry (duck, turkey, and quail included), as well as shellfish, vegetables, side dishes, rubs and sauces. This book is a treat for the summer.
Olga Stein (Books in Canada)
-- Books in Canada