Essentials of Cooking

Essentials of Cooking

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by James Peterson

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In this unrivaled guide, one of America's most widely respected cookbook authors distills his vast knowledge and experience into the 100 essential techniques that every cook needs to know. Now in a paperback edition, ESSENTIALS OF COOKING will help unravel the mysteries of the method and provide practical application on the spot.

Each technique is further explained


In this unrivaled guide, one of America's most widely respected cookbook authors distills his vast knowledge and experience into the 100 essential techniques that every cook needs to know. Now in a paperback edition, ESSENTIALS OF COOKING will help unravel the mysteries of the method and provide practical application on the spot.

Each technique is further explained in terms of what it does to the taste of the food: What happens if you cook a fish in butter versus oil? Why does roasting make vegetables taste so good? How do you decide whether you want to make a chicken stew or sauté?

Here are the answers to just about every cooking question from the simple to the sublime: how to boil an artichoke, cook a soft-boiled egg, and even butcher a whole saddle of lamb. Knowing how to execute a technique makes you efficient; knowing why you've chosen that technique makes you a master.

About the Author:
James Peterson is the IACP and James Beard award-winning author of numerous cookbooks. He has taught at the French Culinary Institute and Peter Kump's Cooking School. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Editorial Reviews
A Technique Bible

Some food lovers are lucky enough to have learned to cook by watching a mother, grandmother, or other good home cook, picking up over the years the kind of simple tricks and techniques that not only make cooking faster and easier but make finished dishes turn out better. From neatly boning a chicken breast, to understanding what size and shape in which to cut root vegetables so that they hold their shape in a stew, to knowing how to cook a fish "just until the flesh flakes," there are dozens of basic methods that, though they will come in handy when cooking from a recipe, are the real key to improvising successfully and to creating entirely new dishes without a cookbook in sight. These techniques are notoriously difficult to learn from a book, but James Peterson, author of award-winning books including Sauces, Fish & Shellfish, and Vegetables, has written one that is up to the task.

Essentials of Cooking includes not only very clear, well-organized text covering more than 100 basic techniques and classic dishes but also more than 1,100 color photos that illustrate each and every step. It's truly the next best thing to being in the kitchen with an accomplished cook and learning by doing. Chapters focus on vegetables and fruits, fish and shellfish, poultry and eggs, and meat and cover everything from making a green salad to properly preparing and dicing a mango to boning a whole fish. The techniques that go into making classic dishes are also included; Peterson covers the best way to make fried chicken, potato chips and french fries, tomato sauce, omelettes, mayonnaise, roast turkey, rack of lamb, and many other staples. Nothing is left to chance—each step is clearly explained with text and photos. This is a masterful work which beginning cooks will find absolutely invaluable and from which experienced cooks will learn countless refinements.

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Excerpt from Essentials of Cooking

How to Cut Up Vegetables and Herbs

The best way to cut up vegetables depends on their size and shape and how you're going to use them. Usually, they are chopped, diced, minced, or sliced; occasionally, they are shredded or julienned. How do you decide whether to chop, slice, or julienne?

Chopping usually means to cut foods into smaller pieces of no particular shape and no particular size. Chop vegetables and herbs when appearance isn't important, or when the vegetables will be strained out of a sauce or broth and not served. Generally, vegetables are chopped larger for longer-cooking dishes and smaller for shorter-cooking dishes. Mincing simply means to finely chop, and it is used for dishes that cook very quickly, or when you want to leave the minced food in the dish, as in a pan sauce.

Dicing means exactly what it sounds like, cutting the food into cubes, like dice. Dice when appearance is important. The French give different names, such as brunoise and macedonie to refer to different-sized dice.

Shred, julienne, and chiffonade all mean to cut into thin strips. Leafy vegetables such as cabbage are shredded; leafy herbs and greens such as basil and spinach are cut into chiffonade. And other vegetables, such as root vegetables, are cut into julienne. Julienning is the first step in cutting a vegetable into the tiny dice called brunoise.

Vegetables may also be cut into larger shapes to be used as garniture for braises, roasts, and stews or for serving on their own. Vegetables such as turnips and fennel are often cut into wedges. Vegetables can also be "turned," which means to trim the vegetable into an attractive oval shape with rounded sides.

Chopping and Mincing

To Chop and Mince Onions

Onions, shallots, and garlic are chopped in the same way.

1. Place a peeled onion half, root end away from you, on the cutting board. Cut it lengthwise into thin or thick slices, depending on how finely or coarsely you want it chopped, leaving the slices attached at the root end.

2. Slice horizontally through the slices, again being careful not to cut through the root end.

3. Slice the onion crosswise. For minced onions, continue to chop until very fine.

To Mince Garlic and Make Garlic Paste

Garlic paste has an even finer texture than minced garlic. Use garlic paste when you want a very smooth texture, as in a mayonnaise or in a soup or for making pesto without using a mortar with a pestle.

1. Place the side of a chef's knife on the garlic clove and give the knife a quick whack with the heel of your hand. Pull off the skin. Trim the tiny root end off the peeled garlic clove. Place the garlic flat side down on the cutting board. If the clove is large or doesn't have a flat side, cut it in half through the root end and place the cut side down.

2. Slice the garlic lengthwise with a very sharp paring knife, leaving the slices attached at the root end.

3. Make three horizontal slices through the garlic.

4. Finely slice the garlic crosswise.

5. To crush minced garlic to a paste, place it near the edge of the cutting board and crush it, a tiny bit at a time, with the side of the chef's knife. Lean firmly on the knife with the heel of your hand.


How to Cook Risotto, Pilaf, Fluffy Rice, and Paella

Some rice dishes, such as risotto, emphasize the natural starchiness of rice and are designed to help the rice grains cling together in a natural creamy sauce while other dishes, such as pilaf, keep the grains of rice separate and relatively fluffy. Each of the dishes here uses a different kind of rice and a different technique to underline the desired effect.

To make plain boiled rice so that none of the grains sticks together, use firm, long-grain rice, such as basmati, and boil it in a large pot of boiling water as though cooking pasta.

Rice pilaf is made by first cooking long-grain rice in a small amount of fat to cook the starch before the liquid is added. Flavorful ingredients, usually onions and sometimes garlic, are cooked in the fat along with the rice before the liquid is added.

Risotto is a creamy rice dish made with short-grain Italian rice. The rice, usually vialone nano, carnaroli, or arborio, is gently cooked in butter or olive oil. Liquid, usually broth, is then added a small amount at a time until the rice is cooked and bathed in creamy liquid. Risotto must be stirred almost constantly to release the starch from the rice so the starch thickens the broth, giving the dish its characteristic creamy (sometimes even soupy) consistency. The flavoring in a risotto may be very simple (as for a risotto alla Milanese) or relatively complex.

Paella is made by cooking Spanish medium-grain rice in a flavorful liquid and then nestling in ingredients such as chicken, sausages (chorizos), seafood, and, in some versions, snails. Traditionally, paella is cooked over an open fire, but it can also be cooked on the stove or in the oven.

Risotto alla Milanese

This classic risotto is flavored with chicken broth, saffron, butter, and finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (true Italian Parmesan cheese)

1. Rinse short-grained rice in a strainer.

2. Gently stir the rice in butter over low to medium heat until the grains are all lightly coated with butter.

3. Sprinkle over a pinch of saffron threads and stir in a small amount (about 1/2 cup) of chicken broth, or enough to just barely cover the rice. Continue stirring until all the broth has been absorbed.

4. Keep adding broth, just enough to barely cover the rice each time, until the risotto has a creamy consistency and the rice grains are cooked through (bite into one to test) about 25 minutes.

5. Stir in freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and butter. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Boiled Fluffy Rice

To make rice with no hint of gumminess, pour long-grain rice such as basmati or jasmine into a large pot of rapidly boiling water. When the rice is tender—bite into a grain to check—drain in a colander and toss with butter.

Rice Pilaf

1. Rinse long-grain rice in a strainer as shown on page 63. Gently cook chopped onions and/or garlic in a small amount of olive oil or butter. Stir in the rice and cook over medium heat, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Add water or broth. Cover with a round of parchment paper or aluminum foil or partially cover with the pan lid. 2. Cook in a 350F oven or on top of the stove over medium heat for about 20 minutes, until all the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender.

Seafood Paella

1. Prepare a sofregit by gently cooking chopped onions and garlic in olive oil in a paella pan or wide pot, stirring occasionally, until translucent. Add peeled, seeded, and chopped tomatoes and continue cooking and stirring.

2. When the tomatoes have cooked down into a dry, stiff mixture—the sofregit—add broth. Here, I use broth made from shrimp shells and heads.

3. Sprinkle over a pinch of saffron threads and stir in well-rinsed Spanish medium-grain rice.

4. Simmer gently over medium heat (or over an open fire!) until the rice has absorbed most of the liquid. Nestle the seafood in the rice, cover loosely with aluminum foil, and continue cooking on the stove (or over the fire), or finish in the oven, until the seafood is done.

Excerpt from Essentials of Cooking, copyright © 1999 by James Peterson; photographs copyright © 1999 by James Peterson. All rights reserved.

Meet the Author

James Peterson is the author of nine award-winning and short-listed cookbooks, including the James Beard Cookbook of the Year Sauces: Classical and Contemporary Sauce Making, as well as Essentials of Cooking, Glorious French Food, and What's a Cook to Do? He teaches, writes about, photographs, lives, breathes, and cooks fine food.

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Essentials of Cooking 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Never before have I had a cookbook that is so thoroughly informative and helpful in every respect. Every time I open this book, I learn something new. From cutting up meats to slicing vegetables, it gives you the knowledge and techniques you need to prepare a simple salad or an epicurian masterpiece!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
For years, I tried to find a book without random recipes and with basic information that I could use in many cooking situations. After hearing an interview on the radio, I purchased the book, and have not been disappointed. Each time I reread 'Essentials of Cooking,' I learn something new. This book has opened a whole new world of information that is necessary for every cook. Love it!