Essentials of Cooking

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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 terms of what it does to the taste of the food: What happens if you cook a fish in butter versus oil? Why does ...

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Essentials of Cooking

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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 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.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
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.

The New York Times
Meticulously formulated and caringly written.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Having written the masterful Vegetables and Fish, Peterson delivers an all-encompassing cookbook that is equally accomplished. This comprehensive manual is accompanied by extensive photographs and runs the instructional gamut, from boiling an egg to curing seafood. Paris-trained Peterson highlights basic French techniques, such as making beurre blanc, hollandaise sauce and stocks, blanquette de veau (creamed veal stew), beef daube and roast chicken. Chapters cover the "basics," such as cutting vegetables, making a green salad and clarifying butter, as well as "working from scratch" (e.g., gutting a fish, making fresh pasta dough). Explicit cross-referencing and applicable "Kitchen Notes and Tips" follow every demonstration. Since the focus is specifically on technique (e.g., poaching, saut ing, deep-frying, grilling), traditional recipes are omitted. So, while Peterson explains the steps involved in making a basic mayonnaise, he does not provide measured quantities of ingredients, forcing readers to actively engage their senses during the cooking process rather than just read a recipe. He also introduces various kitchen equipment in his demonstrations, discussing the difference, for instance, between a ricer and a potato masher. Throughout, Peterson displays his culinary virtuosity, creating an invaluable, timeless reference that demystifies the cooking process. (Jan.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Amanda Hesser
There is a critical difference between this book and others that teach technique, like "Le Cordon Bleu at Home" and Jacques Pepin's "Technique." Though Peterson was once a restaurant chef, he is now a home cook, and he approaches the subject like one. He does not show five ways to truss a chicken or how to make veal demiglace. He teaches an easy and proper way to tie chicken and lays out the key steps for a basic, useful and flavorful broth...the photography is particularly good and a strength of the book. Many times, instructional books with pictures leave out important steps. When showing how to crush garlic, for instance, they might reduce the technique to three steps, when it needs four to be clear. Peterson shows five, the last depicting the flat side of a knife drawn across the chopped clove.
The New York Times
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781579651206
  • Publisher: Artisan
  • Publication date: 1/1/2000
  • Pages: 312
  • Product dimensions: 9.22 (w) x 10.32 (h) x 1.02 (d)

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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Read an Excerpt

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.

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Table of Contents

  • How to Cut up Vegetables
  • How to Peel Vegetables
  • How to Use Herbs
  • How to Make a Green Salad
  • How to Make Chicken Stock
  • How to Make Fish Broth
  • How to Cook with Butter
  • How to Make Soup
  • How to Gauge Doneness
  • How to Make Rice
  • How to Make Egg-Based Emulsion Sauces
  • How to Make a Vinaigrette
  • How to Make Tomato Sauces
  • How to Make White Sauces
  • How to Make Infused Oils
  • How to Prepare Fruits
  • How to Shuck and Trim
  • How to Roast Vegetables for the Best Flavor
  • How to Make a Vegetable Gratin
  • How to Slow-Cook Vegetables for Deeper Flavor
  • How to Glaze Vegetables for a Savory Finish
  • How to Deep-Fry Juicy Vegetables
  • How to Make French Fries
  • How to Grill Vegetables
  • How to Cook Leafy Greens
  • How to Saute Vegetables
  • How to Cook Artichokes
  • How to Make Mashed Potatoes and Other Purees
  • How to Make a Vegetable Flan
  • How to Make a Creamy Vegetable Soup
  • How to Roast Fruits to Concentrate Their Flavors
  • How to Poach Fruit
  • How to Poach a Big Fish
  • How to Poach a Small Fish
  • How to Poach Fish Steaks and Fillets
  • How to Cook Fish Fillets en Papillote
  • How to Bake Fish and Make a Sauce at the Same Time
  • How to Roast a Whole Fish
  • How to Deep-Fry Seafood
  • How to Grill Seafood
  • How to Cook Squid
  • How to Make a Seafood Stir-Fry
  • How to Steam Shellfish
  • How to Prepare Lobster
  • How to Shuck Oysters
  • How to Roast a Chicken
  • How to Make Chicken in a Pot
  • How to Cut Up a Chicken
  • How to Make a Chicken Stew
  • How to Make a Chicken Saute
  • How to Make Fried Chicken
  • How to Saute a Breaded Chicken Breast
  • How to Roast and Carve a Holiday Turkey
  • How to Make a Chicken Liver Mousse
  • How to Boil and Egg
  • How to Make an Omelet
  • How to Make a Souffle
  • How to Make Eggs an Cocotte
  • MEAT
  • How to Make Pot-au-Feu and Other Boiled Dinners
  • How to Poach a Tender Cut of Meat
  • How to Make a Pot Roast
  • How to Make a Beef Stew
  • How to Carve Veal, Beef, and Lamb Shanks
  • How to Make a Beef Stew without Browning
  • How to Make a Creamed Veal Stew
  • How to Grill (or Broil) Steaks and Chops
  • How to Roast a Rack of Lamb
  • How to Roast a Leg of Lamb
  • How to Roast a Rack of Pork
  • How to Make a Beef Rib Roast
  • How to Saute Steaks, Chops, and Medallions
  • How to Saute a Small Whole Loin of Pork, Veal, or Venison
  • How to Clean and Fillet a Round Fish
  • How to Clean and Fillet a Flatfish
  • How to Bone a Whole Round Fish through the Stomach
  • How to Bone a Whole Round Fish through the Back
  • How to Fillet a Salmon
  • How to Clean Soft Clean and Bone a Small Fish, such as a Sardine
  • How to Clean Soft-shell Crabs
  • How to Cook Crayfish
  • How to Cure Seafood
  • How to Hot-Smoke Fish Fillets
  • How to Desalt and Repack Anchovies
  • How to Carve a Chicken
  • How to Bone a Double Chicken Breast
  • How to Cut Up a Duck
  • How to Cut Up a Rabbit
  • How to Cook and Serve a Rabbit
  • How to Break Down a Rack of Lamb
  • How to Butcher a Saddle of Lamb
  • How to Eat the Marrow out of Marrow Bones
  • How to Prepare Sweetbread for Cooking
  • How to Remove the Meat from a Coconut
  • How to Make Pasta Dough
  • How to Make Noodles
  • How to Make Stuffed Pasta Shapes
  • How to Make Gnocchi
  • How to Make Blinis, Pancakes, and Crepes
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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 3, 2005

    An Absolute Must in Any Kitchen!!

    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!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2004



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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 1, 2004

    I love You! ~ Essentials

    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!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 27, 2008

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