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 chanceeach 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.
Read an Excerpt
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.
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.
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.