Essentials of Cooking

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Learn not just the how but the why by mastering the indispensable skills that spell the difference between merely cooking and knowing how to cook

Praise for James Peterson's award-winning books:

"uncommonly captivating" --Publisher's Weekly

"meticulously formulated and caringly written" --The New York Times

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Learn not just the how but the why by mastering the indispensable skills that spell the difference between merely cooking and knowing how to cook

Praise for James Peterson's award-winning books:

"uncommonly captivating" --Publisher's Weekly

"meticulously formulated and caringly written" --The New York Times

Read More Show Less

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: 9781579652364
  • Publisher: Artisan
  • Publication date: 4/10/2003
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 312
  • Product dimensions: 9.10 (w) x 10.00 (h) x 0.90 (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


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.

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Table of Contents



Peel Vegetables

Shuck, Stem, Trim, and Seed Vegetables

Cut Up Vegetables and Herbs

Prepare Fruits

Take the Meat out of a Coconut

Make a Chicken Broth

Make a Fish Broth

Make a Crustacean Broth

Make a Green Salad

Make a Vinaigrette

Make Infused Oils

Make a Mayonnaise

Make a Hollandaise Sauce

Clarify Butter

Make a Flavored Butter

Make a Beurre Blanc

Make a Tomato Sauce

Make Fresh Egg Pasta Dough

Roll and Cut Fresh Pasta Dough

Make Stuffed Pasta Shapes

Make Gnocchi

Make Blini and Crepes

Cook Risotto, Pilaf, Fluffy Rice, and Paella

Determine Doneness of Foods



Roast Vegetables

Make a Vegetable Gratin

Slow-Cook (Braise) Green Vegetables

Glaze Root Vegetables

Deep-fry Vegetables

Make Potato Chips and French Fries

Grill Vegetables

Steam and Boil Vegetables

Saute Vegetables

Cook Artichokes

Make Mashed Potatoes and Other Vegetable and Fruit Purees

Make a Vegetable Flan

Make a Chunky Vegetable Soup

Make a Creamy Vegetable Soup

Roast Fruit

Poach Fruit



Poach a Big Fish

Poach a Small Fish

Poach Fish Steaks and Fillets, Small Whole Fish, and Shellfish

Cook Fish Fillets en Papillote

Bake Fish and Make a Sauce at the Same Time (Braise)

Roast a Whole Fish

Deep-fry Seafood

Grill Seafood

Saute Seafood for a Crisp Crust

Cook Squid (and Other Tentacled Creatures)

Stir-fry in a Wok

Steam Shellfish

Shuck Oysters

Prepare Lobster

Prepare Soft-shell Crabs

Cook Crayfish

Use Salted Anchovies

Make Miso Soup



Roast a Chicken

Poach Chicken in a Pot

Cut Up a Chicken

Make a Chicken Stew

Make a Chicken Saute

Make Fried Chicken

Grill Chicken

Saute Breaded Chicken Breasts

Make a Chicken Liver Mousse

Roast a Turkey and Make Giblet Gravy

Cut Up a Duck

Boil Eggs

Poach Eggs

Bake Eggs

Make an Omelet

Make a Souffle



Roast a Leg of Lamb

Roast a Rack of Lamb and Make a Jus

Roast a Rack of Pork

Roast a Prime Rib of Beef

Grill (or Broil) Chops and Steaks

Saute Steaks, Chops, Noisettes, and Medallions (and Make a Pan Sauce)

Saute a Small Whole Loin of Pork, Veal, or Venison

Make Pot-au-Feu and Other Boiled Dinners

Poach a Tender Cut of Meat

Make a Pot Roast

Make a Stew

Cook Veal, Beef, and Lamb Shanks

Make a Stew Without Browning

Make a Veal Stew

Prepare Sweetbreads



Prepare a Wbole Round Fish

Fillet a Salmon

Bone a Whole Round Fish

Prepare a Whole Flatfish

Scale, Clean, and Bone Whole Small Fish

Hot-Smoke Fish Fillets

Cold-Smoke Fish Fillets

Cure Seafood (Brining and Salting)

Trim and Cut Up a Breast of Veal for Stew

Trim and Partially Bone a Leg of Lamb

Butcher a Double Rack of Lamb

Trim and French a Rack of Lamb

Trim and Roast a Saddle of Lamb

Cut Up a Rabbit

Prepare and Braise a Large Rabbit



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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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