Read an Excerpt
Jacques Pépin New Complete Techniques
A Sampler 13 Techniques 7 Recipes
By Jacques Pépin, Léon Perer, Tom Hopkins
Black Dog & Leventhal PublishersCopyright © 2012 Jacques Pépin
All rights reserved.
Today's cooking equipment comes in all types, shapes, prices, and materials. The enormous interest in food, heightened by cooking schools, cookbooks, newspapers, magazine articles, the Internet, etc., has spurred the manufacturers into bringing many different types of paraphernalia onto the market, and a lot of it is good. However, it is often hard for people to differentiate. What pots should one buy? Should they be copper? Stainless steel? Heavy aluminum? No-stick? Black cast iron? Enameled cast iron? It is difficult to choose because ultimately there is no ideal pot. Every material has its good and bad points. The thick, heavy, hand-hammered copper is the best to conduct, diffuse, and retain heat. While attractive, it is very heavy, very expensive, and needs constant polishing. Pots should not be lined with tin, as used to be done, but with stainless steel, which is cleaner and more durable.
Heavy aluminum pans, customarily used in professional kitchens, are much lighter and easier to handle. Heavy aluminum is the best heat conductor after copper and it's tough. However it tends to discolor food, especially when acidic ingredients such as wine, vinegar, and tomatoes are used. (When using a whisk for an emulsion, such as hollandaise, you will often have a brownish dirty color mixed with your sauce.) At home, the discoloration happens regularly just from boiling water. The pan is not used often enough and moisture in the air will cause darkening. The same heavy aluminum pot used in a restaurant kitchen may not discolor since it is used over and over again and is washed between each use, preventing any buildup. The best are heavy aluminum pans lined with stainless steel.
The no-stick lined pans are very good, especially the permanent no-stick, which have a tougher, more durable, finish than the ones made years ago.
Stainless steel cleans easily, keeps shiny, does not discolor food but, unfortunately, does develop "hot spots" or patches of burn. The transfer of heat is fast but stainless steel does not retain heat well. Fortunately, stainless steel pans are now made with thick bottoms, and aluminum or copper "sandwiched" between layers of stainless steel.
The dark cast iron skillet and kettle are good, sturdy, and practically indestructible. They are inexpensive, easy to care for and hold the heat fairly well. However, they are heavy and if not used often will get rusty, stain, and discolor food. The enameled cast iron is attractive, cleans well, and will chip if dropped. Eventually, the inside will darken and discolor.
Earthenware is attractive, good for prolonged oven cooking, and can be used as service pieces. Since they are fragile, and extreme temperatures may cause cracking, don't use them for stove-top cooking.
For baking, flat, heavy, not too shiny, aluminum cookie sheets are the best. The iron or steel cookie sheets will warp and the heat conductivity is too rapid. Silicone liners, as well as no-stick aluminum foil, are an inexpensive and vast improvement for preventing dough from sticking. All kinds of plastic and silicone shaped containers are good when working with chocolate. Microplanes are terrific to grate the skin of citrus fruits, as well as garlic, onions, etc.
Should you have a plastic or wooden chopping block? My preference is wood—it is attractive, with just enough bounce, and it does not dull the knife's blade. Both types should be thick, heavy, and wide. Your chopping block won't perform properly if you do not have a high, sturdy table, which does not bounce when you use a meat pounder or a cleaver. However, I do not use my block for rolling out dough. I prefer rolling it directly on a marble, granite, or formica counter. It is clean and non-porous, with no taste attached to it.
What kind of electrical appliances should you get? A food processor (the stronger the better) is a must, as well as an electric mixer. Should you cook with gas, electricity or microwaves? Cooking is harder to control on electric tops, although the electric oven is excellent. Microwaves are efficient for melting chocolate or cooking bacon. But gas is my favorite. Professional stoves are a good investment. They are strong, have great capacity and never go out of style. We enjoy seeing the flames, and control is there at all times. Ultimately, the best heat is wood (hard wood). For barbecuing, it is a must. Never briquettes. Briquettes are a derivative of petroleum and they are not good for your health. A steak well charred on a dirty grill over briquettes has more tar than several packs of cigarettes.
Good whisks with thick, heavy threads are a must, as well as "piano-wire" whips (very thin, flexible, and tightly woven). Both are necessary—the whisk for thick sauces and the whip to whip egg whites and heavy cream. Rubber and wooden spatulas, as well as a series of stainless steel and ceramic bowls, wire racks, strainers, metal spoons, skimmers, vegetable peelers, etc., are all necessary implements.
Then there are the knives, an extension of your fingers. There is always a controversy about knives. The current trend is toward high carbon steel and ceramic knives. They do not discolor or oxidize when used for cutting lemons, tomatoes, or onions. Stainless steel is a very hard metal and difficult to sharpen, although it keeps a good edge once sharpened. The knives should be very sharp to perform correctly. You should have a minimum of three knives. A very large (10- to 12-inch/25- to 30-centimeter blade) chopping knife, a thinner, 8-inch (20-centimeter) all-purpose knife, and a small paring knife. Several paring knives would be even better. Have a good sharpener. A steel or ceramic sharpener (good for stainless steel) is necessary but both sharpen only the tiny cutting edge of the knives. After a year or so, depending on how often you use your knives, this tiny amount of metal will be worn away. The carbon knife must then be sent out to be sharpened professionally unless you have the know-how, and possess a large stone with which to grind the metal. Send dull knives out to a person who sharpens lawn mowers, scissors, or electric saws. Then the knives can again be utilized for one year, using the steel sharpener periodically. Ceramic knives must go back to the manufacturer to be sharpened.
You will notice that expensive, good equipment is usually well-designed and pleasant to look at. Visit pot and pan shops. Many specialize in gadgetry and gimmicks. Some have an enormous, confusing potpourri of paraphernalia, among which, if you have the proper lore, you will discern the good from the bad. There are a few good shops that specialize in good equipment only. When you have chosen a good shop, follow the judgment of the salesperson; once you get to know a place, the people will give you good advice. Have a tag sale and get rid of your bad tools. Buy pieces one by one if you can't afford to spend a lot. Some people will spend a small fortune in a good restaurant without blinking an eye, but won't spend the same amount for a few pieces of equipment. It is worth the investment, since they will go on working for you, your children, and, maybe, your grandchildren.
Have your pots, molds, strainers, etc., hung from the wall or the ceiling, as is done in a professional kitchen. They will be easy to get to and you will use them more often.
Even though you may have the best ingredients to start with, nothing is more frustrating when preparing a meal than when your oven does not keep a constant heat, your pan is discolored, your knife is dull, your pots dented, etc. It won't work! Finally, cook, cook, cook, cook, and cook again! I know people who have great kitchens with all the latest and best equipment. It is only there for show. The more you cook, the easier it becomes. The more the equipment is used, the better it performs and you will get attached to certain tools.CHAPTER 2
How to Sharpen Knives
Holding the Knife to Chop Vegetables
White Butter Sauce
How to Sharpen Knives
(Aiguisage des Couteaux)
A knife is useless if it is not sharp. You can tell if your knife is sharp if it can cut a soft, ripe tomato into thin slices with ease. If the knife is dull, it will just crush the tomato. If you looked at the cutting edge of a knife through a magnifying glass, you'd see that it is made up of hundreds of tiny teeth—like a saw. Through repeated use, these teeth get twisted and bent out of alignment. This is what makes a knife dull; a sharpener gets these little teeth back into alignment.
The harder the metal the knife is made of, the harder it will be to sharpen, but the longer it will hold its edge. A sharpener has to be made of a material that's a shade harder than the metal it is to abrade. (The hardness of metals is measured on the Rockwell Scale.)
Steels are metal sharpeners. They have a fine grain and give a super finish to an already sharp knife. Butchers and professional cooks use a steel constantly, giving the knife a few strokes before each use. A ceramic sharpener is better than a steel for sharpening hard metals such as stainless steel. (Ceramic is harder than the hardest metal on the Rockwell Scale.)
Eventually, repeated sharpening wears away the little teeth of the cutting edge. At this point the knife needs to be ground to thin the blade into a new cutting edge. This is done with an abrasive stone.
USING A CERAMIC SHARPENER
1. Start with the heel of the blade at the tip of the sharpener and slide the knife down the length of the sharpener so the cutting edge abrades against it. Apply steady and strong pressure. Keep the knife at the same angle constantly.
2. End with the point of the blade near the base of the steel sharpener. This is one steady stroke, one hand moving toward the other, every inch of the cutting edge making contact with the sharpener. Repeat on the other side of the sharpener to sharpen the other side of the knife.
USING A STEEL SHARPENER
3. This photograph is an alternative way of sharpening. In this photo, we are using a steel sharpener with a high-carbon-steel knife. Start with the heel of the blade at the base of the steel and pull the hands away from one another, finishing with the tip of the sharpener at the tip of the blade. Repeat on the other side. Make sure that the whole blade gets worked against the sharpener. Keep the angle about 25 degrees and the pressure the same.
USING A GRINDING STONE
4. Once a year, twice a year, once every two years—depending on the kind of beating your knives get—you will need to grind them down to form a new cutting edge. You can send your knives out and have them ground by a professional or you can do it yourself if you have a sand wheel or a large stone like the one pictured here. This stone is held in place by suction so that you can apply a lot of pressure without having it slide around the way smaller stones do. It has three sides, each of a different coarseness. You begin with the coarsest side and finish with the finest.
5. Rub mineral oil on the stone to keep stone grindings loose so they can be wiped off and don't seal and glaze the surface of the stone, which would prevent abrasion. Start at the tip of the knife and apply strong pressure down and forward so that the whole side of the blade is in contact with the stone. Move back and forth, applying pressure. Keep the angle constant. Repeat on the other side. As the knife gets sharper and thinner at the end, go to a finer stone. When you are through, clean your knife. Keep it sharp with a steel sharpener.
Holding the Knife to Chop Vegetables
(Position du Couteau)
An apprentice chef cannot "graduate to the stove" until he has mastered the basic techniques for correctly chopping, dicing, mincing, and slicing vegetables, fruits, or meat. Perfectly prepared vegetables not only have an attractive texture, but add a good "bite" and taste to the finished dish. Practice, obviously, is of the very essence, and good knives are just as important. Knives should be sharpened professionally at least once every year or two. In the interim, keep a good edge with either a steel or carborundum sharpener.
1. Handling your knife properly is your first concern. Hold the item to be cut with fingertips tucked under, so the blade "rests" and slides directly against the middle section of your fingers or against your index finger, if it is more comfortable. The knife follows, in fact, "glued" to the fingers and slides up and down the fingers at the same rate all the time. The speed at which the fingers move back determines the thickness of the slices. See steps 6 and 7 for more illustration of this technique.
2. To mince an onion, cut off the root and the stem end on opposite ends. Some onions have extremely thin skins which are hard to remove. Some are quite thick. In either case, remove one layer of onion, or several if necessary, so there is no yellow or dry skin visible.
3. Cut into halves through the root. Place one of the halves flat side down and, holding your fingers and knife properly,
4. cut vertical slices from one end to the other, up to, but not through, the root end. The knife does not go in a straight down motion while cutting, but rather in a down and back motion at the same time.
5. Holding the knife flat, cut 3 or 4 horizontal slices from top to bottom, up to the root end.
6. Finally, cut across the onion, again up to the root end. (If the dice is not fine enough, chop some more with a large knife.)
7. To slice a potato, place it on its flattest side so that it does not roll under your fingers. If the potato is not stable, cut a slice off so the potato can sit firmly on the cut end. Slice to desired thickness by controlling the progress of the fingers that hold the potato in place.
8. To chop parsley, use a bigger knife. Place the blade perpendicular to the chopping block and gather the washed parsley top into a tight ball. Slice the bunch across.
9. Slice, going down and forward, or down and backward, sliding the knife along the fingers.
10. Holding the handle firmly in one hand, the other hand relaxed on top of the blade (this hand does not apply much pressure on the blade, but rather directs it), bring the front of the blade down first, then the back. Repeat in a staccato and rapid up and down motion until the parsley is finely chopped. Draw the pieces together in a heap as you go along.
11. To dice an eggplant, hold the eggplant firmly with the tips of your fingers and cut lengthwise in equal slices.
12. Stack 2 or 3 slices on top of each other. Using the same technique, cut into square sticks.
13. Cut the sticks across to form little cubes. Very small cubes or dices of vegetables are called brunoise.
White Butter Sauce
The beurre blanc (white butter sauce) is an emulsion of butter with wine and/or vinegar which holds together because it is whipped at a proper temperature. Furthermore, the whipping beats air into the mixture, which makes it light and increases its volume. In cooking, the word "emulsion" refers to a fat and liquid or other ingredient bound together into a creamy mixture. Mayonnaise is an example of a cold emulsion and hollandaise an example of a hot emulsion. Other types of emulsions appear throughout this book—in the brill recipe (see full-length ebook), as well as the asparagus stew (see full-length ebook). In the latter recipe, butter and water are brought to a strong boil and it is the boiling that causes the mixture to bind. This is somewhat confusing as, on the one hand, boiling may be necessary to get some sauces into emulsion while, on the other hand, sauces like hollandaise or beurre blanc separate if they're brought near the boil. The explanation for this paradox lies in the proportions of fat to liquid.
If the proportion of butter and liquid are more or less equal, a strong boil will bind the ingredients together and make a creamy sauce that will hold together for some time depending on temperature. If there's a lot more butter than liquid (as there is in the beurre blanc) too much heat will make the mixture separate. This is an important point to grasp because, when understood, it allows you to bind liquids into fat or to separate fat from liquid at will. For example, in a roast chicken in aspic, the natural juices are boiled down to evaporate the moisture and reduce the mixture to solidified juices and clear fat. As the moisture boils off, the proportion of fat becomes greater and this is why it breaks down and separates from the solidified juices. Once the fat is separated, it can be easily poured off and the solidified juices dissolved with water, then strained and reduced to proper consistency. To reverse the process, let's say that you don't want to remove the fat from your natural juices but the mixture has over-reduced and already separated. If you want to bind the liquid and fat back together again, you just replace some of the evaporated moisture (water), bring to a strong boil, and it will bind together again. In the case of a beurre blanc or hollandaise which, again, is almost all fat, if the sauce starts to separate, remove from the heat, add a bit of cold water, and beat with a whisk to bind together again.
Excerpted from Jacques Pépin New Complete Techniques by Jacques Pépin, Léon Perer, Tom Hopkins. Copyright © 2012 Jacques Pépin. Excerpted by permission of Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.