James Beard's Theory and Practice of Good Cooking

James Beard's Theory and Practice of Good Cooking

by James Beard, Jose Wilson

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James Beard's Theory and Practice of Good Cooking

By James Beard


Copyright © 1977 James Beard
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-0456-5


Good Cooking Needs Good Tools

Cooking starts with your hands, the most important and basic of all implements. They were the earliest tools for the preparation of food, and they have remained one of the most efficient, sensitive, and versatile. Hands can beat, cream, fold, knead, pat, press, form, toss, tear, and pound. They are so sensitive that the instant your fingers touch or feel something, they transmit messages to your brain about texture and temperature. Just by touching a broiled steak or a roast, you can learn to tell when the meat is done to your liking. To test the temperature of a sauce, a soup, a stew, or a vegetable purée, just dip your finger in. Then touch your finger to your tongue, and you'll know whether the seasoning and flavoring are right or need some adjustment. There are prissy people who think sticking fingers in food is dirty, but there's nothing disgraceful about touching food if your hands are clean, and don't let anyone tell you there is. After all, we eat lots of foods with our fingers. Isn't one of the best-known products advertised as being "finger lickin' good"? I can think of no more rewarding and sensuous a pleasure than plunging one's hands into a batter or dough and mixing or kneading away.

I learned to cook with my hands at a very early age, long before I ever held a spoon or a beater. I can remember making a cake — a quick, simple coffeecake — by first opening my hand like a big fork to mix and beat the batter and then cupping it like a spoon to scoop the batter from the bowl. It seemed the most natural thing in the world, and it taught me the feel of batters and doughs as nothing else could have done.

In my classes I encourage my students to get their hands into cake batters and soufflé mixtures, for once they get the feel of the texture and consistency this way, they never forget it. I find many people have difficulty learning to fold in egg whites with a spatula and tend to overfold. If you learn to fold them in by using the side of your hand to cut down and the palm to bring the mixture up and over, you soon grasp the technique of quick, light folding that doesn't deflate the egg whites. Later on in this book I'm going to tell you in detail how to mix a cake batter, fold in egg whites and separate eggs with your hands, and how to test a piece of cooked meat for doneness by pressing it with your fingertip. That's also a good way to judge whether a cake is baked. The light pressure of a finger will tell if the surface is firm and the cake underneath resilient. There are innumerable occasions in cooking when you can rely on your hands and your brain to give you these quick, accurate messages. Try mixing a salad with your fingers to learn how much dressing is needed to coat the greens — not drown them.

Next to hands, the most important tools are good knives. A knife can do practically everything in the way of cutting, slicing, mincing, chopping, even scraping and pounding. If you don't own a meat pounder, you can use the flat of a big heavy knife, such as a Chinese cleaver, to pound and flatten. Then there's a little trick I always show my students for peeling garlic — a pesky job. If you crush the garlic clove lightly with the flat of a heavy knife blade, the skin will split and come off in one piece.

Knives are the best friends a cook can have, to be treasured along with the family silver. They are just as valuable and will last equally long if properly treated — and by that I mean they should be sharpened regularly, never allowed to soak in a bath of detergent or to go in the dishwasher. Instead merely wipe your knives clean with a damp cloth after you've used them and store them in a proper knife rack where the blades won't bang against each other or anything else.

To begin with, there are just three knives you really should have. First, and most important, comes what is variously known as a French knife or a French chef's or cook's knife, a knife with a wide, tapering, triangular blade. Formerly all the best French chef's knives were made from carbon steel, which was soft enough to sharpen properly, but now the good quality high-carbon stainless-steel knives are by far the best. The two brands I recommend are Zanger and Henckels. Both are expensive, but there is no economy in buying cheap knives. They just don't perform properly. A good knife will be perfectly weighted, with a blade that is wide and rather heavy at the butt near the handle, tapering to a triangle and a more pronounced thinness at the point. The reason for this shape and weight is that a chef's knife is designed to cut, slice, and chop.

The second important knife is a slicing knife, which has a fairly thin, supple blade with a rounded or pointed end and is designed for slicing roast meats, turkey, pot roast, or corned beef brisket from paper-thin to medium-thick or very thick. This knife takes the place of the one in old-fashioned carving sets and is something no one can really get along without.

Last, but by no means least, there is the little paring knife, which may either have a triangular blade and look like a miniature chef's knife, or a small, curved scimitar-like blade and is excellent for mincing or cutting into small dice.

There are many other knives that can be added to these basics. You may want to have two or three sizes of chef's knife, which comes in different blade sizes from 6 inches up to a giant of 14 inches — the most useful are the 8-, 10-, and 12-inch sizes, for a large blade will, naturally, chop a greater quantity than a small one. Then you might add a boning knife, which has a thin flexible blade about 6 inches long (see illustration, page 164); a smaller, triangular-bladed boning knife for chicken breasts and small birds; a bread knife with a serrated blade (also good for cutting crumbly cakes); a very long, thin, flexible ham slicer; and a Chinese cleaver. To keep your knives sharp, you should also have either the traditional long sharpening steel or an inexpensive little gadget made by Zanger called a Zip-Zap that looks like a miniature sharpening steel but is made of a special ceramic that is even harder than steel.

The following list gives my recommendations for the equipment you should have in your kitchen. It isn't necessary to rush out and buy everything at once. Start with the equipment you really need and add to it as you go along. Get the best pots and pans you can afford. Cheap, flimsy pieces are false economy. Thin pans will not distribute heat evenly and tend to burn and scorch food. Heavy-duty pans and skillets, like good knives, are a long-term investment, and it's better to buy one decent pan than a whole set of useless ones. Sets of pans are rather pointless, anyway. There always seem to be one or two you never use. You are much better off buying pans for individual purposes, such as sauces, braising, and sautéing, plus at least one big pot of 8-quart capacity that you can use for pot roasts and pasta and soup. When it comes to materials, I happen to prefer stainless steel with an aluminum inlay between the steel layers in the bottom, or heavy-duty copper lined with stainless steel or tin, or heavy cast aluminum, with an occasional piece of enameled iron for sauces and custards and suchlike things, but the choice is really up to you. Just be sure the pans are really heavy-duty and have tight-fitting covers. For baking, stainless-steel pans, while more expensive than tin or aluminum, are preferable because they won't warp and are easier to clean. For bread, I like the loaf pans of sheet iron, which conduct heat well and give a good brown crust. For broiling, I find the aluminum foil pans with ridged bottoms a boon because they are easy to clean and can be used over and over.

I'm all for anything that saves time and work in the kitchen and that goes for electrical appliances. There are two labor-saving devices which I think should be part of any well equipped kitchen, because they do a better, more professional job of beating, mixing, whipping, chopping, grinding, and mincing than any but the most skilled cook could accomplish — and in a fraction of the time. One is the heavy-duty KitchenAid electric mixer, a formidable machine of many uses. It has a whisk for beating light things such as eggs, egg whites, batters, cream, and mayonnaise and a paddle for heavier mixtures like mashed potatoes and pastry doughs. There's an optional dough-hook attachment for kneading bread and other yeast doughs and a positive battery of optional attachments such as a meat grinder and a sausage stuffer, a vegetable shredder, a jacket to hold ice or hot water when beating mixtures that must be kept cold or warm, and a highly efficient ice-cream freezer.

The other device, a comparatively recent and quite invaluable piece of equipment, is the Cuisinart Food Processor. Having a food processor in the kitchen is the equivalent of having an extra pair of hands. While it does many of the same jobs as the KitchenAid, it does them in a different way, for this machine operates on the principle of centrifugal force and combines many of the attributes of the mixer and a blender. I use the food processor for all kinds of things — chopping meat; slicing, chopping, shredding, and puréeing vegetables; making pastry, brioche, cake, and crêpe batters as well as mayonnaise. Although I find that I use my blender less now that I have a food processor, it is still an extremely useful piece of equipment for liquefying ingredients, making soups, crêpe batter, purées, bread crumbs, and grated cheese, and definitely earns its kitchen space. Throughout this book I have indicated where the mixer, food processor, or blender can take over in a recipe. These pieces of equipment are expensive, but they are incredibly versatile and save an enormous amount of labor, which in my book means they are worth every penny. I'm constantly amazed at people who, while they think nothing of spending a couple of hundred dollars for clothes or sports equipment for a vacation trip, hesitate about buying something that will save them hundreds of hours of arduous dog work — and enable them to turn out better meals with greater ease.

Kitchen Equipment Check List


* 18-inch chef's knife

* 1 10-inch or 12-inch chef's knife

* 2 paring knives

* 1 slicing knife

* 1 serrated-edge bread knife

* 1 boning knife with 6-inch blade

* 1 sharpening steel or "Zip-Zap" sharpener


* Ham slicer

* Small boning knife

* Chinese cleaver


* 2 1-quart sauce pans, with covers

* 2 2-quart saucepans, with covers

* 1 4-quart pan, with cover

* 1 8-quart braising pan or large round or oval pot, with tight-fitting cover

* 1 10-inch straight-sided, flat-bottomed sauté pan, with cover

* 1 12-inch sauté pan, with cover

* 1 10-inch skillet of heavy metal (such as iron) with metal handle (so it can go in the oven)

* 1 iron crêpe pan, with 6-inch bottom diameter

* 1 cast-aluminum omelet pan, with 6-inch bottom diameter, or 1 Teflon-lined cast-aluminum omelet pan, to double for crêpe

* 1 fish poacher with rack, 18 or 22 inches long

* 1 open roasting pan of heavy-gauge stainless steel, about 18 × 12 inches and 2½ inches deep

* 1 stainless-steel, adjustable V-shaped rack, to fit in the roasting pan

* Aluminum foil broiling pans, assorted sizes


* Deep fryer with basket, regular or electric

* 10-quart stock pot

* Double boiler, preferably heatproof glass


* 3 or 4 heavy-duty cookie and baking sheets

* 2 11 × 15-inch heavy-duty jelly roll pans

* 3 9-inch round cake pans

* 1 9-inch square cake pan

* 1 8-inch to 9-inch tube cake pan

* 2 9 × 5 × 3-inch bread pans

* 2 8-inch pie pans

* 2 9-inch pie pans

* 1 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom

* 1 9-inch flan ring

* 1 muffin pan

* 2 or 3 wire cake racks

* 1 oval gratin dish, lined copper or other metal

* 2 ovenproof gratin or baking dishes, porcelain or pottery, medium and large

* 1½-quart terrine, with cover, ovenproof porcelain or earthenware, for pâtés

* 2 or 3 casseroles, with covers, ovenproof porcelain, earthenware, or enameled iron, in assorted sizes

* 1-, 1½-, and 2-quart soufflé dishes, porcelain, earthenware, or Corning glass

* 1-and 2-quart lacquered tin charlotte molds (may double for soufflés, mousses)

* 1 6-cup ring mold (may double for cold mousses, gelatin molds)

* 1 decorative pudding mold, about 6 cups (such as a melon mold, may double for cold mousses, ice cream)


* Glass liquid measuring cups in 1-, 2-, 4-, and 6-cup sizes

* 2 sets metal dry measuring cups

* 2 sets measuring spoons

* 2-cup flour sifter

* Mixing bowls, glass or earthenware, assorted sizes


* Apple corer

* Potato peeler

* Poultry shears

* Melon-ball scoop

* Biscuit, cookie, and pastry cutters

* Dough scraper (can double as an all-purpose scraper)

* Ice-cream scoop

* Small vegetable slicer with adjustable blade, such as Feemster model

* Mandoline vegetable slicer (for julienne vegetables, plain and wafflecut potatoes)

* Mouli-julienne (French disk-type vegetable grater, slicer, and shredder)

* Cheese grater, stainless-steel, four-sided box type

* Nutmeg grater

* Mortar and pestle, ceramic or marble

* Pepper mill

* Salt mill

* Food mill, for puréeing

* Strainers and sieves, assorted sizes and meshes

* Colander

* Funnel

* Can opener

* Corkscrew

* Bottle opener

* Screw-top-jar opener

* Wooden spoons and spatulas, assorted sizes

* 2 wooden kitchen forks

* 2 metal kitchen forks

* 2 slotted or perforated metal kitchen spoons

* 1 solid metal kitchen spoon

* 3 or 4 wire whisks, assorted sizes

* 2 or 3 rubber spatulas, wide and narrow blades

* 2 or 3 metal spatulas, wide and narrow blades

* 1 broad-bladed pancake turner

* 2 skimmers, open wire and fine mesh

* 1 large soup ladle

* 1 2-ounce ladle, for measuring crêpe batter

* Meat thermometer, type that registers from 0° to 220° F., such as Taylor Bi-Therm model

* Candy thermometer

* Deep-fat thermometer

* Pastry board

* 2 pastry brushes

* Rolling pin, ball-bearing or heavy French type

* Plastic-lined pastry bag and sets of round, star, and ribbon piping tubes

* Metal scoops for flour and sugar

* Storage jars and canisters

* Lemon squeezer

* Large earthenware bowl or crock for marinating meats

* Meat pounder

* Larding needle, long wood-handled type

* Trussing needles and fine string

* Cheesecloth

* Skewers, short for closing vent of poultry, long for kebabs

* Metal kitchen tongs

* Wood chopping block (if there is no wood countertop)


* Aluminum foil, light and heavy-duty, short and long rolls

* Cooking parchment

* Paper towels

* Plastic wrap, short and long rolls

* Plastic food bags, several sizes

* Plastic freezer-storage containers

* Waxed paper

* Scotch cleaning pads

* Vegetable brush


* Blender

* Can opener

* Cuisinart Food Processor

* Hand beater

* Heavy-duty mixer, preferably KitchenAid (K5A model), optional attachments

* Small coffee mill (to grind coffee beans or whole spices)


* Kitchen scales, graduated in ounces and grams

* Salad dryer

* Ice-cream freezer, manual or electric

* Unlined copper beating bowl and balloon whisk (for egg whites)

* 6-cup pudding basin (for steamed puddings)

* Deep pie dish (can double as vegetable dish or baking dish)

* Brioche, tartlet, and barquette pans

* Stripper

* Zester



Did you ever stop to think, when you boil an egg, poach a chicken, simmer a soup, or blanch a cauliflower, that they are all part of one basic cooking process — boiling? In one form or another it enters into many of the recipes we prepare, whether we are making a base for a soufflé or a stock for a stew. Essentially, boiling is the action of liquid, at various temperatures, on food. Meat is brought to a full boil in order to cook the surface rapidly and sear in the juices and flavors, the same thing that happens when it is seared in fat over heat, or browned under the broiler. When you bring meat or poultry to a boil, the chemical reaction between the food and the liquid brings forth a frothy scum, which must be skimmed off. The scum may continue to form for as long as 5 or 10 minutes and, if you want a good finished dish, you must skim and keep on skimming to remove those undesirable elements. After this initial boiling, the heat should be turned down so the liquid merely simmers, a process that tenderizes the meat.

Vegetables, on the other hand, are boiled or blanched in order to tenderize them and to break down and expand the tissues, which brings out a well-defined, characteristic flavor. If you taste certain vegetables when they are raw, when they are partially cooked, and when they are fully cooked, you'll learn a very interesting lesson. Take a green bean, for instance. Taste it raw, taste it halfway through the cooking, and then when it is done as you like it and you'll notice the difference in flavor between the various stages.

Pasta is always immersed in rapidly boiling water and boiled very fast in order to expand the starch granules and make them tender to the bite — al dente, as the Italians say. There is also a school of rice cookery, to which I happen to belong, where the rice is tossed by small handfuls into a big pot of rapidly boiling water, so that the water never ceases to seethe and boil. This produces a less starchy rice than when it is cooked in only a little water, and each grain is separate rather than sticking together.


Excerpted from James Beard's Theory and Practice of Good Cooking by James Beard. Copyright © 1977 James Beard. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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.

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