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Which comes first when mashing potatoes-the butter or the milk? What grade and grind of meat make the best hamburgers? How do you roast a turkey so the breast meat is as moist and juicy as the legs? For the tenderest muffins, should you use buttermilk, yogurt or milk? At what temperature should you cook prime rib for the most succulent results? Is it possible to create a fudgy, cakey, chewy brownie all in one? Most of us don't have time to figure out the answers to questions like these. We need somebody to do the...
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Which comes first when mashing potatoes-the butter or the milk? What grade and grind of meat make the best hamburgers? How do you roast a turkey so the breast meat is as moist and juicy as the legs? For the tenderest muffins, should you use buttermilk, yogurt or milk? At what temperature should you cook prime rib for the most succulent results? Is it possible to create a fudgy, cakey, chewy brownie all in one? Most of us don't have time to figure out the answers to questions like these. We need somebody to do the work for us and get our favorite recipes just right. In this book, Pam Anderson, executive editor of the highly successful magazine Cook's Illustrated, does just that. Painstakingly conducting test after test, Anderson arrives at not only the best recipe but frequently the most convenient and sensible one:—A simple formula for a stir-fry that can be varied with different combinations of meat, vegetables and sauces.—French bread so easy it can be baked every day.—Chicken pot pie for weeknights, made with chicken breast rather than whole chicken.—Macaroni and cheese as effortless as boxed, but three times as satisfying.—Pizza dough that rises in just one hour or throughout the day.—A cobbler that can be prepared with dozens of different fruits, making it 40 desserts in one. More than 150 recipes in all, with dozens of step-by-step illustrations of techniques, comparisons of products and useful tips.
"The Perfect Recipe is Pam Anderson at her best: curious about the whys and hows of cooking and passionate about comparing techniques and ingredients. This is no-nonsense American cooking presented with warmth, humor and Pam's generous at-your-elbow, down-home style."—Christopher Kimball, editor and publisher of Cook's Illustrated and author of The Cook's Bible
"Pam Anderson's new book has quite a title and makes quite a claim. In short, it promises perfection. She lives up to every word. The really fun part of this book, however, is that Anderson tells you exactly how and why she came to the conclusions that she did.
Take simple macaroni and cheese, for instance. Anderson's three pages of explanation before her recipe for "The Best Macaroni and Cheese," relate her search for the best recipe for this classic. She found one in John Thorne's "Simple Cooking," and then put it through its paces by taste-testing it in comparison to both a béchamel-based and a custard-based version. Once Anderson determined it was indeed the best-tasting recipe, she studied it: "I wondered if the dish really required evaporated milk. Was this an idiosyncrasy of the late thirties when the recipe was first published? Wouldn't regular milk or half-and-half work equally well?" She determined that indeed, the versions made with evaporated milk were the smoothest. Then, she went on to experiment with different varieties of cheese. Anderson is executive editor of the very successful "Cook's Illustrated" magazine and this book follows a similar format: clean, simple and text-based. The illustrations—by Judy Love—are not slick, four-color glossy variety, but simple and useful in showing exactly which way to pinch the dough when making French bread. The book includes all the old standby recipes—mashed potatoes, cobblers and apple pie—plus the basics such as soup and stocks. There are also entertaining basics: cooking that holiday turkey just right. It's not as easy as the "turkey folks" would like you to believe. Yes, the brining of the bird really does work. Her method of cooking prime rib turns out perfectly (as promised) every time. Every recipe has been tested and retested hundreds of times with every possible variable tried until she came up with her idea of the perfect recipe. While that's the strength of this book, it also makes for my only quibble. Perfection is in the eye of the beholder; sometimes a recipe that meets Anderson's standard of perfection produces something unfamiliar. For instance, I think Anderson's recipe for muffins are one of the best I've ever had. But, as pointed out by one of the ucook.com staff members, they are sweet and cake-like in texture. While a very good product, they probably do not actually fit the criteria of the "traditional muffin," or at least that taster's criteria for a muffin. That aside, I think it is a great book, and I am not alone.
The book won the Julia Child Cookbook Award in 1999. This is the kind of book that makes a "perfect gift" whether the person on your list is just learning to cook or is just like Anderson herself, an accomplished cook looking to make every recipe perfect."—Annie Russell ucook.com
|Chicken Soup for the Body||14|
|Simple Clam Chowder||24|
|How to Make Flavorful Beef Soup||33|
|The Occidental Stir-Fry||44|
|Macaroni and Cheese: The Real MacCoy||59|
|Fine-Tuning Homemade Pizza and Calzones||66|
|Chicken in No Time Flat||80|
|Rediscovering Fried Chicken||92|
|One-Pot Chicken Pot Pie||102|
|A Better Burger||112|
|Memorable Meat Loaf||124|
|Simple, Satisfying Beef Stew||130|
|Perfect Roast Turkey||144|
|Cornish Hens for Company||164|
|Perfect Prime Rib||175|
|Holiday Pork Roast||188|
|How to Select, Cook and Serve aLobster||198|
|On the Side, but Not Forgotten|
|The Cabbage Makes the Slaw||214|
|Corn on the Cob: How to Buy It, Store It and Cook It||237|
|Perfect Potato Salad||245|
|Mashed Potatoes: The Best They Can Be||252|
|New-Style Southern Corn Bread||272|
|Big, Beautiful Muffins||280|
|Be-All and End-All Desserts|
|Mix-and-Match Fruit Cobblers||298|
|An Even Better Apple Pie||314|
|Infallible Lemon Meringue Pie||324|
|Incredible Cream Pies||330|
|Exquisite Cheesecake: One Recipe, Three Textures||336|
|A Fudgy, Chewy, Cakey Brownie||344|
|Just-Right Rolled Cookies||350|
Chicken Soup for the Body
CHICKEN SOUP ought to be as delicious as it is restorative. Unfortunately, many chicken soups taste bland and weak. I know because I've made a few lackluster pots myself. I've always managed to salvage them with a can of tomatoes, frozen green peas or mixed vegetables, a few potatoes and a turnip or two. The resulting soup was always delicious, but I hadn't wanted vegetable soup. I wanted to know how to make a pot of chicken soup so good that I'd long for an excuse to be sick.
Obviously my soup's problem was the broth. Standard chicken broths just aren't flavorful enough to produce a robust soup. Besides, it always bothers me to strain out and throw away all the celery, carrots and onions called for in traditional recipes, only to turn around and chop more of the same for the soup. So I started my testing with more offbeat methods to see if I could somehow develop a more potent broth.
It's not unusual for me for try 30 or 40 times before I'm satisfied with the results. Chicken soup was different. After only four tries, I knew I had a winner.
I started with a Chinese method, in Bruce Cost's Asian Ingredients (Morrow, 1988). This rich, clear broth is made by first blanching a whole chicken to keep it from releasing foam as it cooks. Foam can cloud the finished broth. The blanched chicken is then placed in a bowl, partially covered with water and set over a pan of barely simmering water for four hours. Cooked this way, the liquid in which the chicken cooks never simmers, and the resulting broth is remarkably refined. This very special broth is perfect for floating dumplings or blanched vegetables, but is much too fine a base for a hearty main-course soup. And such a long cooking time rendered my 4-pound chicken good for nothing but the compost heap. Only special occasions warrant this kind of sacrifice.
A number of recipes promoted roasting chicken bones with the celery, carrot and onion for a rich, full-flavored broth. I gave it a try, roasting 3 pounds of chicken backs, necks and bones for 20 minutes in a 400-degree oven. I then added a small carrot, a medium onion and a small piece of celery to the pan and roasted 40 minutes longer before adding water and simmering for an hour. The resulting broth was dark; it had a nice roasted-chicken-and-caramelized-onion flavor, but it still wasn't the full-flavored broth I sought.
James Beard believed gizzards made especially good broth. Following his direction, I made a broth of 2 1/4 pounds chicken backs and wings and 3/4 pound gizzards. The result was acceptable, but all the broths made to this point turned out to be the weak cousins of the one I was about to experience.
The winning broth took as its starting point the one in Edna Lewis's In Pursuit of Flavor (Knopf, 1988). Lewis's broth was different from any I'd ever seen. It was fast and simple--so much so that I was a bit skeptical. In my experience, offbeat methods were fun to try but rarely yielded spectacular results. Hers proved the exception.
Rather than simmering chicken bones, aromatic vegetables and herbs for hours, Lewis's recipe involved sauteing a chicken that had been hacked into small pieces, along with an onion, until the chicken lost its raw color. Lewis then covered the pot and set it over low heat until the chicken and onion released their rich, flavorful juices, a process that took 15 to 20 minutes. Only at that point did she add water, and she simmered the broth for only 20 minutes longer.
I knew I was on to something as I smelled the chicken and onion sauteing, and the finished broth confirmed what my nose had detected. The broth tasted pleasantly sauteed, not boiled. I had some refining to do, though. For once, I had made too strong a broth; this one had almost demi-glace intensity. And like Cost's recipe, this broth depleted the chicken itself, leaving its meat flavorless after cooking.
I followed Lewis's technique, substituting chicken backs and wing tips for the whole chicken and increasing the water from 3 cups to 2 quarts. The broth had just the right strength and made some of the best chicken soup I've ever tasted. I prepared the broth twice more--once without the onion and once with onion, celery and carrot. The onion added a flavor dimension I liked; the extra vegetables neither added nor detracted from the final soup, so I left them out.
Where to Get the Goods
So how do you come up with useless chicken parts for this broth? The Buffalo chicken wing fad has made wings more expensive than legs and thighs. Some cooks freeze chicken bones as they accumulate them, but unless you're careful about wrapping and marking freezer packages, you may find yourself with an unidentifiable, unusable bag of freezer-burned bones in six months. I came up with four alternatives.
Buying chicken backs is clearly the most inexpensive way to make broth for soup. My grocery store usually sells them for almost nothing. Although you may not find chicken backs for sale at just any meat counter, most grocery stores and meat markets will obtain them if you request them.
Rather than freeze chicken bones as I acquire them, I often cook them right away. For example, I rarely roast a whole chicken but instead usually remove the backbone and butterfly it (see page 83). That way, I end up with a back, a neck, wing tips and giblets. Once I've removed the back, I put it in the pot with the giblets and make a quick quart of broth while I'm cooking the chicken. You can make a small pot of soup from this amount, or you can go on and freeze the broth, which is much easier to store than a big bag of bones.
I've also discovered that whole legs, which are relatively inexpensive, make incredibly full-flavored broths for soup. In a side-by-side comparison of broth made from backs and broth made from whole legs, I found that the whole-leg broth was more flavorful than the all-bone broth. Just don't try to salvage the meat. After 25 minutes of sweating and another 20 minutes of simmering, it is devoid of flavor.
My favorite method requires a whole chicken. But rather than using the entire bird for the broth, I remove and reserve the breast for use in the final soup. The rest of the bird--the legs, back, wings and giblets--make up the broth. I particularly like this method's tidiness--one bird, one pot of soup.
HACK IT UP
CUTTING THE CHICKEN into small pieces is actually the most difficult part of making this soup. A meat cleaver, a heavy-duty chef's knife or a pair of heavy-duty kitchen shears makes the task fairly simple. Don't worry about precision: the point is to get the pieces small enough to release their flavorful juices in a short period of time.
Follow figures 1 through 7 for Butchering the Bird, page 98. Remove as little breast meat as possible when separating the wings from the breast; omit steps 5 and 6. Set the breasts aside. Cut up the remaining chicken in the following way:
1. Cut each back portion into six pieces.
2. Cut each of the wings at each of the two joints and, leaving the wing tip whole, halve the two remaining pieces.
3. Because of the large bones, the legs and thighs are the most difficult to break down. Hack each leg and thigh into three or four pieces.
Quick Full-Flavored Chicken Broth
MAKES SCANT 2 QUARTS
YOU CAN MAKE THIS BROTH from a 4-pound chicken instead of the legs and thighs called for here. Simply remove the breast first and reserve for another use. Cut up the back, wings, legs and thighs and proceed with the recipe.
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium onion, cut into medium dice
3 pounds legs and thighs, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 2-inch pieces (see illustrations on page 17) or 4 pounds chicken backs and/or bones, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 teaspoon salt
2 bay leaves
1. Heat oil in a large, heavy-bottomed soup kettle over medium-high heat. When oil shimmers, add onion and chicken pieces and saute until no longer pink, 5 to 7 minutes.
2. Reduce heat to low. Cover and cook until chicken releases its juices, about 20 minutes. Increase heat to high; add 2 quarts water (already boiling if you are in a hurry), salt and bay leaves. As soon as water comes to a simmer, immediately reduce heat to low again. Cover and simmer until broth is rich and flavorful, 20 to 30 minutes longer.
3. Strain and discard solids. Broth is ready to use. Or cool to room temperature and refrigerate or freeze.
Hearty Chicken Soup
MAKES ABOUT 3 QUARTS, SERVING 6 TO 8
BOIL THE WATER IN THIS RECIPE only if you are in a hurry. Otherwise, room-temperature water is preferable
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 medium onions, cut into medium dice
1 whole chicken (about 4 pounds), breast removed and split; remaining chicken cut into 2-inch pieces (see illustrations on page 17)
2 bay leaves
1 large carrot, peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 celery stalk, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
2 cups (3 ounces) hearty egg noodles
Ground black pepper
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley leaves
1. Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large soup kettle. Add half of chopped onions and all chicken pieces (reserve breast). Saute until chicken is no longer pink, 5 to 7 minutes. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until chicken releases its juices, about 20 minutes. Increase heat to high; add 2 quarts water (already boiling if you are in a hurry) along with the whole chicken breast, 1 teaspoon salt and bay leaves. Bring to a simmer, then cover, reduce heat to low and barely simmer until chicken breast is cooked and broth is rich and flavorful, 20 minutes longer.
2. Remove chicken breast from kettle; set aside. When cool enough to handle, remove skin from breast, then remove meat from bones and shred into bite-size pieces; discard skin and bones. Strain broth into a large bowl and discard any remaining chicken pieces and bones. Skim fat from broth and reserve 2 tablespoons. (Broth and meat can be covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days.)
3. Return soup kettle to medium-high heat. Add reserved chicken fat. Add remaining onion, along with carrot and celery. Saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add thyme, broth and shredded chicken. Simmer until vegetables are tender and flavors meld, 10 to 15 minutes. Add noodles and cook until just tender, about 5 minutes. Adjust seasonings, adding salt, if necessary and pepper, stir in parsley and serve.
2 pounds (6-7 medium) russet (Idaho) potatoes, scrubbed Salt
1 cup hot half-and-half or whole milk
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, softened Ground black pepper
1. Place potatoes in a large saucepan with cold water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat, then simmer, covered, until potatoes are just tender when pricked with a thin-bladed knife, about 20 minutes. Drain.
2. For perfectly white mashed potatoes, peel them. Drop them, 1 or 2 at a time, into a food mill and process them back into warm, dry saucepan. Add salt to taste and half-and-half or milk. With a rubber spatula, beat potatoes until fluffy. (For a lighter, pureed texture, beat potatoes with a wire whisk.) Add butter; continue to beat until melted. Generously season with lots of pepper and serve. (Potatoes can be transferred to a heatproof bowl, loosely covered with plastic wrap, and set over a pan of simmering water for up to 30 minutes.)