Anyone who can understand the reasoning behind basic cooking techniques can become a creative, relaxed, and confident cook. Chalmers takes the would-be chef through how the addition or substitution of a few ingredients can transform a simple dish into a culinary masterpiece.
The Confident Cook, invaluable to experienced cooks as well as to beginners, demonstrates that in fact there are only four or five basic methods of cooking food. Once mastered, these basic methods can be used with many different ingredients to create countless dishes. Chalmers shows how beef stew, braised veal, coq au vin, and a vegetable casserole, for example, are similar in their preparation; how a simple beef stew can become a hearty Mulligan, a Belgian carbonnade, a French boeuf bourguingnon, or your own less classic invention. More important, she shows how you can whip up something delectable from whatever supplies you have available without being tied to a recipe with specified ingredients.
About two hundred recipes are given with logical and practical directions, and some seventy-five original line drawings clearly illustrate each technique and some of the finished dishes. But the heart of this book is the information that makes it possible to dispense altogether with recipes and to start experimentingconfidently and successfullywith your own creative cooking ideas.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
BROWN BEEF STOCK VEAL, LAMB, CHICKEN, OR FISH STOCK CHICKEN AND CLAM BROTH CLARET CONSOMMÉ TOMATO CONSOMMÉ JELLIED MADRILÈNE ONION SOUP VEGETABLE SOUP WITH BEEF CHICKEN SOUP WITH RICE TOMATO SOUP TOMATO AND CLAM SOUP TOMATO SOUP WITH BEER AND DILL TOMATO-ORANGE SOUP ASPARAGUS SOUP CAULIFLOWER SOUP POTATO SOUP VICHYSSOISE WATERCRESS VICHYSSOISE PEAR AND TURNIP SOUP CARROT SOUP MUSHROOM AND BARLEY SOUP
I remember a story about a soup told by a friend who was an apprentice at a formidable French restaurant. The proprietors were justly proud that all of their ingredients were at the peak of perfection. The vegetables and herbs were grown on their own land, and the fish was brought in daily from the rivers and lakes in the vicinity.
The fish chef was an irascible fellow who worked entirely on his own and silently, except for snarling at anybody who came near his section of the kitchen. He was also a creature of habit. Early each morning he would don his white chef's hat and go out into the adjoining garden to gather bouquets of herbs, which he then laid out in neat bunches along the length of his chopping block.
Next he arranged one of each type of fish in military formation, heads forward, tails to the rear. Then the work began. Stooping over his fish, he confronted them, eyeball to gleaming eyeball. Hands bent on chubby knees, he smelled each fish and each herb. Then, slowly and thoughtfully, he selected one herb from this bunch and one from that and chopped them into myriads of combinations. He put a little tarragon in this group, a touch of sorrel in another, and a few curls of parsley here and there. The gentle, soothing rhythm of chopping continued until each herb was so fine it could dance an arabesque on the head of a pin. Each combination of herbs was then matched to each fish until the parade was flanked with small mounds of fragrance.
The inspection then began again. The chef picked up the first fish in line, rubbed a pinch of herbs onto its shiny skin, sniffed it delicately, smiled smugly to himself, wiped his hands on his clean white apron, and proceeded to the next. By the time he had reached the end of the line, he was supremely content. His apron was green with sweet-smelling herbs and very slightly fishy.
One memorable night, the apprentice chef stole the master's apron, which by now had become a historical record of the day's activities. He dropped the flavored apron into a broth and simmered it gently for twenty minutes. The result was a glorious fish soup.
That is the way soup is made. You take a little of this and a little of that, and, if it pleases you, you put it all together and cook it until it is done. There are no hard-and-fast rules for making soup, but if you look at the following recipes it is extraordinary how similar they all are. Keeping the proportions of the ingredients the same, you can substitute one vegetable or meat for another and one herb for another. The basic liquid may be chicken broth, beef broth, beer, wine, milk, fruit juice, or even water. By rearranging your palette, you can make an infinite variety of soups.
A clear soup is simply a flavored liquid, made by simmering one or many ingredients in a broth. Chicken broth, beef consommé, and jellied madrilène are all clear soups, which are sometimes used as the basis for other soups. Sometimes two flavored liquids are combined; if you add red wine to beef broth, for example, you will have made a claret consommé. Having produced a marvelous-tasting base, you can add one, two, or many more ingredients to give the soup a greater variety of taste and texture. If you add some vermicelli to the claret consommé, for example, the soup will gain another dimension. A touch of lemon juice will heighten the flavor, and a garnish of finely chopped chives completes a simple masterpiece.
Chicken broth can be built into a more substantial soup in a similar way, perhaps, by adding pieces of chicken and a little rice. If you think you might still be hungry, you could add a handful of carrots, peas, tomatoes, green peppers, chopped spinach, and/or herbs. When the soup is ready, each ingredient should retain its own form and be clearly identifiable.
The ultimate flavor of clear soups, as of all other soups, rests on the quality of the basic broth. Very few people have the time or the inclination to prepare homemade stock to be used as a soup base. Some of the commercially canned chicken and beef broths are both excellent and inexpensive, and though, undeniably, they are not so good as the homemade variety, they are satisfactory alternatives. In case you decide to prepare your own stock, this is how to go about it.
BASIC BROTH (STOCK)
Stock is derived from the long, slow simmering of meat bones, aromatic vegetables, and a group of herbs known as a bouquet garni. Stock is the foundation on which almost all soups, sauces, and stews are built. It is easy to make, and it takes only a few minutes to assemble the ingredients, but the actual cooking time is lengthy.
There are very few things to remember about stock, but each one is important. First you must decide what kind of stock you will make. Naturally, you would use beef bones for a pure beef stock and chicken bones (backs and wings) for chicken stock. However, if you just want to have fine-tasting, all-purpose broth in the kitchen, you can combine beef and chicken bones.
The foundation of stock is a good bone. A good beef bone is one that has meat clinging to it and some marrow inside it. The beef will give the broth flavor, and the collagen content of the bone will cause the stock to gel and give it body. (The marrow also tastes delicious!) It is best to use raw bones for stock; cooked meat bones and leftover chicken bones do not have enough flavor and make the stock cloudy. The vegetables must be fresh and of good quality. If you are in any doubt about whether to throw a vegetable into the garbage or the soup pot, let your conscience be your guide, and ignore all those tales about stock pots that simmer for generations.
Soup and fish explain half the emotions of life.
The aromatic vegetables most often used in both beef and chicken stock are carrots, onions, and celery. Tomatoes and other fresh vegetables may be added, but don't use strong-tasting vegetables such as spinach and turnips unless you have a specific purpose for using the stock. After the vegetables, add the herbs — a few peppercorns, a bay leaf, parsley, and thyme. (It is neither necessary nor wise to add salt at this point; if the stock boils down too rapidly, it may become too salty.) Finally, fill the pot with cold water so that the ingredients are barely covered, place it over a gentle flame, and allow it to simmer slowly, partially covered, for 6 hours. Then strain the liquid and discard the meat bones and vegetables (they will no longer have any taste). Chill the liquid to make the fat rise, so that it can be skimmed off easily.
Stock will keep in the refrigerator for at least a week, but it should be boiled again every three days to prevent it from becoming sour. It can also be frozen. You can freeze the stock as it is or, if your freezer space is limited, boil it, uncovered, until it has reduced to a small quantity. Freeze the concentrated stock in ice-cube trays and reconstitute it with water as you need it. You will need to taste it to estimate how much water to add.
BROWN BEEF STOCK
Yield: approximately 2 quarts of stock, depending on how fast the stock is boiled. (Ideally, it should be maintained at the simmering point.)
2½ pounds beef bones, with meat clinging to the bones
1. Place the bones in a heavy roasting pan and allow them to roast, uncovered, in their own fat in a preheated 350° F. oven for 20 minutes.
2. Add the vegetables and allow them to brown for 10 minutes.
3. Transfer the bones and vegetables into a large saucepan or casserole. Discard the fat from the roasting pan and add ½ cup cold water. Scrape the bottom of the pan with a spatula to release the browned pieces clinging to the surface. Add this flavored liquid to the casserole with the herbs and enough cold water to barely cover the ingredients.
4. Simmer over gentle heat for 6 hours. The lid should be adjusted so that it almost covers the pot. (Allow a little opening so that some evaporation and concentration of the broth will take place.)
5. Strain the stock and discard the vegetable pulp and the bones. Allow to cool to room temperature.
6. Chill in the refrigerator for 6 hours more to allow the fat to come to the surface and congeal. Skim off the fat. The stock is now ready to use or to freeze.
VEAL, LAMB, CHICKEN, OR FISH STOCK
Veal, lamb, and chicken stock are all made in almost exactly the same way as beef stock. However, it is not necessary to brown the bones and vegetables if you are not using beef. Simply eliminate this step and place the same quantity of bones, vegetables, and herbs in a large saucepan. Add enough water to barely cover all the ingredients. Simmer veal and lamb stock for 4 hours and chicken stock for 3 hours.
To make fish stock, use the head, bones, and skin of the fish and simmer with the vegetables and herbs for 20 minutes. Equal quantities of dry white wine and water may be used as the liquid.
These stocks, or flavored broths, become the liquid part of soups, stews, or sauces and may be served, thickened, with the meat, chicken, or fish or separately as a soup.
CHICKEN AND CLAM BROTH
Some soups are made simply by combining two flavored broths.
4 cups chicken broth
Pour the chicken broth and clam juice into a saucepan. Add the basil and simmer for 5 minutes. Serve in mugs with a sandwich.
This soup is a combination of two flavored liquids, with the added texture of vermicelli. It makes an excellent transition between cocktails and buffet dining. Double or triple the quantities to serve more guests.
½ cup vermicelli, broken into ½-inch pieces
1. Cook the vermicelli in plenty of boiling salted water for 8 minutes. Drain.
2. Pour the beef broth, wine, and lemon juice into a saucepan. Bring to the simmering point and add the vermicelli. Simmer for 3 minutes until the vermicelli is hot.
3. Garnish with chives.
A thin tomato soup is a good choice for serving before a substantial steak dinner. The base of the soup is chicken broth flavored with tomatoes, herbs, spices, and wine.
1 16-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes
1. Place the tomatoes with their juice from the can in a saucepan. Add all the remaining ingredients except the wine and the parsley. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
2. Strain the soup and return it to the saucepan. Add the wine.
3. Serve hot with a garnish of parsley.
This is a simple tomato-flavored broth. The gelatin enables it to "set." If you omit the gelatin, you can serve this soup in the winter and call it consommé madrilène.
4 cups chicken broth
1. Pour the chicken broth and tomato purée into a saucepan. Add the tomato paste and simmer for 5 minutes.
2. Pour the wine into a small bowl. Sprinkle the surface of the wine with gelatin and allow it to stand undisturbed for 5 minutes, until the gelatin has softened. Stir the gelatin mixture into the simmering soup.
3. Remove the soup from the heat, allow to cool to room temperature, and chill for 4 hours.
4. Stir the jellied soup with a fork and spoon it into individual bowls. Garnish with chives.
2 tablespoons butter
1. Heat the butter in a skillet.
2. Add the onions and fry them over low heat for 7 minutes until they are softened but not browned.
3. Stir in the flour and cook for 2 minutes.
4. Add the onions to the broth, season with salt and pepper, and simmer the soup for 30 minutes.
5. Ladle the soup into individual bowls. Float a round of French bread in each bowl. (If you cannot find a good-quality French bread, use 3-inch circles of a firm-textured bread, toasting the bread before using.)
6. Divide the cheeses among the bowls and place the bowls under a preheated broiler until the cheese has browned lightly and formed a bubbling crust over the soup.
... this is every cook's opinion, No savory dish without an onion, But lest your kissing should be spoiled, Your onions must be thoroughly boiled ...
VEGETABLE SOUP WITH BEEF This vegetable soup is a master plan for many clear soups, demonstrating how each ingredient is added in a sequence according to the length of time it must be cooked in order to become tender.
1 tablespoon butter
1. Heat the butter until it is bubbling.
2. Fry the onion, garlic, carrots, and celery for 3 minutes until softened.
3. Add the beef broth, thyme or savory, salt, and pepper and simmer for 5 minutes.
4. Add the tomato purée, chopped tomato, beef pieces, beans, and peas. Simmer for 15 minutes, until the beans and peas are tender.
5. Serve, garnished with parsley.
CHICKEN SOUP WITH RICE
The flavors of the chicken, vegetables, and herbs pass into the water to form a flavored broth. Rice is added to the broth to make a substantial soup. A cup of carrots, peas, tomatoes, or any other vegetable may also be added to the soup along with the rice.
1 2-pound chicken, cut up
1. Place the chicken and the giblets, except for the liver, in a large saucepan. (Do not add the liver, because it will make the broth cloudy.) Add the onion, carrot, celery, bay leaf, thyme, peppercorns, parsley, and water. Adjust the lid so that the saucepan is three-quarters covered. Bring to the boiling point. Lower the heat and simmer for 45 minutes.
2. Remove the chicken from the broth and set it aside until it is cool enough to handle. Separate the chicken from the skin and bones. Cut the meat into bite-ized pieces and reserve. Return the skin and bones to the saucepan. Partially cover the pan and simmer for 1½ hours.
3. Strain the broth, cool a bit, and chill it in the refrigerator for 8 hours. Remove and discard the fat, which will have risen to the surface.
4. Pour the broth into a saucepan and bring it to the boiling point. Stir in the rice, carrot strips, sage, salt, and pepper. Lower the heat, cover the pan, and simmer for 15 minutes.
5. Add the reserved chicken meat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the cream (if desired).
6. Serve the soup, garnished with parsley.
There are several kinds of thick soup. One is really a clear soup that has been thickened by the addition of a starch in the form of flour, cornstarch, potatoes, rice, or beans. Another kind of soup is thickened by puréeing it in a blender. Soups are sometimes also thickened and enriched with egg yolks. And finally, soup will also become thicker if it is boiled to reduce the quantity of liquid.
It seems logical enough just to stir some flour into a thin soup and expect it to become thick miraculously. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. When flour or cornstarch is added to a hot liquid, it immediately forms itself into small lumps, which doggedly refuse to dissolve no matter how desperately you implore them simply to go away. Egg yolks behave in equally appalling fashion, spinning themselves off into long, yellow, stringy whines of protest. The whole procedure of thickening soups is somewhat like sending out wedding invitations. You cannot invite one relative without offending another who has not been so favored. Flour must be combined with butter, cornstarch needs to be mixed with cold water, and egg yolks crave the companionship of cream. Each ingredient has to be dealt with on its own terms and with its own chosen partner.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Confident Cook"
Copyright © 1975 Irena Chalmers.
Excerpted by permission of Picador.
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.
Table of Contents
Foreword by Anne Willan,
2. Casserole Cooking,
8. Frying and Sautéing,
9. Deep-Fat Frying,
10. Scrambled Eggs and Omelettes,
11. Crêpes and Their Relatives,
12. Mousses and Cold Soufflés,
Also by Irena Chalmers,
About the Authors,