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On Cooking
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Author:  s1m0n [ Fri Nov 17, 2017 8:56 pm ]
Post subject:  On Cooking

I've just read a book about cooking called Salt Fat Acid Heat that I read a review of in the NYT a few months back, and got into the queue for at the library. My turn finally came up, so I've tackled it. The core of the book is the author's observation that the heart of cooking, world wide, is learning command of the four eponymous elements. The book starts with four long chapters discussing the above in both general and specific terms, explaining why any specific instruction on these in any particular recipe does what it does, how that affects the outcome, and how to vary technique or substitute ingredients with confidence and results you can predict. IMO, way too few cookbooks do this. In fact, I find the general recipe book tendency - do this exactly, with exactly these ingredients, and I'm not going to tell you why - infuriating. So this approach is welcome.

The back half of the book consists of recipes and variants, as well as a few that are designed as object lessons to teach specific techniques or principals, as well as longer digressions that were to me more interesting than the recipes. I read the first half with more interest than the latter. A lot of the recipes are foods I don't eat or can't afford. If I owned a copy of the book, I'd prolly work through some at leisure, but I'll have to return this copy soon enough, so I'm just going to have take what profit I can from the more general info. Anyway, you might like it.

She also has some nifty 'colourwheel' charts of world cuisines that show you which salt, fat, acid and heat elements predominate in which cuisines, so that using her system, you can make fake international food. Or go to a restaurant and understand what you're tasting. I thought these were valuable, but it was reference material - too much to take in on a single read.

Author:  Nanohedron [ Sun Nov 19, 2017 3:31 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: On Cooking

s1m0n wrote:
Or go to a restaurant and understand what you're tasting.

This alone is valuable. You don't typically get such a holistic approach in cookbooks. Looks like a rare find.

Author:  An Draighean [ Sun Nov 19, 2017 4:26 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: On Cooking

Thanks for the recommendation Simon, i am going to order a copy for my wife and I to read.

Author:  chas [ Sun Nov 19, 2017 6:55 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: On Cooking

This sounds right up my alley. I love cooking, and while I'll follow a recipe that I find (usually) in the newspaper, I more often make things up. We don't often go to restaurants, but when we do, either my wife or I will often find something we like that I've never heard of. So I try to remember how it tasted (and felt), and try to create it. I'm usually successful, but having a book like this with some theory will be helpful. It's going on my wish list.

Cheers, Charlie

Author:  s1m0n [ Mon Nov 20, 2017 5:16 am ]
Post subject:  Re: On Cooking

The author describes how, early in her cooking apprenticeship, she held the position of Gardes Manger at Chez Panisse, a San Francisco joint then famous as the best restaurant in the US. In her account, the gardes manger comes in at six AM and conducts a detailed inventory of every foodstuff in the restaurant. She then reported this info to a meeting of the restaurant's top chefs, where the day's menu ideas would be hashed out while everyone sat and peeled garlic. Once the chefs knew what they had & what their purveyors were due to supply, they'd brainstorm and devise the day's menu. It was different every day.

She never had the confidence to utter a peep at any of these meetings, but this approach - starting with a pile of ingredients, and then deciding what can be done with them - informs her entire kitchen philosophy.

It also flatters the management at Chez Panisse that even the lowly apprentices got to sit in on such decisions. In fact, reading between the lines, it seems that teaching was an important part of what they saw as their mission. I don't know how much they were paying the author at the time, but it's clear that she was on the payroll. She had nothing to contribute to the meeting, so she was being paid to learn.

This resto has already spawned several cookbooks, and it's not hard to see why.

Author:  Tunborough [ Mon Nov 20, 2017 6:27 am ]
Post subject:  Re: On Cooking

Mark Bittman takes steps in that direction in his cookbooks: encyclopedic catalogue of ingredients with ways they can be prepared and combined. His recipes are meant as suggestions, not absolute prescriptions.

From your description of the book, Samin Nosrat looks even deeper at the fundamentals: how ingredients combine to produce specific effects. Our local library branch has a copy, so I'll take a look.

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