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Veal Stock -- a personal reflection

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JAZ   
I don't think it's anything close to a main text for a beginning cook; the information is too random and is not always reliable.

(emphasis mine) Do you mean the information isn't accurate?

I mean, more precisely, that it's often incomplete, and thus not reliable as a sole resource (for a beginner). You and I know something about cookware, but a beginner who reads:

Two heavy-gauge, stainless steel saute pans, one large, one small, with metal handles. A large, heavy-gauge stainless steel pot that holds between 6 and 8 quarts, and a small one that holds between 1-1/2 and 2 quarts. . . . That's it for pots and pans, those four are all you need forever.

and uses it as a guide to buying cookware will soon find out that "heavy-gauge stainless steel" isn't a material that cookware is typically made from. I'm sure that Mr. Ruhlman means heavy-gauge aluminum clad in stainless steel, but that's because I know cookware. A beginner isn't going to know that.

And if I pick an entry at random -- this one about mustard -- I read:

Not only a great condiment for a charcuterie platter or a hot dog, mustard is an all-purpose seasoning for sauces, if not a sauce itself -- combining pungency with acid and aromatics. . . . Mustard powders are ground mustard seeds. Coleman's mustard is a seed blend that's very pungent. Dijon is a blend of mustard powder and acid and aromatics. They're all very different. . . .

Again, you and I know when he's switching from talking about prepared mustard to mustard powder (Coleman's) and back again (Dijon), but will a beginner? It's not clear, and I think a text designed for a beginner has to be clear.

So that's what I mean by unreliable -- there's some interesting information in there, but previous culinary knowledge is necessary to evaluate it. In my opinion, it's simply not a very useful book for a beginner.


Janet A. Zimmerman, aka "JAZ"
Manager
jzimmerman@eGullet.org
eG Ethics signatory
Author, The Healthy Pressure Cooker Cookbook and All About Cooking for Two

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"heavy-gauge stainless steel" isn't a material that cookware is typically made from.

I searched for "heavy-guage stainless steel pot" and this was the second result listed click.

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Again, you and I know when he's switching from talking about prepared mustard to mustard powder (Coleman's) and back again (Dijon), but will a beginner?

Coleman's sell prepared mustards we well as mustard powder so isn't the distinction irrelevant?

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mrsadm   

Fat Guy/Steven,

In your review you stated, "Most cookbooks are part of a big con designed to keep amateur cooks in the dark. The high priesthood of cookbook editors has been sending a loud and clear message to homemakers for a century: “You can’t handle the truth!”"

Can you explain that a bit further? Do you mean that good cooking requires hard work and that to sell cookbooks, that fact is hidden? Or that there really are *special secrets* that only the privileged few know? It seems Ruhlman's book tends toward the latter.


*****

"Did you see what Julia Child did to that chicken?" ... Howard Borden on "Bob Newhart"

*****

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I've been enjoying the varied opinions and reviews in this thread. I'll be buying a copy simply because I really enjoy Ruhlman's writing.


Jon

--formerly known as 6ppc--

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slkinsey   
However, like many entries, [the entry on fat is] missing a crucial (one might say elemental) point: the importance of fat in producing the Maillard reaction when browning food on the stove. That's a lost opportunity, and particularly essential for those starting to cook who are prone to "save calories" by using insufficient amounts of fat in a thin, non-stick pan and likely to scorch their proteins instead of brown them.

I'm not sure how you mean this. Fat, of course, is not a required component of the Maillard reaction. On the other hand, fat is very useful in providing good thermal conduction from the pan to the protein, and may also facilitate Maillard reactions by, in effect, serving as a medium through though which the various components necessary for the Maillard reaction are introduced to one another (e.g., one often finds that the second piece of meat browned in the pan browns more rapidly than the first -- this is because the pan contains Maillard precursors from the previous piece).

I suppose your post reinforces somewhat the point that you and Janet are making: that books, or posts, that presuppose certain knowledge may also be perceived to contain certain "holes" (cookbooks from 150 years ago clearly presupposed a lot more basic cooking knowledge than they do today, with instructions such as "prepare in the usual way," etc.). All of which is to say the section of text I quote above demonstrates that it's harder to write something "without holes" than one might suppose, considering that most readers would take the above to mean that fat is a necessary chemical component of the Maillard reaction.


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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azlee   
However, like many entries, [the entry on fat is] missing a crucial (one might say elemental) point: the importance of fat in producing the Maillard reaction when browning food on the stove. That's a lost opportunity, and particularly essential for those starting to cook who are prone to "save calories" by using insufficient amounts of fat in a thin, non-stick pan and likely to scorch their proteins instead of brown them.

I'm not sure how you mean this. Fat, of course, is not a required component of the Maillard reaction. On the other hand, fat is very useful in providing good thermal conduction from the pan to the protein, and may also facilitate Maillard reactions by, in effect, serving as a medium through though which the various components necessary for the Maillard reaction are introduced to one another (e.g., one often finds that the second piece of meat browned in the pan browns more rapidly than the first -- this is because the pan contains Maillard precursors from the previous piece).

I suppose your post reinforces somewhat the point that you and Janet are making: that books, or posts, that presuppose certain knowledge may also be perceived to contain certain "holes" (cookbooks from 150 years ago clearly presupposed a lot more basic cooking knowledge than they do today, with instructions such as "prepare in the usual way," etc.). All of which is to say the section of text I quote above demonstrates that it's harder to write something "without holes" than one might suppose, considering that most readers would take the above to mean that fat is a necessary chemical component of the Maillard reaction.

slkinsey,

Your point is well made and exactly what I was driving at when I provided a definition of the Maillard reaction. While the addition of fat can affect the timing of the reaction it is certainly not a required component for the reaction. More critical would probably be some clarification of the differences between the Maillard reaction and carmelization. I haven't read Ruhlman's book yet, and so I do not know if he addresses that topic in the book.

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I'm not sure how you mean this. Fat, of course, is not a required component of the Maillard reaction.  On the other hand, fat is very useful in providing good thermal conduction from the pan to the protein, and may also facilitate Maillard reactions by, in effect, serving as a medium through though which the various components necessary for the Maillard reaction are introduced to one another (e.g., one often finds that the second piece of meat browned in the pan browns more rapidly than the first -- this is because the pan contains Maillard precursors from the previous piece).

That's right. I was underexplaining in that sentence you quoted, surmising that most of us know about the conduction properties of fat in a skillet and that fat isn't required for browning. But that knowledge you detail here is not common knowledge for the cook just starting out.

I suppose your post reinforces somewhat the point that you and Janet are making: that books, or posts, that presuppose certain knowledge may also be perceived to contain certain "holes" (cookbooks from 150 years ago clearly presupposed a lot more basic cooking knowledge than they do today, with instructions such as "prepare in the usual way," etc.).  All of which is to say the section of text I quote above demonstrates that it's harder to write something "without holes" than one might suppose, considering that most readers would take the above to mean that fat is a necessary chemical component of the Maillard reaction.

Another good point -- and I'll also add here that I don't think Ruhlman is claiming to write The Book for Newbies. I was addressing the question Anne posed.

I mean, let's face it: there's nothing without holes. Every book on cooking has to make certain decisions about its presumed audience and then explain certain obvious things while presupposing others. I've found the cookbooks that Ruhlman has (co-)written have done a very good job of targeting this particular reader (especially The French Laundry Cookbook and Charcuterie), and the balance between useful detail and overkill has often been spot-on. Having said that, I now crave far greater curing and sausage-making detail than Charcuterie provides, and the "holes" in the book are far more annoying.

Given the fact that Charcutierie is precisely the book that developed my skills sufficiently to form that critique, such annoyance is minor and possibly even unfair. As an introduction to the craft, Charcutierie delivered on its promise. My beef with Elements is that, for me, it does not do the same.


Chris Amirault

camirault@eGstaff.org

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Fat Guy   
Do you mean that good cooking requires hard work and that to sell cookbooks, that fact is hidden?  Or that there really are *special secrets* that only the privileged few know?

It's more a question of paternalism mixed with pandering. The US publishing industry has decided, for example, that home cooks can't handle measuring dry ingredients by weight, so nearly all non-professional cookbooks published here contain less accurate volume measures. Countless times, I've heard editors and authors say things like, "Oh, home cooks will never make stock," and "Oh, home cooks will never weigh ingredients." As a result, mainstream cookbooks don't actually give you the tools you need. Ruhlman's book tries, with mixed success, to give everybody those tools.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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annecros   

Thanks Chris and Janet for the input. I guess I'll need to read it myself to determine if it is applicable.

It is odd that my perception of where this book's niche is not in my collection (I have no problem finding a recipe for veal stock) but in my children's. It would be nice to demystify some things for them, and they tend to not take my word on some things.

"Sure, stock making is easy for YOU mom." as they roll their eyes.

I'm not sure where I got that perception from - probably a combination of the marketing, Ruhlman's own words, and the reviews here - and since I have never read the book, perhaps I am wrong.

But, let's face it, in the world of sales - perception is reality.

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Hombre   

As an enthusiastic home cook, I’m finding this book useful and entertaining. The Salt essay struck home as my wife and I too often take a first bite, look at each other, and say “more salt!” The recommendation to “salt early in the cooking process, whether seasoning meat or seasoning a soup” was a jolt, as mom taught me to season just before serving.

The Stock essay’s emphasis on veal stock was also surprising (and pretty convincing to me). So how do you get veal bones? Mr. Ruhlman offered some tips upthread that would have been helpful in the book. Frankly, I would also have appreciated a sentence or two on the ethics of eating veal. It’s not something I’m informed about, and would have liked an opinion on the subject.

Some of the criticisms here based on Michael Ruhlman’s comment about this book being “everything” a cook needs to know in the kitchen seem a bit harsh to me. Like The Elements of Style by Strunk, this is one guy’s take on the most important elements of a particular craft. It’s not encyclopedic. But there’s a lot to learn from this book for people like me who want to cook better. Worrying that it doesn’t measure up to the promised “everything” is like dismissing The Elements of Style for not being the Chicago Manual of Style. Which would you rather read?

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In the Elements of Cooking, Michael Ruhlman breaks the code of silence.

If there is a "code of silence", which I don't really accept is the case, then Ruhlman broke it a long time ago with Soul of a Chef, The French Laundry Cookbook or A Return to Cooking.

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Fat Guy   

Not only do those books not contain anything near the collection of information Elements provides -- perhaps bits and pieces, but nothing approaching it -- but also they are categorically different from Elements. That's why Ruhlman wrote Elements instead of saying "See my other books."

Like The Elements of Style by Strunk, this is one guy’s take on the most important elements of a particular craft.

I think both Elements set out to do something similar. The difference is that Strunk and White implement the concept brilliantly, and they therefore created a book for the ages. It is as comprehensive as a little volume can be, and it truly can catapult a beginning writer forward (and has done so for many). Every time I look at Strunk and White, I'm amazed at how much essential information is packed in there. It really is the one book you want to give to someone looking to advance. It really does replace books many times its size by separating the wheat from the chaff and focusing on the key essentials.

Ruhlman's implementation of the concept is weak by comparison. It promises more than Strunk and White, and delivers far, far less. I can't see why anybody would think it's unfair to point that out. Rather, I think it's a disservice not to point it out. Ruhlman took a brilliant concept and implemented it in a not-so-brilliant way. I'm glad he invented and wrote this book, but wish he had done a better job.

If you enjoy Rulman's writing, you'll enjoy this book. If you want to read some interesting albeit scattered insights on classical cooking technique, you'll get something out of Elements. If you want to see a few myths busted, I think that's the strongest element of Elements. But if you want a book that does what Elements says it's going to do, you'll find that Elements fails to deliver. Simple as that.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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annecros   

It is incredibly audacious to set out to write a reference based upon the Strunk and White model.

Hell, I was a clueless advertorial writer for a small town newspaper in the early 1990's, and by God my publisher practically smacked me across the face with "Elements of Style" and I am so glad he did. We only paid lip service to it in college, and I was an English major and a personal pet of the creative writing people. If it were not for Strunk and White, I would not have been nearly as successful in my first real, live writing job. I sold a bunch of ad space. I also figured out how to break the rules in an effective manner. I owe those old guys a hat tip for all that.

I think that "Elements of Style" became what it is after publication. Essential. It is incredibly difficult to set out to write an essential reference from the get go.

Good on Ruhlman for taking it on. It is a high bar to set for one's self. I would be pretty sure I could jump it before announcing it, though.

But then again, maybe it is like quitting smoking. Other people's expectations are what makes it happen. If you announce it, you are obligated to follow through.

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Not only do those books not contain anything near the collection of information Elements provides -- perhaps bits and pieces, but nothing approaching it -- but also they are categorically different from Elements. That's why Ruhlman wrote Elements instead of saying "See my other books."

I wasn't comparing the contents of Ruhlman's books, but challenging the idea that he had only just broken your notional "code of silence" with the publication of Elements. I think there is much more than "bits and pieces" of information which might be seen as "breaking the code of silence" in Ruhlman's back catalogue, but even if that were the case, it seems we agree the code had already been broken.

The basis of my skepticism about "the code" is based on over 20 years of collecting, reading and cooking from cookery books, along with a reasonable amount of time (for an unpaid amateur) working and hanging out in professional kitchens. Although I leant a lot about knife skills and other techniques in the pro kitchen and picked up a lot of good recipes along the way, I can't say there was anything I was either taught or observed that made me think "damn, they kept that secret!” It’s all out there in one form or another and has been for many years.

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Fat Guy   

I disagree. Mass-market cookbooks are intentionally dumbed down to meet the perceived needs of home cooks. The books you're talking about are, most likely, not relevant: professional books, advanced chef books, niche books, etc. You're not going to find this sort of information in Joy of Cooking or anything like it.

Andy, you write for a variety of magazines and surely deal with the occasional cookbook editor. You therefore must have experienced the code of silence many times. Haven't you ever tried to submit a real recipe only to have it dumbed down based on paternalistic notions of what the readers are ready for? Haven't you ever had a maddening discussion with a cookbook editor about stock, volume measures or anything like that? If not, then perhaps things in the UK are farther along than here in the US.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Caveat: I have not read the book, so my comments are based on the excerpt and Mr. Ruhlman’s comments in this thread. If Mr. Ruhlman had clearly opined that the French culinary tradition is the only one that produces worthwhile food, fine, we will agree to differ. Instead, he assumes that his opinion is universal. For example:

Do not expect to find food terms such as sofrito and soy sauce . . . .  Mayo IS in there, because it’s a fundamental.

Mayo is fundamental, but soy sauce is not? Two billion of the planet’s occupants might disagree, and another billion or two might not consider either to be fundamental. Mr. Ruhlman further states:

And yes, the book is Eurocentric, because the fundamentals of Western cuisine were first articulated and codified by the French—but the fundamentals themselves are universal.

The fundamentals of Western cuisine are universal only if one views other cuisines as inferior. Which Western fundamentals underlie the harmonious riot of Thai flavors or the sophisticated use of spices in India, chiles in Mexico, or textures in China?

I like opinionated writing, especially when the opinions are well-supported. I can also appreciate well-executed hyperbole. Mr. Ruhlman writes with power and passion, and I would certainly not suggest hobbling his prose by qualifying every statement. He has no obligation to explore beyond the confines of Western cuisines; he does have an obligation to characterize the book’s limited scope accurately.

I do applaud Mr. Ruhlman’s ambitious undertaking, and his willingness to discuss his book with the quibbling masses. Who knows – perhaps veal stock will do wonderful things for my tom yam gung or mole Poblano.

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The books you're talking about are, most likely, not relevant: professional books, advanced chef books, niche books, etc.

Andy, you write for a variety of magazines and surely deal with the occasional cookbook editor. You therefore must have experienced the code of silence many times.

I see where you're coming from now, I took you too literally. Yes, you've described my cook book collection quite accurately and, although I don't write recipes professionally, I recognise exactly what you're talking about.

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jgm   
And if (in all modesty :wink:) the Kansas Jayhawks ever lose a game in any major sport, giving me time to read, I look forward to finishing it.

Done yet, Judy? :biggrin::raz::raz::raz:

Whatcha reading next? :wink:

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mrsadm   
I disagree. Mass-market cookbooks are intentionally dumbed down to meet the perceived needs of home cooks. The books you're talking about are, most likely, not relevant: professional books, advanced chef books, niche books, etc. You're not going to find this sort of information in Joy of Cooking or anything like it.

Mass market cookbooks have taught me very little about real cooking, except how to waste ingredients on blah meals. Recipes only tell you how to throw things together.

I remember my first cooking "relevation": it was when I was making Coq au Vin from a Julia Child recipe. She said to make sure the mushrooms were dry, and to not crowd them in the saute pan, so they would not steam. Eureka, that made all the difference in their taste!

I think I am the "home cook" that is the target audience of this book. I have never been in a professional kitchen. I have taken about five 1-day cooking classes and learned the rest of what I know from books and TV. Tyler Florence's fried chicken is nice but I want to move beyond that. I am also not into Asian cooking or other cuisines (maybe someday, when I get this western Euro cooking thing right).

So I ran out on Saturday and bought this book. I think it's perfect for me! It seems like a great bunch of snapshots into a real chef's world. Insight into a professional cook's views. Usable hints and tips and advice that can be applied even using a dumbed-down recipe.


*****

"Did you see what Julia Child did to that chicken?" ... Howard Borden on "Bob Newhart"

*****

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And if (in all modesty :wink:) the Kansas Jayhawks ever lose a game in any major sport, giving me time to read, I look forward to finishing it.

Done yet, Judy? :biggrin::raz::raz::raz:

Whatcha reading next? :wink:

That's cruel - but not unusual.

I'm working my way back through Le Cordon Bleu's "The Professional Cook," certain I will find more chinks in Elements' armor. :wink:


Judy Jones aka "moosnsqrl"

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.

M.F.K. Fisher

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JAZ   
Here's how simple using veal stock is. Dice mushrooms, about a cup's worth, and mince a shallot. Have ready a quarter cup of tasty white wine and a cup of veal stock. Get a sauté pan smoking hot over high heat. Add a coating of oil, which should ripple when it hits the pan and begin to smoke. Toss in your mushrooms, let them cook for a few seconds, then stir -- the more browning you get the better the flavor -- and cook for a minute or so. Add the shallot and cook, add the white wine and continue cooking till it’s almost cooked off, then add the veal stock and bring it to a simmer. Add some salt and pepper, stir or swirl in a couple tablespoons of butter, and you have sauce for four portions of a meaty mild fish, such as halibut or cod, or slices of beef tenderloin.

In "The Making of a Chef," Ruhlman speaks a bit more in depth about the subject of the neutrality of brown veal stock. There, he clearly explains the position that brown veal stock is neutral, or "has the remarkable quality of taking on other flavors without imposing a flavor of its own." ("The Making of a Chef," page 27.) I understand this is the classical French way of thinking about veal stock, and it seems to be what the CIA is or was teaching, but I'm not sure the contemporary perspective embraces it.

The reason a lot of contemporary chefs don't -- as Ruhlman notes in "Elements" -- use veal stock is, as I understand it, specifically because veal stock does contribute it flavor to dishes. Thus, in many contemporary kitchens that use stock they make beef stock for beef dishes, pork stock for pork dishes, shellfish stock for shellfish dishes, etc. Or they go really old school and use jus. There are plenty of chefs out there who would argue, as I would, that veal stock, especially brown veal stock, is not neutral at all -- that all you need to do is make a sauce for fish with it and you'll see that the term neutral is a misnomer.

I followed Mr. Ruhlman's directions for this sauce, with two differences: I used red wine instead of white (because I had it and also because I was using the sauce with beef) and I reduced the sauce a bit before adding the butter (because it was way too thin). It was very good; I can see the points about texture, certainly.

But I agree with Steven: this was not a neutral sauce. I can't, in a million years, imagine serving it with fish, unless for some reason I wanted to substantially mask the taste of the fish.


Janet A. Zimmerman, aka "JAZ"
Manager
jzimmerman@eGullet.org
eG Ethics signatory
Author, The Healthy Pressure Cooker Cookbook and All About Cooking for Two

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Here's how simple using veal stock is. Dice mushrooms, about a cup's worth, and mince a shallot. Have ready a quarter cup of tasty white wine and a cup of veal stock. Get a sauté pan smoking hot over high heat. Add a coating of oil, which should ripple when it hits the pan and begin to smoke. Toss in your mushrooms, let them cook for a few seconds, then stir -- the more browning you get the better the flavor -- and cook for a minute or so. Add the shallot and cook, add the white wine and continue cooking till it’s almost cooked off, then add the veal stock and bring it to a simmer. Add some salt and pepper, stir or swirl in a couple tablespoons of butter, and you have sauce for four portions of a meaty mild fish, such as halibut or cod, or slices of beef tenderloin.
I followed Mr. Ruhlman's directions for this sauce, with two differences: I used red wine instead of white (because I had it and also because I was using the sauce with beef) and I reduced the sauce a bit before adding the butter (because it was way too thin). It was very good; I can see the points about texture, certainly.

But I agree with Steven: this was not a neutral sauce. I can't, in a million years, imagine serving it with fish, unless for some reason I wanted to substantially mask the taste of the fish.

Ah, but you didn't follow the recipe. :smile: Use white wine next time. I have made sauce for fish with veal stock, and believe it or not, it works. But not with red wine.

You said the sauce was very thin...had you cooked down the stock? It should be practically solid when cold, and fairly viscous when warmed.


Edited by hjshorter (log)

Heather Johnson

In Good Thyme

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I tore though my copy of The Elements of Cooking this weekend, and Ruhlman is preaching to the choir here. Elements is a distillation of the classical asskicking dished out at the CIA and and lesser schools, formatted for easy reference by the home cook. He's getting flack for not producing a universal text, and it's true, he hasn't. He states right on the cover that he is translating the chef's craft, not the cook's craft, and his use of the French term is deliberate. Those bemoaning the lack of soy sauce and barbecue are wasting their time. If you want the ur-text for Sichuan cooking, this ain't it, and it wasn't meant to be. If you want to cook as if you have a passing familiarity with the brigade system, then pick it up. His emphasis on veal stock is a touch overblown (I completely agree that it enhances everything it touches, but the home cook can get away with using other stocks) but the essays on proper salting and the role of eggs in the kitchen are worth the cost of the book, and any home cook who wants a deeper understanding of those topics should start right here before putting on the scuba gear and diving into McGee's On Food And Cooking.

A quibble. He writes:

Recipes are not assembly manuals. You can’t use them the way you use instructions to put together your grill or the rec room Ping-Pong table. Recipes are guides and suggestions for a process that is infinitely nuanced.
Well, yes. But learning to follow a recipe is essential for the beginning cook. It's the grounding in the basics at culinary school (I survived a local institution here in Washington DC) that gives a cook the basis to experiment, and an instinctive proficiency that serves well when applied to other cuisines. For instance, learning to do a proper mise en place makes Thai cuisine, with its long lists of ingredients, much less daunting.

If his mantra “How to perfect a good recipe: Do it over again. And again. Pay attention. Do it again.” strikes you as affected machismo, then the real world instruction "This is bullshit. Do it again." is going to hurt your feelings. :laugh: Far from being put off, I found the finger-wagging in Elements crucial in these days of Rachael Ray, Food TV's paragon of the soft bigotry of low expectations. Book store shelves are groaning with books advocating half-assed technique, but finesse is vital and that essay may be the most important bit of information in the book. Finesse can be tasted in fine food and seen in the presentation, it's what makes places like The French Laundry worth the expense, and it makes Thomas Keller's cookbooks worth the hair pulling. The results are superior. It's worth the care and attention to detail. If you want a meal in thirty minutes, you know where to go and you might as well put the book down now. It's not going to tell you to open a few bags and call it dinner.

Do it. Do it again. Practice. Pay attention. Don't take short cuts.

Hallelujah! Preach it, brother Ruhlman. Can I get an amen?


Edited by hjshorter (log)

Heather Johnson

In Good Thyme

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