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Adjustments Home Cooks Must Make When Using Pro Cookbooks


Chris Amirault
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Over in the Cooking with Modernist Cuisine topic, Anna N raised a great point about cooking with a book assuming a professional audience:

For example, there is little indication of pan size or of heat level - it is assumed you will figure these out for yourself. So I am finding that a proper mise makes a huge difference - if you can see the ingredients assembled in your mise then you can easily determine the size of pan you will need. The recipes assume you know what saute actually means so there is no instruction such as "over medium high-heat.....". I am learning too, that one needs to figure out yields esp. if you intend to deviate from the recipe.

Seemed like a great topic to me. I can think of a few other aspects that might challenge:

  • weight-based measurements instead of volume;
  • production-sized pans, sheets, containers, ovens, and so on;
  • a team of dishwashers and line cooks to do all the grunt prep and clean-up.

What other adjustments do you make when you pick up one of the professional cookbooks?

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Actually, I found "pan size" to be a problem with the Guinness pâte de fruit from Modernist Cuisine as well: it says to cast the gel base into a mold, but doesn't indicate how big the mold should be. I used an 8" x 8" baking pan, and I'd say it ended up a little on the thin side.

In any case, the big adjustment I make when cooking from, say, Alinea is a temporal one: I almost always spread the work out over several days, rather than trying to get through all of it in one and have the dish on the table in time for dinner. Often, dishes like that have so many components that you can't possibly get through them all in one day by yourself, and many of the components will hold just fine for a few days.

Matthew Kayahara

Kayahara.ca

@mtkayahara

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Your average person doesn't have room to hold 7 or 8 types of stock on hand and lots of professional cookbooks use odd stocks that you'll probably only use for the particular recipe you're making (as I write this I'm reminded of that picture in The French Laundry with the line of reduced stocks).

For example, I don't use duck stock a lot so when a recipe calls for it I've got to decide whether is is worth spending the better part of the day making stock for the one cup of it I need for the scaled down recipe. It makes sense in a professional kitchen because I would have prep cooks to make the stock, there's room to store, and you're going to use a lot of it anyway. You're unlikely to see stocks that you can't find in the can or box in a home cookbook.

ETA: I've found that a lot of home cookbook authors who are really just restaurant chefs have a hard time scaling stuff down for the average joe. I've gotten into recipes with multiple component recipes that take well over a day to accomplish and leave me with excess amounts of the components that I just throw out because they either won't keep or I can't think of a way to repurpose.

Edited by BadRabbit (log)
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I have read that many quite respectable restaurants use chicken stock for almost everything these days. Of course one can define respectable in many ways...

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For me it's looking at a recipe and, if it's one with lots of non-standard ingredients, figuring out which ones I can substitute without changing the recipe too much. As BadRabbit said, sometimes you don't want to spend $50 and an entire day making duck stock, only to use a cup or less, and really, how much is that going to be noticed in place of chicken stock if it's just one of many ingredients?

Same thing with stuff that you have to buy large quantities of just to use a little bit. Case in point: I made the Mushroom Ketchup from Modernist Cuisine a while back, and it called for honey, molasses, and barley malt syrup. I had honey and molasses around, but the only barley malt syrup I could find in town was a 3 pound can from the beer supply store. The recipe called for a tablespoon or so. Yes, barley malt syrup does have a distinctive taste, but I can't imagine that it really changed the final ketchup much when I used more honey and molasses instead.

Note: I'm not saying that making substitutions doesn't matter at all, or that if you want to replicate the recipe faithfully that following the ingredients doesn't matter. But you can usually substitute some things and still produce a successful, if not entirely accurate-to-the-source, recipe.

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ETA: I've found that a lot of cookbook authors who are really just restaurant chefs have a hard time scaling stuff down for the average joe.

And of course, in more professional books, they aren't scaled down at all. The recipes may be for large quantities, leaving you with the chore of figuring our how to scale it down. There are a few books, like Jeffrey Hamelman's Bread, that try to have it both ways, but the instructions are still mainly structured for the professional user. On the other hand, these books sometimes have a wealth of detailed information and descriptions of techniques that would be glossed over or ignored in a home-cook book.

"I think it's a matter of principle that one should always try to avoid eating one's friends."--Doctor Dolittle

blog: The Institute for Impure Science

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Mainly a little experience, I think, is the requirement. The essence of "home" cookbooks IMO is that they try to be explicit instead of allusive -- for the recipes to be self-contained.

For many years I've consulted both the Guide Culinaire, Escoffier's professional reference cookbook, and Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Child, Bertholle, and Beck). The latter (I think counting its sequel, "Vol. 2") has about one-tenth of the former's 5012 recipes, expanded and explained so that anyone can do them without knowing a lot of context like "from another duck of any age prepare a generous deciliter of greaseless stock for later use" or "finish with a very rich Sauce Nantua."

To its credit, I sometimes find useful experience tips in Mastering, especially of the "we tried X, which seemed obvious, but didn't work, so do Y" practicality.

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Eight or nine years ago I bought a copy of the Pro Chef (7th edition) and the recipes are very easy to scale down, especially since most of the ingredients are measured by weight - ounces and grams. Between my HP calculator and Salter digital scale (that measures in oz. and grams) scaling is easy.

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One thing that's common to a lot of restaurant books is that any given recipe actually has two or more sub-recipes. Sometimes they're with the main recipe but often you just get a page number. It's not a big problem, but it can mean a lot more work that you expect at first glance.

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Hold on a minute!

What (apart from Escoffier) are you calling "pro" books?

I have rather a lot of food books, and I was trying to think which of them might describe real 'pro' (precisely as done for business) cooking.

If we leave aside baking books, I'm not sure I have ANY 'pro' books.

I do have lots of book-of-the-restaurant titles, but they don't tell you what they actually do in the restaurant!

The thing is that 'home cooking' and the published recipes have an expectation of 4/6/8 people sitting down to eat the exact same thing at the exact same time.

Now, I've been in restaurants where the occasional dish is designed for 2 diners to share - but don't recall experiencing the whole table always being required to order the same meal ... (OK, there's downstairs at Chez Panisse, but I've only eaten in the Café - and I haven't been to Sally Clarke's ... so there are some exceptions, but not very many!)

I don't think I actually have ANY books that describe bulk prep to hold points (with holding how-to detailed) followed by individual finishing and assembly at short notice. Which is what almost every restaurant has to do.

Les Halles is a signpost. Strangely, maybe 'Under Pressure' comes closest ... and Tom Kitchin deserves an honourable mention for 'From Nature to Plate' (AmazonUK link) albeit that it is clearly written for the home cook!

Edited by dougal (log)

"If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch ... you must first invent the universe." - Carl Sagan

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Also, "weight-based" being an issue is a US peculiarity, not a professional vs home cooks difference.

Most of my home cookbooks from other countries have always used weight measures when appropriate and when a volume measure fundamentally makes no sense (like ingredients of widely varying density -- chopped ingredients, different grain flours, pastas, etc.)

I hope (since we exhausted the topic a few years back, it seems) everyone here has heard about the modern generation of inexpensive, accurate, compact digital scales. For US $20 or so in any specialty cookware shop you can get a mass-produced European digital gram/ounce scale that's conveniently flat. When not using mine, I put it in a light plastic bag to keep off any dust, and file it on a shelf, sideways, just like a book.

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Dougal - In case you're referring to my post about the "Pro Chef", this is the book - from the CIA. Professional Chef

As someone who is only an amateur home cook I've found it quite helpful, and probably the most referenced among all my cookbooks.

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What (apart from Escoffier) are you calling "pro" books?

There are quite a few contemporary ones (Escoffier's is historic rather than modern, anyway no one seems to make Sauce Nantua any more, alas ...) They just don't surface in pop media. Janericco's series on soups, hors d'euvres and catering, etc. Institional recipe cookbooks (one of my favorites tipped me off on how to make "grilled" sandwiches in bulk, in an oven. Recipe starts, of course, with ten loaves of sliced bread, for a basic batch of 180 sandwiches ...)

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Under Pressure is absolutely a pro book. ...

... with most recipes making 4 servings? I don't believe Keller is suggesting that's the way his kitchens actually work.

... Institional recipe cookbooks (one of my favorites tipped me off on how to make "grilled" sandwiches in bulk, in an oven. Recipe starts, of course, with ten loaves of sliced bread, for a basic batch of 180 sandwiches ...)

That definitely sounds like it isn't written for the home cook!

I do have 'Manual of a traditional bacon curer' (but I wouldn't recommend it, except to the insatiably curious) where the bacon recipes are essentially 'per pig', and the sausage recipes tend to use 40 to 60lb of meat.

Maybe the need for a sympathetic editor is a distinguishing characteristic of books aimed at the industry rather than the consumer market? The 'Manual' definitely was lacking one - there are quantities unspecified ("an appropriate quantity of ...") and rather a lot of loose ends left hanging.

Edited by dougal (log)

"If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch ... you must first invent the universe." - Carl Sagan

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Also, "weight-based" being an issue is a US peculiarity, not a professional vs home cooks difference.

Most of my home cookbooks from other countries have always used weight measures when appropriate and when a volume measure fundamentally makes no sense (like ingredients of widely varying density -- chopped ingredients, different grain flours, pastas, etc.)

I hope (since we exhausted the topic a few years back, it seems) everyone here has heard about the modern generation of inexpensive, accurate, compact digital scales. For US $20 or so in any specialty cookware shop you can get a mass-produced European digital gram/ounce scale that's conveniently flat. When not using mine, I put it in a light plastic bag to keep off any dust, and file it on a shelf, sideways, just like a book.

I was a bit surprised when I realized that US home cooks generally do not own scales. Except for eggs, which are almost never given by weight, almost all other ingredients in European recipes for home cooking are given in kg and g (liquids in l and ml). Produce like onion, cloves of garlic etc. is sometimes simply counted, but that makes scaling a pain. (And how should I know which onions a recipe's author thinks of as "medium"? Most of the time, stuff like that is not a problem, but when a recipe for filled onions intended as main course for four, home many should I use as side dish for 12? :wink: )

Anyway, I can heartily recommend the Soehnle "Page" digital scale. It is flat, has an easily cleanable glass surface and works very well. If you need to cook professional quantities, there is a "Page Pro" version available. Like MaxH, I store it upright in the cupboard.

As for professional cookbooks, besides the already-mentioned Escoffier and Under Pressure, I've only got one that I would count as semi-professional: Der große Pellaprat, a German version of the L'art culinaire moderne by Pellaprat. In its scope and style, it is very similar to the guide culinaire (which maybe can in part be attributed to the fact that both translations were overseen by Walter Bickel), but the recipes are scaled down to home quantities.

So maybe "pro" can be summarized as "huge quantities and terse recipes". However, I'm not sure if that really is true. I think that some of the terseness may come from the encyclopedic format, so it would only be indicative of a certain class of pro cookbooks. I'm sure there are professional publications explaining techniques in detail (i.e. textbooks for cooking schools). I just don't own any of them.

Edited by pep. (log)
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Adding to pep., Saulnier created maybe the ultimate professional reference cookbook: It's basically Escoffier with each recipe reduced to one line or so, making it pocket-sized, if terse.

FYI, Duch's classic Handlexicon der Kochkunst is the Wiener-Küche or Viennese-cuisine counterpart to Escoffier.

The problem of guessing what size onion the author had in mind is international.

[ETA the usual spelling corrections]

A detail, to dougal et al. for the record: Chez Panisse is downstairs at 1517 Shattuck; Chez Panisse Café is upstairs. (Separate businesses. Different phone numbers, menus, people, equipment, styles, hours, reservation requirements -- in fact sometimes they scarcely know much about what each other is doing unless people happen to converse during joint vegetable ordering. That point was made emphatically to me by Paul Bertolli when in charge of the restaurant, and it becomes clearer the more chance you get to try both, as I hope you will. When Waters made her food reputation, the Café did not exist. Her recent food-celebrity reputation, which seems independent and unaware of her original food reputation, is a recent separate thing. And the amount of misconception that can surround such people when they become celebrities is breathtaking.)

Edited by MaxH (log)
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Under Pressure is absolutely a pro book. ...

... with most recipes making 4 servings? I don't believe Keller is suggesting that's the way his kitchens actually work.

I think the book was meant to teach the concepts and was aimed at a professional audience. Concepts are easier to teach in small batches as opposed to on a mass scale.

In 2006-2007 when they were working on that book, Sous Vide Supremes did not exist, Sur la table et. al. did not carry a Polysci for the house, even plans for the DIY home rigs (like Seattle Food Geeks) weren't around. It's inconceivable that the book was written for the home cook when there was such a small market at the time.

Edited by BadRabbit (log)
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Although dougal's point is well taken, I think there's a difference between books that feature professional-level techniques and books that are written to actually be used in production environments. But I still think they can both be characterized as "professional" cookbooks.

Matthew Kayahara

Kayahara.ca

@mtkayahara

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book was meant to teach the concepts and was aimed at a professional audience. Concepts are easier to teach in small batches as opposed to on a mass scale.

In 2006-2007...Sous Vide Supremes did not exist, ...even plans for the DIY home rigs (like Seattle Food Geeks) weren't around.

They were, though, here on eG, avant-garde as always. (Home-built Sous-Vide was a thriving topic here by 2007.) But I'm quibbling. Main reply:

Escoffier is a counterexample disproving any theory that "pro" cookbooks must use institutional quantities. Escoffier (at least the recipes I've read -- I don't claim to know all 5012) used small, even individual-portion, quantities typically. Only the fonds de cuisine, such as stocks, are large-scale IIRC. That's why even we English-unit cooks (oops, we don't say that now in USA, since even England dropped them) easily get accustomed to deciliters if we read Escoffier. It proves to be an extremely convenient unit size for portioning. Sauces are constantly being mixed and doled out by the dl or half-dl or two dl in Escoffier. Maybe the idea was to prep the fundamentals in quantity, then give recipes as a restaurant would use, cooking to order.

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Escoffier is a counterexample disproving any theory that "pro" cookbooks must use institutional quantities. Escoffier (at least the recipes I've read -- I don't claim to know all 5012) used small, even individual-portion, quantities typically. Only the fonds de cuisine, such as stocks, are large-scale IIRC.

Hah! That's what I mainly use his book for – stocks and sauces. And as a reference work for determining what the classical preparations would look like, before figuring out replacements. Not enough money for all those truffle-stuffings here, unfortunately :sad:

Of course I never did any of the stocks using his quantities. When your largest stockpot takes 9 l*, 10 kg of veal bones are not gonna fit in, no matter how small you hack them :blink:

* I'm still kinda uncertain whether I should upgrade to a 25 l stock pot or a 10 or 13 l pressure cooker. Eventually I'll probably get both ... if only my kitchen were not so small *sigh*

Edited by pep. (log)
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