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French Cookbooks


FoodMan
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The French cooking books I have are the Bistro book by Hirigoyen, the original Julia Child books, Pepin's Complete Techniques (which I think of more as a reference than anything else), Larousse Gastronomique (also a reference) and Peterson's Glorious French Food (in spite of its title).

My most used ones are the Julia Child vol. 1 and the Peterson book. But I rarely make recipes as written; I'm mostly interested in learning about the ingredients and techniques and the history and idiosyncracies of a particular style. I then like to apply all of that to whatever ingredients I can grab, or to whatever I'm in the mood to cook or eat. I only ocassionally cook "authentic" French, and when I do it's more for frame of reference than anything else.

Peterson is a demigod for anyone who likes to cook like this. His explanations of ingredients and techniques and concerns for improvisation are much more thorough than anyone else's that I've seen. And the books are such a good read. I like his philosophy of trying to wean you from the recipes so you can just go into the kitchen and cook.

On the other hand, if you do want to cook from a recipe, Peterson might drive you crazy. I get the impression that half of his recipes he just pulled out of thin air, without testing. They should be prefaced with the disclaimer, "See what happens when you try something kind of like this ..."

Some of it is odd tastes (he likes chicken dark meat cooked to 145 degrees) and some just seems like mistakes (his cooking time/temperature for pate brisee tart shells will probably start a fire in your oven). I sometimes wonder if this on purpose ... if he throws in things like this to keep you on your toes, so you don't fall into the habit of slavishly following recipes.

At any rate, when I do want to make a recipe, I learn the theory techniques from Peterson, and then cross reference the recipe against Julia Child of Jacques Pepin, just for a second opinion, to keep myself out of trouble.

Notes from the underbelly

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  • 3 weeks later...
Anne Willan, French Regional Cooking.

This book is a staple in my kitchen.

And of course I totally forgot about and totally adore this book. Were it made flesh I would woo and wed it.

This whole love/hate thing would be a lot easier if it was just hate.

Bring me your finest food, stuffed with your second finest!

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What's the real question here? Books on French cooking sort along multiple axes. Classic French cooking, later departures, or regional or specialty? Books by French cooks, or books by people who aren't French (or cooks)? If classic French cooking, do you want recipes (Escoffier), or step-by-step photos (Pepin)?

Some classic French reference cookbooks I've used are the main one (Escoffier's Guide Culinaire) and two encyclopedias from one publisher: Larousse Gastronomique (various editions cited above, all different), and Saint-Ange (Livre de Cuisine, the 1927 has glorious oversaturated color plates, I've seen later eds. with more pix; now reportedly it's in English translation).

A well-kept secret at least in US: Don't be put off by books in other languages. Cookbooks in European languages that I've seen use limited vocabularies. If you're seriously interested in cooking and can use a dictionary, you'll find they open up quickly, much quicker than general literature. (Besides if you are reading this you know English wherein maybe 25% of core vocabulary came from French anyway including many food terms. One Frenchman marveled after asking the English for sauté and being told "sauté." No, he said, I want the English, not French. They're the same, he was told.)

Julia Child is often cited by US readers. Several predecessors did a good job of popularizing French cooking in their day, right up to Julia's time. (An earlier example was a former US president and food obsessive whose notes, experimental garden, and seed swapping read like Alice Waters.) Escoffier's Guide Culinaire has been in print in popular English translations for a century. (It's the catalog of recipes non-French authors adapt from. Why not go to the source?) Julia Child's books are basically bits of Guide Culinaire with more explanation, plus anecdotes of France and Colette and the OSS and difficult viewers writing in. (At least in my favorite of her books, the 1975 From Julia Child's Kitchen, which I just checked. You've seen that book -- the same copy in fact -- if you viewed the 1997 Biography TV program on Julia Child from the Arts and Entertainment network.)

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I only ocassionally cook "authentic" French, and when I do it's more for frame of reference than anything else....

On the other hand, if you do want to cook from a recipe, Peterson might drive you crazy.... some just seems like mistakes (his cooking time/temperature for pate brisee tart shells will probably start a fire in your oven). I sometimes wonder if this is done on purpose ... if he throws in things like this to keep you on your toes, so you don't fall into the habit of slavishly following recipes.

At any rate, when I do want to make a recipe, I learn the theory techniques from Peterson, and then cross reference the recipe against Julia Child of Jacques Pepin, just for a second opinion, to keep myself out of trouble.

I have often thought the same thing when I've cooked from Fish and Shellfish. I'll turn around to see flames leaping out of the pot, or my nymphes come to life and mobile. On the other hand, I don't know another cookbook author who yields so readily to improvisation and whimsy. I look at his books for a source for inspiration, not as a true reference. Julia, on the other hand... dear Julia, but that she would have waited for me!-- I look at as one of the true referents. She, Mr Beard, and Mr Pepin have got me through some very difficult times in the kitchen (and in life).

This whole love/hate thing would be a lot easier if it was just hate.

Bring me your finest food, stuffed with your second finest!

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there was one book that I bought while I was in France, I dont remember the exact title but it from the ecole ritz-escoffier, and they do modern twists on old classics and it is amazing, I think its actually a study aid though but it still great nonetheless. The recipes are modern but feel authentically french if you know what i mean. Lots of great recipes, new techniques, information of french products and preparation methods for various products etc...i highly recommend it.

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there was one book that I bought while I was in France, I dont remember the exact title but it from the ecole ritz-escoffier, and they do modern twists on old classics and it is amazing, I think its actually a study aid though but it still great nonetheless. The recipes are modern but feel authentically french if you know what i mean. Lots of great recipes, new techniques, information of french products and preparation methods for various products etc...i highly recommend it.

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  • 1 month later...

Having just returned from a trip to FNAC, what I would like to know is why the cookbooks by the *** chefs are so darned expensive! It seemed to me that they were at least $80 each (and that doesn't include the massive tomes by Ducasse and others).

So what's the deal here?

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Having just returned from a trip to FNAC, what I would like to know is why the cookbooks by the *** chefs are so darned expensive!  It seemed to me that they were at least $80 each (and that doesn't include the massive tomes by Ducasse and others).

So what's the deal here?

Check out this thread that discusses the differences in price between high end European and US cookbooks: click

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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