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One Book Shall Outfuss Them All

June 2, 2009

I’ve mentioned this before: I love Cook’s Illustrated Magazine.  And it’s not because it has no ads or huge advertorial sections that junk up the magazine.  It is because their methods are so fastidious.

They try everything.  They adjust oven temperatures.  They vary the ratios of key ingredients.  They try different cooking techniques.  They are like the Consumer Reports of recipes.

If you do not subscribe to them in print, you should subscribe to them online.  They are fussy.  They may even be a dozen steps beyond fussy.

Well, the founder of Cook’s Illustrated is named Christopher Kimball, and he wrote a book in 1996 called The Cook’s Bible: The Best of American Home Cooking.  And it is.

This is a serious book.  If you want to learn something about food, this is the book for you.  It is not like other cookbooks.  It is not food porn.  There are no beautifully styled photographs that make you drool and dream of the day you can make something that looks so good.

In lieu of photographs there are carefully illustrated pictures that show you how to actually do things in the kitchen like carve a chicken or make a perfect pie crust.  And there are plenty of detailed charts that explain what happens to your food if you diverge from the parameters of the best recipe.

And yes, there are recipes in this book.  One of my all-time favorite things to eat is the slow-roasted chicken from this book.  It starts with meticulously drying the inside and outside of the bird.  Brushing it with butter and sprinkling with salt and pepper.  The chicken starts in the oven at 375.  Then it cooks at 200 for a while.  And it is finished with a final blast at 400.

Seriously, who does stuff like this?  But OMFG this is so good.  The fat under the skin renders into the meat, making it rich and juicy.  The skin is then left to be almost cracker crisp with a nice salty punch.  The contrast of textures is just too good to bear.

But I digress.

I was going to tell you that this is actually a cookbook you read through.  It teaches many of the fussy basics such as “Cooking Perfect Rice” or “How to Cook an Egg”.  It offers background knowledge into ingredients and techniques like “Potatoes Explained” and “How to Braise Meat”.  But it is not all prescriptive either.  There is a chapter on “Improvising Soups” and another one for “Improvising Stuffings”.

You may find as you read through The Cook’s Bible that the recommended methods are massively time intensive and perhaps a bit more complex than you might expect for a book about home cooking.  I’m guessing you know very few people who cook like this at home.

If you have children in the house, forget about it.

But at the very least, by learning the “best way” and even by reading about what the tradeoffs are for cutting corners, you are aware of what you give up by taking short cuts.  And you may be okay with that.

I know I am.

Someday soon I’ll tell you about how I was cooking brown rice the Christopher Kimball way until a rice farmer changed my mind.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. June 2, 2009 2:37 pm

    I love to read the Cook’s Illustrated books when just sitting out on the porch. All of their methods and calculations can keep me occupied for quite some time.

  2. Jennifer permalink
    June 3, 2009 5:04 pm

    My partner’s mom works with the Cook’s Illustrated people when they do the Cook’s Country show in Vermont so last fall we got to meet the staff, including Christopher Kimball and we got to be on a tasting panel. Fun, but kind of gross because we had to taste tartar sauce straight up and I think I’d rather taste my own vomit. Which I’d imagine tastes just like tartar sauce.

  3. Carolyn permalink
    June 4, 2009 10:59 am

    Hey Daniel! I’ve been a subscriber of Cook’s illustrated Magazine for years now, my dad who lives in New Hampshire gifted it to me. (I believe it is a New England institution like King Arthur Flour.) Although I can’t say that I have ever made anything from their pages. I always cut out the recipes that interest me but have never followed through with the actual cooking. The recipes are almost too involved and thorough that it becomes overwhelming, especially for someone who has two kids at home! I guess it is my aspirational magazine, like Vogue is to middle america fashionistas!

  4. ThinkAndDo permalink
    June 5, 2009 8:38 am

    Daniiel, the truly obsessive pore through “On Food and Cooking, the Science and Lore of the Kitchen” by Harold McGee. This book makes Kimball look like Oscar from the “Odd Couple.”

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