Learn New Skills, Reclaim Your Kitchen: 3 Technique-Based Cookbooks Reviewed

Reader Contribution by The Mother Earth News Editors
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These three super cookbooks focused on technique will arm you with the most important ingredient in any dish: skill!

Forgotten Skills of Cooking: The Time-Honored Ways Are The Best — Over 700 Recipes Show You Why by Darina Allen

If you’re serious about eating more locally grown food, you may need to learn some “new” skills. Darina Allen’s Forgotten Skills of Cooking will help you do just that.

Allen is the director of Ballymaloe Cookery School in County Cork, Ireland, as well as the founder of the first modern-day farmers markets in Ireland, and she continues to promote local produce.

“During the 25 years I’ve been running the school, I’ve noticed an alarming loss of skills,” Allen writes in this encyclopedic volume. In chapters ranging from food foraging to handy household tips — with stops along the way for cooking beef, fish, poultry, fruits and veggies — Allen offers no-nonsense advice and a common-sensical approach to feeding ourselves.

Here she is on the topic of “dripping on toast,” a traditional United Kingdom treat using the fat and juices from a roast: “For many young people, the idea of eating dripping is simply gross. Well, don’t knock it unless you try it. Bread and dripping has nourished many a hungry lad.” 

Allen is more relaxed about certain edibles, such as offal, than many Americans may be. But if you’d like a fine pig’s head with rutabagas, or wish to make your own brawn or hang and dress a wild hare, Allen can show you how.

— Robin Mather

Good Meat: The Complete Guide to Sourcing and Cooking Sustainable Meat by Deborah Krasner

If you’re hip to the trend of eating sustainably produced foods but not hip to the price tags that can come with it, you may want to learn about the less popular (think cheaper!) cuts of humanely raised meat. 

An exciting palette of flavors and textures beyond those of steaks and chops awaits the adventurous eater, but achieving great results with short ribs, shoulders, tongues and hearts may be difficult if you belong to a recent generation that never really learned to cook these cuts. Most people today don’t even know how to identify these foods in the grocery store, let alone prepare them at home.

Good Meat will teach you how to select these options and turn them into healthy meals. In addition to learning the names and shapes of many meats, Krasner will help you unlearn the default meat-cooking methods that won’t work as well with grass-fed alternatives.

Krasner’s book is resource-packed and technique-focused, but she also provides plenty of tantalizing recipes. Recipes to try: Braised Pork Belly Glazed With Basil Honey, Marinated Lamb Shanks With Pomegranate Molasses, Tomatoes and Fresh Mint, and Roasted Rabbit With White Wine and Black Olives. Get started straight away — chop, chop!

Tabitha Alterman

Chef on Fire by Joseph Carey

Many people know how to read a recipe, but knowing how to cook also requires some understanding of science. The most fundamental kitchen science you can master is knowing how heat works and how to use it to your advantage. If you’ve never before considered that dry heat and wet heat, for example, work entirely differently, this book may just blow your mind. Carey, who learned his trade in the culinary mecca of New Orleans, has run restaurants, hosted cooking shows, taught professional cooking classes, and founded a full-blown culinary academy. He knows fire!

Lucky for you, in Chef on Fire, Carey has distilled his vast experience into five easy-to-grasp concepts: dry heat (roasting, grilling, baking), boiling, cooking with fat (frying, sautéing), braising, and extraction (stocks, sauces, soups). Getting a handle on these five techniques is a sure way to instill confidence and creativity in any cook.

Chef on Fire also contains superb recipes — Pot Pie of Smoked Chicken and Wild Mushrooms (dry heat), Chilled Poached Salmon With Cucumber-Dill Sauce (boiling), Bananas Foster (cooking with fat), Spaetzle Cheese Noodles (braising), and Seafood Gumbo (extraction), to name a few. But this isn’t a recipe book. It’s a cook book. And we think you’ll love it.

Tabitha Alterman

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