Posted: July 1, 2021
Regular readers will know I have a thing for Jamie Oliver and not that long ago did a review of his new cookbook and something of a critique of his other books. Well, I have been known to get some cookbooks by other chefs out of the library too. This one, JACQUES PEPIN- QUICK & SIMPLE, is one I put my name down for some time ago and have watched over the months my progress on the list and a couple of weeks ago it arrived.
So the rest of this little review is scattered with Jacques art work from the book just as the book itself has at times flourishes of art and at other times just little pinches.
To put things in historical context, in 1970, when Nigella Lawson was ten and learning some things in the kitchen, Jamie Oliver was not even born, and Gordon Ramsey was in his parents kitchen throwing knives at his teddy bear and screaming at the little bear that it had no place in his kitchen, Jacques had already earned his stripes apprenticing in French kitchens, worked as a chef at Maxims, been the personal chef to three French heads of state including De Gaulle, and had moved to the U.S. The move to America was intended to be a short tack on his ultimate course but became a permanent diversion. He went on to a culinary teaching career and a new television career introducing the American public to great everyday cooking through various shows on PBS.
So how has this book stood up over time? Well even with the update and the artwork it is a bit dated. Two hundred and fifty recipes are still there but with not enough photos, by current measures, and many are so basic by todays standards you might not consider them a recipe at all.
With that said this book as a great starting point when learning what to do in the kitchen and for many, could work as the only cookbook they buy.
And that is because Jacques likes technique, so while you are preparing a recipe he is secretly teaching you technique. The recipe for Jamie Oliver is the deal, the use of a recipe as a way to teach technique is Jacques.
What the book is also pretty good for is one comprehensive cooking course from soup to nuts giving you lots of recipes but teaching you the methods of preparation along the way.
The table of contents tells the story: BASICS; APPETIZERS & SALADS; SOUPS, PIZZAS & HOT SANDWICHES; PASTA & RICE; LEGUMES & VEGETABLES; SHELFISH & FISH; EGGS, POULTRY & MEAT; DESERTS.
As a result, when perusing the Bread section it is actually a little course in bread baking. Its not Paul Hollywood for 300 pages but it’s a great way for those of us who are not bread bakers to try it.
I have made a half dozen of the dishes now and one that stands out for me in this recipe technique businesses was Scaloppini of Turkey with Scallions. This recipe teaches how to sauté any thin meat – veal, turkey, chicken etc. Most of us think of grilling for several minutes, roasting or baking for an hour, but Jacque gently takes us through the process of sautéing for only one and a half minutes per side, then letting that cooking process finish off in a low temp oven (140f). Is the recipe simple -yes, is the little course in technique a good one – yes. That’s Jacques.
Another recipe I liked a lot was Poached Cod with Black Butter and Capers. Poaching has a really nasty connotation for some of us over a certain age. It comes dangerously close to boiling meat – something that some of our mothers did.
Now strap in, I am going off on a bit of a tangent here.
When I was a young kid, some moms worked at paying jobs and were looked down on by regular moms, even if those working moms were discovering a cure for some disease or other noble cause. It is because after the war there were often not enough jobs for the men who were returning and taking those positions was considered taboo. Long after that rationale for the bias, it remained a snobby perspective. Some moms did volunteer work and that was considered alright if they did not get paid. A mom’s job was as a homemaker and part of that was to keep the house organized, keep us kids on the straight and narrow, and to make sure there was always something good for meals on the table.
Yeah, they were pretty stupid times.
Not every woman was cut out for this limited scope of work, and while some absolutely relished it, others were absolutely terrible at it. This later group had no idea how to cook and would regularly produce the most awful of dinners.
Why am I off on this tangent? Well, its about the poaching. Some moms had no idea what to do with a nice roast and would boil it. The mom that comes to mind is Joey H’s mom. She was not a regular mom at all. To start, she looked like more of an older sister than a mom. She dressed like Marilyn Monroe and drove a Thunderbird convertible. Their house was not very traditional, both on the outside and the inside and was what today we would call mid century modern.
Joeys’ dad was always away on business. I mean ALWAYS away on business. I never met the guy.
The first time a few of us were over at Joey’s for dinner she was drinking a martini and about to go out with friends to dinner. Our parents only did that for their anniversary, but she went out at least once a week. She had bought this expensive roast at the butcher, because she and Joey always ordered food in, and he had asked her if she could get some stuff that would be like what his friends moms made. The huge roast was sitting in a big pot on the top of the stove with lots of water in it and she had cranked up the burner so it would boil. She kissed Joey and left in a cab.
There was this big piece of meat in the pot with the water, a raw potato on the counter and in the fridge a lemon, some olives and some milk. She looked like a million bucks but wasn’t much of a mom.
Fortunately, one of the guys was Gino T and he told us to turn off the stove, get the meat out of there and he would be back. He came back with some olive oil, some pasta, Italian parsley and a big piece of cheese. I was told to cut the big piece of meat into little strips, joey was on the task of scrapping the big block of cheese to get a big bowl of scrapings and Gino got the pasta going in the big pot Joeys mom had set out. The other guys set the table and turned on the record player. Gino found a skillet and put in some oil and the little meat strips I had cut and before long we were sitting down to a dinner that was better than I had at home usually, and Joey, Gino and the few other guys and I were pretty pleased with ourselves.
We all told Joey’s mom that we had loved the dinner and from then on about once every couple of weeks she would get in a big roast, leave us to go out for the evening and we would pull out various things Gino had set us off to pilfer from our parents pantries during the week. When asked by the other moms what the secret was that we all loved when over at their house Joey’s mom would proudly announce the trick was that she boiled a roast. Many a regular mom ruined some good meat after that trying to duplicate her boiled roast.
Joeys mom appreciated the positive comments and as a person with some of her own challenges in life, and with us kids liking our night out without any supervision, we all kept the secret, and she got to walk a little taller when seen by the other moms. She still wasn’t regular but now she was ok.
Until today the secret has been kept by Gino, Joey a few other friends and me. Sorry Joey but it’s been over fifty-five years that I have kept that secret but now its out there.
So how is poaching different than boiling? It’s all about the timing. Poaching just heats up the protein quickly and while keeping it moist, then you get it out of the water dry it off and marry it with a nice warm sauce. For this to work of course it also is not a big roast but a delicate piece of fish in this Poached Cod with Black Butter and Capers example. Bring two cups of water to a boil in a saucepan, add the fish and bring back to a gentle boil then only leave it there for about two minutes (or up to an extra minute if the fillets are really thick). Dry off the fillets and put on some capers, shredded basil leaves and some brown butter sauce. If you have not made it before black or brown butter sauce is four tablespoons of unsalted butter, and one tablespoon of olive oil with a little salt and pepper, you have heated in a skillet until it has turned to a consistent light brown colour.
My baking skills are pretty rudimentary but I love to eat baked goods so I was very pleased with the Bread section in this book. This is basically a set of recipes to teach Cheats. Cheats I have referenced before. They are the short cut techniques used by commercial cooks and chefs to get to the finished result the easy way. The three very simple recipes for Fougasse (that leaf shaped bread), breakfast rolls and Focaccia are all really great ones for both the results and learning those cheats. I am going to be making these a lot in the future.
Is this book the new hottest thing? No. But it is a very worthwhile, large, comprehensive cookbook for novice home cooks to learn from, and for more seasoned home cooks to expand their skill set. Since handing back my library copy, I have bought my own, and that’s something for a guy with limited space on a liveaboard.