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The Ultimate book of cooking techniques
The Cook's Book - Marcus Wareing
Member Name: cerys82
The Cook's Book - Marcus Wareing
Advantages: Well photographed, a lot of information
Disadvantages: Some of it is is a bit fancy for home cooking
The Cook's Book is a compendium of types and techniques of cooking with a number of highly respected contributors from the cooking world.
At over 600 pages, you can imagine that this is pretty comprehensive. It is a large hardback with quite a hardy spine in order to make it easier to hold the pages back to cook from.
Each section is written by a different contributor who comes from a different specialism including Marcus Wareing (who also writes the foreword), Rick Bayless, Atul Kochhar and Ken Hom. At the beginning of the book we are given a profile of each contributor.
Before we get to the main content of the book, we have a couple of pages entitled 'useful information which details some basics that should help when cooking form the book eg information about equipment, storage, utensils and hygiene.
We then move onto the different sections. Each section has a short introduction which lays out some of the fundamental information you will need before you start. The sections have a mix of techniques and recipes, the idea being that you can exercise the techniques you have learnt immediately in your cooking. It is impossible for me to cover everything in this book so I will try to give you a fair indication for each part. There are also a great number of photographs both explanatory of the process and to indicate what the finished dish should look like
First up we have sauces and dressings. Techniques include - how to make different basic sauces, and how to thicken them. Recipes include mayonnaises, tomato sauce, fruit chutneys, salsas vinaigrettes and dressings.
Next we come to foams, a bit of an odd choice if you ask me and not something that you are likely to use a lot in even special cooking. Techniques include how to use siphons to make foams. Recipes include mango, yoghurt and raspberry foam, meringue tart, frozen chocolate mousse and gin fizz cocktail.
The next section is on soups and stocks. Techniques include how to make different types of stocks. Recipes include chicken consommé, cock a leekie, a great minestrone recipe and gazpacho.
Following this we have flavourings. Techniques including how to prepare fresh herbs, including how to make a bouquet garni, how to prepare spices and chillies and how to extract vanilla seed. Recipes include green herb oil, salmon with Cajun blackening spices, cumin ,nigella and pepper marinade, red curry paste, a great tomato chilli jam, tapenade, preserved lemons, maple syrup and apple rice porridge (with miso!).
The next section is on Latin American cooking. Techniques include preparing conch, salting cucumber, preparing mojo vinaigrette and making caramelised plantains. Recipes include mojo-marinated chicken with congri and plantains.
Following this we come to eggs and dairy produce. Techniques include, separating eggs, beating eggs, whisking egg whites, boiling eggs, creating a cheese board. whipping cream. Recipes include scrambled eggs, omelettes, sweet onion frittata with balsamic vinegar, cheese soufflé, potato and celeriac gratin.
We next come to fish and shellfish. Techniques include how to prepare all different types of fish eg by gutting and descaling, how to prepare sashimi, cleaning mussels, opening shellfish such as oysters and clams, cleaning and sectioning an octopus, cleaning sea urchins. Cleaning live lobster and then taking the meat from a cooked lobster and crab. recipes include gravlax, baked plaice fillets, baked whole sea bass, microwaved salmon steaks, braised monkfish, deep-fried tiger prawns.
Following this we get Japanese cooking. Techniques include cooking sushi rice and hand-shaping sushi. Recipes include prawn tempura with beer, duck breast with star anise sauce and roast figs.
Next we have poultry and game birds. Information is given on the different parts of a bird, removing the wishbone and a detailed table on the timings and temperatures for cooking lots of different types of whole birds. Techniques also include roasting, stuffing, jointing, boning, making gravy and carving various birds. Recipes include sausage meat stuffing, Southern-fried chicken, deep-fried chicken, chicken braised in red wine.
The next section is on Indian cooking, probably my most used section. Techniques include marinating, deep-frying paneer. Recipes include onion bhajis, tadka dhal, raita, coconut curry sauce.
Next up we have a length section on meat. Initially there is a brief overview of all the different ways of cooking meat, cuts and cooking methods table. Other techniques include boning a saddle of lamb, wrapping and baking a joint in salt dough, preparing a belly of pork for braising and boiling a ham hock. Recipes include Yorkshire puddings, roast leg of lamb with rosemary and garlic, slow-roast shoulder of pork, piccalilli, a great pork chops with caramelized onions recipe, Irish stew, venison ragout, braised lamb shanks, steak and kidney pudding (with Guinness gravy), beef stroganoff, spit roasted brine-cured pork.
Next we get stirfrying, steaming veg, how to cut vegetables for stirfrying, deepfrying and cutting veg. Recipes include Cantonese-style sauce and steeped chicken,
Following this is another lengthy section, and one that I have found very useful - on vegetables. Techniques include trimming, washing and drying salad leaves, how to cut and prepare a variety of different vegetables for cooking, rehydrating dried mushrooms, roasting peppers, skinning tomatoes, a table which details the best timings for boiling and steaming vegetables. Recipes include easy guacamole, chilled, clear cucumber soup, roast butternut squash, curry and kaffir lime-braised vegetables with basmati rice, sweet potato crisps.
We next have pasta and dumplings. Quite a few pages are given over to the process of making fresh pasta including how to prepare the dough by hand and put it through a pasta machine, as well as cooking it and how to make different types of dumplings. Recipes include fettuccine with sweetcorn and gorgonzola cream, matzo ball soup, ricotta ravioli with mushrooms, lettuce and mint, tortellini with crab meat and artichoke. Potato gnocchi.
Following this we have the Asian cooking and dumplings section. Recipes include egg noodles, udon noodle soup, sesame chicken and noodle salad, chicken and chive wonton soup (with instructions on how to make wontons), prawn and pork potato dumplings.
Then we move into Thai cooking Techniques including how to prepare and pound spicy relishes, make Thai chicken stock, cook rice and prepare common Asian cooking ingredients for cooking. Recipes include spicy relish of prawns and pea aubergines with sweet pork, green curry of beef with corn and Thai basil, a really useful green curry paste.
Next up we have grains and pulses. Techniques include the best ways to cook rice, how to do basic risotto, prepare polenta and couscous, sprouting, pureeing, as well s the basic preparation of pulses with a table indicating soaking and cooking times, pureeing, mahing, stewing as well as a beginners guide to slow cooking. Recipes include paella, egg-fried rice, buttermilk cornbread, summer fruit tabbouleh, roast baby chicken with couscous stuffing, hummus, pasta e fagioli, Boston Baked beans and falafel.
The next section is on breads and batters. Techniques include how to prepare a variety of different breads from scratch, how to make batters. Recipes include wholemeal and white bread, English leaven bread with potatoes and ale, simple rye loaf, hot cheese and radicchio pizza pie, foccacia, crispbread, pitta bread, naan bread, oatcakes, corn bread, cinnamon and date scone bread, pancakes, blinis, crumpets, waffles.
We then come to Mexican cooking. Techniques include making sopes (a type of tortilla), preparing chillies. Recipes include tortilla soup with chilli, cheese and avocado, braised pork in red chilli sauce.
Then we come to pastry and sweet doughs. Techniques include how to prepare pastries by hand and in the food processor (the latter being particularly useful). Recipes include lemon tart, croissant, brioches, mint ice and hot chocolate profiteroles, chocolate chip cookies.
The next section is on Middle Eastern cooking. Techniques include how to make labne balls, making a filo pie. Recipes include Turkish coffee and koussa mahshi ( a kind of lamb stuffed courgette with sauce).
We then come onto the dessert section. Techniques include how to make sugar syrup with a table on boiling sugar temperatures, how to make egg custard, preparing meringue. Recipes include exotic fruit salad, various ice creams and sorbets (using an ice cream maker), red berry charlotte, dark chocolate truffles with lime and honey, dark chocolate mousse.
The next section is on cakes. The techniques include how to cook, cut and fill a sponge, prepare chocolate glaze. Recipes include pound cake (which requires a special mould), marble cake, rich fruit loaf, chocolate cake with almonds, strudel with fresh grapes, various cheesecakes, scones, stolen, doughnuts, brownies and muffins.
The final section is on fruit and nuts. Much of this section is given over to how to prepare some of the trickier fruits available such as pomegranates and pineapples. Other techniques include how to puree fruit, use gelatine, poach fruit, make praline, peeling chestnuts. Recipes include banana mousse, summer pudding, baked apples, sticky toffee pudding, chestnut stuffing.
Finally we come to an extensive glossary of equipment, ingredients, techniques and preparations.
As you can tell, this is a very comprehensive book. However, I would say that there is some mileage in considering this more of a tips and techniques book rather than a recipe book as such. It is really well put together, incredibly detailed as well as matter-of fact and to the point. It is difficult to imagine that there are any other techniques that you would need other than what are included here. That said, I would not class it as a beginners guide - a lot of the techniques require a little prior knowledge and a lot of enthusiasm. However, there are many simpler techniques which you can use on a day to day basis. For example, my knife skills with fruit and vegetables have improved from looking at this book. A lot of this praise that I am giving as to how it has given me confidence to try new techniques has to be given over to the excellent way that they are detailed and in particular how effective the photography is in showing you EXACTLY what you need to do. (The photography is so detailed however that a lot of the fish and shellfish preparation sections make me quite squeamish!)
It is really well presented, given the amount of information that it has to communicate. Different sections are clearly indicated and separated out in a really logical way so it is easy to follow. It is not overly fussy and flowery in language either.
Perhaps one criticism I might have is that not all of it is accessible as I might have liked. Some of the recipes involve ingredients that are not always easy to get, particularly those from other cuisines. However I suppose that is likelihood with a book like this which is looking to cover as much ground as it is.
The RRP of this book is £30, however you can get it significantly cheaper if you shop around online. In particular, if you get it off Amazon it is £19 at the time of writing (may 2010) and also has the option of you being able to 'look inside the book' which will be able to give you a visual feel.
In conclusion, as a comprehensive guide to make you a better cook when it comes to tips and techniques - I cannot really imagine that you would be able to get something much better. For keen cooks who feel they have gaps in their knowledge or those who want to enhance their skills certainly!
Summary: A great comprehensive book to learn from