Essential Equipment for Kitchens . . . Tips on Proper Use of Equipment, On Neatness, On Organization . . . The Abc’S of Weights and Measures . . . The Fundamental Techniques of Preparing Vegetables and Fruits . . . A Discourse on Herbs and Spices . . . The Miracle of the Egg and its Multiple Uses, From Boiled Eggs to Soufflés
For Those Who Love It, cooking is at once child’s play and adult joy. And cooking done with care is an act of love.
The approach to any task or pastime is a point of view, and playing golf or boating can be a chore and bore if one is not disposed to such pleasures. But cooking is a field in which familiarity does not breed contempt. Far from it. An intimate knowledge of how to get from here to there in the kitchen makes cooking all the more worthwhile, and that is the purpose of this small volume.
Man is born to eat and in that sense it may be said that I have been involved in food for all my forty years and five. But it seems that my interest as a professional honestly came about as a child when I became involved with the wonder that heat produces on an egg, be it boiled or fried. I can even now be fascinated by merely watching water boil, and almost compulsively I love to stir a stew to see that it doesn’t stick or burn. The changing of color of a roast as it turns on a spit is a thing of endless wonder, enticing as a sunset. And this is part of the joy that I would willingly communicate to anyone who wishes to cook well.
First off, I would say that the most important thing in learning to cook well and with love is a sense of organization. Ideally, all the ingredients for any single dish should be washed and trimmed, chopped, diced, or whatever before the cooking begins.
Having a pot boil over while one is rushing to chop an onion or separate the yolk from the white of an egg is a frustrating experience. With organization, such pitfalls can be avoided.
For pleasure, one must cook with leisure, having time to ponder each act. Without organization, chaos in the kitchen becomes a phoenix too frequent. Some recipes call for butter at room temperature. So retrieve the butter from the refrigerator in time. Almost all recipes involving an oven call for preheating same. Preheat.
One of the problems that seems to plague beginners in the kitchen is a sense of insecurity, and it stems from two things. The first is improper equipment or lack of equipment in the kitchen, and this is an inhibiting thing, to say the least.
Preferably, the home kitchen should have a complete battery of substantial cooking utensils, including pots, pans, and skillets designed more for utility than beauty (most manufacturers have it the other way around), graduated sets of sharp knives from ham slicer to paring knife, an assortment of wooden spoons, and sure-footed chopping blocks. I have tried to devise a list, based on my own experience, of essentials for a small kitchen with additions for a larger, better-equipped kitchen. Spices should by all means include the basic ten—thyme, bay leaves, cayenne pepper, basil, cumin, rosemary, saffron, dry mustard, oregano, and tarragon. For a start, that will do, with the assumption that fresh parsley may always be bought—or grown in your garden or on your window sill.
The second bête noire for the beginning cook is a lack of daring and a fear of failure. Be assured on one point: there is much more latitude in cooking than most people believe. Let us put it this way. It is quite possible to make a not only acceptable but admirable tomato sauce with butter, onions, a few tomatoes, salt, and pepper. The same tomato sauce may be improved with a touch of thyme, a bit of parsley, and a suggestion of garlic. The sauce may be made more elaborate with the addition of mushrooms or meat, or made more exotic with the addition of a pinch of curry or oregano. The sauce may simmer for five minutes or an hour (over very low heat). The point is that a perfectly serviceable tomato sauce can be made by cooking together for five minutes a combination of butter, onion, a few tomatoes, salt, and pepper.
The fearful beginning cook must overcome the notion that there are endless critical points in every recipe. In most recipes there are encouragingly few pitfalls. One mustn’t go berserk with the thought, but a quarter cup of liquid, a tablespoon more or less of butter, five minutes or so of cooking time are all variable and the sooner the beginning cook learns it the better the food will be.
Even that holy of holies, the soufflé, despite all warnings to the contrary, is not at the mercy of a split-second chronometer. Some chefs remove their soufflés after twenty minutes of cooking time, others at the end of thirty and more. In my opinion, it is harder to cook spaghetti to the proper degree of doneness (most people overcook it) and get it to the table hot than to make a proper soufflé. And have courage. The best of professionals have known (and later cherish) their early disasters.
One last thing should be said about ingredients. The recipes in this book are derived primarily from French cooking, and the basis of most French cooking is butter and cream; they are called for unstintingly here and without apology. As far as I am concerned, there are no substitutes.
And finally, there is one thing to remember in all of cookery: the time to get ready is before you start.
© 1969 Craig Claiborne estate. All rights reserved.