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Great Cooks Rate Great Books

Some of this fall’s most important authors review the season’s most anticipated new cookbooks, from Bruce Aidells’s massive The Great Meat Cookbook to the luxe and exotic Fäviken by famed Swedish chef Magnus Nilsson. Read on to find out the results of our reviewers’ testing and learn what inspired or befuddled them the most.
Bruce Aidells’s Cookbook Review
Photo © Luca Trovato Photography.

Bruce Aidells Reviews Burma

To whom would you give this book?

Anyone who’s interested in Southeast Asian cooking or who craves new flavors. I am lucky enough to have a couple of great Burmese restaurants in the Bay Area, where I live, and now I can reproduce some of my favorite dishes at home.

What surprised you the most?

I thought that because the recipes are so simple, with fewer ingredients than I’m used to working with—they’re home dishes from real families—they would lack flavor. The fried rice with shallots, for instance, has basically four ingredients—rice, peas, turmeric and shallots—but it’s got just enough going on to have great flavor.

Burma Cookbook Review
Photo courtesy of Artisan Books.

Did you learn about a new ingredient?

I couldn’t find fermented bean paste in the small town where I live, so I used the suggested alterative, brown miso. My store sells it only in one-pound bags. Now I’m thinking about how to use up all the rest of the miso, besides making the obvious soup: I’m going to marinate some pork, mix some miso with ground beef to add extra umami and try spreading it on toast for breakfast.

Did anything about the book make you jealous?

My own book has 100 color photos, but Naomi’s has 175, so, yes, I have photo envy. I wish I could have spent the vast amount of time Naomi did in Burma (she has traveled there for 30 years) to get to know home cooks and write about my adventures.

What was the greatest challenge for you in testing this cookbook? It was hard for me to follow a recipe exactly. I had to hold myself back from adding things.

Adam Roberts’s Cookbook Review
Photo © Elizabeth Leitzell.

Adam Roberts Reviews Bouchon Bakery

Adam Roberts, author of Secrets of the Best Chefs, reviews Bouchon Bakery by Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel.

Is Bouchon Bakery an important new book?

Yes! Keller is almost fanatical in his pursuit of excellence. The book is groundbreaking in that it’s about the most OCD form of cooking from our nation’s most OCD chef. Keller’s exactitude is really unrivaled; every ingredient is measured to one-tenth of a gram, and the phenomenal results speak for themselves.

Bouchon Bakery Cookbook Review
Photo © Deborah Jones.

Would you say Keller’s recipes are very difficult, then?

Actually, both the recipes and tips make cooking at the most sophisticated level approachable for the home cook. That said, there are a few challenging recipes thrown in for the more daring.

Did you learn anything new?

The book has useful tips—for instance, Keller recommends using Plugrá European-Style Butter, which has 82 percent butterfat content. The difference in color and depth of flavor in my scones was notable! And to make sure the caramel in your caramel corn doesn’t seize up, heat up the bowl you’ll be tossing it in.

Naomi Duguid’ Cookbook Review
Photo © Laura Berman.

Naomi Duguid Reviews The Mile End Cookbook

What makes this an important book?

Rae and Noah’s confident, good-humored yet respectful presentation of Jewish comfort food, often tweaked to be livelier-tasting or just brought up to date, is very special. And so is the fact that everything is made from scratch, just like it is at their tiny Brooklyn restaurant.

What was your favorite recipe?

The lush and complex-tasting liver pâté with pickled red onions. The onions were so easy, so beautiful. And they were a brilliant condiment for the chopped liver, instead of the usual fried onions. I have already made a second batch of the onions and taken it to friends; it got raves. I think I’ll be using the pickling bath for other things, like julienned carrots or daikon.

The Mile End Cookbook Review
Photo © Cover design by Marc Rimmer, illustrations by Claudia Pearson.

What was the greatest challenge for you in testing this cookbook?

I admit to substituting cider vinegar for the white vinegar—which always tastes raw to me—in the pickled onions. Sorry to be a bad tester!

Did you pick up any new tricks?

Their suggestion about chilling chicken skin to make it easier to chop is a good one. But if you’re in a hurry, kitchen scissors work well on room-temperature chicken.

Did you find the directions easy to follow?

I had visitors from out of town on the day I did the testing, and at one point I had to go out, so I left my friend Deb in charge. She found it all easy to follow. She and everyone else who came through the house that day swear that they’ll be making the pickled onions and chopped liver.

Marcus Nilsson’s Cookbook Review
Photo © Erik Olsson.

Magnus Nilsson Reviews The Great Meat Cookbook

What makes this a groundbreaking book?

I would describe it as being a necessary one. Ask most meat eaters what the flavor difference is between grass-fed and grain-fed, where on a cow they would find that rib eye they eat, which breed of pig the pork they usually cook comes from: Most likely, they won’t know. This book would help almost every home cook become better at cooking meat, and also at selecting, treating and storing it.

Any recipe you’d recommend?

I made the Guinness-marinated bison steak sandwiches for Saturday staff dinner, but I substituted moose for the bison. When Bruce described bison in the book, it sounded like moose to me.

The Great Meat Cookbook Review
Photo © Luca Trovato Photography.

Is moose the bison of Sweden?

You can’t buy it, but everybody eats it. The whole of Sweden stops working during the first week of hunting season, because everyone is out in the forest. Moose meat reminds me of beef, but it is leaner and finer-textured. Also, even though moose are very tall, they weigh less than average beef cattle, meaning the cuts are generally smaller.

Did anything about the book make you jealous?

I liked this book a lot, but I can’t say I am really jealous, because my book is so different. The Great Meat Cookbook is like a manual for meat eaters, with instructions and tons of practical information, while my book is more of a story about a place and a certain style of cooking.

To whom would you give this book?

Anyone who cooks meat! If everyone read this book, the world would be a much more delicious place.

Rae and Noah Bernamoff’s Cookbook Review
Photo © Quentin Bacon.

Rae and Noah Bernamoff Review Fäviken

What inspired you about the book?

Magnus Nilsson’s incredible dedication to his environment. When we think local in New York, it’s within 200 miles, but his repertoire is based solely on food gathered hyper-local to Fäviken, his restaurant in the middle of nowhere in Sweden. The raw and honest translation of that lifestyle into a magnificently beautiful book is very important. It is a philosophy of food and food systems as much as it is a cookbook.

Did you learn anything new?

We particularly liked Magnus’s way of making vegetable broth. Basically, it’s a quick vegetable infusion—the opposite of a classic long-simmered stock. It’s so pure-tasting.

Fäviken Cookbook Review
Photo courtesy of Phaidon Press.

Do you have a favorite recipe?

In this class of cookbooks, it’s hard to replicate recipes, because the ingredients are largely impossible to find outside Sweden. The linseed (flaxseed) crisps were one of the few dishes we could readily prepare. It’s a simple and low-cost way to make a cracker you’d find in a specialty grocery. And they were amazing. As Nilsson promises, the seeds seem to float on a thin, translucent chip. We’re excited to use this recipe as the foundation for other seed crisps.

Did anything about the book make you jealous?

We wish we could have written more of our recipes in Nilsson’s intuitive style. Including specific times and temperatures can make any recipe seem accessible to the home cook, but it discourages cooking by taste, feel and sight.

Published October 2012
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