It almost goes without saying that Michel Guérard’s Cuisine Minceur (Morrow, 1976) must be read and reread by all serious cooks. “Lean Cuisine” was the sudden, brilliant focus of a trend toward lighter, more inventive cooking that, as nouvelle cuisine, has come to dominate taste today. We have enjoyed time and again almost all the recipes presented in this book. The reason why it is so valuable is that the basic techniques introduced here encourage the cook to invent new dishes on his own. If this has been overdone, it is only a tribute to the enduring importance of this great chefs splendid talent.
Burgundy and Lyonnais, spread on the banks of large rivers, have always been a corridor for travelers as well as armies. Caesar’s legions came up that way to fight the Gauls, Napoleon’s armies went down through it to Italian battlefields. Yet the region has stubbornly kept its identity. And this, of course, can be observed in local cooking. The sumptuous Soufflé of Chicken Livers, the excellent Ham Saupiquets, and many other dishes presented in this book by Mrs. Johnston have been famous for generations, some for centuries. What gives this cuisine its character are the local ingredients. Wine, of course, Dijon’s vinegars and mustards (an inheritance from the Romans), or mild garlic. Meat had to be stretched by the parsimonious farmers. Mrs. Johnston offers many glorious stews other than the famous Beef Bourguignon, which are prepared with cheap cuts of beef. She also gives excellent recipes for those little bits or scraps of meat which eventually evolved into pâtés: Crêpinettes, Bersaudes, Fricandeau, Enchaud are all patties or meat cakes deliciously flavored with herbs and spices. Vegetables and desserts, like the other courses, share the qualities of the local wines—delicate, yet robust. We tried a great many recipes from this elegantly presented book and liked them all. An ideal cookbook for the winter.
For many years, before he retired from his restaurant near Paris, André Guillot was a celebrated master, “a magician,” according to the famous food critics, Gault and Millau. He used to hold legendary seminars for other cooks, both French and foreign. From his retirement comes this marvelous book of more than 700 recipes. They include his most famous: a puff pastry that nobody has ever made as well as he. At first glance the recipes look very classic. But a careful reading quickly reveals the great secret of chef Guillot. Except when baking, he never—ever—uses flour, not even in his Béchamel, for which he uses the original preparation which dates back to 1754. His sauces are miracles of lightness and smoothness, even when he uses Liebig or Bovril meat extract, lyophilized onions, or a dash of ketchup, Reading his technical pages, on how to braise, how to roast, or how to cook a steak, is an eye-opener. The resulting dishes are superb. We can recommend everything we tried: the Family Beef Daube, the Ham in Chablis, the fabulous Salmis of Guinea-hen (which we made with duck), and the mousses, marmalades, and poached compotes of green vegetables. This is the foundation of nouvelle cuisine, simply told. We hope it will be translated—but not adapted, please.
In the past we have clipped many of Mrs. Marshall’s recipes from various newspapers, where her New York cooking school was often praised. We liked every one we tried, and we were very interested when we learned that she had written a cookbook. How, then, can we explain our disappointment? It may be that Mrs. Marshall is sharing her experience the way she does with her students, lesson by lesson, sensibly, without unnecessary bravura. The first chapter, or lesson, is devoted to salads and roasted chicken. Further on, chapter ten offers meat stocks, stew sauces, soups, yellow turnips, and tarts. It does not look exciting. The recipes are good, although the explanations tend to be too long and, sometimes, redundant, as if registered on a cassette during a class. We liked the Braised Chicken in Lemon Juice with Raisins, for which the cooking juices are used to make a light hollandaise. A great many of the vegetable recipes are original and excellent, like the Vegetable Pâté of cabbage, leeks, and spinach, or the Sorrel and Onion Custard. Going back to the book again and again, we finally discovered that we had misunderstood its purpose. It is, first and foremost, a teaching book. And in this respect it is outstanding. There is not a detail that has escaped Mrs. Marshall’s attention. She knows exactly how much croissants should rise before baking, why scalloped potatoes must have a high content of starch (and how to check it), and how to prevent a pastry cream custard from being runny. Mrs. Marshall’s book should be read carefully from cover to cover by everyone serious about cooking. We think this is the best book on the market today to offer a beginner.
Shoppers at giant supermarkets tend to forget the rhythm of the seasons and to rely on the same pattern of menus all year round. Mrs. Hecht’s latest book reminds us, in a rather effective way, that this should not be so. Divided into four sections, one for each season, it is organized around menus which are well thought out and often elegant. We thought her luncheon of Sorrel and Mint Soup, Walnut and
Kiwi Chicken Salad, and Strawberry Cassis Ice was as delicate as it was delicious. The part of the book we enjoyed most is that devoted to summer. Mrs. Hecht offers there many inventive recipes for salads: Tomato and Chèvre Cheese, Mango and Chicken, Mussels and Rice, for example. Mrs. Hecht is also at ease with soups, where her creativity works well. If we have one reservation, it would be that the author, being young and obviously very intellectual, seems overly impressed by nouvelle cuisine. We hope she may give more attention in the future to classic preparations.
James Beard reached fame many years ago and for a long time looked like some god of good food sitting atop the Olympus. Now he has come down. His delightful last book has the tone of a fireside chat. Sometimes he confides: “I’ve never been the sort who knew . . . at three what he wanted for supper at eight.” Sometimes he asserts: “that (is) really damned good.” He always entertains and instructs. And all this is done over a bowl of pasta. Of course, Beard teaches how to make one’s own, with or without a machine. But he also indicates what kind of dried, already-made pasta can be bought and should be kept always at hand in the kitchen. The same goes for sauces, although his handful of “Small Saucings,” offered as examples and often made of leftovers in a moment of inspiration, show that any cook can make a delicious sauce in a minute or two. Besides the basic pasta and sauce, Beard offers a bounty of recipes from soups to meat, salads, and even desserts. They come from all over the world, patiently collected by a pasta lover who was fed noodle soup and chow mein, when a little boy, by the family Chinese cook. It would be difficult to say which recipe we preferred in this pretty book. Maybe the light Basil Lasagne and the perky Spinach-Anchovy Sauce. But we are going to try them all.