Cookbook's a bargain, but it's not for beginners

BOOKMARK

Stuffed with recipes, it's thin on how-tos

October 09, 2002|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,SUN STAFF

Let's cut to the chase: Any semi-serious chef would be delighted to have a copy of On Cooking: Techniques From Expert Chefs (Prentice Hall, $50).

Stuffed with more than 900 recipes and expert tips from big-time chefs like Wolfgang Puck and Alfred Portale and a whole lot of less-well-known names, this heavyweight cookbook is a worthy kitchen addition for anyone who is serious about food.

But there's a catch (isn't there always one?). While the book is instructive - there are long passages on basic techniques like filleting fish and grilling meat - this is not for the beginner or perhaps even the advanced beginner.

Instructions are minimal (Caramelized Butternut Squash is explained in two sentences). The ingredients are often given in weight (think ounces and pounds for such staples as milk, butter and flour instead of cups or tablespoons). And don't count on a lot of hand-holding or illustrations to guide you through the recipes.

But if you are a little more ambitious and serious about food, this is the book for you. The recipes are diverse, from a grits and cheddar souffle to Indian fried samosas and a wonderfully simple recipe for grilled swordfish served with truffle mashed potatoes and cannellini bean relish.

Oh, and here's another indicator of how serious co-authors Sarah Labensky and Alan Hause are about their recipes: Each is listed in metric as well as traditional measures and is followed by a nutritional breakdown. Some of the recipes make rather large quantities - two quarts of raspberry vinaigrette, anyone?

All in all, the book has the feel of a food-service manual or maybe a professional school text (either of which it may well be - Labensky runs a culinary school in Mississippi). That's not necessarily bad, but it is kind of odd to see so many recipes with instructions on proper presentation on the dinner plate.

On Cooking may be one of the best cookbook bargains on the market, however. At $50 for a 1,200-page hardcover, the recipes cost less than 6 cents each. The extras, like the illustrated lectures on pasta shapes and how to handle leftover cheese, are just icing on the cake.

Sesame Swordfish

Serves 1

oil for deep-frying

4 ounces leeks, julienne

6-ounce swordfish steak (see note)

1 ounce sesame oil

1 ounce sesame seeds

2 ounces fish stock

1 tablespoon tamari sauce

Deep-fry the leeks at 280 degrees until golden-brown. Drain well. Brush both sides of the fish with sesame oil and coat both sides with sesame seeds, pressing to make a solid, even coating.

In a very hot pan, saute the fish in the remaining oil. Turn and finish cooking in a 375-degree oven.

Remove the fish from the pan and hold on a warm plate. Deglaze the pan with the fish stock. Add the tamari sauce and heat thoroughly.

Place the fish on a bed of fried leeks, then pour the sauce over the fish and serve immediately.

Note: Tuna or shark steak can substitute for swordfish.

Per serving: 780 calories

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