Top positive review
273 of 274 people found this helpful
on 31 December 2004
I was eagerly anticipating this book ever since reading the reviews of the first edition. Since its arrival, I've not been disappointed. The first thing you notice about the book is its sheer size - it's enormous. It quickly became apparent that this was not a book to be read from start to finish - it was going to be a reference book.
And so it is turning out. It's great fun to dive in at random, and just read all about the topic at that point. I guarantee there will be numerous things you never knew, and some things that you did know, explained in more detail than you would have thought possible. Initially, some of this level of detail might seem unnecessary, but when taken in the context of the whole section it all makes perfect sense, and enhances the overall understanding of the subject.
The art of beating eggwhites, for example, is described in minute detail, covering the various stages that the beaten whites pass through, together with a scientific explanation of why this happens (and why the same process does not work for egg yolks). Having the scientific background knowledge helps you understand just why things can go wrong, and hopefully avoid those problems in the future.
Incidentally, for anyone who may have purchased Heston Blumenthal's book "Family Food", it is clear that Mr Blumenthal has been strongly influenced by McGee's book. The section on the effects of temperature on meat proteins is fascinating, and is very closely paralleled in Blumenthal's devotion to low-temperature meat cooking. The two books certainly complement each other very well indeed, and would make an ideal joint-purchase.
Something else that I particularly like in McGee's book is the numerous references to professional shortcuts or tricks - not necessarily because I need to know (although some are helpful), but often because they've simply bugged me for ages! How, for example, do you cook risotto in bulk in a restaurant when it's the sort of dish that doesn't appreciate sitting around? The answer's in there, along with many others.
All in all, this book is astonishing, fascinating and nothing less than brilliant. The sheer volume and diversity of factual information packed into it is a joy. Buy it!