Most helpful positive review
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
One of the most useful and practical books on cooking. It debunks the mystique and rationalises many "old wives' tales".
on 31 August 2015
For once, I literally don't understand the negative reviews. It's as if they have read McGee's earlier works, wanted more of the same, and stopped reading once they found themselves thwarted. All their complaints are anticipated and answered by the author himself at the outset. This is not another exposition on the science of food - and quite honestly who needs one? - but a very practical and comprehensive guide on how to get the most out of recipes by applying relevant scientific knowledge. Even good recipes by your favourite food writer contain errors in thinking about food. This book aims to make you aware of the howlers repeated by even the best food writers, such as the oft-repeated claim that roasting meat over a liquid makes it more juicy - it does, but only on the surface. There is ample space for you to annotate the book as you apply the advice, making adjustments for your equipment and preferences. For, as the author implies, cooking from a recipe is not the same for each person doing it. Cookers and pans vary, as do interpretations of when a dish is "cooked", and what goes with what. Even more important, knowledge is incomplete and no writer has perfect command of even this incomplete knowlege. I rate this book as one of the most useful in my collection and will use it again and again. Potential buyers should be aware that the information aims to help the beginning cook as well as the more experienced. I find a few reminders useful and it is very easy to skip information not new to you. A couple of reviewers made dismissive comments about some of the health advice in this book. For example, to kill all the bacteria in a fresh sausage, it is recommended to poach the sausage to 60 C, hold it at that temperature for 30 minutes, and then quickly caramelise the skin. I freely confess that I think this is overkill and will probably ruin a good sausage. However, anyone who has ever been made violently ill by a macho idiot - the sort that thinks cooking on the barbie is a job for real men, no matter how incompetent - will understand McGee's concerns. I would certainly advocate some sort of pre-cooking of sausages before barbecuing them. So, the health concerns are valid and should at least be considered.
The book begins with a few basics on equipment, food safety, and so on before presenting 18 chapters based on ingredients, or families of ingredients. The contents of these vary by subject, but I include a breakdown of the chapter on Vegetables and Fresh Herbs as an example. The subtopics are: Vegetable and Herb Safety, Shopping for Vegetables and Herbs, Storing Fresh Vegetables and Herbs, Sprouts and Microgreens, Raw Salads, The Essentials of Cooking Vegetables and Herbs, Boiling Vegetables, Steaming Vegetables, Microwave Cooking Vegetables, Pressure-cooking Vegetables, Braising and Stewing Vegetables, Mashing and Pureeing Vegetables, Frying, Sauteing, Sweating, Glazing, and Wilting Vegetables, Deep and Shallow-Frying Vegetables and Herbs, Baking or Oven Roasting Vegetables, Grilling and Broiling Vegetables, Canning Vegetables, Quick-Pickling Vegetables, Fermenting Vegetables. These are followed by specific recommendations for getting the best out of 47 common vegetables - arranged alphabetically. I told you it was comprehensive! The only reason I haven't given this five stars is that as one reviewer noted, at times the author gets a bit wordy. But this should not be a deal-breaker for anyone - the book is simply too useful!