Books: Cooking by Cuisine -> Cooking French
Jones, Deborah (Photographer)
Published: November 15, 2004
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Bouchon, chef Thomas Keller's bistro cookbook, offers 180-plus recipes from his eponymous restaurants--there are two. Readers perusing the near-prosciutto-size book will be dazzled, first, by its great looks (there are many beautiful
photos), then, perhaps, wonder why so many of its typically homey bistro dishes are so fussy to prepare. Why, for example, must the onions for onion soup be caramelized for five hours, or the muscles of a leg of lamb separated so that each can be cooked
to an exact, presumably optimal, temperature.
They should, however, trust this justly celebrated chef, whose sometimes-painstaking refinements reflect a better way. Apart from the excellence of the dishes, the reason to own Bouchon is to discover
the richness of Keller's technical understanding. Readers learn, for example, not to baste chicken while it roasts, which creates skin-softening moisture, and to allow the base for crème caramel to sit before baking, thus permitting its flavors to
deepen. Keller's sensitivity to ingredients and their composition is profound; and he and his collaborators have presented it so deftly that one finds oneself engrossed again and again. Whether Keller is talking about vinaigrettes (in their balance of
fat, acid, and saltines, the perfect sauce) vegetable glazing, or the creation of brown butter, his insights are fascinating.
The dishes cover a wide range of courses, and include the traditional--poule au pot, veal roast, pommes frites, and so
on--and the "new," such as Gnocchi with Summer Vegetables, Skate with Fennel-Onion Confit and Tapenade Sauce, and Grandma Sheila's Cheesecake Tart with Huckleberries. All are, as the French might say, impeccable--and can be accomplished by anyone willing
to take the time to do so. Like his cooking, Bouchon is a sui generis treat. --Arthur Boehm
When Thomas Keller imagined opening a second restaurant in Napa Valley, next door to his French Laundry, he envisioned a place
serving food that excited him in a different way from the food at the French Laundry. He craved food that was less complicated, and a place that was more casual, where he could go every night after work. And that was how Bouchon was born.
cooking is about elevating to elegance the simplest ingredients, because the best food isn't necessarily what is served at white-tablecloth restaurants, and the best meals--as most chefs will tell you--don't require the most expensive ingredients or lots
of them or lots of steps. The only thing that's required is that you care about all the stages of the process--the slow browning of sliced onion for an onion soup, the proper cutting of the potatoes for a gratin, the right amount of salt on a raw
chicken, how long you cook a pot de crème.
All the emblematic bistro dishes are here, interpreted and executed as they've never been before. The confit of duck, country-style pand#226;tés, soupe and#224; l'oignon gratinée, steamed mussels, steak
frites, gigot d'agneau, all achieve the impossible: they get even better.
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