Back when I used to sew lots of my own clothes, I decided to sign up for a class that would help me to move from homemade to haute couture. The instructor graciously suggested that I might want to take Sewing 101 since pretty much everything I knew about sewing had been learned in 7th grade home ec – in other words, it was back to the basics. Sensing that perhaps my cooking might suffer from a similar plight (same home ec class – second semester), I picked up a copy of Ruhlman’s Twenty a few months ago and have been practicing the 20 basic techniques that help us ensure that every creation is a crowd pleaser.
Michael Ruhlman has a great story that you’ll want to read, but it was his Twenty Essentials that really caught my eye.
Some critics quibble that a few of the Techniques are actually Ingredients – but really, folks, life’s a bit too short for those kinds of discussions. After reading through Chapter 1: Think, I quickly graduated to Chapter 2: Salt and decided to experiment with Sage-Garlic Brined Pork Chops. Everyone says brining makes all the difference in keeping meat from becoming dried shoe leather after grilling, sautéing, pan frying or roasting. So half of the chops were infused with a lovely kosher salt, shallot, lemon, fresh sage leaves, 2 bay leaves, and black peppercorns brine for about 6-8 hours before being grilled; the others were thrown mercilessly onto the fire.
Then I rounded up my favorite guinea pigs and had them try Chop A (for brined) and Chop B (yes, I know brined starts with B, but I didn’t want it to be obvious).
You don’t need me to tell you that Chop A won hands down; you already knew that and have moved on to Chapter 3: Water (other chapters include onion, acid, egg, butter, dough, batter, sugar, sauce, vinaigrette, soup, sauté, roast, braise, poach, grill, fry, and chill).
Each chapter begins with a few thoughtfully written instructions about the featured technique and then a few tantalizing recipes follow to give us a chance to put into practice our newly acquired skills.
Kate and I had fun with Chapter 6: Egg when I visited her in Paris in February.
Ruhlman’s Twenty is a super idea for all who want to kick their cooking up a notch – part technique, part recipes, as Ruhlman himself says: a Cook’s Manifesto. What I love about Ruhlman’s book is that he demystifies cooking. We get so overwhelmed by mandolins, mirepoix, and macerating that we throw in the towel and call for take-out and then are so disappointed with our Styrofoam suppers. This summer as life slows down a bit (OK, I’ll wait until you stop laughing), let’s get the family back in the kitchen, not just around the table, but in front of the stove as well – and rediscover the joy of cooking and enjoying what’s been created with our own hands. Family all grown up and moved away? Then gather up some friends and start a Friday night supper club – what could be more fun? – Martha
Bloopers – you know how at the end of a movie they sometimes include the parts where the actors messed up? Here’s my brining blooper – burnt to a crisp…