Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Keys To Good Cooking by Harold McGee: Book Review

Keys to Good Cooking
I love Harold McGee's classic tome, On Food and Cooking. I turn to it often when doing research for posts or articles I'm writing. But it's not the best book when I'm looking for practical advice. McGee's latest book, The Keys to Good Cooking is a bit like On Food and Cooking, only for dummies. Keys To Good Cooking is nothing BUT practical advice. And there is no book that I know of that answers quite as many questions about selecting ingredients, cooking and food storage.

The book is a reference guide, not a cookbook. While it might be good to read the whole book the truth is, you are going to turn to various sections when you are cooking and the book is organized to make that easy. For example turn to the Sauces, Stocks and Soups to learn why you may not want to make mayonnaise with all olive oil or go to the Fruit section to learn why European plums are best for baking. My only quibble is that from time to time I would like a little more information, for example McGee says to rinse poultry thoroughly before cooking, but doesn't answer the question why? I've read rinsing is more likely to lead to cross-contamination and that any bacteria will be destroyed by heat during cooking. Though I suppose you have to draw the line somewhere, if McGee is a proponent of rinsing, I want to know why.

Some of the most helpful sections I've come across so far are the ones on cooking temperatures and which are most desirable for different cuts of meat, the explanation of differences between Asian, European and American pine nuts and guidelines that address how long you can store certain ingredients. I also learned which types of bread will keep for a few days--levain and sourdough because of their acidity. Did you know you can store miso indefinitely in the refrigerator? Good to know! As is almost everything in this new indispensable cooking reference guide.