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Monday, November 14, 2011

Review: 'Essential Pepin'

ESSENTIAL PEPIN: More Than 700 All-Time Favorites from My Life in FoodBy Jacques Pepin
October 2011
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
ISBN: 978-0547232799

Even with decades of being on television, writing cookbooks and serving thousands at his restaurants, Jacques Pepin may not have the same name recognition or star power as more recently arrived celebrity chefs. That should change, however, with the release of his Essential Pepin and an accompanying PBS series.

Essential Pepin is no quickly turned-out scrapbook filled with color photographs to capitalize on a TV program, even though there is a companion series. As the subtitle says, it's "More Than 700 All-Time Favorites from My Life in Food". This is a comprehensive reference work for home cooks from neophyte to foodie. Everything is written down simply and completely.

There was not a single recipe that I didn't think I couldn't tackle. For example, his Cranberry Bread is a rustic bread designed to go with meats for a hearty winter meal. As shown in the first photo, milk and butter are combined over low heat, then set aside.

Dry ingredients, as seen in the second photo, are combined.

After the wet and dry ingredients are mixed, cranberries and walnuts and folded in (I left the cranberries whole as a personal preference, although the recipe calls for chopping them). Pepin suggested using a springfoam pan, which worked well (see the third photo) to bake the bread in a hot oven for approximately an hour.

As seen in the fourth and fifth photos, the results were terrific for a bread to accompany a meal -- not too sweet and substantial without being too heavy.

Each chapter thoroughly covers a wide range of food within that group. Soups, for example, include Pea Pod Soup, Raw Tomato Soup and Chicken and Spinach Veloute. In Pasta, there's a Red Pepper Pasta with Walnuts to try. Poultry includes a Lentil and Chicken Fricassee, Roast Boned Squab with Peas in Tomato "Saucers" and a Duck Cassoulet, while the Meat chapter has two Carpaccio recipes. There's a separate chapter for Charcuterie and Offal. The Vegetable chapter  includes such gorgeous sounding fare as Asparagus in Mustard Sauce, Chestnut Puree and Artichoke Hymn to Spring (with snow peas and asparagus spears). Separate chapters are devoted to Puddings, Sweet Souffles and Crepes; Cakes, Cookies and Candies; Tarts, Pies and Pastries; and Frozen Desserts. The book includes a Basics chapter on stocks, glazes, sauces, relishes and drinks. And there is a DVD of Pepin demonstrating techniques thrown in.

And while each chapter could be its own cookbook, the Seafood chapter is stunning, with recipes ranging from Cold Striped Bass in Flavored Broth and Molasses-Cured Salmon to Red Snapper in Potato Jackets, Clam-Stuffed Sole with Cucumbers and Grilled Swordfish with Spicy Yogurt Sauce.

In between the recipes are line drawings and antecdotes from Pepin. Combine these with his short, sweet introduction and there is a portrait of a lovely man who enjoys food, family and people.

Pepin mentions more than once that he is now an old man. But looking through this enormous memory collection of what he has loved preparing, what comes across is not a feeling of being tired, but rather an invigorated examination of the bounty that can be served to friends and family.

This cookbook will take pride of place in my kitchen bookcase, when it's not open on the counter for meal after meal. I look forward to dripping ingredients on it for years to come.

©2011 All Rights Reserved CompuServe Books Reviews and reprinted with permission


  1. mmm that cake looks lovely lynne ,all the best stu

  2. Stu! So good to see you. This recipe appealed to my palate, which doesn't appreciate too-sweet.