There is something about James Peterson’s latest cookbook, “Cooking”, that simply draws me to it. What exactly it is I’m not sure. In fact, I think it's a bunch of things including the wonderful design, the detailed photographs (all 1500 of them) and perhaps most luring is his wonderful instructive prose aimed at “steering us away from the mistakes he and his students have made” while instilling “a real passion for food”. Cooking doesn’t focus on any single food, technique or tool; instead cooking aims to help you do just that – cook. Following the introduction and a discussion on basic cooking assumptions, James provides a description of 10 basic cooking techniques. After that the rest of the book is recipes that James suggests we learn.
Although this is an everyday cookbook, James livens the recipes up with a mix of fundamental recipes and personal favorites leaning towards recipes from France and Mexico. Sprinkled throughout the book are sidebars with photos on various techniques, needed for the related recipes, such as how to make glazed pearl onions or how to trim an artichoke. But, the recipes are not just instructive they are also practical recipes for everyday food such as the “Scallops in White Wine-Herb Sauce” below. As the scallops recipe shows, many of the recipes also provide you with variations so that once you learn how to make the general recipe you can recreate it in other forms to enjoy (and further improve upon the method). If you are looking for a general purpose book to help you learn more about cooking or to improve your cooking skills take a look at Cooking, but be forewarned you may find you love it.
Scallops in White Wine–Herb Sauce
From Cooking by James Peterson, Ten Speed Press 2007
One of the easiest sauces for scallops and other shellfish is a white wine sauce with shallots, finished with a swirl of butter. You can add chopped herbs to the sauce, either at the beginning with the shallots if using oil-rich herbs, such as thyme or marjoram, or at the end if using delicate herbs, such as parsley or chervil. This sauce is fairly liquid, so you will need to serve the scallops in soup plates. If you want a thicker sauce, reduce the wine twice as much and double the butter.
Makes enough for 4 main-course scallop servings
- Sautéed Sea Scallops (see recipe below)
- 1 large shallot, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme or marjoram leaves, chopped (optional)
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley, chervil, or chives, or a combination
- 6 tablespoons butter
Wipe out the pan used to sauté the scallops with a paper towel to rid it of any burnt oil, add the shallot and thyme, and stir them around in the still-hot pan with a whisk for about 30 seconds, or until the shallot smells toasty (the heat retained in the pan is enough to bring out the flavor of the shallot and thyme). Pour in the wine and boil it down to about 2 tablespoons. Whisk in the parsley and the butter. Season with salt and pepper and spoon over the scallops.
Compound butters can be used in two ways to top scallops and other seafood: Put it right on the scallops when they are served or melt it in the sauté pan, heat it until it is frothy, and then spoon it over the scallops. Some compound butters, such as escargot butter (garlic and parsley) are delicious when cooked in the pan until they break and turn frothy. More delicate butters, say, chervil or parsley butter, should be left emulsified, which is to say the pan should be deglazed with a liquid, such as wine, and the butter whisked into the liquid.
Sorrel Sauce for Sautéed Sea Scallops or Other Shellfish
Because of its tartness, sorrel is the perfect accompaniment to seafood. You can cream it as you would spinach, except that you don’t blanch it first or it will melt into nothing. The leaves, which look very much like spinach, are cut into little strips, or chiffonade, and then swirled into a white wine sauce. Sorrel can be hard to track down, so when you see it, usually in the summer, buy it up for making soups, for creaming alone or with spinach, or for making sauces for accompanying seafood. To make the sauce, first prepare the White Wine–Herb Sauce (above), made without the herbs. Remove the stems of 8 large sorrel leaves and cut into chiffonade. Whisk the sorrel into the warm sauce. The sorrel will immediately turn a sullen green. Serve immediately.
Sautéed Sea Scallops
Old cookbooks call for cooking scallops for 20 minutes and then covering them with a thick béchamel and broiling them. In fact, scallops need very little cooking—they are even delicious raw when freshly shucked—to bring out their delicate flavor, just enough to heat them through. When sautéing scallops, you need high heat to brown the two sides without overcooking the inside. Also, if the heat isn’t high enough, the scallops will release liquid (especially if they have been soaked) into the pan and then boil in their own juices. Get your sauté pan very hot before you add the scallops, and then start sautéing them one at a time, waiting for the last one added to start browning before you add the next one. When they are ready to turn, after 2 to 3 minutes, turn them only one or two at a time. If you turn them all at once, the pan will cool and the scallops will release liquid. This is one time when you can use a pan larger than needed to hold the scallops in a single layer.
If you are serving scallops as a first course or as part of a multi-course dinner, serve a single very large scallop for a stunning presentation. If you are serving the scallops as the main course, make them in the White Wine–Herb Sauce (above).
Makes 4 main-course servings or 6 first-course servings
- 16 large sea scallops for main courses, 18 small sea scallops or 6 very large sea scallops
for first courses
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil, olive oil, or grapeseed oil
- Salt, preferably fleur de sel
Don’t season the scallops with salt and pepper ahead of time because the salt will draw out their liquid and the flavor of the pepper will be destroyed by the heat. Pat the scallops perfectly dry.
Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over high heat until the oil smokes. Add 1 or 2 scallops, wait for about 30 seconds, and then add 2 more scallops. Continue in this way until the first scallops you added are well browned on one side. This should take 2 to 3 minutes. Then begin to turn the scallops, starting with those that are browned and turning 1 or 2 at a time. Sauté for 2 to 3 minutes on the second side, or until all the scallops have a brown crust on both sides. Remove from the pan, and place on a paper towel–covered plate to absorb the excess oil. Season with salt and pepper and serve on warmed plates. If you have fleur de sel, put a tiny pinch of it in the center of each scallop.
In an era of outfitted home kitchens and food fascination, it's no wonder home cooks who never learned the fundamentals of the kitchen are intimidated. Twenty years ago, James Peterson could relate, and so he taught himself by cooking his way through professional kitchens and stacks of books, logging the lessons of his kitchen education one by one. Now one of the country's most revered cooking teachers, Peterson provides the confidence-building instructions home cooks need to teach themselves to cook consistently with ease and success. COOKING is the only all-in-one instructional that details the techniques that cooks really need to master, teaches all the basic recipes, and includes hundreds of photos that illuminate and inspire.
Disclosure: Review copies of books discussed in this post may have been provided to Project Foodie by publicists and/or publishers.