July 6, 2003

A New Way To Cook

A New Way To Cook
Sally Schneider

Sensible, thoughtful recipes that work, this is a really good cookbook that's also interesting and thoughtful. The core of the book is teaching you to improvise; instead of giving you lots of recipes, it describes a base technique (e.g. "braising small fish"), explains what the parameters are, and shows lots of variations. It's like a jazz book for classical pianists; Schneider assumes you know the basics and shows you how to improvise.

One of the most interesting things here is Schneider's treatment of fats and sugars as something to be relished, not as a plague. Growing up, I was taught to abjure saturated fat and sugar with a nearly religious fervor. Schneider tries to step back and consider, to think about exactly why we like some foods and what it means to us when the food we like isn't good for us.

For example, let's think about crispy fried onions. Tasty, but bad, right? Schneider says, go ahead. But, instead of treating the dish as an indulgence or trying to make a bad imitation without the fat, Schneider has you use a pastry brush to coat each and every onion piece with extra-virgin olive oil (or, she suggests, duck fat!) The upshot is, you use less fat, and it all goes where it'll do the most good. (You sweat the onions for 5-10 minutes under a tight cover, and then you saute them to drive the water off; this gives you the effect of deep frying without the oil bath). Schneider likes to encourage you to enjoy lots of different fats and sugars, evening out the dietary strain, and she treats them like expensive ingredients, things to be carefully doled out, savored and treasured.