Cooking

What I Learned Writing a Cookbook

It's not always just about the way a dish tastes
Crème Fraîche Tarts
Crème Fraîche Tarts | Photo: Chris Court © 2016

When chef Naomi Pomeroy of Beast in Portland, Oregon, asked me to help her write a cookbook, I was more than a little freaked out. Pomeroy cooks what’s been described as “fancy French grandmother cuisine,” which meant that I, an enthusiastic but strictly amateur home cook, had to bring my A game.

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Turns out, Pomeroy, an entirely self-taught chef, is also an excellent teacher who in many ways still considers herself a home cook (albeit one who happens to run an upscale restaurant). Working on the book, titled Taste & Technique: Recipes to Elevate Your Home Cooking, I learned more than I ever thought possible about how to become a better home cook, both philosophically (if there’s one overarching lesson, it’s that cooking is more than just a physical act—it’s a holistic mind-body experience) and practically (taste, taste and taste again!). 

Reprinted with permission from Taste & Technique: Recipes to Elevate Your Home Cooking by Naomi Pomeroy with Jamie Feldmar, copyright © 2016. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. 

Here are a few of the best tips and tricks I picked up from Pomeroy.

① It’s All About the Aerial Salting Method: This technique involves sprinkling salt high above whatever food you’re seasoning in order to evenly distribute the grains. Start with a pinch (which we measured to be about a quarter teaspoon) and twist your fingers at least four inches above the object. This technique is particularly important when seasoning raw meats, but it can be used on virtually anything.

② The Perfect Touch: A small garnish (like a simple herb salad, edible flowers or seed-free lemon wedge) before serving always adds a touch of elegance (TOE) to a finished dish. TOEs are an easy way to up your presentation at home and look like a pro.

③ Dress for Success: When making a tossed salad, use your hands rather than tongs to avoid bruising tender greens and help distribute the dressing more evenly. (While you're at it, try seasoning your homemade salad dressing with a tiny bit of sugar for balance.)

④ Room-Temp Rules: Let your meats come to room temperature (relax, food safety police—we mean for just an hour or so) before searing to create an even, golden-brown surface sear. This also helps ensure that meat cooks evenly when you finish it in the oven or on the stovetop. Along those same lines, let meats properly rest before slicing and serving.

⑤ Bonus: Even if the finished dish, whatever it is, isn't perfect (let's say your soufflé doesn't rise to skyscraper heights, or a corner of your steak is overcooked)—it’s OK. You should still serve your home-cooked meal with grace and confidence (unless you really, really messed it up big time and it’s not actually safe to eat). That’s arguably the biggest lesson of all: Yes, technique is important, but what really matters is the pleasure and pride you derive from creating a beautiful meal to share with the people you love.

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