Making Good Cooks into Great CooksJan 29, 2021 01:56PM ● By Cornelius O'Donnell
It is such a pleasure to pick up a new cookbook, start reading, and discover a real gem in the too-often cubic zirconia world of recipe writing/cookbook publishing. I envied the vision of the writers of The Great Cook, published in 2016 by Oxmoor House. The author, James Briscione, along with editors of the monthly food magazine Cooking Light, joined forces to develop what they must have envisioned as the ideal layout and content of a book that would actually teach a reader how to become a better cook by following the easy-to-master techniques and tips on each page. And there is such a variety of dishes.
It seems to this often-jaded critic that others have tried to demystify the planning and preparation of a meal. Briscione and company have succeeded brilliantly. I read the book in one sitting. And, when I turned the final pages, I was so impressed by the care and logical flow of the content I almost stood up and cheered. This was a publication I could unqualifiedly recommend.
The Secret? Emphasizing Mise En Place
If you read about cooking, I’m sure you’ve heard this term. In short, it emphasizes the importance of premeasuring ingredients required for a particular dish, and then arranging them in their order of use along with the bowls, spatulas, pots and pans, knives, and other implements to make the dish. Having done the setting up exercises, the ensuing work becomes the equivalent of “dump-dish” cooking, so dear to the cake and casserole makers of the world. You might even whistle while you work.
After listing the basics (the mise en place) of the “master” recipe, the authors follow up with one or more variations that can make the dish as appealing as possible for a variety of tastes. And sometimes even more ideas may occur to you based on your own taste and the ingredients you may have on hand. I only wish I had been able to see this book way back when I started cooking. By the way, that was way, way back.
Getting a Copy
And to think the book has been in print for some four-plus years! For this reason, you might have to hunt down new copies or even “like-new” copies available from local booksellers or those on the Internet. I think you’ll find the search worth it.
Once you picked out one or two recipes to try, go back to the beginning and note the listings of what should be in a Good Cook’s pantry, equipment closet, knife rack, refrigerator, and freezer. That sort of assessment is helpful to all cooks—the good ones and those who aspire to be. And a person relatively new to cooking might well wonder how long or where to store ingredients: in the pantry, the fridge, or the freezer. You’ll find answers here.
Selecting a recipe from all the delectable options on display needn’t be challenging. Start with a favorite ingredient. I found many, many entries so appealing that my copy of the book is bristling with bookmarks. I found such good ideas to segue meal planning from winter into spring. Salad days and nights at the grill will be here before we know it. And with this extraordinary book you’ll be ready for whatever nature (or company) throws at you.
Crispy Fish with Lemon Dill Sauce
Since we are heading toward spring, despite what might be happening outside right now, you might want to try something like this fish dish, listed in the book as a “variation of a master recipe for an appealing fish dish.”
Japanese breadcrumbs called panko are the secret ingredient that makes these-oven-fried fish so nice and crispy. For sustainable reasons choose Alaskan cod if you can find it, or use halibut or tilapia instead of cod.
- 1 tsp. ground black pepper (freshly milled is best)
- 1⁄2 tsp. salt
- 2 large egg whites, lightly beaten
- 1 c. panko bread crumbs
- 1⁄2 teaspoon paprika (I like the imported stuff in the little can, hot or not)
- 1⁄2 teaspoon each, garlic powder and onion powder (see note)
- 4 (6 oz. each) cod fillets
- Cooking spray
- 1⁄2 cup canola mayonnaise
- 2 Tbsp. finely chopped dill pickle
- 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
- 1 tsp. chopped fresh dill
- Lemon wedges
- Hands-on time: 12 minutes; total time: 21 minutes.
Preheat broiler. Sprinkle fish evenly with salt and pepper. Place egg whites in a shallow dish such as a pie plate. Combine panko, the garlic, and onion powder. Sprinkle fish evenly with salt and pepper. Dip each fillet in egg white then dredge in the panko mixture. Place on a broiler rack that has been coated with cooking spray. Tip: be sure to use a large broiler pan. The air vents keep the fish from getting soggy. Broil 4 minutes on each side until the desired degree of doneness. (I tend to slightly undercook.)
Combine mayonnaise, pickle, lemon juice, and dill. Serve sauce with fish and lemon wedges. Yield: 4 servings...and many compliments from the diners.
I suggest you seek out two copies of The Great Cook—one for you and the other can be a dandy Valentine’s or Father’s or Mother’s Day addition to the cookbook shelf of a favorite cook. You might be the recipient of a dandy dish in return.
Note: I’ve finely grated both fresh lemon and a skinned garlic clove using a zester rather than use the dried jarred stuff.