Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Cookbook Review: Bouchon by Thomas Keller

As part of our ongoing Holiday Culinary Gift Guide for 2008, I am reviewing a few great, classic cookbook favorites of mine. There is no better place to start than with Thomas Keller's Bouchon cookbook. Now available deeply discounted on ($32 down from $50) this is an excellent gift for anyone who is serious about cooking excellent food at home, improving their cooking techniques, or is in love with the food of the French bistro.

Of all the cookbooks on my shelf (and there are many) Bouchon is the most weathered. Unlike Keller's other cookbooks (The French Laundry, and now Under Pressure), Bouchon can be turned to for everyday comforts-of-home cuisine. This is not to say, however, that many (or any) of his recipes can be whipped up an hour before dinner time. In classic Keller fashion, most involve sub-recipes (for example, in a recipe for Lentil Soup there are sub-recipes for Chicken stock and Veal stock; in a recipe for Roast Chicken there are sub-recipes for Chicken jus and brine). However, for those able to work outside the confines of a recipe, these can be adapted and substituted as you like depending on your time constraints. Thomas Keller himself, though, is not a short-cut kind of guy and, indeed, the sub-recipes (included in an extensive index at the back of the book) are a real goldmine in of themselves, providing exacting and detailed instructions on everything from roux to stock and creme anglaise to garlic confit.

The book is roughly organized into sections based around small plates ("First Impressions," "Hors d'Oeuvres," and "Raw Bar"), more lunch oriented or first-course oriented fare ("Anytime," "Soups," "Salads," "Quiches," and "Sandwiches"), Entrees ("Fish & Shellfish," "Birds & Meat," and "Gnocchi") Sides ("Accompaniments") and, of course, Dessert ("Custards," Tarts & Cakes," "Ice Creams & Sorbets," and Puffs, Crepes & Fruit"). The book also includes full page and panel spreads on cooking techniques and ingredients (such as "The Importance of Salt").

Bouchon is also beautiful with lush photographs, heavy stock pages, and a durable cover and jacket (to this last I can definitely attest, having really put the book through its paces). This cookbook has had a deep and lasting impact on my cooking (and that of another blogger on this site: Steve). It is my go-to source for favorite recipes, including wonderful French Onion Soup, true quiches (deep, custardy, high-sided affairs that take several days to prepare), fabulous frites, classic seared hanger steaks with caramelized onions and butter, rich desserts such as a velvety chocolate terrine with creme anglaise and perfect ice creams. I've had the book for several years, cook out of it regularly, and still there are recipes nestled within waiting for me to try them.

For the foodie and home cook willing to devote several hours to preparing amazing food, (or to the collector of beautiful cookbooks....or even to the person looking for a little culinary inspiration in their lives) this is the *perfect* gift.

Bon Appetit.


mike said...

I can also vouch for the greatness of this book. I've had almost no bad experiences while working my way through it.

Mel @ said...

I was instantly captured by Bouchon’s comfortable and practical approach to French cooking and by Keller’s emphasis on manifesting the ingredients’ potential sensibly over needlessly manipulating and torturing food. This chimes in well with my cultural and personal philosophy towards food. I decided to cook my way through Bouchon. So far, it's been challenging but it's a practical and rewarding experience for the home cook. Keller really breaks down the basics and fundamental techniques and I am learning a lot.

I'm now cooking through it on