Monday, November 29, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: Keys to Good Cooking by Harold McGee

        Call me a culinary polytheist; I have multiple bibles on my bookshelf. One of them is Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking. In no other book am I able to open to any given page and learn so much about any given subject. Whether it's learning that searing meat really doesn't "seal in the juices" like every Handy Dandy with a pair of tongs and a barbecue insists upon. For sheer information and knowledge, the vast majority chefs will reach for McGee's tome on everything to have ever been put in a pan or cut with a knife. He's regarded with respect and authority in any kitchen he visits, like the Yoda of Gastronomy.
                                                   "Much to learn you still have."  
           Nerdy Jedi references aside, McGee's latest book Keys to Good Cooking follows in the footsteps of his previous masterpiece. No, there are no pictures or illustrations. No, there are no recipes, or anecdotes, or little quips about how beautiful the figs are in late Summer. What you get is an indispensable bank of information that answers just about any question you can possibly think of. Is your soufflé falling too quickly? McGee has a solution for that. Your batch of gnocchi are dense and chewy instead of light and fluffy? McGee knows where you went wrong.

                To have Keys to Good Cooking on your counter-top is to have access to decades upon decades of culinary experience at your disposal. Never again will you wonder why your cake didn't rise, or why your scones are able to double as hockey pucks. McGee prevents you from making the same mistake twice, and in this economy, isn't it a good idea to only have to start over once? Think of anything that could possibly go wrong in a kitchen, and odds are high that you'll find it whilst perusing the diverse index at the back of the book. Remember that mayonnaise you made that split worse than a Hollywood power couple? Quick tips on everything from whisking technique to how to bring back your formerly emulsified sauce from the dead ensure that the heartbreak of a broken mayonnaise need only happen once.

                McGee wastes no ink on lusting over the first fava beans of the season or extolling in the virtues of Spanish olive oils. Instead he explains to us why we should never wait to enjoy fresh fava beans and the differences between expensive and cheap olive oils from a flavor standpoint. Lust over elusive crispy poultry skin no more as McGee instructs you in what to look for while on your pilgrimage for crackly, salty chicken goodness. While Keys is as dry as it's predecessor, it's like real life; sometimes you need a friend who will forgo coatings of sugar and straight up tell you what the heck you did wrong, and how to fix it. Consider Keys to Good Cooking a bible, and consider St. Harold that friend.

Keys to Good Cooking by Harold McGee (Doubleday Canada)
Hardcover, 554 pages, $42.00
Review by Kevin Jeung

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