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Cookbook Review: Meat By James Peterson + His Rolled Skirt Steak With Prosciutto And Sage Recipe

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Mon, Nov 1, 2010 at 10:00 AM

click to enlarge Meat_peterson.jpg
When you start counting your James Beard Awards in round numbers (about a half dozen?), you've long since earned the right for concise cookbook titles. James Peterson's latest, Meat: A Kitchen Education is a primer on how to properly cook bipeds and quadrupeds, albeit those most commonly consumed in the U.S. today (no guinea pigs). But like all of his work, meat is not a topic that Peterson approaches lightly.

He begins the book by recalling a story from his former days as a chef when faced with slaughtering two rabbits for dinner service. They were "discarded" rabbits (notably not Peterson's word choice, but a word referring to their life's purpose as control animals in a science lab, for better or worse). And still alive. A customer had offered them up. Peterson says he naively accepted, thinking they would arrive butchered (side note; no need to panic over lab animals showing upon your dinner plate, this was decades ago). It was a life changing moment.

click to enlarge Yes, Please - JAMES PETERSON
  • James Peterson
  • Yes, Please
Peterson continues the Introduction to say that after the incident, he was "left convinced that people who consume meat should have to [literally] kill for their supper at least once in their lives." That lesson in appreciation, he says, would do all of us (clarification: Americans) who consume on average more than 8-ounces of meat a day good. Enough good, perhaps, for us to consider stepping away from the processed, massed produced (and more likely than not, inhumanely slaughtered) meats that we pass off as cutesy lunchbox filler in favor of farm raised and humanely slaughtered beef, chicken, pork. And rabbit.

The book itself is laid out in typical Peterson fashion, filled with thoroughly tested, step-by-step recipes. How to make confit, proper poaching techniques, a clarification of the difference between sautéing and sweating (the latter typically refers to vegetables and is a method of getting food to release its moisture, sautéing does just the opposite, sealing in flavor).

The chapters are divided by type of meat (chicken and turkey, pork, beef, veal, lamb and goat) and are illustrated by Peterson's step-by-step color photos (even America's Test Kitchen typically uses black and whites for their step-by-steps). And that's exactly why this book, like Peterson's others, is so alluring. Sure, there are some compelling recipes that might give you that momentary gotta-make-it-now high (Moroccan-style chicken with almonds and dried apricots, chicken breasts à la Milanaise, roast chicken with ricotta and sage). But mainly, this is the sort of reference cookbook that you flip open when you need to remember, or learn how, to score the skin of duck breast.

Or figure out what exactly that pork chop cut is that you picked up on special at the grocery store (center-cut, loin, or sirloin?). Curious how to cut a slab of fatback into lardons? Peterson has a recipe for that here, too, along with rather intimate photographs of chuck blade roasts undergoing lardon surgery in the "Beef" chapter.

And then, just as you start to tire of all that fatback lore, you hit page 293. A chapter on sausages stuffed in the back of the book that feels like a little meat-amalgam gift with its recipes for pork, creamed turkey, pistachio-duck, chorizo, kielbasa and veal sausages, followed by another chapter on pâté, terrines and foie gras. Just the sort of things we imagine Peterson is cooking up right now in his four-story Brooklyn brownstone complete with a test kitchen on one floor, a photography studio on another. Yes, we are terribly jealous.

Turn the page for Peterson's recipe for skirt steak rolled with prosciutto and sage.

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