Monday, June 11, 2012

Peterson's next quest: How to tell when things are done

James Peterson has written award-winning and indispensable books on vegetables, fish and shellfish, sauces, baking, splendid soups and countless other single-topic but sweeping subjects. He's earned every culinary award worth having and attracted a huge audience of admirers among elite chefs and home cooks.
James Peterson

So, now that he's released a revised edition of a cherished cookbook, what does he do for en encore?

"I’m working on a book proposal now about teaching people how to tell when things are done," Peterson said during a recent call from his home in New York City. "That’s what people always complain about in learning how to cook. The challenge is that not all clues for doneness are visual."

Quantifying the "doneness" of different foods is a challenge that Peterson will be address through such means as the "touch test" and learning to recognize key sights and smells amid a range of contradictory clues.
“You’ve just got to keep trying until you get used to it," he said with the practiced calm of a culinary school educator. "You have to go into it knowing that you’re going to make mistakes, but that is how you learn. I always suggest using a thermometer to help train yourself.”

The proposed book will benefit experience cooks but be of particular use for newbies. It may prove to be a particular godsend for countless newlyweds who face the terror of preparing their first daunting dinner party.

“I'll never forget, once a person found my phone number and called me to say I ruined her Thanksgiving dinner," Peterson recalled with a laugh. "She said did everything according to directions, which include taking the turkey out of the oven when it’s reached 140 degrees between the thigh and the breast.

“What I failed to do [in the recipe] is warn people that it will be pink, as it should be. This freaks people out," he said. "This person said she threw it all the trash. I thought, ‘You didn’t even eat the breast portion?’ I guess I should have said in the book, if you want your meat cooked more, go ahead, but it will be dry.”

Peterson shared his favorite recipe from Vegetables that is richly sauced and savory - and features the book cover's beautiful image of savoy cabbage.

Potted Stuffed Cabbage
Reprinted with permission from Vegetables by James Peterson, copyright © 2012. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.

1 medium (8-ounce) Savoy cabbage
2 medium onions
5 medium carrots, peeled
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup tomato paste
4 slices stale white bread, crusts removed
1/2 cup milk
4 large cloves garlic
1 bunch parsley, preferably Italian flat-leaf
20 juniper berries
3/4 pounds coarsely ground pork shoulder
4 ounces thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves, or 1/2 teaspoon dried
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup Calvados (optional)

Makes 6 main-course servings.

Select a cabbage with loosely packed leaves so the leaves will be easy to remove. Carefully pull away the leaves, discarding the dark green outer ones. If you can’t peel away the leaves without breaking them, plunge the cabbage in a pot of boiling water for about 1 minute, rinse with cold water, peel off as many leaves as you can. Keep repeating this process until you’ve removed all the leaves. 

Discard the core or save it for soup. Simmer the cabbage leaves in a large pot of boiling salted water for 10 minutes—if you plunged the cabbage into boiling water, you can use the same water—drain in a colander, and rinse under cold running water. Cut any thick ribs or tough sections out of the leaves.

Slice the onions and carrots into rounds about 1/8 inch thick and put in a wide pot or sauté pan with the olive oil. Cook the vegetables gently, uncovered, over medium-low heat for about 40 minutes or until they are tender but not brown. If the vegetables start to brown, lower the heat. Stir in the tomato paste, cover, and cook gently for 5 minutes more. Allow the mixture to cool.

Soak the bread in the milk for 15 minutes.

While the vegetables are cooking, prepare the stuffing. Finely chop the garlic, parsley, and juniper berries. (Crush the juniper berries, before chopping, under the bottom of a pot or with the side of a cleaver.) Work the soaked bread to a paste with your fingers and combine it with the juniper berry mixture, ground pork, diced bacon, egg, thyme, salt, and pepper. Work the mixture with your hands to evenly distribute all the ingredients, but don’t work it any longer than necessary or the mixture will be tough after baking.

Preheat the oven 350˚F.

To assemble and bake the stuffed cabbage, line six 10- to 12-ounce heatproof bowls—preferably bowls with lids—with the boiled and drained cabbage leaves. Leave enough extra cabbage hanging over the outside of the bowls to fold over and cover the stuffing. Divide the stuffing evenly among the bowls and fold over the overhanging cabbage leaves, sealing in the stuffing. Spread the vegetable mixture—including the oil—over the cabbage in each bowl and sprinkle over the white wine and the Calvados. Put the lids on the bowls or seal the tops with a double layer of aluminum foil.

Place the bowls on a sheet pan and bake for 1 hour. These potted stuffed cabbages may be served right away, but they are even better when allowed to cool, saved in the refrigerator for a day or two, and reheated for about 45 minutes, uncovered, in a 350˚F oven.

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