Last month saw the release of Essential Pépin, a comprehensive collection of recipes from Jacques Pépin’s 60+ year career. This is marvelous news. Instead of owning the 27 (27!) previous cookbooks the man has written, you can just hold on to this one. It has over 700 recipes, and they’ve all been revised and retested for this volume.
Just about every one of those 700 looks good; the five or six I’ve made so far have been stellar. A lot of the recipes are easy enough to make when you get home from work, though a few are larger projects (looking at you, Charcuterie and Offal sections). Even when the recipes are easy, they’re as elegant as they are delicious. Red Swiss Chard (pg. 454, pictured above) is just chard, boiled, shocked under cold running water, drained and sauteed with butter. But it’s so much more than that. Same goes for Tomatoes Provencal (pg.463) or Tomato and Bread Gratin (pg. 466, more on that later). The Roast Chicken here (pg. 248, pictured below) is simple–roast with salt, pepper, olive oil–but it’s also a lesson in carving technique, a skill you can use with every other version of roast chicken you might make. All of these recipes leave you with a better understanding of proper technique, something that Pépin literally wrote the book on.
Speaking of technique, there’s a DVD with hours of Pépin’s technique instructions and demonstrations at hand whenever you need them. Pépin is a master–I would say the master–of TV cooking. It’s almost unfair. If the greatest TV chef of all time can just add a bunch of great video content to a cookbook, then how can anyone else compete with him? They can’t. If you’ve ever wanted to endlessly watch Pépin chop onions and garlic (I know I have), with the Essential Pépin DVD you can do just that.
When I finished roasting Pépin’s chicken, I popped in the DVD to see how Pépin recommends carving the bird. His method is ingenious, and while mine didn’t end up looking as beautiful as his, it was far and away the best carving job I’d ever done. Pépin’s method is better than Bittman’s, better thank Keller’s. Pépin always knows best. The end.
Finally, the book is beautifully written and illustrated. If you read The Apprentice, Pépin’s memoir, you know he’s a talented writer (if you didn’t read it, you should, as soon as possible–the man’s lived an incredible life stretching from kitchens run by his mother to cooking for French heads of state to running the commissary at Howard Johnson’s with Pierre Franey). Pépin’s also a talented artist, and his drawings and illustrations adorn the pages of this book, making it that much more beautiful.
So Essential Pépin is just that: essential. Every home cook should own it. I’ve gushed enough, so I’ll leave it here. Watch this space for many more recipes from Essential Pépin in coming months.