Jacques Pépin's influence on American cooking cannot be overstated. He's the granddaddy of cooking technique and teaching Americans that above all else, if you don't have good technique, you cannot be a good cook. His book La Technique (reissued in 2001 as Complete Techniques) has been a staple for a generation of culinary students, home cooks and top chefs such as Tom Colicchio.
In Essential Pépin, the revered chef has taken a lifetime of recipes, selected the 700 best ones, updated and refined them. The new cookbook has been launched alongside a PBS show of the same name, which debuted around the country last month. This is not a French cookbook per se, although you will find recipes for pot-au-feu and croissants. You will find that many recipes have been influenced by Pépin's 50-plus years living in the U.S. There are recipes for scallop ceviche, lamb curry and grits. What all the recipes have in common, regardless of their country of origin, is Pépin's focus on technique.
Throughout the book, there are tricks and shortcuts, either in the recipe or in sidebars. There are recipes for making Bernaise sauce in a blender and microwaving beets. Some things though, like trussing a chicken, are more difficult to explain in writing. This is where the real bonus of this book comes in. A DVD included with the book has three hours of Pépin demonstrating over 100 techniques. There he is--thick French accent and all--showing you how to truss a chicken, hold a knife and chop properly, make butter roses, mayonnaise, and Melba toast. He even shows you how to tie your apron!
Pépin, a child of pre-war France, is known for his frugality and economy in the kitchen. His money-saving and waste-reducing advice has made its way into Essential Pépin, but sometimes you need to read between the lines. In a mushroom recipe for example, he suggests saving the mushroom stems to use in stock, but in reading the stock recipes, there is no mention of them. Recipes like the blueberry crumble however, use leftover or stale baked goods items like poundcake or croissants for the crumble.
This isn't an encyclopedic book, like the Cook's Illustrated Cookbook, as some basics like poached eggs are conspicuously absent. That's not to say that eggs are overlooked though. There are several techniques for cooking great eggs, and over a dozen egg recipes including one called "Eggs Jeanette" that was a favorite dish made by Pépin's mom. It's essentially deviled eggs that are pan-fried, stuffing side down, then dressed in vinaigrette.
While there are plenty of fish recipes, many of them are for East coast species like whiting, haddock and bass. There are only two halibut recipes, but for West coast salmon fans, there are a dozen or so salmon recipes, including a molasses cured salmon and an oven baked salmon with a spinach and herb sauce. The meat section however has plenty of variety--veal, beef, lamb, pork, and chicken, plus numerous recipes for charcuterie and offal.