Book Review Best Meat Recipes and Best Chicken Recipes

The Best Meat Recipes by the Editors of Cook’s Illustrated

The Best Chicken Recipes by the Editors of Cook’s Illustrated.

America’s Test Kitchen 2008

How many times have you spent hours in the kitchen following a new recipe, that looked great in a book, but been disappointed with the results?  Have you ever wondered what would happen if you made a few minor changes to your favorite recipe?  With all the products on the shelf at the grocery store how can a shopper know which brand is really the best?

The editors of Cook’s Illustrated magazine have wondered the same things and set out to answer these questions.  With over 300 extensively tested meat and 300 picture perfect chicken recipes this team of food investigators has spent hours in the test kitchen making minor changes, testing ingredients and attempting various cooking and preparation methods so as to produce the absolute best version of each recipe.

America’s Test Kitchen produces the self-titled cooking show on PBS, has over 25 cookbooks in print and publishes the monthly Cook’s Illustrated magazine.  Readers of the magazine or watchers of the TV program will be familiar with the methodology that is used to test products and recipes.  If these books serve as an introduction to America’s Test Kitchen then prepare to receive a first class, cooking education.

It is Sunday morning and the family wants a pot roast for dinner but you can’t remember how Mom made her’s.  It is time to start thumbing through cookbooks hoping to find a recipe for a classic pot roast.  Many cookbooks will provide a single, basic recipe (usually called something like “My Grandmother’s Favorite Pot Roast”).  The Best Meat Recipes contains four pages detailing the testing of different cuts of meat, explains why some cuts were better than others, tries different types of pots, uses different liquids to see which added the most flavor and then cooking the pot roast both in an oven and on the stove.  All these steps are detailed before the reader is presented with a final conclusion of a simple, easy to follow recipe that produces an aromatic, fork-tender pot roast.

You would think that creating a recipe for Roasted Chicken would be simple and straight forward.  Imagine going through the process of roasting 40 chickens in an effort to discover the best roasted chicken recipe.  The authors of The Best Chicken Recipes tested brined chickens versus non-brined, tried a variety of rubs and marinades, cooked different chicken parts at various temperatures, on racks or on a broiler pan and even covered or uncovered.  By the time the authors finally disclose a recipe for Roasted Chicken the reader has developed a comfort level with the recipe and a trust that your family will be served a delicious, juicy chicken that is cooked just right.

The index of a book is usually an afterthought and typically just lists the main ingredients and the recipes.   One test of a good, well written cookbook is if a reader can locate a recipe that you know must be there but can’t remember exactly what it is called.  As a test I turned to the index and looked for Fajitas.  I found the dish listed under: Fajitas, Flank steak, Steak, Tortillas, Skillet Fajitas and Tex-Mex.  I can’t imagine any other words that could be used to describe the dish or its main ingredients.

If you are looking for a cookbook that uses some kind of trendy miniature size vegetable that a famous chef used during a demonstration on some morning TV show or a spice that is only grown on a south facing hill in Lichtenstein and retails for $43.95 for a ½ ounce bottle then pass on these books.  For a home cook that could use over 600 well written, easy to follow and extensively tested recipes, where the pages will soon be dog eared and stained from use, then these books would make a welcome addition to any library.

There are so many excellent recipes contained in both books that it is hard to give just a few examples from each book.  The recipe for The Fried Chicken Wings with Buffalo Sauce clearly explains why the wings are cooked first then add the sauce just before serving.  The mildly spicy Buffalo Sauce is made using the brand of hot sauce that was picked as the best from among eight tested supermarket hot sauces.  In All American Chicken Chili it is recommended that the pack the ground chicken is first packed into a ball then pinched off into small pieces of meat.  This process will make the chicken appear crumbled and will prevent the cooked chicken from becoming stringy.  When making the Chicken Quesadillas the tortillas are lightly toasted in a dry skillet, filled with shredded chicken and cheese before being lightly oiled, salted and returned to the skillet to finish the dish.

When it is late and the kids are begging for Sloppy Joes for dinner, rather then opening a can of processed and over sugared mystery goo, open this book.  The ingredients are all pantry staples that can, in about 10 minutes, be whipped into a kid friendly dish.  There are recipes for ten different barbecue sauces covering all the geographic favorites.  Some of the popular regional barbecue sauces are Eastern North Carolina style which uses vinegar and no tomato sauce and Mid-South Carolina Mustard Sauce which uses honey and mustard.  The recipe for Hearty Beef Stew produces a classic stew while discussing the proper sizing of a Dutch oven and the best way to choose a red wine for use in the dish.

These books would make an excellent addition to any cook’s library.  Either of these books would make a fantastic and appreciated house warming gift for a recent college graduate who is going to have to start cooking for the first time or a wedding shower gift for a couple just starting out.  Don’t tell my mother, but I have stopped using her brisket recipe and have been serving the Braised Beef Brisket.


One Response

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