Wednesday 7 February 2007

The Ultimate Sauce Book....

...was written by James Peterson and first published in 1991. I can remember sitting in the kitchen of an Amsterdam Canal House one grey November afternoon, about fifteen years ago, completely absorbed in Peterson's fascinating description of how emulsions work, and why they do what they do. This book is a deeply impressive exploration of the science and mechanics of sauce-making, and I emerged from reading it with a sense of understanding of sauces that I doubt I would ever have acquired otherwise. The degree of sophistication with which Peterson goes into his subject is wildly more advanced than any cook needs to know - but having scaled his lofty heights, the practical business of actually making sauces on a daily basis takes on a whole new dimension. I was reminded of the book yesterday evening, when a discussion took place over dinner about whether the sauce for the salmon fillets was or wasn't a beurre blanc. I thought it wasn't, not having commenced with a vinegar reduction - although I conceded it did have vermouth in it, so maybe.....The opposing opinion thought it was by virtue of being thickened by the addition of butter, and with no egg or flour included. Recourse was had to Alan Davidson - who, surprisingly, didn't even mention Beurre Blanc - and then to Larousse Gastronomique, and finally to Mr Peterson. As I flicked through the pages, I was reminded of the pleasure of reading him all those years ago, and decided the book was long overdue for a re-read.......

Peterson subsequently produced an equally impressive volume on Fish and Shellfish, and became firmly fixed in my mind as an authority. When I saw he'd written a tome on Vegetables, I ordered it straightaway. What a disappointment! Anodyne, at best.......Maybe Jane Grigson hadn't left anything interesting for him to say? In any event, he fell off my wish-list after that, and I see now that he seems to have gone the coffee-table route, churning out volumes dedicated to Duck, and Salmon (I suspect largely culled from his earlier and exhaustive Fish oeuvre) and even one exclusively about Soup. Words fail me - Soup!!

And was the Beurre Blanc issue ever resolved? Well, no, not really......I still had my doubts, on the basis of half a cup of Walnut Oil....and my purist stance remained resolutely lined up against the butter-liaison school of thought. Ultimately, though, who cares? It was delicious!

Tonight's Menu:

Moules Marinieres a la Creme, with a Watercress infusion.

Cod Steaks and Basil, sauteed in Parma Ham, over a ragout of peppers, garlic and Rosemary.

Hot Strawberry Souffles.

1 comment:

Sam said...

I bought that sauce book just before christmas and I havent gotten around to reading it yet. I guess I better had. That's a recommendation if ever there wwas one.

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