Home Cooking with Charlie Trotter
A Book Review by Franz Scheurer
Very few great chefs have any idea on what goes on in a home kitchen. They naturally use a spoon of velouté, a ladle of demi-glace, a handful of long peppers and cook pigeons in Chinese Masterstock without a thought on just how long it takes to prepare these ‘kitchen essentials’ and how often they would be used in a home environment. To cut a recipe down from 100 serves to a mere 4 or 6 is not just a matter of dividing the ingredients to adjust numbers, but you basically have to rework all your instructions. Charlie Trotter, of his eponymous restaurant in Chicago, one of the world’s premier gastro-destinations, did just that. He put himself into a house-hold environment and created a series of dishes that should be achievable and impress your friends at the next dinner party. He does give instructions for essentials but they are clear, concise and achievable. He talks about menu structure, matching of wines and gives a series of excellent sample menus.
The recipes are broken down into ‘Starters’, ‘Entrées’ (American for mains), and ‘Desserts’ and a helpful index guides you directly to what you want to read about. You will quickly adjusts to bell peppers being capsicums, scallion stands for green onions or shallots, cilantro meaning coriander and other American ‘okies’ and most recipe quantities translate directly, e.g. tablespoons, cups, etc. The ‘quart’ is used a bit as are ‘inches’ but neither should present a problem. There is no conversion chart but thanks to the Internet this is easily solved and the recipes are worth it.
The ‘Crab Cakes with Sweet Curry – Red Nell Pepper Sauce’ was the first recipe to catch my eye and the ‘Seared Tuna with Wasabi Sauce on Whole Wheat-Cumin Crackers’ is another great starter. The ‘Bacon and Caramelized Onion Tart’ should be the first thing you cook from this book as it will compel you to try more recipes. I love the simplicity of the ‘Chilled Cucumber Soup with Kimchi’ and the ‘Smoked Salmon and Potato Salad with Scallion-Citrus Vinaigrette’ is a winner. The section dealing with mains is subdivided into ‘seafood’, ‘poultry’, ‘meat’ and ‘vegetables’. One of the seafood dishes that sound very appetizing is the ‘Sautéed Sea Bass with Roasted White Eggplant and Black Olive Purées’ and there is even a recipe for catfish on page 87. Don’t forget, some of the world’s best catfish comes from Lake Argyle in WA (called Silver Cobbler) and as it is the king of fishes in this huge expanse of water, it is no longer a bottom feeder and does never taste muddy. There is a glorious and innovative recipe on page 110: ‘Almond-Crusted Chicken Breast with Spinach and Citrus Vinaigrette’ and the ‘Red Wine-Braised Short Ribs with Garlic Mashed Potatoes fits perfectly into the Australian life-style. Charlie Trotter uses ‘Vidalia Onions’ in some of his recipes and before you despair trying to find these in Australia simply buy the local variety: Kununurra Onions (or Salad Onions). They’re seasonal and only available for a short time, but they’re absolutely wonderful. The vegetable section is particularly interesting as these dishes make innovative and appetizing recipes for vegetarians (and I bet all the meat eaters will want a taste!) Try the ‘Goat Cheese and Basil Ravioli with Tomato Water’.
Desserts are divided into soups, sorbets, granites, tarts, pies and pastries and I tell you now that his ‘Chocolate Pecan Pie’ is special!
The book is a great read and a good reference when you’re putting a dinner party together. It’s bound to give you a sense of accomplishment and will put a big smile on the face of your guests. The photography is very 60s and not what we are used to seeing in Australia, but the essence of the book is priceless.
RRP: $ 34.95
Home Cooking with Charlie Trotter
Author: Charlie Trotter
Available as of January 2009