In 1972, as his long career was nearing sunset, James Beard wrote American Cookery, a massive treatise on the American cuisine of the 1970s and of the three centuries of earlier dishes that have contributed to American cookery.
Ah, cookery. A strange word and used in Britain but less here in America. Cookery is more than cooking, which classically referred to food preparation over heat. Cookery is more than that: it is the full compendium of ideas, techniques, ingredients and ethnic influences that shape each dish we fashion in our kitchens and our restaurants.
Beard was a character. Intense, demanding and with an incredible mind to recall and compare recipes. Born in Portland, Oregon to foodie parents, he began his food odyssey on the shores of the Pacific and the rivers and lakes of Western Oregon. By the time he constructed this volume, he had traveled the world and, in particular, circulated all across the United States. His sources were the big towns and prime restaurants, of course. But also small byways and home-cooked specialties that caught his eye.
Beard was a classicist. Here’s a passage from the forward to this book:
French cuisine is the goal of every amateur in the kitchen. One must do all of the famous provincial dishes and bourgeois dishes, and now again attempt to reconstruct some of the monuments of grand cuisines, an aspiration that often leads the novice into techniques far beyond his depth.
Beard was not being a snob there, but he was being quite direct. He viewed French cuisine as the penultimate and a demanding one at that. Yet he was encouraging everyone to try French cuisine, learn, fail perhaps, and try, try again. There are 26 letters in the English alphabet and 27 chapters here, a micro-dissection of the food spectrum. Separate chapters for eggs and cheese. For poultry, game, beef, veal, lamb, pork, ham and bacon.
The spotlight is focused one chapter at a time on each of the ingredients that he so very treasured. You’ll find recipes here that are familiar — at least to your ear if not to your palette — and then some that are among the gems he discovered in his journeys. Here are ideas from the 60 pages of fish and shellfish recipe:
Pan-Fried Smelts with Tabasco and breadcrumbs
Smoked Fish Fillets Poached in Milk
Lobster Sauté with Curry
Illinois Oyster Balls with Mashed Potatoes and Chopped Almonds
These are American recipes but reflect some French influence: the number of ingredients, the delicacy of preparation and the time required for many of the recipes. Yes, the Fried Frog’s Legs cook in just a couple of minutes. But the Lobster Chowder though takes 5 to 6 hours with, Beard notes, some Maine traditionalists claiming 4 or 5 days would be better.
Turn each page and things just do get better and better in American Cookery. It took Beard over 60 years to assemble the knowledge and recipes cradled here. It could take you another 60 to work your way through doing just what he suggests: trying, learning, failing perhaps, and then trying all over again. This book is a masterpiece. Walking through this book is a culinary education from an unsurpassed master. One lobster, one stir of the whisk at a time.
It may be summer, but we still eat hot meat. I think this dish is best served at dusk when the breezes pick and relief from the summer heat is in the air. Here's a recipe from last year and this still perfect for this July. It's a grand combination of lamb and nectarines. If you have ripe, fresh peaches, of course you can substitute.
At Cooking by the Book, Suzen has surrendered. There are just some dishes that she cannot get her corporate clients to eat. Guests come here, cook together in our large kitchen, and dine on their own creations. People will just not eat Bambi.
Not here, but they do in Ireland. And not just in the springtime. In her lovely book Clodagh’s Irish Kitchen, Clodagh McKenna suggests pairing summer lamb with summer fruit. For her, sweet, roasted nectarines are the perfect match for lamb in any style. And, thinking in terms of multi-purposing, these nectarines can become dessert: served with mascarpone or whipped cream or ice cream or atop pound cake.
One Irish note to this recipe is the use of apple syrup, the Highbank Orchard Syrup, described as Ireland’s apple alternative to maple syrup. If your local grocery does not carry this very Irish product, you can go the American route and employ maple syrup. [I’ve contacted Highbank and I’ll see if there is a way to go Irish in NYC!]
The combination of fruit and sweetness here make this a lovely summer meal, no matter high the temperature.
Summer Lamb with Fennel and Roasted Nectarines
Yield: serves 4
For the lamb:
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
½ sprig of rosemary, finely chopped, plus more to serve
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 thick lamb cutlets (about 3 ½ ounces each)
For the nectarines:
3 tablespoons butter
⅓ cup plus 1 tablespoon Highbank Orchard syrup or good- quality maple syrup
2 nectarines, halved and pitted
For the salad:
1 head baby romaine lettuce, leaves separated and coarsely torn
1 ½ cups loosely packed mixed salad greens
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
Preheat the oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
In a skillet, dry-roast the fennel seeds over medium heat for 30 seconds, then finely chop. Place in a large bowl, along with the rosemary, olive oil, and red wine vinegar. Season to taste with sea salt and black pepper.
Add the lamb cutlets to the bowl and toss to coat, then let marinate at room temperature for 10 minutes.
Prepare the nectarines: In a small saucepan, melt the butter and syrup together over low heat and stir. Place the nectarines on the foil-lined sheet and drizzle with the syrup mixture. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes, or until tender.
Heat a large grill pan over medium-high heat. Grill the lamb cutlets, turning once, until charred and cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes. Set aside to rest for 5 minutes. Just before serving, scatter with extra rosemary.
Make the herb salad: In a large bowl, combine the salad greens in a small bowl, beat together the extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and mustard to combine. Season to taste with sea salt and black pepper, drizzle over the salad, and toss to coat. Serve with the lamb and sweet nectarines.
Source: Clodagh’s Irish Kitchen by Clodagh McKenna [Kyle, 2015], Photography by Tara Fisher
Carrots. What to do with carrots. Too often with our veggies we go simple. A little roasting or pan frying. Some sugar, salt, or vinegar and the veggies appear on our plate.
In The Broad Fork, author Hugh Acheson suggest that you can employ veggies in vibrantly distinct recipes. Carrots, for example, are appearing now in our famers markets and we have months of color, and flavor, before us.
This soup is not a five-minute knockoff. It’s a serious recipe that will take some time and has a number of ingredients. Here, the sweetness of carrots marries the acidity of yogurt plus the tang of jalapeno and gloss of maple syrup. This is a recipe that you can use year round, but I think summer, with the carrots rich from the sun, is the perfect time to enjoy this recipe.
And, of course, you can play with this recipe, toying with relative proportions or adding ingredients that you find enchanting.
Carrot Soup with Brown Butter, Pecans and Yogurt
Yield: 4-6 servings
1 pound carrots 4
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, minced
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 red jalapeno, minced
2 tablespoons ground sesame seeds (not tahini—pulse them in a food processor or spice grinder)
1 quart chicken stock
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt
¼ cup crushed pecans
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped carrot tops
Maple syrup, to taste
Peel the carrots and cut 1 carrot into very thin rounds. Cut the rest of the carrots into ½‑inch pieces.
Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the thyme sprigs, jalapeno, sesame, and ½-inch cut carrots. Cook for 10 more minutes, stirring occasionally, and then add the stock and kosher salt to taste. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the carrots are very tender, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and remove the thyme sprigs.
Puree the carrot mixture in a blender, taking care to secure the lid. Pour the soup back into the saucepan, stir in the ½ cup yogurt, adjust the seasoning with salt, and place the lid on it to keep it warm.
Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a small sauté pan over medium-high heat, and cook until the solids begin to brown. Add the pecans. Toss and toast for about 1 minute, and then remove from the heat and add the vinegar.
Serve the soup in bowls. Dollop each serving with the remaining yogurt and the pecan brown butter, sprinkle with the carrot tops and coins, and finish with a drizzle of maple syrup.
Source: The Broad Fork by Hugh Acheson [Clarkson Potter, 2015]