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Today would have been Julia Child's 100th birthday. Even if you've never made her famous quiche Lorraine, chances are you've watched her dice, slice and stir with abandon on one of her now-classic PBS shows. Her friendly, approachable style influenced a whole generation of home cooks, not to mention the chefs we watch on TV today. In honor of her birthday, here is a passage from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Published in 1961, her advice is just as relevant today.
Our years of teaching cookery have impressed upon us the fact that all too often a debutant cook will start in enthusiastically on a new dish without ever reading the recipe first. Suddenly an ingredient, or a process, or a time sequence will turn up, and there is astonishment, frustration, and even disaster.
We therefore urge you, however much you have cooked, always to read the recipe first, even if the dish is familiar to you. Visualize each step so you will know exactly what techniques, ingredients, time, and equipment are required and you will encounter no surprises. Recipe language is always a sort of shorthand in which a lot of information is packed, and you will have to read carefully if you are not to miss small but important points. Then, to build up your overall knowledge of cooking, compare the recipe mentally to others you are familiar with, and note where one recipe or technique fits into the larger picture of theme and variations.
We have not given estimates for the time of preparation, as some people take half an hour to slice three pounds of mushrooms while others take five minutes.
Pay close attention to what you are doing while you work, for precision in small details can make the difference between passable cooking and fine food. If a recipe says, "cover casserole and regulate heat so liquid simmers very slowly," "heat the butter until its foam begins to subside," or "beat the hot sauce into the egg yolks by driblets," follow it. You may be slow and clumsy at first, but with practice you will pick up speed and style.
Allow yourself plenty of time. Most dishes can be assembled, or started, or partially cooked in advance. If you are not an old campaigner, do not plan more than one long or complicated recipe for a meal or you will wear yourself out and derive no pleasure from your efforts.
If food is to be baked or broiled, be sure your oven is hot before the dish goes in. Otherwise souffles will not rise, piecrusts will collapse, and gratinéed dishes will overcook before they brown.
A pot saver is a self-hampering cook. Use all the pans, bowls, and equipment you need, but soak them in water as soon as you are through with them. Clean up after yourself frequently to avoid confusion. Train yourself to use your hands and fingers; they are wonderful instruments. Train yourself also to handle hot foods; this will save time. Keep your knives sharp.
Above all, have a good time.
S. B., L. B., J. C.