10 Things We Learned from the Season’s Best Books
The origins of kung pao chicken, the next hot wine region, and more.
1. There’s more than one way to make a roux
It may seem that fat, flour, and some patient stirring are all that go into this building block of Louisiana cooking. But Justin Devillier, chef-owner of Magazine Street’s La Petit Grocery, gives no fewer than three methods in The New
Orleans Kitchen. Devillier cooks clarified butter and flour for 10 to 12 minutes to create a blond roux for soups and chowders. His brown roux—the ideal étouffée base—relies on peanut oil instead of butter, and a cooking time of 15 to 20 minutes. He leaves that mixture on the heat about 10 minutes longer to yield the dark roux gumbo requires. “No one else in the world uses dark roux,” Devillier says. “Mastering its technique is the mark of a true Louisiana cook.”
2. Playing with your food can be an art form
A few years back, Esther Choi, who holds a PH.D. in architecture from Princeton and writes for brainy publications like Artforum, began hosting a series of dinner parties themed around revered artists and designers. She shares the punny results in Le Corbuffet, “conceptual art in the form of a cookbook,” a compendium of recipes so absurd, they’re profound.
3. Kung Pao chicken is not an American Chinesetakeout invention…
...though it’s more accurately Romanized as “Gong Bao.” As Fuchsia Dunlop explains in The Food of Sichuan (a refresh of 2003’s Land
of Plenty), the dish was named for 19th-century Sichuan governor Ding Baozhen—an association toxic enough to require rebranding during the Cultural Revolution. Whatever you call it, Dunlop’s recipe on page 182 is a killer just-add-chicken weeknight move once you have a few regional staples on hand.
4. Where hush puppies come from
Toni Tipton-martin studied hundreds of cookbooks by Africanamerican authors to write 2015’s The
Jemima Code, which pushed back against the stereotype of the untrained black cook. For her followup, Jubilee, Tiptonmartin has turned all that research into recipes, and her knowledge leaps off the page. Before telling readers how to make Nigerian fritters called akara, for example, she cites a group of 1970sera authors who explored the connections between West African and Africanamerican cuisine— and their suggestion that the deep-fried black-eyed-pea balls gave rise to cornmealbased hush puppies.
5. These are the elements of a superlative Japanese pantry
Among the foremost English-language experts on Japanese cuisine—and a Saveur contributor—nancy Singleton Hachisu has established deep, long-standing relationships with chefs, growers, and craftspeople throughout her adopted country. In Food Artisans of Japan, she profiles her culinary heroes and shares their exactingly authentic recipes. It won’t take much reading for you to realize your mass-market soy sauce will no longer cut it. Good thing, then, that Hachisu’s picks for miso, mirin, and more are now available stateside.
A. Aguni-jima Salt
Since the Japanese government deregulated salt production in the late 1990s, a number of artisanal options have come on the market. This one, from the tiny island of Aguni, is created by dripping seawater down bamboo branches before it evaporates in enormous metal pans. $13 for 8.8 oz.; amazon.com
B. Mitoku Mikawa Mirin
To judge the quality of mirin, a naturally sweet cooking wine not unlike sake, simply take a sip. The finest examples—hachisu calls this one “indisputably the best in Japan”—go down like a liqueur. $8 for 10 oz.; naturalimport.com
C. Iio Jozo Rice Vinegar
The current president of Iio Jozo represents the fifth generation of his family to operate this 126-year-old institution—and the third to insist on organic rice production. The brewery processes the grain in-house, then ferments the resulting sake into a vinegar that retains a pronounced rice aroma. $16 for 16.9 oz.; thejapanesepantry.com
D. Yamaki Jozo Organic Soy Sauce
Most soy sauce is made from defatted soybean grits— a byproduct of soybean oil production—which are heated in order to complete fermentation within six months. Yamaki Jozo, on the other hand, ferments whole, grown-in-japan soybeans for almost two years, yielding a mellow and complex final product. $22 for 16.9 oz.; thejapanesepantry.com
E. Ohsawa Yamaki Organic Brown Rice Miso
Yamaki Jozo also creates miso worth seeking out, sourcing ingredients locally instead of relying on Chinese soybeans, as even many high-end organic producers do. $10 for 9 oz.; goldminenaturalfoods.com
Florence Knoll Rolls
Frida Kale-o Salad
Jackson Pollock Pot Pie