Cooking: Simple sophistication
Everyone knows that pasta needs accompaniment, and just about everyone can make a quick sauce—or at least open a jar of the stuff. But when it comes to making a sauce to dress up a sautéed chicken breast or to add some zing to vegetable sides, all too many of us think it’s above our usual kitchen paygrade and better left to a trained chef. Lorilynn Bauer and Ramin Ganeshram’s The Art of the Perfect Sauce is a game changer, a reliable guide that can turn you into a super saucer. In it you’ll find 75 recipes, each with foolproof instructions, divided into sauces for poultry, fish, meat, veggies, dipping and dessert, plus a Sauce Table that shows you which sauces can do double or triple duty. A divine Coconut Cream and Turmeric Sauce pairs perfectly with chicken or can be spooned over a baked fish fillet. Miso Brown Butter Sauce is simple to make and enhances everything except dessert. Go forth and sauce—your meals will be a little lusher and a lot more vivid.
BEYOND PAD THAI
Hawker Fare is James Syhabout’s homage to his Isan Thai and Lao heritage, his immigrant parents and the food his mother cooked. Don’t know much about Isan (the northeastern region of Thailand) or Lao food? No worries. Syhabout, the chef and owner of the Michelin-starred restaurant Commis, takes us with him as he reflects on teaching himself to cook the food of his childhood by taking trips to the “motherland,” partaking in tutorials with his Thai mother and delving into his own memory. To dive into this intriguing cuisine, unaltered for American taste buds, Syhabout suggests that you build a pantry (a shopping list is included) and learn to make sticky rice and padaek, a Lao fish sauce, before you consider the recipes. I’d start with the more familiar, like redolent Fried Lemongrass Marinated Beefsteak or aromatic Fried Chicken with Charred Chile Jam, then onward to the more daring.
TOP PICK IN COOKBOOKS
I was charmed by the title of JJ Johnson and Alexander Smalls’ debut cookbook, Between Harlem and Heaven, but a bit puzzled by its subtitle: “Afro-Asian-American Cooking for Big Nights, Weeknights, and Every Day.” Grits with bamboo shoots? No way—Johnson, a brilliant chef, and Smalls, a restaurateur and Tony and Grammy award-winning opera singer, are both stars of the flourishing Harlem culinary scene. In this book, they offer their fascinating take on the heritage food that reflects the extent of the African diaspora, intricately crisscrossed with a story of Asian influence. This is food with authentic soul, made with spices that can be traced from India to West Africa and Barbados to the American South, brushed with contemporary creativity and burnished with the finesse of a classically trained chef. Try the Cinnamon-Scented Fried Guinea Hen, put West African Peanut Sauce (aka the Mother Africa sauce) on everything, serve up elegant Curry-Crusted Cod with comforting Hominy Stew, and you’ll delight in dining on food with a rich cultural history.
This article was originally published in the February 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.