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2000s Archive

Book Review: Home Cooking with Charlie Trotter

December 2008
Just in time for the holidays comes a little book that shows you how to cook simply—but with bravado.
Home Cooking with Charlie Trotter
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Big, glossy chef cookbooks are the norm these days, and one would expect that Charlie Trotter, the superchef from Chicago with more than a dozen cookbooks, would follow suit. But Home Cooking with Charlie Trotter (Ten Speed Press; 224 pages; $25), a newly titled and redesigned softcover edition of his 2000 release, is so modest we almost passed it by. Luckily, the chef’s reputation compelled us to take a look, and what we found was a steady stream of almost shockingly easy-to-prepare dishes that impressed our families and made us feel like pros.

Trotter has been dazzling patrons at his signature restaurant for 20 years now, so he knows a thing or two about turning heads with sublime, often technically intricate dishes that change daily. Here, however, his purpose is to elevate everyday cuisine. He talks about cooking with the essentials and offers up his home recipes for stocks, preserved ginger, pickling juice, and curry oil—“foodstuffs” that he insists should never be bought. Miraculously, he keeps things simple. Remarkably simple.

Take the Panko-and-Ginger-Crusted Chicken with Stir-Fried Vegetables and Sweet and Sour Mustard Sauce (above), an Asian-inspired dish made with several special store-bought ingredients. Panko seems to be the breading of choice these days, and Trotter adds ginger to the featherlight coating for a bit of brightness and heat. Then he augments the crunchiness by sautéing together not one but four crisp vegetables. The final touch, a honey, Chinese mustard, and rice-wine vinegar sweet-and-sour sauce that takes literally five minutes to heat and serve, brings it all together with a stylish drizzle over the chicken-topped vegetables and around the plate. The dish is elegant and absolutely delicious.

Trotter is a man of few words; the bulk of the information is in the 135 recipes themselves. Brilliant little sauces (a wasabi powder, mirin, and mayo blend dabbed over seared tuna), unusual fillings (onion and corn purée with diced lobster), and intriguing toppings (sweetened whipped cream with a touch of cinnamon and a sprinkle of pecan praline over chocolate bread pudding) all seem effortless. Honestly, I would have enjoyed reading more from the maestro who was able to create so much out of so little, but then again, when my husband took one bite of the Smoked Salmon and Potato Salad with Scallion-Citrus Vinaigrette and asked when I was planning to make it again, that really said it all.

Trotter’s Five Rules for Making Stocks

1. Always use cold liquid.
2. Don’t use too much liquid.
3. Never allow a stock to boil.
4. Don’t stir the stock after it starts to simmer.
5. When straining finished stocks, allow the liquid to drain naturally.

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