by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck
Illustrations by Sidonie Coryn
Knopf -- First published 1961
Buy it on Amazon
Julia would not have been our "French Chef," had she not collaborated with Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle to transform their draft of a French cookbook into an essential guidebook to French food for American cooks.
Long before she showed television audiences that it was OK to screw up in the kitchen, Julia Child and the two other "Trois Gourmands" (Child, Beck and Bertholle ran a cooking school of sorts -- Ecole des Gourmands -- in Paris) were teaching the American cook the wonders that are beurre blanc, boeuf bourguignon and omelettes through "Mastering the Art."
"This is a book for the servantless American cook who can be unconcerned on occasion with budgets, waistlines, time schedules, children's meals, the parent-chauffeur-den-mother syndrome or anything else which might interfere with the enjoyment of producing something wonderful to eat." With those words, Child inspired bloggers and chefs and turned French cuisine into something our nation's home cooks could do ... and well. Bon appetit!
See what we tested and find out whether the book's worth buying after the jump.
Takeaway Tips: Julia Child was methodical. It can be confusing at times, but she lists ingredients in the left-hand column across from the paragraph where they are actually used. So read the recipe completely, twice, before you dive into the kitchen. Oh, and the recipe amounts are "generally twice what would be considered sufficient for a typical French menu [of six courses]" in case you're planning your own Julia Child party.
Quality of pictures: There are no photos in this tome, but Julia Child's husband, Paul, did take photos of Julia working in the kitchen, which Sidonie Coryn used as a basis for the classic line drawings that illustrate this book. They show readers techniques like holding a knife, mincing mushrooms and cutting artichokes. Imagine if photos had been used ... they'd likely have weathered so badly through the decades as to make the French recipes look unappealing.
We tested: Julie Powell's favorite hangover dish from "Mastering the Art" -- Oeufs en Cocotte or Eggs Baked in Ramekins
The recipe sounds deceptively simple, but like many of "Mastering the Art" recipes, it requires a bit of practice to get everything just so. The basic premise is this: you place ramekins in a pan of boiling water, heat up a tablespoon of whipping cream and a dollop of butter in the ramekins, crack an egg or two into the warmed fat, cover with another bit of cream and butter and plop the large pan in a 375 degree F oven for 7 to 10 minutes. What emerges is a perfectly cooked egg whose yolk runs into a pool of decadent cream and butter. Yes indeed Mrs. Powell, it is a hangover cure of the utmost delight.
We liked how "Mastering the Art" offers variations on the theme. The "Aux Fines Herbes" version gave us just the inspiration we needed to finally find a use for some Herbes de Provence stashed in the back of the spice cabinet.
Worth the investment: The 40th edition of "Mastering the Art" will set you back $40, but it will last you 40 years. If you've ever wanted to cook a crepe, roast a chicken or master the omelette, turn to this masterpiece. (But if you want to make a baguette, head for "Vol. 2").