‘When you can master techniques in cooking, you can make simple food really spectacular,’ says Jennifer Segal
Our cookbook of the week is Once Upon a Chef, the Cookbook by blogger and former restaurant chef Jennifer Segal. To try a recipe from the book, check out: roasted corn on the cob with lime-basil butter, pan-seared halibut with cherry tomatoes and basil, and summer berry trifle.
“When you can master techniques in cooking, you can make simple food really spectacular,” says Jennifer Segal.
The professionally trained chef offers the example of her pan-seared halibut with cherry tomatoes and basil. With six ingredients and five steps, it’s a straightforward recipe. But cooking four fillets that are fantastic – not just fine – takes technique.
Firstly, Segal says, the Pacific halibut fillets must be sufficiently seasoned. Secondly, they should hit the pan when it’s “good and hot,” and be given plenty of space and time in order to attain a golden crust. If neither of these steps is heeded, you’re left with a disappointing dish: under-seasoned fish that was steamed instead of seared.
“Most people growing up don’t learn technique. I know I didn’t. I had to go to cooking school to learn that,” says Segal. “I try to incorporate that into my recipes so that people can become better home cooks one recipe at a time. And then you find you don’t really need recipes as much if you can just get the techniques.”
In her debut book, Once Upon a Chef, the Cookbook (Chronicle Books, 2018), Segal shares 100 “family-approved” recipes – 70 of which are new (the remainder are favourites from Segal’s blog of the same name). Roughly 400 of her blog-readers rigorously tested the recipes; their favourites (including the pan-seared halibut) bear a seal.
Segal’s “pro tips” accompany most recipes and essays on topics ranging from balancing flavours to transforming scraps and leftovers, and mastering salt are interspersed throughout the book.
Going to cooking school is the most practical thing I ever didJennifer Segal
Many people under-salt their food, she says, and require some nudging to embrace its culinary potential. To help novice cooks train their palates, she specifies exact salt measurements for each recipe rather than instructing readers to season to taste.
“In culinary school… the chefs would taste my food and they would literally take a handful of salt and just throw it in. They were like, ‘Not enough salt!’ But it just takes a long time to realize that you have to push it to the limit,” says Segal.
“Going to cooking school is the most practical thing I ever did… Even if I wasn’t writing a cookbook or doing my blog, I would use what I learned every single day.”