Classic Cookbook: The Way To Cook

Editor’s note: I’m so pleased to introduce you to Pen & Fork’s newest contributor, Victoria Corrigan, and her review feature called “Classic Cookbooks.”

Victoria is an avid cookbook collector, a passionate, skilled home cook, and an ardent student, devotee and patron of the culinary arts.

Victoria will be revisiting classic cookbooks that are, as she says, “worth their salt” and deserve a fresh, new look. We hope to introduce you (or re-introduce you as the case may be) to cookbooks that stand out for their culinary contribution to home cooks who are as passionate as Victoria.

What better way to kick of the new feature than with a cookbook by one of Victoria’s (and the world’s for that matter) favorite authors: Julia Child.

The Way to Cook

By Julia Child

Photos by Brian Leatart and Jim Scherer

Facts: Alfred A. Knopf, 528 pages, hardcover $65.00 (or at $40.95) (also available in paperback)
Photos: 600+
Recipes: 800+
Suitable for: Cooks from novice to expert who are as interested in the process of cooking as the result.

First published in 1989, The Way to Cook is, to my mind, the cookbook Julia Child was born to write. The better known Mastering the Art of French Cooking, the famous collaboration of Child with Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck, introduced Julia to an American television audience and inspired innumerable 1960s‑era cooking enthusiasts to attempt classic French dishes previously thought too complex or expensive for home preparation. While Mastering retains (and surely deserves) its masterwork status, The Way to Cook is among the three cookbooks I consistently recommend to friends, colleagues, even passing acquaintances in a cooking class or at the market.

The Way to Cook teaches the fundamentals of good, healthy cooking using high quality ingredients. A focus on process enables both the novice and the experienced cook to learn basic cooking methods, then apply them to a variety of different foods, resulting in more instinctive and intuitive cooking.

An engaging introduction precedes a lead‑off chapter on soup, a logical starting point since the making of excellent stock is a important kitchen skill, and a well made soup is equally welcome at lunch, a casual supper, or an elegant dinner. Subsequent sections explain the basics of good bread, the keys to skillful egg preparation, and the essentials of cooking meats and poultry. Seafood – often problematic for even the knowledgeable cook – is also addressed, and later chapters are devoted to vegetable cookery, salad fundamentals, pastry dough types and techniques, and the creation of both classic and contemporary desserts. (Pastas, grains, and legumes appear as well, both as ingredients and as companions for many dishes.)

The cornerstone of The Way to Cook is the use of “master recipes” that introduce a cooking method (such as roasting, braising, or sautéing). One example is Zinfandel of Beef, a recipe for a hearty stew, which details basic processes of browning meat, sautéing of aromatic vegetables in the same pan to release those meaty flavors, the addition of herbs and flavorful cooking liquids, and finally a low‑and‑slow braise. Variations on the master recipe — three with beef; two with lamb; a pork ragout; and a veal shank osso bucco – help reinforce these fundamental cooking processes.

Numerous “liner notes” accompany the master recipes, offering suitable sauces, wine pairings, and sprightly accompaniments, plus guidance on finishing, garnishing, storage, advance preparation, and “feasting on remains.” Boxed “Special Notes” run the gamut from temperature charts to bonus recipes to mini‑primers on prepping, measuring and troubleshooting. And superb color photographs provide step‑by‑step visual support as well as inviting images of finished dishes. With its thoughtful organization, intelligent layout, and comprehensive index, this book is both endlessly useful and marvelously readable.

The Way to Cook offers an approach to classic cooking methods that is at once fresh and timeless, conveyed in a delightful conversational style and replete with Julia’s signature ease and encouragement. Start at the beginning with this classic soup that, once mastered, provides countless culinary possibilities.

Recipe testing note: This simple soup is astonishingly delicious. Trust the recipe: Use inexpensive Russet potatoes and try it at least once with water rather than stock; it’s a revelation. With only four components, however, quality is critical. Use filtered or bottled water, and think of the salt as a true ingredient.  Use kosher or sea salt for pure, clean flavor. If you’re concerned about overdoing it, start with the lesser amount, then taste and adjust halfway through cooking; you’ll never achieve the same amalgamation of flavors if you simply salt the finished product. The optional cream is a special treat, but I personally prefer this soup finished with milk, and the watercress variation is pure pleasure.

Master Recipe : Leek and Potato Soup

From The Way To Cook by Julia Child

Here is the mother of the family in all her simplicity. You’ll note there’s no chicken stock here, just water, leeks, potatoes, and salt in the soup base. However, you may include chicken stock if you wish, and you may certainly include milk. A bit of cream at the end is a nourishing touch, but by no means a necessity.

For about 2 ½ quarts, serving 6 to 8

4 cups sliced leeks—the white part and a bit of the tender green
4 cups diced potatoes—old or baking potatoes recommended
6 to 7 cups water
1 ½ to 2 tsp salt, or to taste
½ cup or more sour cream, heavy cream, or crème fraîche, optional

special equipment suggested:  A heavy‑bottomed 3‑quart saucepan with cover

Simmering the soup.  Bring the leeks, potatoes, and water to the boil in the saucepan. Salt lightly, cover partially, and simmer 20 to 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Taste, and correct seasoning.

Serving suggestions:

Serving au Naturel
Ladle out the soup, and top each serving with a dollop of sour cream, if you wish.

Puréed Leek and Potato Soup
Purée the soup through a vegetable mill, or in a blender or food processor. Serve with the optional cream.

Cream of Leek and Potato Soup
Use a cup less liquid when simmering the soup. After puréeing, whisk 2/3 cup or more of sour cream, heavy cream, or crème fraîche into the soup, simmering a moment to blend.

Watercress Soup [recipe]
For about 2 ½ quarts, serving 6 to 8

Ingredients for Leek and Potato Soup
A big bunch of watercress
½ cup or more sour cream, heavy cream, or crème fraîche, optional

Prepare the Leek and Potato Soup as directed. Meanwhile, wash the watercress and chop the stems roughly—you may wish to save out a handful of leaves for decoration. Stir the chopped cress into the soup during the last 5 minutes of simmering. Purée the soup, and serve with a topping of cream and a scattering of watercress leaves, if you wish.

8 replies
  1. John Joosten
    John Joosten says:

    Thanks, Victoria, for an informative peek into one of my all time favorite cookbooks. I can’t wait to try the simple but elegant soup recipe you shared with us. Bring on more reviews!

  2. Joy Sellers
    Joy Sellers says:

    Ms. Corrigan, thank you for the great article. I know you are quite the devoted cook, as you flew to our bed and breakfast and prepared meals with me, bringing your own tools along with you.
    I can not wait for your next article. Bon Appetite!

  3. Mike Lahaie
    Mike Lahaie says:

    Great review Vic, this soup sounds wonderful! I used to watch Julia on PBS at my Gram’s house, way back when.
    You know who I talking about… Keep up the good work.

    • Barb Lahaie Jones
      Barb Lahaie Jones says:

      As Gram would say, “When is the French Chef coming on?” Great review! Keeping my attention through the entire article, and very well written. Great job!

  4. Duncan Kunz
    Duncan Kunz says:

    Kudos to and their new reviewer; Ms. Corrigan seems to be one of those rare folks who knows her food and her writing. She’s just the kind of person with whom I’d like to share a cooking class or go restaurant crawling!

  5. Dusty Loeffel
    Dusty Loeffel says:

    Great article, I will forward this to my granddaughter who is planning to become a chef in her future life. Hope you do more!


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