For years, Ruhlman was best known for his collaborations with Thomas Keller—like The French Laundry Cookbook and Ad Hoc at Home—though in the past few years he's become increasingly well-known for his own books, which tend to focus focusing on cooking techniques and principles as much as recipes. (I've heard nothing but good things about Ruhlman's Twenty, 100 recipes organized around 20 basic techniques and ingredients.) He's also super-engaged online; I follow him on Twitter, where he's quick to answer food-related questions.
His new cookbook Egg: A Culinary Exploration of the World's Most Versatile Ingredient takes a somewhat unusual approach to organization: All of the recipes illustrate some property of the egg, as either a centerpiece or an ingredient. He dusts off some Harold McGee-style food science to explain how eggs behave under various conditions, then provides an illustrative recipe. So you get techniques for frying, poaching, and shirring eggs alongside recipes for pasta, quiche, breads, desserts, and more, including recipes that use eggs in essential but subtle ways. (There's a solid recipe for breaded chicken cutlets; the egg is used as a binding agent.) Overall, it's a distinctly more pedagogical approach than most cookbooks take; there's an implicit focus on learning how and why recipes work.
I am not, historically, a big fan of eggs—they're fine—and so I've been surprised at how much use I've gotten out of this book so far. I'll pick it up for something basic (am i poaching eggs wrong? yep, sure am) and while I'm flipping through, stumble across a more ambitious recipe I end up trying for dinner. And I like feeling like I'm learning while I'm cooking; Ruhlman makes a strong case for understanding how ingredients actually function, rather than just accepting that they do. (Ruhlman didn't invent this approach to recipe writing, of course; he's just very good at at it.)
Ruhlman is reading at Powells' downtown store tonight at 7:30 pm; the reading is sponsored by Edible Portland
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