So you’re making beef stew. The first thing you do, of course, is brown the meat, which gives the stew that deep, dark, beefy flavor you’re craving, right?
Put down that wooden spoon, Julia Child.
The beef browns just fine all by itself in the Dutch oven, bobbing around in that braising liquid with soy sauce and orange rind and other ingredients you would never have thought of in your wildest dreams. Besides, there’s two pounds of beef in that pot. It’s going to taste plenty beefy.
“You don’t need any more umami,” says the James Beard Award-winning food guru Christopher Kimball, referring to the savory flavor associated with, among other things, cooked meats. “That’s why most people around the world don’t brown their meat.”
And that’s why Kimball wants you to read his new cookbook, “Milk Street: The New Rules — Recipes That Will Change the Way You Cook,” which he’ll discuss and sign at Joseph-Beth Booksellers on Nov. 12.
Kimball, the former “America’s Test Kitchen” host and “Cook’s Illustrated” editor who now heads Milk Street, a Boston-based outfit that produces cooking shows on PBS and public radio, urges his audiences to look beyond French-based culinary tradition and open themselves up to recipes, concepts and techniques from other world cuisines, including those Americans once thought of as “ethnic” or “foreign.”
“There’s nothing wrong with French cooking — we’re not trying to tear down the walls of the Cordon Bleu here,” Kimball says in an interview. “But French cuisine is a melting pot, with flavors blending together into one. Other cuisines from around the world are about multiple, contrasting flavors. That’s where cooking is headed right now.”
“The New Rules” darts from India to Oaxaca to Indonesia to Catalonia to Japan to Palestine like some global culinary hummingbird, harvesting the nectar of fresh ideas. “There are hundreds of Julia Childs all around the world, and lessons to learn from all of them,” Kimball says. “And in this new era when you can get almost any ingredient off the Internet in 24 hours, there’s no reason not to try all kinds of cooking at home.”
The yumminess presents itself in dazzling variety here in recipes illustrated in drool-worthy color photography: chao ga (Vietnamese rice soup with chicken), mujaddara (Lebanese lentils and rice with crisped onions), bibim guksu (Korean spicy chilled noodles), yeralma yumurta (Iranian smashed potatoes with soft-cooked eggs and mint), spicy curry-cumin pork from Portugal, curry-coconut pot roast from Sri Lanka.
And as the old Gallic cooking rules are nudged aside, new ones from around the world — hence the book’s title — claim their seats at the kitchen table. Bloom your spices in hot fat. Cook your pasta in broth and its own sauce, not water. Beat bitterness by charring. Poach eggs in a low-sided skillet, not a tall saucepan. Add crunch to breads by using different flours.
And for heaven’s sake, let go of the French concept of gradually developing flavor in a dish; instead, start out with highly flavorful ingredients from the very beginning. Go big, in short, or go home.
In some ways, Milk Street — and “The New Rules” in particular — represents a shift from some of Kimball’s past work, including the “America’s Test Kitchen” spinoff “Cook’s Country,” which recycled American classics like fried chicken and fruit pies.
“But my cooking changed a few years ago — I didn’t want to cook that food anymore,” he says. “I wanted more exciting ways to do things. I started asking: Are there other ways to cook, and what are they?”
Kimball is aware, of course, that he’s proposing to replace one set of rules for another set. He couldn’t be more at peace with that. “Anything worth doing has rules,” he says. “And I’m not trying to stifle anyone’s creativity in the kitchen, either. You can’t bend the rules — much less break them — unless you know what they are.”
Christopher Kimball signing
What: “The New Rules — Recipes That Will Change the Way You Cook”
Where: Joseph-Beth Booksellers, 161 Lexington Green Circle, Lexington
When: 7 p.m. Nov 12