New cookbook shows a portrait of Pépin

"Essential Pépin" by Jacques Pépin is the 26th cookbook by the culinary wiz and is a companion to his public television series by the same name. The book includes more than 700 of Pépin's favorite recipes, culled from a career spanning six decades.

The French chef's many styles of cooking are reflected in the book: country French, haute cuisine, fast food "Jacques-style" and contemporary American fare. A number of the recipes take their inspiration from countries across Europe, the Far East and Mexico.

The Madison resident talked about the making of this vast volume of recipes in a recent Daybreak interview.

Q. Beyond being a very ambitious cookbook, "Essential Pépin" is like a memoir that brings together both your enormous knowledge of food and your wealth of life experiences. Did it feel like it was time to write this book?

A. Yes, a review of my life through my food … a culinary journey. I realized how much has changed over the years. The conundrum for me was to leave all the recipes the way (they were originally) or do the book so it was more usable (for today's cook), which, of course, entailed a lot of redoing and changing the recipes.

Q. You say it turned out to be a huge endeavor, as each period of your life had so many different styles and methods of cooking. How did you choose what to keep and what to leave out, and how much updating/revising of recipes did you do?

A. It started with 2,000 recipes and (ended up) with more than 700. First, we looked for redundancy. I have 20 recipes for salmon. Six or seven are with the same ingredients, so that's how we started eliminating. Then I argued with the editors - (for example) I wanted to keep more patés and they wanted to keep more cookies, so eventually we got together and decided on what we have now. Some of the recipes didn't change, but the amount of fat we use (today) is different. Different types of oil, particularly olive oil … also the timing of cooking of vegetables and fish is pretty different now, so all that had to be adjusted.

Q. What is the thread that connects these recipes and your cooking philosophy?

A. Simplification. I've been a chef for 60 years, 40 to 45 years of them writing cookbooks, doing classes, and so forth. Even recipes I did not do that long ago, I looked at in my books and said, "Why did I do that? I can do it so much simpler." So I tried to cut time - about half the time - and make it easier.

I am a professional chef, doing what I've been doing for so many years. Many chefs are reflecting what they're doing in a restaurant, and that's perfectly fine. But there is a team working on the recipes. I don't have a restaurant anymore; I'm alone in my kitchen with my assistant Norma (of 27 years). I cook for me and my wife, I give the recipe to Norma, she types it, retypes it - recipe all done. It's purely my point of view. I'm not saying it's good or bad, but how we do it.

Q. You've admitted you're not particularly Internet savvy but you've certainly kept up with technology to enrich and complement what you're writing and doing on TV. Do you think the DVD in this book will be helpful to people?

A. Yes. It's a whole class in itself. When you do asparagus in the book, it shows how to peel and prepare them - or boning out a chicken or whipping an egg white the right way. We didn't shoot any food pictures in color because it was less important for me than doing the DVD, which you can use with this book as well as any other book.

"Essential Pepin" by Jacques Pépin (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) is 683 pages, hardcover and is illustrated throughout with Pépin's drawings. The book includes a searchable DVD.

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Baked Alaska

Serves 8

1 pound cake (about 12 ounces)

2 tablespoons espresso or brewed coffee

2 tablespoons maple syrup

1 quart vanilla ice cream, slightly softened

6 large egg whites

1 cup granulated sugar

Confectioners' sugar, for sprinkling

Cut the cake into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Arrange some of the slices in the bottom of a stainless-steel platter or other ovenproof platter.

Mix the espresso or coffee and maple syrup and pour half of it over the cake to moisten it.

Spread the ice cream over the cake, wrapping the sides and top with the remaining cake slices so the ice cream is covered uniformly. Moisten with remaining coffee mixture. Place in the freezer until you are ready to finish the recipe. (It can be frozen for at least 1 week.)

When the cake is frozen, whip egg whites in a large bowl until stiff. Add sugar in steady stream until all is added, and beat at high speed for 30 seconds.

Cover frozen cake with half of the meringue, smoothing it with a spatula and making sure the ice cream is completely covered. Spoon the remaining meringue into a pastry bag fitted with a star tip and decorate the top and sides.

Place back in the freezer until you are ready to bake.

When you are ready to serve, preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Bake for 10 minutes, or until meringue is tinged with gold. Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar. Serve immediately, spooning or cutting the dessert into bowls.

This recipe appears in "Essential Pépin" by Jacques Pépin.

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Spicy Rib Roast

Although my wife is normally not an aficionado of roast beef, she loves this recipe. The spicy rub-garlic, ginger, sugar, soy sauce, cayenne, dry mustard and paprika-is the reason why.

The roast should be from the smaller, less fatty end of the rib section. Cleaned of the layer of fat on top, the meat is roasted in a hot oven, then allowed to rest for at least 20 minutes and up to 1 hour in a warm oven before serving so it is totally pink throughout.

-Jacques Pépin

Serves 6 to 8

Rub:

3 large garlic cloves

1 piece ginger (about the same size as the combined garlic cloves), peeled

2 teaspoons sugar

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon dry mustard

1 teaspoon paprika

Roast:

1 3-rib beef rib roast (about 7 pounds), all visible fat trimmed from top (about 6 pounds trimmed)

1/3 cup water

1/3 cup sturdy red wine

1 small bunch watercress, washed and dried, for garnish (optional)

1/2 cup Basic Brown Sauce (see recipe below)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

For the rub:

Blend all ingredients in a blender until smooth.

Rub mixture over the top and sides of the roast.

Place the roast meat-side up in small roasting pan and roast for 30 minutes.

Turn meat bone-side up and roast for another 30 minutes. Remove roast from oven, and leave oven door open to cool oven to about 140 degrees.

Transfer the roast to a platter. Skim off and discard all fat that accumulated in pan. Add the water, wine and brown sauce to the drippings in the pan and stir to melt the solidified juices.

Return the roast, bone side up, to the roasting pan with the juices and let rest in warm oven for 20 to 30 minutes before carving.

To serve, carve the roast into thin slices. Arrange on the watercress, if using, on individual plates or a platter, and serve with juices.

Basic Brown Sauce

Makes about 2 quarts

A basic and essential ingredient for the cook, brown sauce is added to other sauces or used to create a sauce for meat or poultry. Mine is slightly thickened with flour, which loses its raw taste through the long cooking process. The sauce can be made with all chicken bones or with turkey bones.

4 pounds veal or beef bones (shins, necks, tails, etc.), cut into 3-inch pieces (you can have the butcher do this)

1 pound chicken bones (necks, wings, backs, etc.)

2 cups diced onions

1 cup diced carrots

1 cup diced celery

6 garlic cloves, crushed but not peeled

1/3 cup all-purpose flour, dissolved in 1½ cups water

1/4 cup tomato paste

8 quarts cold water

1 cup dry white wine

2 tablespoons dark soy sauce

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

3 bay leaves

1 teaspoon crushed dried thyme

Put the bones in a large stockpot and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and cook for another 15 minutes, until they are browned and have rendered some fat. (There should be enough fat on the bones and in the skin to brown the bones.)

Add the onions, carrots, celery, and garlic and cook for another 15 minutes or so, stirring, until the bones and vegetables are lightly browned.

Drain the bones and vegetables in a colander to eliminate the fat and return them to the pot.

Add the flour mixture, tomato paste, water, wine, soy sauce, peppercorns, bay leaves, and thyme to the pot and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer slowly, uncovered, for about 3 hours, until reduced to about 8 cups. Skim off and discard the foam that comes to the top after 30 minutes. Strain the sauce through a fine strainer.

The sauce can be kept covered in the refrigerator for up to 1 week, or it can be divided among small plastic containers and frozen.

ALTERNATE METHOD: Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Arrange the bones in one layer in a large roasting pan or on a baking sheet and roast for 1 hour, stirring the bones to brown on all sides. Sprinkle the onions, carrots, celery, and garlic on top and roast for another 30 minutes.

Drain the bones and vegetables in a colander and discard the fat. Add the bones to a stockpot. Deglaze the roasting pan or cookie sheet with 2 to 3 cups water and heat to melt the solidified glaze. Add to the stockpot.

Continue with the recipe, adding the flour, tomato paste, the water, and the other ingredients.

This recipe appears in "Essential Pépin" by Jacques Pépin.

CHRISTMAS MENU

We asked Jacques Pépin what dishes might appear on his ideal Christmas dinner menu. He offered the following meal plan, using recipes from his cookbooks.

Hors d'oeuvres

Clam Fritters

Salmon in Molasses

Dinner menu

Hot or Cold Leek Soup

Crab Cakes with Avocado Salsa

Spicy Rib Roast

Gratin Dauphinoise

Glazed Carrots with Olives

Spinach and Mozzarella Salad

Baked Alaska or Chocolate Roll

Note: The recipe for each item on the menu can be found Jacques Pépin's new book, "Essential Pépin," with the exception of Hot or Cold Leek Soup (see Pépin's "Cuisine Economique") and Spinach and Mozzarella salad (from Pépin's "More Fast Food My Way").

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