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John Besh: My Family Table: A Passionate Plea for Home Cooking

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Nov 07, 2011
Category: Food and Wine

We gave away 50 cookbooks the other week.

Now I see we could also have given away “The Joy of Cooking.”
 
What? Eighteen million copies of “The Joy of Cooking” have been sold since it was published in 1936. (Correction: Irma Rombauer, a widow, was the first to publish it — to self-publish it — in 1931.) There is no more classic cookbook in America. Even restaurants use it. What could possibly replace it?
 
For the America of the 2010s: "My Family Table: A Passionate Plea for Home Cooking," by John Besh.
 
Besh, for those who have not had dinner in New Orleans recently, is the movie-star-handsome Louisiana homeboy who has, at a tender age, built a six-restaurant empire. He was a Marine who kept up with foodie journals as he led troops in the first Gulf War. He is still married to his first wife. He has four kids.
 
After Katrina, Besh was everywhere, talking up his city. He produced a terrific cookbook: My New Orleans. Then he started to simplify. And to listen to his wife (never a bad idea), who said, “Yeah, but what about our kids?”
 
So, at last, a family-friendly cookbook, short on cooking time, shorter on preservatives and junk food substitutes. A book for the way we live now? Some chapter titles: “Sunday Supper,” “School Nights,” “Breakfast with My Boys,” “Barbeque Wisdom” and “Fried Chicken (& Other Classics).”  [To buy the book from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle download, click here.]
 
Here are ten reasons to fall in love with this book:
 
1) The first recipe is “Risotto Almost Anything.”
 
2) The second recipe is “Creamy Any Vegetable Soup.”
 
3) The third recipe is “Simple Meat Ragout for Any Pasta.”
 
4) The fourth recipe is “The Perfect Frittata.”
 
5) The fifth recipe is “Curried Anything.”
 
Getting the idea? Simple fare. Simply presented as master recipes, 140 in all.
 
6) Good advice. In a Roast Chicken recipe: “Pan drippings are pure gold. Any time you strain the liquid from the vegetables [from the roasting pan], you’ll have equal proportions of fat and natural juice. Refrigerate that for a day, and the fat will solidify and rise to the top. Remove the chicken fat and save it separately to use for making a roux or sautéing vegetables. The strained juices make a natural sauce for roast chicken, or add them to a soup for a great hit of flavor.”
 
7) He’s not scared of butter. In a recipe for mashed potatoes that serves ten people: an entire pound.
 
8) For Chicken Fricassee, he rejects skinless and boneless birds: “Not only is the flavor brought out by browning with the skin on, but the bone is the source of so much of the deep flavor of the fricassee.”
 
9) In an American cookbook, a recipe for pho, the Vietnamese soup.
 
10) The final recipe is for Lemon Ice Box Pie.
 
In the acknowledgments, Besh writes: “If asked what my last meal would be, I’d reply, “Any Sunday supper at home, cooked with love, for people I love.”
 
With this cookbook, what other answer is possible?
 
Hard to choose a recipe. This one’s close to random:
 
BRAISED BEEF SHORT RIBS
 
Serves 8
 
5 lbs beef short ribs, cut into individual ribs
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups red wine
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 and ½ quarts beef broth
2 cloves crushed garlic
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
2 onions, diced
2 carrots, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
¼ cup olive oil
½ pound pearl onions
 
 
Season short ribs with salt, pepper and thyme.
 
Heat the olive oil into a heavy pot (ideally cast iron) over high heat. Add the ribs in batches and cook until they’re deep brown (2-3 minutes). Turn the ribs over and brown an additional 2-3 minutes. When browned on all sides, remove to a platter.
 
Lower the heat to medium high, add the diced onion and carrots, and cook until soft. Add the celery and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until they’ve turned deep brown, about 6 minutes. Add the tomato paste, continuing to stir frequently, and cook another 3 minutes.
 
Return the ribs to the pot along with the wine, beef broth, pearl onions, rosemary and bay leaf. Raise the heat and bring to a boil, uncovered. Quickly reduce the heat to a low simmer, cover, and cook for 2-3 hours, or until the beef is fall-off-the-bone tender. Discard the bay leaf and rosemary sprig.
 
Like all braises, short ribs absolutely require a starch to share the juicy wealth, like mashed potatoes or grits. Serve with browned baby turnips, if you like.