Book Recommendation: Cooked

I have been a fan of Michael Pollan since my Uncle let me borrow his copy of The Omnivore’s Dilemma in 2010. I like his balanced approach to food choices as well as his outreach to educate the public about how food is grown. He approaches each subject as a journalist and asks questions of the modern food industry.

In Pollan’s previous books he focused on how food is grown, collected, and raised in our modern society. He has also discussed the industrialization of food preparation. Pollan coined the term “edible food-like substances” referring to products developed by food scientists to entice consumers with fats, salts, and sweets while maximizing corporate profits.  In his new book, Cooked, Pollan adventures into the realm of domestic food preparation and the essence of human culture via food.

cooked-coverHe approaches cooking in four ways: fire, water, air, and earth. In each section he interviews experts and describes his personal experiences learning to cook with each element.

In fire, he learns about whole hog barbeque: a unique, time-intensive method of cooking an entire pig championed in the American South. He also delves into the concepts of ancestral methods of cooking with fire and how gender roles in food preparation have affected us in the past and present day.

In water, he creates great dishes containing heated liquids while utilizing the three P’s of great cooking: patience, presence and practice. Three words that I agree should be a mantra for culinary novices. I was happy to learn the interchangeability of other liquids for water. I have a few bottles of homemade mead that are now destined to be added to my cooking.

In air, Pollan shares how to make and bake bread using yeast to raise the dough and the hot air of the oven to create a delicious loaf of goodness. I have not ventured very far in bread making and his gusto for his bread hobby is a bit contagious.

In Earth, he delves into the hot new cooking trend: fermentation. This kind of no-heat cooking involves putting raw foods through a process instigated by microbes that change the structures and flavors of food. Some recognizable examples of fermented foods are: beer, cheese, yogurt, and sauerkraut. I have also recently joined in the fermentation craze. I currently have a batch of pickles fermenting in a crock in my closet that seem to be making good progress.

Pollan’s personal journey reflects many of the experiences that I have come across while cooking and writing DIY From Scratch. By pushing myself to try new cooking projects, I have increased my knowledge and skill in food preparation. I now feel more attuned to the meals that I put on my table.


One thought on “Book Recommendation: Cooked

  1. What an interesting way to organize a cooking book: fire, water, air, earth. Sounds interesting that you are fermenting pickles in a crock in your closet! Dad and I once ate pork from a whole pig that was cooked on a street in South Seattle. The street was blocked off for a party.

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