Cooking 101 with chef Daniel Boulud
You may never be able to create flawlessly executed dishes like the ones served in Daniel Boulud’s Michelin-starred restaurants, but the French culinary master’s new book, “Daniel: My French Cuisine,” which celebrates the 20th anniversary of his famous New York outpost, not only sheds some light on his food philosophies but includes some easier, casual recipes the chef makes at home.
Since we’re new at this whole cooking thing, we asked chef Boulud about the essentials every budding home cook needs to know along with the must-haves for our pantries. Good news: Tabasco made the cut.
What is the most important skill to learn when you’re starting to cook?
I think that basic knife skills, which is knowing how to handle a knife, and knowing how to peel, cut, slice, chop basically anything is important. Then it’s important to learn temperature. You have to master the heat, it’s not always about rushing as much as having the perfect heat for what you prepare. You also have to have a sense of time. Timing is everything when you cook.
What is one dish that people new to the kitchen should have in their back pocket?
A braised meat or a braised fish. Braising, as we enter winter, is the most soulful, warm and cheerful dish you can make. It takes some preparation, that’s why I think to be a good cook at home, it’s important to have good preparation, to learn how to get organized. You prepare yourself to have the best ingredients, you prepare yourself to have a timetable.
What ingredients should people splurge on, and which, in your opinion, are not such a big deal?
You can always splurge on truffle — but it’s expensive. If you buy truffle for yourself, you have to calculate about six grams per serving. If you really want to splurge, it’s 10 grams per serving.
What about some more everyday ingredients?
To me, [I’d splurge on] a beautiful fish, shellfish — I love shellfish. Being in New York, you have the Littleneck clams from Long Island, you have muscles. Lobster is a very good thing to splurge on. I would splurge on wild mushroom during the season when they’re at their best. That’s wonderful with risotto. I will also splurge on things like saffron because it gives a wonderful, delicate flavor. And I’ll splurge on spice, because the spice will make every dish come more alive. My favorite place for spices is La Boite.
What are some pantry items everybody should have stocked?
Olive oil. It’s a question of taste, but it’s important to have some high quality olive oil, one from Provence, one from Italy. I use Manni olive oil for finishing my dishes. And just lately, I tasted olive oil from Jean Reno, which is fantastic. It’s available at D’Artagnan.
Excellent vinegars and also a young balsamic to cook with. My favorite is from chef Massimo Bottura. Maille is also a very good vinegar. Melfor vinegar — that’s a vinegar which has a little bit of honey, is very delicious. I also have a sherry vinegar from Spain, Jerez vinegar.
Good mustard. Because I’m French, I love mustard.
And always, pickles. You can have Japanese pickles, which I love, but also French pickles — cornichon, pearl onion. That is important to have many different pickles, because pickles last forever, so it’s not a problem.
Seafood in cans. One thing I always have in my pantry is sardines in cans, tuna in cans and anchovies in cans. It’s nice if you have a little craving. You make some toast, you put some butter, you crush some sardines on it with a little bit of onion and celery and you make a wonderful toast.
Condiments. All kinds of condiments, A1 sauce, the Worcestershire sauce, Sriracha, Tabasco. I love Tabasco. Sometimes when we travel we bring back condiments. It’s like a special gift that comes from that country.
Hard cheese. I always have it in my fridge, because when the cheese is two years old, it’s no problem to keep it for another two months.
What are some of your hosting tips?
Make dishes like soup, salad, charcuterie, shellfish and smoked fish platters that can be served cold in advance and finish at serving time.
For the main course, make a pot meal like a braise or a pre-roasted roast and keep it warm at a very low temp oven to not overcook it.
For large groups, buffets are still the best solution with a lot of Middle Eastern dips, crackers, chips, bread, charcuterie with root vegetable slaw, vegetable tarts and a cheese platter with dried fruits, jam, nuts, honey and whole grain bread.