Cook's Illustrated

Whenever I used to rustle up some lunch for my little sister, I took pains to present the final product with as much Emeril-ish showmanship as I could muster. In my capable culinary hands, tuna fish on toast became "tuna surprise"; noodles with butter became "les nouilles avec le beurre du surprise." In retrospect, the only true surprise was that I delivered unto her a plate free of sheared fingertips and/or airborne viruses.

So yeah, Cook's Illustrated may well have been created with me in mind. There's no pre-processed soup that I can't bring to a boil, no powdered drink mix that I can't liquefy. Julia Child? I taught her everything she knows about cereal -- everything, if you know what I mean.

This is one serious magazine. When its minions conduct a ketchup taste-test, they monitor the pH levels of every product. When they pass along tips on grilling shrimp, they test-drive the skewers best appointed for the task. They ponder the deep questions that have perplexed mankind for many a moon ("are key limes really key?") and offer elaborate instructions on how to rescue sautéed zucchini (me, I'm not an enabler, so I say let the zucchini rescue themselves).

But if you have even a passing interest in cooking (cookery? chef-itude?), Cook's Illustrated ought to be the first title you check out every month. Packing an astonishing amount of information into its 32 ad-free pages, the title offers how-tos and recommendations aplenty, in a tone accessible to gourmand and Cuisinartophobe alike. Hell, the July/August issue of the mag even puts literary titles to shame with an elegant editorial about aging that has precisely nothing to do with food.

The "Illustrated Guide to Kitchen Knives" tackles everything from blade curvature to sharpening tips, with a technique sidebar (there are apparently two basic knife grips, neither named after Johnny Stompanato) thrown in for good measure. A peach-crumble primer follows a quickie piece on grilling onions; a ranking of various blenders is backstopped by the "Equipment Corner" blurbs on wood soakers and mango splitters (the pic of which is appended with the wish-I-thought-of-it-first caption, "must-halve tool").

Most crucially, at no point does Cook's Illustrated venture into food-snob terrain. The July/August issue gives props to cuban-style pork roast -- in your face, vegans! -- and non-judgmentally evaluates pre-sliced American cheese. It answers reader questions like "what's the different between coddled eggs and poached eggs?" (maybe the coddled ones went to private school? Hoy-o! I'll be here all night, folks. Tip your waitress), enters the national salting-versus-brining debate (as part of a story about picnic chicken, which sounds like the name of the world's worst jam band) and conveys hints about de-salting nuts (like I'm touching that one).

Not surprisingly, Cook's Illustrated registers high marks on the credibility-o-meter -- it's amazing how the absence of ads helps in this regard, ain't it? Its every item practically teems with gustatory authority. After perusing a single issue, I'd basically do anything the mag suggested... even inject my beloved burgers, as the mag suggests, with whole milk and garlic clove. Seriously, where's my @&$#in' spatula? It's on. It's SO on.

I generally eat whatever happens to be placed in front of me, employing bourgeois implements like forks and spoons only when absolutely necessary. After my gander at Cook's Illustrated, however, I'm beyond motivated to add a few edible arrows to my foodstuff quiver -- perchance a concoction marrying peanut butter with bread. If a magazine can generate such enthusiasm among a nonbeliever, just imagine the effect it might have on the legit foodies. Either way, dig in.

Next story loading loading..