To say Jacques Pépin is an icon is an understatement. The celebrity chef, TV personality, and author has racked up 24 James Beard Awards, and his cooking shows, filled with their easy charm and kindness, have inspired multiple generations of cooks both professionally and at home. He’s been described as a master educator, a chef’s chef, and even a major influence on Anthony Bourdain. His first cookbook, La Technique, came out in 1976. Nearly five decades and dozens of volumes later, his latest, Cooking My Way: Recipes and Techniques for Economical Cooking, is here.
Cooking My Way is something of a companion to Pépin’s KQED series Cooking At Home. This show, produced and released entirely during the height of the pandemic, is a masterclass in functional, unfussy, utilitarian cooking. The food he prepares in each episode is not meant to be haute, fashionable, or really even all that eye-catching. He serves curly hot dogs on an English muffin for kids. He uses frozen sausage for a quick cassoulet. Multiple episodes see him making use of a crusty old mushroom he found in the fridge. Though Pépin is a decorated chef, he isn’t afraid to show us his economical side. In fact, it’s central to what he stands for.
That crusty mushroom is a microcosm of Pépin’s whole cooking style, which also involves peeling the mold off of cheese and using cheap cuts of meat. His recipes in Cooking My Way are simple, straightforward, and usually don’t require a lot of investment or ingredients to produce. That’s great news for just about everyone, given the rising cost of, well, just about everything.
The new cookbook is a celebration of what actual cooking at home often looks like, and it features many timelessly frugal tips for the home kitchen—for any fan of Pépin, it’s a must buy. Here are five takeaways from Cooking My Way that prove what a masterful teacher he is.
Leftover stew makes a great salad
Pot-au-feu is a classic French country dish consisting of boiled meat and vegetables; Pépin uses beef shank, neck bones, turkey legs, potatoes, carrots, leeks, turnips, cabbage, and celery stalks to construct his version. Traditionally, the dish is served in two courses: the broth first, and then the meat and vegetables second. But Jacques actually serves a third course the next day: a room-temperature salad, which cleverly stretches the leftovers into something completely fresh.
In a genius move, he instructs to cut up the pot-au-feu and serve it on lettuce leaves with coarsely chopped onion and Dijon dressing. Not only that, but he also points out that any leftover stew works great as a salad the next day, such as his Spicy Grilled Beef Roast on page 208. It’s a concept that can be used for really any leftover braised or stewed meat dish, and I’ll try the technique with adobo in the coming weeks.
When in doubt, add beans
If you know Pépin, you know this man absolutely loves potatoes and beans. I suspect that’s because these ingredients are so good at stretching out a meal. He adds beans to chicken wings, for crying out loud.
Chicken Giblets and Giant Butter Beans (page 180) is one of those old world, Depression-era meals born of necessity, but it’s exactly the type of sustenant cooking Pépin is known for. His Chicken Fricassee is essentially a lentil dish flavored with chicken carcass and giblets; the beans are actually the star of the show, and the underlying chicken flavor acts in a supporting role. Beans add filler to any entree, no doubt, but Pépin’s humble attitude allows him to unabashedly make beans the centerpiece, too.
Use turkey more often
Many of the recipes in Cooking My Way call for turkey breasts, necks, giblets, livers, and wings. This is a testament to the way in which Pépin always seems to utilize the American supermarket, and all the deals therein, to the fullest extent.
His Turkey Fricassee calls for turkey legs, giblets, and necks, with a recipe headnote that reads in part, “Occasionally, especially around Thanksgiving, I find turkey legs, giblets, and necks at my market for low prices.” He must have been doing the R&D around the holiday season, because there are a half dozen recipes that make use of turkey parts in funky yet delicious ways.
Scaloppine of Turkey Breast in Mushroom Cream Sauce calls for thinly sliced pounded turkey breasts in a mushroom, lemon, and garlic cream sauce. The Turkey Liver Toasts are a thrifty and seasonal appetizer reminiscent of pâté. And the recipe for Turkey Cutlets in Anchovy-Lemon Sauce features exactly the type of boldly flavored, cost-cutting cooking Pépin adores.
Turkey is not presented in this cookbook as a seasonal item, but rather a year-round stalwart of the home kitchen. If you find a good deal on turkey, take advantage, knowing that there are so many different ways to serve it.
Mayonnaise makes a great bird baster
J. Kenji López-Alt broke everyone’s brains last year when he wrote about slathering and roasting a turkey with mayonnaise for the New York Times. When I popped into my local artisanal butcher shop last November, I even heard folks discussing the article. It’s a genius move, as roasting any bird with mayonnaise produces a glistening, rich, and golden brown skin.
In Pépin’s recipe for Chicken a la Susie, he instructs the reader to simply bake a chicken breast with mayonnaise and sriracha. It’s both uncomplicated and delicious—two hallmarks of his cooking—and this new-wave-meets-old-school type of recipe is just one reason he’s a timeless figure.
Fried eggs are “garnish”
In his recipe for Pork and Potato Hash, Pépin suggests using fried eggs “for garnish.” You might audibly laugh, as I did, hearing eggs referred to as garnish like they’re parsley or leaf lettuce, but it’s actually a very insightful choice. I now find myself nodding along. Fried eggs are garnish.
We eat with our eyes, and a fried egg visually brightens up a burger, pad krapow, fried rice, pizza, hell, even grilled cheese. I don’t know if any other recipe writer in the world has the sense to label eggs as garnish, but Jacques Pépin does, and that’s why he rules.