Ginette Mathiot: I Know How to Cook

Make room on your cookbook shelf for I Know How to Cook (Phaidon 2009) by Ginette Mathiot. It’s the indispensable French version of the Joy of Cooking.

The original, gargantuan version in French, Je Sais Cuisiner, was first published in 1932. It’s the kind of cookbook that women were given when they married so they could feed their hungry husbands (and themselves) without breaking the bank. This is not haute cuisine, but cuisine menagere (“housewife”) according to translator Clotilde Disoulier:

She [Ginette Mathiot] equips her readers with the building blocks for good cooking, educates them about the ingredients they’ll encounter and the skills they’ll need, and conveys the philosophy that’s at the heart of the French kitchen: creating maximum flavor out of a small set of ingredients, and making the most of one’s resources through an ingenious use of leftovers and simple preserving techniques. (p. 6)

For an example, take a look at the section on veal (p. 540). The chapter starts with a description of veal along with a picture identifying the different cuts. She follows with recipes divided by method of cooking: Poaching, Griddle Cooking, Pan-Frying, Roasting, and Braising. There are classic recipes like Veal Blanquette (p. 342), Veal Chops in Parcels or Cotes de Veau en Papilliotes (p. 347), and a light Little Lettuce Parcels (p. 357). Then the chapter turns to leftovers using cooked veal in dishes like Veal Croquettes (p. 361) and Veal Turnovers (p. 361) flavored with bacon and cognac.

At the end of the book follow chapters on sweets including Cakes & Pastries, Ice Creams, Candies, and Preserves & Drinks. There is a section of menus and recipes by celebrated French chefs (p. 872) from around the world. Included are Daniel Boulud, Francois Payard, and Pierre Schaedelin in New York. The recipes included are in keeping with the purpose of the book. They are not overly elaborate or difficult, but they do introduce different flavors.

Finally, Ginette’s kitchen advice ranges from tips on different ingredients like this on salt, “To remove excess salt from an overseasoned dish, add a sugar cube (remove after 2 seconds) or some sliced new potato (remove before serving)” (p. 915). She lists menus by season, Dinner Etiquette (p. 923) and Setting the Table (pp. 924-928). It is amazing how little is out of date — and how much remains good common sense on how to run a good kitchen and dining room.

RECIPE: Little Lettuce Parcels (Petit Paquets a la Salade)

11 ounces of veal, chopped
7 ounces of pork, chopped
3 tablespoons of rice, rinsed
1 egg, lightly beaten
Salt and pepper
2 heads escarole or other leaf lettuce
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
Generous 2 cups of any stock

Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 1 our 20 minutes
Serves 6
In a large bowl, combine the veal, pork, rice and egg. Season with salt and pepper. Bring a pan of salted water to a boil and blanch the lettuce for 30 seconds, then plunge into cold water and drain. Spread each leaf out flat, place 1 tablespoon of the meat mixture on it, and roll it up. Heat the butter and oil in a heavy pan, add the lettuce parcels and brown them on all sides. Pour in the stock, cover and simmer for 1 hour, then remove the lid and simmer for 20 minutes more.

(from Ginette Mathiot’s I Know How to Cook)

2 comments on “Ginette Mathiot: I Know How to Cook
  1. French food lover says:

    I bought this book right after it came out. Phaidon Press has done a great job of bringing international cookbooks to the English-speaking world. I bought the Silver Spoon (Italian) and cooked a ton of things out of it. Then came 1080 Recipes (Spanish); this is a great book too. I never really got the esssence of Spanish cooking until going this one. Then came Vefa’s Kitchen (Greek). The recipes look great but I haven’t spent much with this one yet. But I had been waiting all along for the French version. I am a huge Thomas Keller fan and have his books and they are great but they are mostly refined French cooking. I like Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles cookbook too. But this book was exactly what I was looking for.

    In just about a month, I have already cooked a tremendous number of things out of. I especially like the recipes for charcuterie and related items. I highly recommend the rilletes de porc. I have also cooked a number of the desserts out of this book, especially the classics like clafoutis and iles flotantes.

    I thought the Silver Spoon was great but this one beats the pants off of it and really shows homestyle French cooking at its best! If you like French food, get this book.

  2. Elsie Erret says:

    Hello! The recipes here are great. Thanks for having this site. I just found a recipe for Eggplant Parmesan that I LOVE! The eggplant flavor is like beef, but without the fat and calories. It’s a really nice substitute for meat. Visit my site if you’d like to read more. Thanks again – great site!

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