Monday, November 03, 2008


The book Bones: Recipes, History, & Lore really interested me, so I was happy to find it in my recent excursion in the library cooking section. It's a beautiful, coffee-table-sized book, with several gatherings of glossy photos of savory-looking meat dishes. I enjoyed leafing through it and reading the chapter introductions, but by the time I finished, I was disappointed. It just didn't meet my expectations or the high promise of the reviews I had read.

The intro to each chapter of Bones offers outline diagrams of animals showing where cuts of meat come from. A bit disconcerting: the diagrams show a skeleton, but also a head with a face and fur. Most of the non-recipe pages explain about which chops, roasts, etc. come from which parts of the animal, along with a primer on buying and cooking meat. This material is excessively long and repetitive.

While I have a nagging suspicion that I can actually get all the recipes I'll ever need from my existing cookbooks plus the Web, I love coherent books that also provide "History & Lore." Unfortunately, Bones covers these topics pretty much by putting brief quotations in sidebars in the middle of the very wide and beautiful pages.

The introductions to the recipes are not very interesting, original, or informative. Samples:
"I wanted to dress up my short ribs and highlight their rich beefy flavor. These impressive ribs with balsamic wine sauce are worthy of a fancy dinner." (p. 33)
"For me, roast lamb is always meant [sic] leg of lamb, but shoulder is equally succulent, if a little fatty -- don't overlook it." (p. 105)
"Chicken was once a luxuy item and the subject of promises of kings and presidents..." (p. 142 -- the author actually looked up whether Herbert Hoover really said "a chicken in every pot" -- actually the phrase came from the Republican National Committee in 1928.)
I'm a big believer in the better taste you get from old-fashioned cuts of meat that need longer and more skillful cooking than a steak. I expected this book to concentrate on dishes with the bones as a real contributor to that fifth taste, umami, which comes from the essence of bones and connective tissue. There are indeed some recipes for these dishes. I find the ones with an oriental origin to be the most appealing, and I might try one before I return the book to the library. The recipes for various game dishes would be totally useless to me, as you can't buy wild birds, elk, or any game, you have to shoot it yourself.

In my final analysis, I'm afraid this is another book that I'm glad I only got from the library and did not buy it, even for the $23 at instead of the $35 list price.

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