Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Book Review: Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan

I really enjoyed listening to Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma and my husband loved his book In Defense of Food so this seemed like a no-brainer when we went on a long trip last year. However, we don't listen to audio books in the same way. He gets easily bored and wants to skip ahead, whereas I want to listen to the whole thing, even if some parts do seem more tedious on audio. You can skim in print but it's hard to do that on audio. You don't have any idea if you've skipped a very interesting bit or when things start to pick back up. Where you start listening again is just random. We do better listening together to podcasts it turns out, and we listen to audiobooks separately now.

I will agree with my husband that the section on barbecuing went on long. Pollan here divides the book into four parts (like in Omnivore): cooking with fire, water, air, and earth. In most of the sections he talks about a multitude of options such as in the earth section (which is fermentation), he talks about cheese, kimchee, sauerkraut, and beer. But in the fire section, it was really just barbecue. And while the story about him having a pet pig briefly as a child in Manhattan was very entertaining, in my opinion barbecue just isn't enough to support a quarter of a book on its own. But I really enjoyed the other three sections. Water was mostly making different kinds of stews and other one-pot meals, and air was mostly focused on bread, but there was a lot more variety in both of those techniques. You can make a dozen kinds of bread and a couple hundred meals in a pot, but aside from pork versus beef, there's not a lot of difference in grilling meat (not counting sauces.)

But as usual Pollan is interesting and both gets into the cooking technique and the science behind it but in an accessible way. He tries everything himself and is very straightforward about his own failures and what he found particularly difficult. For this non-cook, it was an entertaining book. I do hope my cooking husband got a few tips along the way.

I bought this audiobook from Audible.

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