October 11, 2003

Jumped the Shark?

I'm reading through the latest issue of Cook's Illustrated. and I'm starting to wonder if maybe they haven't Jumped the Shark.

I've been a big fan of them over the years and especially have a fondness for their investigation of various cooking methods. After all, I certainly don't want to cook 500 pounds of roasts in an effort to find the best method. A few things about them have started to bothered me, however.

Chief among them is what I often find to be an almost hypocritical approach to time management and recipe complexity. Within the same article they will discuss using canned chicken stock (because real stock is "too time consuming") and then proceed with multi-step processing of the other ingredients. Often they call for exact timing of various cooking processes, which while it may reduce the overall time a dish takes, is more of a workload for a home cook. So are they for easy or not? It's sometimes difficult to tell.

But this month's recipe for "A different holiday roast" just takes the cake. After dismissing Rib Eye Roasts as "too complex" and expensive, they proceed to make a "strip loin" roast with instructions about how "exact timing matters or you go from rare to gray in a matter of minutes." The meat they are cooking is basically an entire strip of New York steaks -- not exactly the the least spendy of meats! The process of searing the meat first prior to roasting is referred to as "novel." It is an absolute low-point in terms of useful information, interesting experimentation, and self-promotion.

Derrick points out (in his review of Perfect Vegetables) that they are "masters of repackaging." That's putting it mildly. I'd venture to guess that for any one given recipe there are at minimum four different ways to obtain it in book form, and two electronically. Hey, I'm all for pimping out after hard work has been done -- but I think they really are starting to get a bit overboard here.

I'm still a subscriber, but I'm less of an enthusiastic one. I still can strongly recommend their earlier works both in original form (as year-worth books collected together) or in their various recipe collections. I'm just hoping this most recent issue is more of an anomaly than anything else.

Posted by dowdy at October 11, 2003 06:13 AM