By Michael Pollan
The Penguin Press, $27.95, 468 pages
In Cooked, Micahel Pollan searches for a deeper understanding of the food we eat and an appreciation for how it’s made. The book is broken into four large chapters. Kosher and vegetarian eaters may be bored by the first quarter of the book as Pollan visits the pit masters of Southern porcine barbecue, and grillers may find this section repetitive. The next section, on braises, offers little new information for the gourmand and leaves the novice not daunted by the daylong process to seek guidance from an additional source. In the third section, reminiscent of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Pollan visits both artisanal bakers and a Wonder Bread factory to see how bread is baked.
“If the omnivore’s dilemma is to determine what is good and safe to eat amid the myriad and occasionally risky choices nature puts before us, then familiar flavor profiles can serve as a useful guide, a sensory signal to the tried and true.”
Pollan saves his best for last. The fermentation section is the densest, most diverse section in the book. One layman to another, Pollan describes his research, interviews and personal experience experimenting with bacteria, yeast and cultures in order to better understand the chemical processes of making sauerkraut, cheese and alcohol.
For those who have the patience and presence to practice, four recipes are included: pork shoulder barbecue, meat sugo and pasta, whole-wheat country loaf and sauerkraut.
Reviewed by Sarah Hutchins