If there’s one cookbook to buy this year, it just might be the recently released “How to Dress an Egg” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30), a first-time collaboration between New York City chef Ned Baldwin and longtime cookbook author Peter Kaminsky.
Baldwin came to restaurant cooking from a background as an enthusiastic and curious home cook, and that experience has forged a cooking guide that is approachable, practical and imaginative.
“I know this to be true,” writes Baldwin. “If you can learn to cook one thing well and make a recipe truly your own, you will have opened the door to creating a lifetime’s worth of recipes.”
The book is divided into 20 segments, each one focusing on the uncomplicated preparation of a primary dinner ingredient — gently cooked shrimp, pork shoulder pot roast, poached cod, fire-roasted eggplant, grilled asparagus and, yes, dressed eggs — and then offering a handful of crowd-pleasing recipes that showcase that ingredient.
After becoming obsessed with the book’s shrimp-and-peas salad recipe (with its Thai-style sibling running a close second), I connected with Baldwin via phone.
From the kitchen of his Houseman restaurant in SoHo, he discussed the benefits of his favorite way to prepare shrimp, shared helpful salad-making tips and revealed some of the lessons gleaned from peeling hundreds of thousands of hard-cooked eggs.
Q: Your method for cooking shrimp is brilliant and disarmingly easy. How did you create it?
A: I’ve cooked shrimp all the normal ways, I’ve grilled it, sauteed it, boiled it. Shrimp cook really fast. I like to use this analogy: It’s hard to stop a car when it’s going 90 miles an hour, but it’s easy when it’s going 15 miles an hour. When you’re cooking shrimp at 90 miles an hour, you’re cooking too fast to catch that moment of juicy, springy mouthfeel. But if you cook it slower, the window where you achieve success is much broader. Pete and I both share a need for easy recipes. I’m an inveterate multitasker, and so I get distracted by so many different things. Which is why it’s important to have recipes that don’t fail. A lot of the book’s recipes were born out of that.
Q: What’s the story behind the shrimp salad?
A: I’m from Seattle. There was a lot of WASPy [White Anglo-Saxon Protestant] stuff in my childhood — golf, tennis — and this salad is kind of caricature of what we originally called it, which was the Cos Cob salad. That’s a very Better Homes & Gardens type of town in Connecticut, where you’d expect to see people wearing Lilly Pulitzer dresses while they were eating this salad. That’s where our heads were. But at the same time, there’s a fish market on Long Island. The owner’s name is Charlie, and he only sells local fish because he’s a local guy. He’s also a great cook. His shrimp are always juicy and springy, and he’s always got a shrimp salad in his deli case. It’s got cream, celery, dill and lemon juice, and it’s awesome. It’s my favorite, I buy it every time I go there. This salad is my effort to do a salad that’s as good as Charlie’s.
Q: You write about a “riot” of herbs. What does that mean?
A: It’s from Richard Olney’s “Ten Vineyard Lunches” cookbook, where he talked about going into his garden in France and making lunch with equal quantities of lettuces and herbs. If a garnish is good enough to go on the plate, then there should be a lot of it. I don’t want two leaves of parsley, I want a giant fistful. Not just one herb, but a riot of them. At a certain point, I’m just not interested in subtle flavors, I’d rather get hit on the head. I don’t want to sit at the table and think, “Is that a hint of tarragon?” That’s not interesting to me.
Q: Another bit of advice from the book that really jumps out is when you write, “A salad-making bowl is a work space, not a storage container.” Can you explain?
A: You can’t move the salad around if you’ve filled the bowl. Making a salad is an art. Lettuces are fragile. They should be handled gently, you should do it with your hands. You need to taste a lot while you’re making a salad. You taste at the beginning, the halfway point, the three-quarters point. It’s the same way that you cook a braise, it’s about tasting, and tasting and tasting. That’s cooking in general, it’s about feedback, and adjustments and refining. It’s a critical process, and with a salad, the feedback loop is really fast, because it happens over about three minutes. It’s about getting the right balance of acidity, fat and salt. Salt is really important. At Houseman, we don’t put salt in the vinaigrette. The salt goes directly into the salad. There are a lot of poorly seasoned salads out there.
Q: True to the book’s title, you have a segment on hard-cooked eggs, and advocate for the 7 ½- minute time frame for a yolk that’s golden and barely set. What’s the method?
A: It’s about reducing variables. Everyone’s situations are different. Your pot might have a thicker wall, your stove might have less BTUs, the eggs you’re cooking might be smaller, or larger, and the number of eggs that you’re cooking may vary. If you start with cold water, the run-up to the boil is a big variable that you can avoid. That’s why I like to start from a hard boil, because that reduces the variables. You gently lower the eggs into the boiling water, and wait for a moment for the water to return to a boil. Then you establish a steady simmer, because a hard boil is a turbulent environment, and eggs are fragile.
Q: Any tips for peeling eggs?
A: Everyone has an idea about why some eggs are hard to peel, and some aren’t. I can’t even tell you how many hundreds of thousands of eggs that I’ve peeled, and I have no idea why some are harder than others to peel. This is just the way it is. Peeling eggs in a dry environment is a lot harder than in a wet one, which is why I always peel eggs under water. I crack them, and I put them in water, with the idea that water slips in the cracks. A wet environment really helps the shells slide off, and makes them easier to peel. If you’re not using the peeled eggs right that second, hold them in a container with water, otherwise they might break.
Q: When you started writing the book, had you determined the format, or did it evolve over time?
A: We decided to do a book together because we liked each other. Pete has done 17 cookbooks, and he knew that you end up spending a hell of a lot of time with the person you’re writing with, so you have to get along. It’s a lot of problem-solving. And we get along, whether it’s talking about politics, or fishing, or the cooking world. When we first decided to write the book, it was 2015. I like to learn how to do stuff, I’m always leaping into things where I don’t know what I’m doing, whether it’s building a cabinet, or making an omelet. Apparently, I like to fail, all the time. While we were going through files and recipes and essays, I unearthed this proclivity for learning how to do something, learning how to do it well and making it repeatable. The first draft had 35 chapters, and we cut it down to 20. We identified the ones that were really, really minimal. It was a paring-down rather than building-up process.
Q: Why is repetition so important in cooking?
A: I just think it’s cool to do recipes a bunch of times. You get better the more times you do it. There’s a learning curve. That’s the myth of cookbooks, where I give you a recipe, and you cook it, and it works. That’s nonsense. The world is not the same everywhere, not everyone has the same pan, or has the same comfort levels.
Gently Cooked Shrimp
Makes 1 pound cooked shrimp.
Note: From “How to Dress an Egg” by Ned Baldwin and Peter Kaminsky.
• 1/4 c. white vinegar (or white wine vinegar, or cider vinegar)
• 3 tbsp. kosher salt
• 3 tbsp. sugar
• 1 bay leaf
• Zest from 1 lemon removed in strips with a vegetable peeler, plus the juice
• 1 lb. medium (21 to 25 count) shrimp, peeled and deveined (save the shells for stock)
In a medium saucepan over high heat, combine 4 cups water, vinegar, salt, sugar, bay leaf, lemon zest and lemon juice, and bring to a boil, stirring until the salt and sugar dissolve. Turn off the heat and wait about 5 minutes, then add the shrimp.
Stir gently and look for the shrimp to go from gray and translucent to pink and opaque, 4 to 5 minutes. Test a shrimp for doneness by slicing it in half and looking at the cross section: the middle of the shrimp should have just about tipped from translucent to white and opaque all the way through; even a little less is OK. Using a slotted spoon, scoop the shrimp onto a baking sheet or plate and leave them to cool, at room temperature or in the refrigerator.
Nutrition information per serving of 4:
Calories 90 Fat 0 g
Sodium 370 mg Carbohydrates 1 g
Saturated fat 0 g Added sugars 1 g
Protein 20 g Cholesterol 160 mg
Dietary fiber 0 g
Exchanges per serving: 3 lean protein.
Spicy Shrimp, Peanuts, Cilantro and Mint
Note: From “How to Dress an Egg.”
For hot sauce:
• 2 anchovy fillets, plus 1 tbsp. of the oil they are packed in
• 3 tbsp. olive oil
• 2 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice, or to taste
• 1 tbsp. white wine vinegar
• 2 tsp. honey
• 1 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
• 1/4 tsp. kosher salt, or to taste
• Gently Cooked Shrimp (see recipe)
• 1/2 c. crushed roasted peanuts
• 1 c. mixed fresh cilantro and mint leaves, chopped
• 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
• 1/2 lime
To prepare hot sauce: Chop and mash the anchovy fillets into a paste, then transfer to a bowl and whisk together with the anchovy oil, olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, honey, red pepper flakes and salt.
To prepare salad: In a large bowl, mix the shrimp with the peanuts, cilantro-mint mixture and hot sauce, giving it all a good stir. Check for seasoning and acidity and adjust if necessary.
Put the shrimp on individual plates or serve family-style in a bowl. Dust with coriander and serve with the lime.
Nutrition information per serving:
Calories 340 Fat 23 g
Sodium 640 mg Carbohydrates 11 g
Saturated fat 4 g Added sugars 4 g
Protein 25 g Cholesterol 185 mg
Dietary fiber 2 g
Exchanges per serving: 1 carb, 3½ lean protein, 3 fat.
Shrimp Salad With Peas, Dill and Tarragon
Note: “You can do a lot with just a few ingredients if the ingredients are great and you do it well,” writes Ned Baldwin in “How to Dress an Egg.” “If you can’t get great fresh peas, raw celery is a fine alternative.”
• Gently Cooked Shrimp (see recipe)
• 1 c. (brimming) green peas (or 2 celery stalks, thinly sliced)
• 1 large (or 2 small) green onion, thinly sliced
• 1/3 generous c. fresh dill leaves, chopped
• 1 1/4 c. heavy cream
• Kosher salt, to taste
• 1/2 c. mixed fresh soft herbs (such as tarragon, cilantro, parsley, chervil and dill)
• 1 to 2 handfuls leaves from Little Gem lettuce or romaine hearts
• Olive oil, to taste
• White wine vinegar, to taste
To prepare salad: If using peas, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil in a large saucepan and blanch the peas for 2 to 3 minutes (they should be soft but not become wrinkly or mushy). Drain in a colander and cool them under cold running water. If using celery, leave it raw.
In a medium bowl, combine shrimp, peas (or celery), green onion, 1/3 cup dill and cream, and mix well. Carefully season with salt (there’s no spice or acidity for salt to play against, so add it with a light hand). At this point, the salad can be served immediately, but resting it in the refrigerator for a day or two allows the cream to meld the flavors of all the ingredients.
To serve salad: In a large bowl, toss the mixed herbs with the lettuce and lightly dress with olive oil, vinegar and salt. Arrange the lettuce and herbs on a platter. Spoon the shrimp salad on top, making sure you get all the flavorful cream.
Nutrition information per serving:
Calories 360 Fat 26 g
Sodium 400 mg Carbohydrates 10 g
Saturated fat 15 g Added sugars 1 g
Protein 24 g Cholesterol 240 mg
Dietary fiber 2 g
Exchanges per serving: ½ carb, 3½ lean protein, 4 fat.