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Case Number 22628: Small Claims Court

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Essential Pepin

PBS // 2011 // 780 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Josh Rode (Retired) // October 29th, 2011

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All Rise...

Judge Josh Rode thinks sweetbread is offal (rimshot!)

The Charge

This is how I made it.

The Case

Jacques Pépin has been a staple on public television for years, and was a world-renowned chef for decades before that. You know that saying, "He wrote the book?" Pépin literally did; his book La Technique is used to teach the fundamentals of French cooking. So when he tells you to slice the corn off the cob by using the upper edge of the knife and cutting straight up toward your exposed chest, you can be assured he knows what he's talking about.

Despite his occasional unsafe advice, Pépin gives clear and detailed instructions, and though I was too lazy to go to the store for ingredients, I felt as if I could have made most of the dishes he demonstrated. He is an unassuming, engaging host whose dishes look so good that your mouth will water as you watch, and you will be tempted to try food that you would otherwise never dream of eating. For instance, I don't like seafood, but Pépin's Sea Bass in Shredded Potato Skin, Oysters Madison, and Poached Salmon in Ravigote Sauce look delicious. He spends an episode on offal, which are the parts of the animals you normally wouldn't think to eat, such as intestines and tails and something called sweetbread—which is neither sweet nor, in fact, bread; it's a really disgusting dish made from the thymus gland. But after he was done with it, I was ready to chow down.

Jacques isn't out to entertain so much as teach, so there is nothing flashy about his presentation. Each episode begins with Jacques, by himself or with a guest, pretending to have dinner. If there is a guest, they will exclaim, "This is delicious! How did you make it?" To which Jacques invariably replies, "This is how I made it," and an overview of the recipes he's about to demonstrate runs. Then, after the introductory credits roll, he gets to cooking.

There doesn't seem to be any pattern to the episodes spread throughout the three discs, but each episode has its own theme, and there are an unbelievably large number of recipes offered. I'm well aware that many of you cooks won't even consider a cooking-related purchase without knowing which recipes are available, so here they are:

Disc 1
• "Savory Staples"—Risotto with Vegetables, Darphin Potatoes, Skillet Sweet Potato, Green Couscous, Corn Polenta with Mushroom Ragout.
• "Fabulous Fins"—Cured Salmon in Molasses, Tuna Steaks with Tapenade Coating, Tuna Tartare on Marinated Cucumbers, Poached Salmon inRavigote Sauce, Ray Meuniere with Mushrooms.
• "Sweets for My Sweet"—Tartelettes aux Fruit Panaches, Tarte Tatin, Meme's Apple Tart, Individual Chocolate and Nut Pies
• "Veg-In"—Ragout of Asparagus, Zucchini and Tomato Gratin, Cauliflower Gratin, Artichoke Hearts Helen, Corn Tempura
• "Fine Finishes"—Cheesecake with Apricot-Blueberry Sauce, Flan a la Vanille with Carmel-Cognac Sauce, Bread and Butter Pudding, Chocolate Mousse
• "Special Spuds"—French Fries, Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Potato Ragout, Gratin Dauphinoise, Cream Puff Potatoes
• "Economical Offal"—Pork Liver Pate, Roast Sausage with Potatoes, Braised Sweetbreads in Mirepoix, Braised Tongue with Lentils
• "Cozy Carbs"—Ricotta Dumplings with Red Pepper Sauce, Macaroni Beaucaire, Orzo with Arugula Sauce, Gnocchi Maison, Linguine with Clam Sauce and Vegetables
• "Classic Conclusions"—Crepes, Orange Crepes Soufflé, Baked Alaska, Apricot and Pistachio Soufflé

Disc 2
• "Easy and Elegant Seafood"—Lobster in Artichoke Hearts, Shrimp Pane on Watercress, Escoffier Quenelles, Monkfish Roulade
• "Cattle Call"—Grilled Steak with Lemon-Thyme Butter, Spicy Rip Roast, Veal Chops with Caper Sauce, Braised Beef in Red Wine
• "Fruit Fete"—Apples Bon Femme, Stew of Red Summer Fruit, Braised Pears in Caramel Sauce, Flambéed Bananas, Apple Fritters
• "Vegetable Bounty"—Endive with Olives, Stewed Navy Beans, Gratin of Leeks, Classic Ratatouille, Tomatoes Maison
• "Family Favorites"—Grilled Leg of Lamb, Pork Loin Tournedos with Cream and Calvados, Puerto Rican Pork and Beans, Lamb Navarin
• "All Puffed Up"—Puff Pastry Sticks, Fast Puff Pastry, Crystallized Puff Paste of Orange, Choux a la Crème, Chocolate Paris-Brest Cake
• "Shell-ebration"—Crab Cakes with Avocado, Oysters Madison, Mussels Poulette, Mussels Gratinee, Clam Fritters
• "Rollin' Dough"—Soda Bread, Gros Pain, Baguette, Brioche, Bread Galettes
• "Egg-ceptional"—Mollet Eggs Florentine, Eggs in Ramekins, Scrambled Eggs in Bread Cases with Candied Oyster Mushrooms, Fines Herbs Omelet, Flat Potato Omelet

Disc 3
• "Game Day"—Venison Steaks in Sweet-Sour Sauce, Skillet Duck with Red Oak Salad, Sautéed Quail with Wild Rice and Corn, Braised Rabbit with Morels and Pearl Onions
• "Souper Soups for Supper"—Tomato Chowder with Mollet Eggs, Black Bean Soup with Bananas, Garlic Soup, Onion Soup Lyonnaise-Style, Consommé
• "Light as Air"—Meringue Shells with Chantilly Cream, Macaroons, Chocolate Roll, Chocolate Soufflé Cake with Raspberry Sauce
• "Good Catch!"—Grilled Swordfish with Spicy Yogurt Sauce, Baked Mackerel with Potatoes and Onions, Seafood with 'Handkerchiefs,' Poached Trout in Vegetable Broth
• "Eggs-quisite"—Quiche with Bacon, Eggs Jeannette, Flan with Green Herbs, Broccoli Rabe, Ham and Parmesan Soufflé
• "Sweet Endings"—Chocolate Mint Truffettes, Quick Almond and Plum Cake, Tuiles a l'Orange, Summer Cornets Suise
• "Ocean Options"—Brandade de Morue au Gratin, Sea Bass in Shredded Potato Skin, Nage Courte of Striped Bass, Codfish in Olive and Horseradish Sauce
• "Fowl Play"—Turkey Cutlets in Anchovy-Lemon Sauce, Grilled Chicken with Tarragon Butter, Ballottine of Chicken with Spinach Filling

The television aspect ratio has been stretched out for widescreen viewing, and the picture is clear and sharp. The colors are not tremendously vivid, but there is good balance. The basic stereo sound is quite adequate, carrying Pépin's pleasantly accented voice with clarity while allowing the ambient cooking noises to come through as well. There are no extras. My biggest beef with the program is the DVD menus, which have options for selecting individual programs or scenes, but do not have a "play all" function, which means that once an episode is finished, the disc goes back to the top menu instead of the next episode. This would be an exceptional "listen as you do other things" show if you didn't have to choose another episode every twenty minutes.

Essential Pépin is the culinary version of Bob Ross' Joy of Painting; a low-key but engaging host who is more teacher than entertainer, and who makes his art seem completely accessible to those who would otherwise consider themselves hopelessly inept. It's a pleasant watch even if you don't know a colander from a strainer and never plan to attempt any of the recipes.

The Verdict

Happy cooking!

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 92

Perp Profile

Studio: PBS
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• English (SDH)
Running Time: 780 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary
• Instructional
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• None


• Official Site

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