Jacques Pepin’s ‘Heart & Soul’

What a chef cooks at home for family and friends over a lifetime in food

After 2011’s massive “Essential Pepin,” Jacques Pepin’s new “Heart & Soul in the Kitchen” (Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35) isn’t that much smaller, but it is a bit different. In it, the 79-year-old French chef reflects on cooking with friends and family, making “Heart & Soul” a very personal companion to its comprehensive predecessor. And to me, there’s a slight air of melancholy—Pepin has indicated that it’s likely his last big book and accompanying television project.

But crack it open and start cooking, and melancholy immediately gives way to pleasure and satisfaction. Which is, if you think about it, one of the most important contributions good cooking makes to life. These are recipes that a chef cooks in his own home kitchen—in other words, the very best kind of cooking. And did you know Pepin, among his other talents, is a painter? The book is illustrated with his work, including menus created for special dinners at home over the years.

After the tragic events in Paris Friday the 13th, I wanted to be in the kitchen even more than I usually do, and was so glad to have this book at hand. I caught up on the PBS television show, too—episodes are available to stream online at KQED—until I felt completely wrapped up in Pepin’s good food, family stories, and learned anecdotes. With very little fuss he puts together dishes that manage to be simple and sophisticated versions of what everybody really wants to eat: classics like a poulet à la crème inspired by his mother’s, fusion-y neo-classics like tuna tartare, easy fruit desserts, and lots of ideas for eggs, which are clearly one of his favorite things to cook. (Eggs are in my own Top 5, too.)

And there may be more Pepin books yet. I heard from his representative that there are a few in the works, starting with the reissue next month of his 2003 memoir, “The Apprentice” (Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $18), with a new forward by Anthony Bourdain.

Pepin seems to like lamb as much as my family does. The following preparation makes use of a cut that I always snap up when it appears: lamb breast or ribs—they turn out like rich-tasting, small-scale pork spare ribs. Ask your butcher or supermarket meat department to order them.

Spicy Lamb Ribs from Jacques Pepin

(Serves 4)

Lamb breast is quite fatty, so in this recipe I cook it for a long time at a relatively low temperature, to melt as much fat as possible. I make a dry rub with salt, sugar, and spices to flavor the breast. The meat can be rubbed just prior to cooking or up to 12 hours ahead; if done ahead, the meat gets cured and yields an even more flavorful result. This is a recipe best made for family and friends, since the meat should be eaten with your fingers.–Jacques Pepin

2 lamb breasts (about 1 ½ pounds each)

Spice rub:

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons brown sugar

1 teaspoon 5-spice powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon Spanish paprika

1 teaspoon garlic powder

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Using a sharp knife, remove any visible fat from the surface of the meat. (I removed about 8 ounces of fat from the 2 breasts of lamb.)

For the rub: Mix all the ingredients together. Rub the spice mixture on both sides of the breasts. (This can be done up to 12 hours ahead.) Cover and refrigerate until ready to cook.

At cooking time, preheat the oven to 275 degrees.

Put the meat on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Place in the oven and cook for about 4 ½ hours. The bones should pull out easily from the meat. Press on the breasts for a few seconds with a large spoon or a wide spatula to release more fat. (I removed 3⁄4 cup of fat from the 2 breasts.)

Cut between the ribs and serve.


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