SINCE IT FIRST hit newsstands in 1941, Gourmet magazine has been the chronicler of American food trends and fantasies, providing advice and inspiration for generations of home cooks. Now, after 60 years, the best of that advice and more than 1,200 of the magazine's recipes have been revamped for modern kitchens in The Gourmet Cookbook (Houghton Mifflin; $40).
It's a spicy meatball. Weighing in at a positively caloric 5 lbs. 2 oz. and 1,056 pages, this doorstop of a tome aims, in the words of editor Ruth Reichl, to be "a book that wants to live in your kitchen." For the most part, it succeeds; this is the sort of cookbook you want by your side whether you're attempting cucumber sandwiches or coq au vin.
Each chapter is punctuated with valuable tips from Gourmet's eight test kitchens on such matters as how to properly store food (never refrigerate tomatoes, for instance; it makes them mealy and kills flavor), when to use which kind of rice and how to remove fish skins (a paper towel and a sharp knife work best).
Reichl and her team spent a year sifting through 50,000 recipes, which were retested, updated and sometimes rejected because of health concerns or changing tastes. The apricot soufflé, one of Gourmet's early signature desserts, failed the taste test until someone realized that the original recipe used dried apricots from California, not the Turkish ones that are more common today. And a 1950s recipe for niu moa ai that began, "Saw the tops off six small, fresh coconuts" was dropped because it was deemed too time consuming for contemporary cooks. Still, the recipes that did make it in will allow you to re-create classics like beef Wellington or more modern dishes like seared salmon with balsamic glaze.
One disappointment: despite coming from a magazine famed for tempting photos that verge on gastroporn, The Gourmet Cookbook contains no photographs. Instead, the book is illustrated with detailed drawings that explain everything from proper siu mai assembly to the best way to choose and shuck an oyster. It's up to you to provide the mouth-watering visuals.