Book Review: Culinary Intelligence by Peter Kaminsky

Book: Culinary Intelligence: The Art of Eating Healthy (and Really Well) by Peter Kaminsky
Genre: Cooking
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Publication date: 2012
Pages: 258

Source: Library

cover of Culinary Intelligence by Peter KaminskySummary: In Culinary Intelligence, columnist and author Peter Kaminsky approaches the quest for healthy eating by focusing on the quailty of the food we eat.

Good cooking with real ingredients is the only way to eat a healthy, satisfying diet. Some authorities may not be so insistent on this point. I see no other way. (p. 20)

The central concept of Flavor per Calorie makes developing Culinary Intelligence a matter of attentiveness, mostly, aided by some knowledge acquired along the way about calories and even more about what maximizes flavors of foods. Flavor per Calorie, of course, begins with great ingredients, so there’s a whole chapter on that. I was intrigued by the next chapter called “The Fundamentals of Flavor: The Elements of Taste” because it helped me develop a vocabulary of flavor — if I can talk or write about something, it’s much easier for me to be attentive to it.

Chapters on cooking, meals, and dining out bring the Flavor per Calorie concept to practical use in the choices we make each day about what we eat. This is not a cookbook, but Fourteen Recipes in the appendix illustrate the concepts from earlier in the book.

Thoughts: As I transition into weight maintenance after losing 70 pounds since August of 2009, I’m beginning to realize that I may need to pay more attention to what I eat rather than less — improve my awareness of taste, take my cooking skills to the next level, and be more adventurous.

One adventure that Kaminsky encouraged me to pursue is in the sea of little fish. Raised in the Midwest, I’ve always been a seafood skeptic. Just when I finally taught myself to appreciate a slab of seared tuna or grilled salmon, things got complicated with mercury levels, fish factory farms, and over-harvesting. I actually ate fewer meals featuring fish as my diet improved. Here’s a fast path through the confusion that I hadn’t thought of:

What tend to get overlooked, in environmental discussions and in cookbooks, are the little fish: sardines, anchovies, herring, and the like are delicious, plentiful, and loaded with heart-healthy omega-3’s and satiety-inducing umami. Furthermore, because they are lower down on the food chain, their tissues accumulate less mercury and other harmful substances; when big fish eat little fish, they also consume and store many of the pollutants that the little fish ate. Fresh, canned, or cured, these little guys are available everywhere all year round. (p. 88)

Now, as a lifelong seafood skeptic, I don’t expect myself to suddenly start popping sardines out of a tin and dropping them in my mouth like a fratboy swallowing goldfish. But I am open to the idea of using little fish in recipes.

For my first adventure, I used one of the Fourteen Recipes in the back of Culinary Intelligence — Pasta Pete-a-nesca, a variation of puttanesca sauce for pasta, a tomato sauce with anchovies. I wouldn’t have guessed there was seafood in it if I hadn’t opened the tin myself. We loved it — unfortunately, it was way too much salt for our current way of eating. Does anyone know of a no-salt-added anchovy brand for us to try? Or do you have a recipe for sardines or herring that a mildly reluctant seafood eater might enjoy?

Appeal: This book follows quite naturally on the heels of In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan and Food Matters by Mark Bittman. What Culinary Intelligence adds to those is the kind of appreciation for taste that you would expect from a wine connoisseur or food critic. If you crossed In Defense of Food with Zingerman’s Guide to Good Eating, you’d get Culinary Intelligence.

Other Reviews: This book hasn’t made the round of book blogs yet, so I must have heard of it somewhere else. Oh, I know — Marion Nestle’s Food Politics blog: Weekend reading: food as an art.

logo for Foodies Read 2013Challenges: This is my first book for Foodies Read 2013. In 2012, I challenged myself to read 19 food books (Cordon Bleu Chef level) and only made it to 15, so this year, I will challenge myself to read 14 to 18 books (Chef de Cuisine level).


Weekend Cooking meme graphicWeekend Cooking is hosted each week at Beth Fish Reads. Check out today’s post for more adventures in cooking and eating.

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About Joy Weese Moll

a librarian writing about books
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15 Responses to Book Review: Culinary Intelligence by Peter Kaminsky

  1. Beth F says:

    My problem with anchovies is the salt. I feel as if I could bypass the fish and just pour the salt directly into my mouth. Sardines, however, I just love, love, love. I tend to buy the skinless, boneless tins packed in olive oil. We just mash them on bread for an awesome sandwich for lunch or with soup for dinner. I love pickled herring (and creamed, but too many calories) and eat it just as is or with bread. I haven’t made fresh herring or fresh sardines.

  2. Esme (@cococroissants) says:

    I must confess I am not super adventuress with fish. I was in France in a shop that only sold marinated sardines so I decided to try them. They were okay and then I realized I had used a fork from the used vs the new pile. Nothing bad happened but that was the only time I have tried sardines and I associate them with a dirty fork.

  3. Patty says:

    I had heard abou the little fish, so I guess I must at some point think seriously about this. I fully agree with your point of paying attention to what we eat rather than just eating less. Following in your steps of weight maintenance, I’m a lot more conscious of this and feel much better!

  4. Vicki says:

    I’ve always been a not so big fan of fish, but do love shrimp. As for anchovies, and sardines, forget it! No way!! My husband on the other hand loves it all! I can handle some orange roughy or flounder once in a while and was getting a little fond of tilapia, but then my BIL told me some stuff about it that ended that. I do love tuna fish in a can for tuna sandwiches and to make tuna noodle casserole, but don’t have the later often because of the carbs. And believe it or not, I did try squid once at a restaurant because my hubby dared me to. I don’t think I’ll be eating it again. The taste didn’t gag me, but looking at it grossed me out!

    Thanks for posting to the Foodies Read challenge!

  5. SprungAtLast says:

    Interesting. I read another of Kaminsky’s books, called Pig Perfect, and have been trying to obtain certain types of ham ever since. I didn’t know about this one, it sounds very intriguing.

    And kudos to you for your weight-loss accomplishment, very impressive!

  6. Fay says:

    You should see the quality of available produce here in Montana in the winter. Well, no, maybe you shouldn’t. Reading Italian cookbooks lately, I’ve been surprised by the amount of anchovie paste in the recipes of some regions. Keep meaning to try one.

  7. Kelly says:

    Thanks for this review Joy! I loved In Defense of Food, so I think this one would be really interesting for me to try.

  8. Carole says:

    I don’t do anchovies except in lamb dishes where they meld in and intensify the flavour but you don’t taste them separately at all. Have a great week.

  9. jama says:

    I wish I could develop a taste for little fish. It would be great to get some healthy Omega-3’s from sardines, for example, but I don’t really care for it. Sigh. I usually eat fish whenever we go out, and wish more restaurant salmon was fresh caught instead of farm raised.

  10. Rikki says:

    Great review of the book, even though the puttanesca sauce doesn’t appeal to me that much, exactly because of the anchovis. Sounds like a very interesting book though.

  11. Margot says:

    I enjoy reading about your food book choices. They are always so intelligent. I’ll add this one to my to-read list. First I’ll need to read to the other two you mentioned.

    I enjoyed your posts on Huffington. So very well written. It was fun to see your familiar picture on the website. I hope I’ll see you there often.

  12. I’ve never been a fan of sardines, but I’m tempted to try them again (I haven’t had any since I was a child). I’ve seen quite a few recipes lately for simple pasta dishes with sardines. I think it depends highly on the quality, as far as taste goes!

  13. Tina says:

    Oh I like sardines and anchovies and all little fishies :-) Very nice review of the book, Joy.

  14. Cecelia says:

    Sounds like interesting reading! I’m a big fan of anchovies – I order them on pizza and pasta, and I also like to get cans and mix them in with rice and veggies at home. Haven’t really taken to herrings or sardines, but it’s something I could be convinced to do (especially if it’s healthy for me!). Thanks for sharing.

  15. Pingback: Book Review: Smart Chefs Stay Slim by Allison Adato | Joy's Book Blog

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