Michael Symon's Live to Cook: Recipes and Techniques to Rock Your Kitchen

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Clarkson Potter
  • Hometown boy turned superstar, Michael Symon is one of the hottest food personalities in America. Hailing from Cleveland, Ohio, he is counted among the nation’s greatest chefs, having joined the ranks of Mario Batali, Bobby Flay, and Masaharu Morimoto as one of America’s Iron Chefs. At his core, though, he’s a midwestern guy with family roots in old-world traditions. In Michael Symon’s Live to Cook, Michael tells the amazing story of his whirlwind rise to fame by sharing the food and incredible recipes that have marked his route.Michael is known for his easy, fresh food. He means it when he says that if a dish requires more than two pans to finish, he’s not going to make it. Cooking what he calls “heritage” food–based on the recipes beloved by his Greek—Italian—Eastern European—American parents and the community in Cleveland–Michael draws on the flavors of traditional recipes to create sophisticated dishes, such as his Beef Cheek Pierogies with Wild Mushrooms and Horseradish, which came out of the pierogies that his grandpa made. Michael translates the influences of the diverse working-class neighborhood in which he grew up into dishes with Mediterranean ingredients, such as those in Olive Oil Poached Halibut with Fennel, Rosemary, and Garlic; Italian-style handmade pastas, like Linguini with Heirloom Tomato, Capers, Anchovies, and Chilies; and re-imagined Cleveland favorites, such as Mac and Cheese with Roasted Chicken, Goat Cheese, and Rosemary.Part of Michael’s irresistible allure on the Food Network comes from how much fun he has in the kitchen. To help readers gain confidence and have a good time, Michael Symon’s Live to Cook has advice for cooking like a pro, starting with basic instructions for how to correctly use techniques such as braising, poaching, and pickling. There’s also information on how caramelizing vegetables and toasting spices can give dishes a greater depth of flavor–instead of a heavy, time-consuming stock-based sauce–and why the perfect finishing touch to most meat or fish dishes can be a savory hot vinaigrette instead.With fantastic four-color photography throughout and tons of helpful “Symon Says” tips, Michael Symon’s Live to Cook is bound to get anyone fired up about getting into the kitchen and cooking up something downright delicious.
  • Author:
    Michael Ruhlman
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    Clarkson Potter
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    Clarkson Potter
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    Clarkson Potter
    Clarkson Potter
    Michael Symon's Live to Cook: Recipes and Techniques to Rock Your Kitchen
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    Bobby Flay

Recent User Reviews

  1. kyheirloomer
    "Put An Iron Chef In Your Kitchen"
    Pros - Great book for the home cook
    Cons - Maybe simplistic for the pro

    written by Brook Elliott

    I have to admit that until he was a competitor on The Next Iron Chef contest, I had never heard of Michael Symon. And, frankly, I was surprised when he won.

         Think about it. Here’s this guy with an infectious (some would say irritating) laugh who didn’t seem to fit in. His dishes seemed simplistic; lacking in sophistication and chefiness. Not Iron Chef quality at all, if you get what I mean. The few times he’s appeared as an Iron Chef just reinforced that view. His dishes always seemed more like what I’d make at home then what I’d expect to find served in an upscale restaurant.

         And yet, chef’s and food writers whose opinions I respect raved about Symon and his approach to cooking. I just didn’t get it.

         Now comes Michael Symon’s Live To Cook, his first (and, hopefully, not last) cookbook. Reading the book, and working through the recipes, was an eye-opener. It’s true, Symon’s food is simple. But that’s not the same as simplistic. What it lacks is not sophistication, but pretension. Simon doesn’t cook for New York sophisticates. He cooks for a Midwestern meat-and-potatoes audience, of mixed ethnic heritage (as he is, himself) and he’s very much in touch with where he comes from and what his community demands. All of which, as Bobby Flay says in the book’s forward, “come into play in his deeply personal, soul-satisfying dishes.”

         Turns out I was right about the lack of chefiness. In his restaurants Symon prepares dishes that you could easily cook at home. His dishes lack the fancy sauces, and long reductions, and multi-stage manipulation that have become the hallmarks of fine dining. Indeed, as he’s fond of pointing out, if a dish requires more than two pans to finish, he’s not interested in it.

          Because Live To Cook reflects the restaurants it’s one of those rarities: A chef-written cookbook that truly makes sense for the home cook. Symon doesn’t talk down to the home cook, doesn’t intimidate with a list of rare ingredients, doesn’t call for a bunch of expensive, impossible to obtain, special tools and equipment. Instead he teaches you how to cook well.

         In both his introductory text, and in the biographical snippets and how-to sidebars that fill the book, Symon stresses one philosophical position: that great cooking consists of using good techniques to manipulate good ingredients. That’s the whole secret. If you want to improve you own cooking, he maintains, the way to become a better cook is to become a better shopper. “No matter how good a cook or chef you are,” he says, “if you start with garbage you will end up with garbage.”

         I was especially taken, in that regard, with his list of five things you should never buy. What impressed me wasn’t the list, itself---all five are things that most serious cooks and chefs would agree with. No, what’s impressive is his willingness to admit to them in a public forum. The list:

         -Boneless, skinless chicken breast halves.

    -Lean turkey bacon.

    -I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! And other butter substitutes.

    -Beef tenderloin/filet mignon.

    -Peeled, chopped garlic.

         If you want to know his reasons for excluding these you’ll have to read the book. Suffice it to say, they all make sense, and have to do with flavor and texture.

         The book is all about simple food you can make at home, but with flavor combinations that can be both unexpected and satisfying. Simple food, but still impressive enough for company.

         The first thing I tried was his Roasted Dates with Pancetta, Almonds, and Chile. I love dates, but had never thought about roasting them, let alone in combination with these bold flavors. The result: An ideal starter course, or something just to snack on. Plus, as he mentions, you can puree leftovers to spread on croutons or serve as a condiment with a cheese course.

         Personally, I thought Symon overdid it with the red pepper flakes. But that’s strictly a matter of taste, and others might think he was being overly cautious.

         Braised Rabbit Thighs with Olives and Orange is a tagine-like dish ideal on a winter day. Rabbit is not as popular as it should be, and is often unavailable. Not a problem; as Symon suggests, chicken thighs easily substitute. So that’s how I made it. Served on a bed of noodles (a most non-tagine approach), the result is a hearty meal that needs only some crusty bread to help sop up the broth.

        Many chef-written cookbooks give short-shift to vegetables. Here, again, Symon shines in both the importance he gives to them, and in the special touches he provides.

         Friend wife and I have only recently developed a fondness for Brussels sprouts. So I was particularly intrigued with Symon’s Fried Brussels Sprouts with Walnuts and Capers. This is the only recipe I found in the book that was the least bit ambiguous, and, after making this dish three times, I’m still not sure if the batches of sprouts are supposed to be removed as they’re fried or not. That aside, you can’t fault the taste. Deep frying does something to the flavor and texture of Brussels sprouts that I’ve never experienced through other means of cooking.

         Just reading Live To Cook is fun. It’s cleanly laid out, and the liberal use of photos showing Symon at work personalize it in a great way. My only objection is to the widespread use of German Gothic type. It’s scattered throughout the book, in chapter intros, in the headings of the advice sidebars called “Symon Says,” on the contents page. I don’t know what the designers were thinking, but I find it distractive and hard to read. This typeface is bad enough on the back of a Hell’s Angels jacket; I don’t need it in a cookbook.

         Still and all, this is a small price to pay for an otherwise great book that provides insights into the worldview of a top chef while showing us how to replicate what he does in our own homes.


    Braised Rabbit Thighs with Olives and Orange


    12 bone-in rabbit thighs or chicken thighs (about 3 pounds)

    Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

    3 tablespoons coriander seeds, toasted and ground

    ½ cup all purpose flour

    ¼ cup olive oil, or more as needed

    1 medium red onion, halved and sliced

    4 garlic cloves, sliced

    1 fresno chili, seeded and sliced

    1 cup dry white wine

    1 cup fresh orange juice

    3 cups chicken stock

    12 black oil-cured olives, pitted and chopped

    ½ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

    2 tablespoons chestnut honey

    1 cup toasted sliced almonds

    Preheat the oven to 225F.

    Put a 6-quart Dutch oven over medium heat. Season the rabbit thighs with salt, pepper, and the coriander and then dredge in the flour, shaking off excess. Add the oil to the Dutch oven. Working in batches if necessary, brown the thighs for about 2 minutes per side. Remove them to a large plate. Add the onion, garlic, chili, almonds, and a pinch of salt to the Dutch oven, and sauté until the vegetables and almonds begin to brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the wine, orange juice, and stock, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Return the thighs to the Dutch oven and bring the liquid to a simmer. Cover the pan, transfer to the oven, and braise for 3 hours, or until the meat is very tender.

    Remove the thighs from the pot. Over medium heat, return the sauce to a simmer and whisk in the olives, parsley, and honey. Return the thighs to the pot to reheat and then serve.
    Recipe courtesy “Michael Symon’s Live To Cook,” written by Michael Symon and Michael Ruhlman, published by Clarkson-Potter, 2009   


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