Cookbook Club

5 Indispensable Kitchen Tricks from Julia Child

January 26, 2018

Before the word “hack” was in anyone’s vocabulary (or before anyone even knew what a kitchen hack was), we had Julia Child. Plugging away in her iconic blue-green kitchen, this master of French cuisine discovered more handy tips and tricks than any other chef we know.

Our Cookbook Club has spent January immersed in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1 and even if you haven’t been cooking alongside us, we know that you won’t be able to live without these five incredible tips we’ve picked up along the way.

Bonus tip from Julia: "With enough butter, anything is good." Photo by Bobbi Lin

What to do when… your fruit sinks to the bottom of your cake.

It’s frustrating to pull a beautiful fruit clafoutis out of the oven only to discover that all of your luscious fruit has sunk to the bottom of the pan. There’s a surprisingly easy solution to this common baking dilemma, however.

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When you’re ready to bake, spread 1/4 of your batter across the bottom of your pan and set over medium heat. Let it cook for just a few minutes, until a film of batter has set, then add your fruit and the rest of the batter, and bake as directed. Allowing this bottom layer to cook and “set” creates a barrier between the fruit and the bottom of your pan.

What to do when… you’re out of shallots.

Shallots are indispensable in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and with good reason. They add a mild, sweet flavor with none of the bite of their onion relatives. But what to do when you’ve used the last one and can’t whip up your favorite vinaigrette?

Try substituting the white part of a green onion, or very finely mince a white onion and boil it for one minute. This removes some bitter sharpness of the onion.

What to do when… your sautéed mushrooms are soggy.

Stop overcrowding them! For perfect sautéed mushrooms every time, take a tip from Julia’s playbook and give them plenty of room (and time) to brown.

Mushrooms can give off quite a bit of cooking liquid, so when they’re crowded into a pan, they’ll steam rather than brown. Avoid that by using a large enough pan and letting them have enough time to get those deliciously crispy edges.

What to do when… your soup is too salty.

An over-salted soup doesn’t have to be a mood-killer with Julia’s easy, meal-saving tip.

If your soup has taken on the flavor of the Dead Sea, you can remove some of the saltiness by adding a grated potato. Simmer the potatoes in the liquid for 7 to 8 minutes, then strain the liquid, discarding the potatoes. Note that they're acting like a sponge, absorbing salty liquid (not just salt), so you might need to add in more water or another (non-salty) liquid after removing them.

What to do when… you have too many egg whites.

If you’ve ever made ice cream, pasta, or curds, you’ve probably ended up with more than a few homeless egg whites. Luckily they can easily be frozen and stored.

Julia has the perfect tip for portioning them out: two egg whites measures approximately 1/4 cup. Freeze them in muffin tins, then once frozen, unmold and store in the freezer until they’re ready to use. Once they’re thawed, they’ll whip up perfectly!

Tell us: What have you learned from Julia?

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Laura Ratliff

Written by: Laura Ratliff

A life-long lover of food, I spend my weekends at farmers' markets, , shaking up cocktails (currently obsessed with tiki), and generally making a mess in my Brooklyn kitchen.


Rosalind P. May 23, 2020
Re mushrooms Cook's Illustrated takes the opposite approach to mushrooms. They suggest crowding the mushrooms into a skillet, adding a few drops of water (no fat yet) and cook them until they have given up all their liquid. They will have shrunk so the pan is no longer crowded and the mushrooms are ready to saute. Then add the oil or butter and saute until the mushrooms are cooked to the stage you want. Longer for crisp, of course. I do it. It works. Your fat goes farther, because the mushrooms aren't soaking it up as they lose water. No loss in flavor.
Ron S. February 26, 2018
I have learned all my technique and kitchen wisdom from Julia. Dear, sweet Julia
Anne-Marie February 5, 2018
I learned never to apologize for the way a meal looks (and my mother frequently reminds me of this when I'm stressing) or tastes. Act like it is supposed to be however it is, and your guests will never know the difference. She also taught me that mistakes happen, and sometimes you can only start over. My grandmother and I loved to watch her on PBS (in the wilds of Wyoming, in the 80's, we got a channel out of Casper, and a PBS station. I still think Norm Abram from "This Old House", and Roy Underhill from "The Woodwright's Shop" are adorable), and we watched her burn a poached fish - her reaction was hilarious. She was delightful to watch, and I miss her still.
Brenda S. February 5, 2018
Both my nana and my mom hated cooking, so I pretty much learned everything besides the basics from Julia [my hero].... Best tip - having confidence and using common sense to overcome seeming failure - cake sticks in the pan? slice it and arrange nicely on a plate with some fruit/whipped cream. Dish looks unattractive? cover it with herbs or whip up a quick sauce.
Brian February 2, 2018
My best tip from Julia, and I forget which book it was from, was to run yourself a big sink of hot soapy water as you begin cooking. Your hands are easily cleaned by plunging them into this dish water, and you are set to quickly clean up as you cook.
Hana February 2, 2018
Thank you for this post, it was a really helpful reading. I only have one question regarding the first aid to salty soups. I quite don´t understand the procedure - am I supposed to simmer the potatotes in what liquid? The soup itself or water, Because if it´s meant in the soup and then you are to strain the soup, what if you have other stuff in the soup, not just pure liquid. Itś hard to imagine. Thank you.
DMStenlake February 2, 2018
That’s what “they” are telling you. I agree, what if. Instead of grated potatoes put in a whole peeled potato or big junks. It’s supposed to absorb the saltiness.
Hana February 3, 2018
Thank you, this I can imagine :)
Janet February 3, 2018
If the potato decreases the salt in your soup by absorbing and removing salty liquid, which you then replace with less salty liquid, why not just scoop out a cup of salty broth and pour in a cup of something else? But who typically has extra unsalted broth on hand? So you use water and dilute the flavor of your soup as well as the salinity.
Anne-Marie February 5, 2018
Sadly, this has proven to be a bit of a kitchen myth. The potatoes just absorb liquid, which you have to re-add. Add liquid in the beginning, and let it cook a bit longer to dilute the saltiness, while maintaining the general flavor.
DMStenlake February 5, 2018
The “myth” being the potato idea does NOT work???? Fortunately I haven’t had to use this method as I tend to under salt everything, just because I’m afraid I’ll over-salt! So that solves the problem.
Rosalind P. May 23, 2020
In my experience the big potato method doesn't work. Never tried the grate otd potato; seems impractical. As is noted, if the soup has other solids in it, straining the potato out is awkward or impossible without ruining the soup.
Irenehope February 1, 2018
Shallots come in such differing sizes, what would be the average for one shallot>
hplcman February 1, 2018
Another tip I learned from her - If you happen to flip you beautiful French Omelette onto the floor just scoop it back into the pan real quick. Nobody will notice! :-)
J January 12, 2019
This one is a myth: it never happened. If you flip the omelette elsewhere on the stove, or the counter, yes. The floor: never! In fact, in one of her several books that tell the story of "The French Chef," Julia writes that she was distressed that this rumor ever circulated, because she would never pick up anything from the floor and serve it.
Sandra R. February 1, 2018
I Always loved watching Her show with my Mom! I just love these tips! This post brought back such lovely memories of being with my Mom! Thank you!
Galapagos February 1, 2018
Julia, my hero, always said never to apologize. Let your guests think that was how the dish was meant to be.
rosemary |. January 27, 2018
Okay these tips are amazing! I absolutely love cookbooks. My wall-to-wall bookshelves are a testament to my cookbook addiction. I've been thinking of adding a copy of this book (I know can I claim to have a collection without this one) but am now convinced to just do it. If the tricks highlighted in this article are a small sample of what I can learn from Julia, there's no time to waste!
Laura R. January 29, 2018
You won't regret it! Even if you don't ever make a recipe, it's a great book to read like a novel for the kitchen wisdom and tips on common ingredients alone. So glad you found this piece helpful. :)
Rosalind P. May 23, 2020
I am a fellow cookbook addict. And now the internet feeds this addiction (says the addict who is on this sight at 3 a.m.) I still even clip recipes my newspaper, even though every one of them is on line. And yes, many of the books can be read like novels. Happy to know I'm not alone.