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Cookbooks can get a kitchen rookie started, but nothing helps like finding a cooking guru, a sensei on speed-dial. For many, it's a parent or close relative who's handy in the kitchen. How can you make tender, sticky-sweet baby back ribs in an oven? Your sensei's only a call away.

In the world of American cookbooks, James Peterson is the sensei of the shelf. His cookbooks, including "Sauces," "Baking" and "Cooking" have won six James Beard awards. Catchy titles and celebrity brands sell lots of volumes, but Peterson has carved a career out of providing master's courses in cooking between hardcovers.

In "Meat: A Kitchen Education," Peterson has created a smart, accessible guide to buying, cooking and serving flesh, from boneless skinless chicken breast to goat shoulder.

Peterson takes meat seriously, with a quiet passion that approaches reverence. It's not just another ingredient, he suggests, describing how he once killed his own rabbits for a dish. Since then he's been ever mindful that choosing meat means something had to die for dinner.

"I was left convinced," he writes, "that people who consume meat should have to kill for their supper at least once in their lives."

The result is an odd duck indeed: a meat cookbook that suggests people eat too much of it. "We should eat less, and eat better," Peterson says. That drove him to include recipes for the lesser-used cuts, like the pork butt, that can satisfy just as many eaters as a high-class ham.

The book emphasizes practical knife work, with easy-to-follow instructions on specific butchering tasks, like breaking down whole chickens into six pieces best suited for fried chicken. "By doing the work yourself," Peterson writes, "you'll gain both valuable practice with a knife and beneficial insight into how animals are put together."

With clear recipes and copious, detailed color photographs, "Meat" will guide you through a steak-and-kidney pie, and how to convert a mess of oxtails into stew. Has fate handed you a package of venison chops, duck breasts or a beef chuck blade roast? Day or night, this book is ready with the answer.

e-mail: agalarneau@buffnews.com

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Meat: A Kitchen Education

By James Peterson

Ten Speed Press

326 pages, $35