Cookbooks, What Should You Look For?
While proper knowledge on which knives to buy is essential as there are so many choices in today’s society, knowledge of the food you are making whether it is at home or in the restaurant is easily of the utmost importance. A good portion of the list provided below is based on books I use at home and at work, and I have included a few suggestions by Chef Dylan Montanio and Jeremiah Gray; to make the list easier to follow I have broken it up into the following categories:
Essential References- 4 books
Alternative Cuisines- 2 books
For The Advanced Cook- 3 books
Others Worth Noting- 7 books
The books provided will not only help elevate your home cooking, but also help you generate your own unique ideas that will surprise your family and friends. Not to mention these books can be found through Amazon or your local bookstore, so you won’t have to go on a scavenger hunt to try to locate them. This list covers a number of examples, they are not superior to other reference sources, as you will most likely find books that work better for you than the ones below.
The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg:
While I am more partial to The Flavor Matrix written by James Briscione with Brook Parkhurst due to the accompanying visual charts of flavor approximations, The Flavor Bible is a fantastic reference that will help with any dish you are making. Let’s say you don’t know what to pair with some nice dates you picked up at the local market, turn to page 146 and you will find a list of items that go well with dates such as: almonds, buttermilk, caramel, coffee, lamb, black pepper, and the list goes on. The book also gives a couple examples of dishes you could try making with the provided list, which definitely helps the gears grind out new ideas. This book costs approximately $24 dollars through Amazon, so it isn’t going to break the bank.
Herbs & Spices The Cook’s Reference by Jill Norman
Let’s say you are browsing through your favorite cookbook and you come across a herb or spice you are not familiar with like Hyssop (herb, page 84) or Cassia (spices, page 140), this book not only supplies pictures of these herbs and spices so you know what you are looking for, but also cooking tips, harvesting, storing, and which parts to use. With over 200 herbs and spices provided, this book is a must for any serious home cook or professional, and at $24, this is a steal.
The Complete Book Of Sauces by Sallie Y. Williams
This book is one of a few that floats around my house multiple times a year when it comes to writing recipes, with over 300 recipes this book covers the classics and some unique ones that might not immediately come to mind. The recipes are thorough, but also easy enough to comprehend that you get confused; which is also made easier by the categorization of white sauces, red sauces, wine sauces, and so on. Depending on where you go this book will vary by a couple dollars, I paid $17 for my copy, but at the link below you will find it for $16.
Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison
This book is the equivalent to a dictionary entirely about vegetables, it is extremely thorough and nothing is forgotten, this is another one that floats with me around the house or out to my car for some reading before or after work. This book, aside from general info about the vegetables provided, gives examples of how to use the plant, and notes called “kitchen wisdom” that explain how to process and treat the vegetables. This book is especially good for learning about new vegetables, and how to use them in your cooking, recipes are also provided; just like the rest of our Essential References so far, this book is on the more affordable side as it sits around $25.
The books provided in this section are based on the recipes they provide.
Vegan Recipes and Preparation by Sashia Fraser
I bought this book a while back when I first started working at a local vegan restaurant, it helped me acquire more knowledge on a cuisine I was not familiar with at all. The book provides easy to follow, home style, recipes that would easily please anyone, vegan or not; if you are not familiar with some of the vegetables provided a search through the internet or a reference book would help a lot in this circumstance. This book sits around $22, so it is worth a look if you are interested in vegan cuisine, or you are looking to cook for some friends or family who don’t eat meat.
Two If By Sea by Barton Seaver
Let’s say you know someone who doesn’t like to eat red meat for their own reasons, this book provides plenty of examples of various seafood based dishes like fish tacos, a scallop ceviche, and a seafood risotto. The author is very personable in this book as he also gives examples of occurrences from his own life, and even dives into which knives, pans and cutting boards to buy; the recipes are easy to follow and no doubt delicious. While you might not be able to find some of the seafood mentioned at your local market, it is easy to find a replacement that might even save you a little money. This book runs around $19 to $20 dollars, so maybe this would be a solid gift idea for someone in your life who loves seafood?
For The Advanced Cook
Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn
If you have followed Michael Ruhlman’s books such as The Soul Of A Chef (another excellent read), you will no doubt recognize Brian Polcyn’s name from the content exploring the world of the Certified Master Chefs. These two teamed up to write an entire book on the art of charcuterie; if you are unfamiliar this family of food can span from sausage, to soppresata, to braised sweetbreads, and so much more. I put this book in the “advanced” category because it is an extensive read, and might not interest the casual home cook, no offense to anyone; the recipes are outlined in a list format so it is easy to follow, and elaborates thoroughly on the recipes provided. This book sits around $24 dollars, and is definitely an interesting read.
Basic Butchering of Livestock and Game by John J. Mettler Jr., DVM
I placed this book in the “advanced section” because of the subject matter, butchering, and most home cooks find it easier to buy cuts of meat that have already been broken down so they have less to worry about, just the cooking. This makes sense as not everyone has the room or the tools to break down fish, rabbits, or half of a cow- if you do, good on you. This book is extremely thorough, providing in depth explanations of the process, diagrams of the animals, figure drawings of how to process an animal, etc. The practice of butchery is definitely more hands on than a book can give you, but the information is no doubt valuable, and worth reading, especially since it sits around $16, and knowledge is invaluable.
Any Old Cookbook
This section might seem silly, but it will make sense by the end. For this section I am using my copy of Gourmet’s Basic French Cookbook written by Louis Diat from 1961; this book makes it very apparent that certain techniques we are unfamiliar with nowadays were common knowledge back then. For example, the recipe of Sauteed Chicken Francaise, the recipe requires you to “prepare a 2 ½ to 3 pound chicken for sauteeing”. This is not knowledge a lot of people have in today’s society unless your parents prepared whole chicken at home, or you worked in a traditional French kitchen; but, nonetheless, older cookbooks are really fascinating to flip through, so if you ever find one be sure to scoop it up. I can’t really provide a price for this book as I paid $5 for it through OfferUp, I am not sure how much this book cost back in 1961.
Others Worth Noting
Chefs Dylan Montanio, Jeremiah Gray, and Tommy Graves were more than happy to offer a few suggestions consisting of: The Soul Of A Chef, The Devil In The Kitchen, The Joy of Cooking, Mastering The Art Of French Cuisine, and LaVarenne Pratique. The books recommended by Chef Tommy, The Soul Of A Chef by Michael Ruhlman, and The Devil In The Kitchen by Marco Pierre White and Anthony Bentinck, are books written to serve as a look into the culinary world. The stress, the triumphs, the determination, everything is brought to the front on these books and they are both excellent reads. Chef Dylan suggested The Joy Of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer , and Mastering The Art Of French Cooking Julia Child, these are both excellent books in the way of being thorough reference books for those who love French style cuisine; one note to make on The Joy Of Cooking is the author was kind enough to include an altitude adjustment chart, which is essential when doing anything like baking. Chef Jeremiah suggested LaVarenne Pratique as, in his words, “it is an entire library in a book”; while I am not too familiar with this book, the reviews are almost all positive, the biggest complaint being the near $80 price tag. Thank you, Chefs, for your contributions to the article!
Michael Symon’s Playing With Fire
As I have mentioned before, we all love a celebrity Chef, so it only made sense to include a book written by one, but still different enough from the rest of our list to stand out; Playing With Fire was written by Chef Symon due to his pure love of barbecue, and the recent opening of his restaurant, Mabel’s. With a $21 dollar price tag this book is not only affordable, but full of knowledge regarding the best techniques for your grill, and a number of recipes ranging from his beer can chicken to fireplace potatoes.
The Complete America’s Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook
Janet Anderson, an avid home cook, recommended this as a book everyone should look at because of the amount of information provided, and the easy to follow instructions. The book is priced at $40 dollars, which looking through the book does not seem far off from accurate given the information provided being thorough recipes, kitchen tips, and sections called “why this recipe works”. There are recipes ranging from home fries, to stuffed chicken breasts, to barbecued salmon; easy to make dishes for any home cook looking to make an amazing meal for their family.
Ad Hoc At Home
This is the last inclusion for this article, I am sure there will be other lists in the future, but this is a good place to wrap it up. Ad Hoc At Home was written by a small group consisting of Thomas Keller, Dave Cruz, Susie Heller, Michael Ruhlman, and Amy Vogler; the goal of this book was to bring Thomas Keller’s famed restaurant, Ad Hoc, from Napa Valley to your kitchen with a number of family style dishes ranging from fried chicken, to crab cakes, to a cream of cauliflower soup. Keller was not short on the information he wanted to convey as he provides pages of information on how to break down whole chicken, a section called “becoming a better cook”, and “be organized”, elaborating on the use of different tools and certain techniques you should know to be successful. Each recipe is thorough and fit into categories of poultry, beef, salads, desserts, sides, and so on. With a price tag of $38, this book would be a strong addition to any home cooks library.
Notes: If you have any comments or concerns regarding my articles, please feel free to contact me directly.
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