They say a cookbook is worth its cost if you find one recipe in it that you find yourself going back to again and again, but to me, a good cookbook is so much more than that. It should teach you something new and push you a little out of your comfort zone, whether by teaching you better technique for dishes with which you are already familiar, introducing you to new foods and cuisines, showing you new ways to use familiar ingredients, or teaching you why food behaves the way it does when exposed to different variables. My culinary education started with classic cookbooks that reached beyond the “what” of cooking and explained the “why” and “how,” and these are the kinds of books I find myself still enjoying today. Though this list is by no means exhaustive, here is a small selection of fantastic books for home cooks of all levels who have a strong interest in bettering their cooking skills.
1. Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child may seem outdated, but it is a classic for a reason. Child spent over ten years writing this tome, and her attention to detail shows with step-by-step directions through both foundational and advanced French cooking technique. She manages to be thorough without talking down to the reader, leaving the reader feeling as if they are in the kitchen with a good friend who happens to be quite knowledgeable about cooking. This book deserves a place in every serious home cook’s kitchen, not as a showpiece, but to be read and cooked through with the intention of learning everything the author has to offer.
2. The Art of Simple Food (Alice Waters) focuses on simple, seasonal eating, and though Water’s tone isn’t quite as approachable as Child’s, she is one of the best chefs alive today and deserves your ear. Her recipes in this book show how to take simple ingredients and turn them into something that is far better than the sum of their parts. Budget-minded cooks will love this one, as it has countless recipes that don’t break the bank but still feel luxurious; it is also a great addition to bookshelves of more advanced home cooks who have palate fatigue and just want a return to comforting, refreshing simplicity.
3. Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking (Michael Ruhlman) should be recommended reading for anyone who sets foot in a kitchen with the intention to cook. Ruhlman concisely lays the groundwork for unchaining yourself from recipes by learning to cook by ratio. You’ll need a kitchen scale to cook this way, as the ratios are by weight and not volume, but it is incredibly freeing to know that you can make a free-standing custard with two parts liquid and one part egg. Fresh pasta? 3 parts flour to 2 parts egg will get you there, no matter if you are cooking for two or ten. With this book, Ruhlman equips his readers to cook on the fly, giving them confidence and finesse in the kitchen.
4. Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison is a recent publication met with much praise in the last several months, and rightfully so. Though it may be a bit nomenclature-heavy for some, this book is a great reference for both novice and advanced cooks. It highlights how plants of the same family can often be used together or interchangeably in cooking thanks to their shared characteristics, and it includes over 300 recipes to get you thinking in that vein.
Have a great weekend, and happy cooking!