I love cookbooks. My collection sprawls beyond my shelves and vary from old to new, English to other languages, classic to modern. Most cookbooks are a collection of recipes. I’m a fan of these but today I want to focus on the ones that actually teach you how to cook. Learning to be the fisherman, if you will, rather than buying the fish. Each of these books focus on a different aspect of cooking, giving you the tools to cook anything. Some contain recipes to supplement the learning but most focus on the why and how of cooking. Most are rooted in French technique but are not bibles of any specific cultural cuisine. We will talk about those another day. All these books are staples in my kitchen, and I use them as a reference constantly.
Le Technique by Jacques Pepin
This is a must have for any home cook wanting to up their game. Le Technique, as the name implies, teaches basic techniques, from knife skills to meat cookery. The wonderful illustrations enhance the passionate writing.
Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat
Speaking of illustrations, the breathtaking drawings in this book supplement an incredible journey into the four key elements of every great dish: salt, fat, acid and heat. Nosrat spends pages on each of them while explaining how they all play together. There are also many helpful charts and diagrams, from brining time for meats, to aromatics around the world, that I reference at least once a week.
On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee
In over 700 pages, McGee details the science behind any ingredient and method you can imagine. Want to know why brining works or what makes certain fried food greasy, this is the book for you. Something not coming out correctly? This near encyclopedia will tell you why.
The Food Lab by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt
If the last book is the why, this book takes it further to the how. Lopez-Alt did extensive testing to find the best way of doing just about everything then shows you how with plenty of examples. As far as I am concerned, this is the most important cookbook of the last 25 years.
Ratio by Michael Ruhlman
Ruhlman distills all the basic cooking and baking techniques down to their fundamental ratios. From here, you can understand what makes one thing different from another, how biscuit dough and pie dough can have the same ingredients but their ratios create different textures. Once you learn the basic ratios, you can apply them to your own recipe development.
Six Seasons by Joshua McFadden
This is the fundamental guide to cooking seasonal vegetables. McFadden enlightens the reader on when every vegetable is at its peak, the best way to store, cook, and preserve it, and some favorite ways of preparing it. This book has completely expanded the way I approach vegetables and has broadened the variety of vegetables I consume.
The Flavor Bible by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page
Think of any ingredient and look it up in this book. You will find an extensive list of other ingredients, herbs, and spicesthat pair well. This is an invaluable resource. Not only will you learn ideal pairings, but it will help expand your creative horizons.