If you have limited shelf space or simply want a few well-chosen volumes to serve as the reference backbone of your work in the kitchen, these useful 10 will be turned to again and again, destined for an old age as dog-eared treasures.
Larousse Gastronomique (Clarkson Potter, $75) — An absolute essential in any serious kitchen, this culinary encyclopedia was first published in 1938 and has since been used internationally as the reference for the history of foods, eating, restaurants, cooking terms, classic techniques and ingredient identification. The updated 1,300-page edition, published in 2001, includes 3,500 recipes and more information on world cuisine, including international terms, ingredients and dishes.
How to Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman (Macmillan, $25) — Bittman, a highly popular food columnist for The New York Times, is the award-winning author of Fish and Leafy Greens. This no-nonsense cookbook features more than 1,500 easy-to-make recipes with an unfussy air, snacks like real buttered popcorn and dishes like simple roast chicken. It’s a perfect choice or gift for the beginning cook who aspires to more.
Fish & Shellfish: The Cook’s Indispensable Companion, by James Peterson (William Morrow & Company, $40) — Peterson has written the book on seafood preparation and cooking for befuddled amateurs and experienced cooks alike, exploring techniques for making, eating and storing finfish and shellfish, from how to garnish a plate to what to do with leftovers. The step-by-step photos are extremely helpful, showing readers how to clean, scale and fillet fish, shuck scallops, even clean squid.
The King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook, by Brinna Sands (Countryman, $25) — Marking its bicentennial anniversary, Sands, Taylor & Wood Company, distributor of King Arthur Flour, published this exhaustive cookbook about baking everything from pancakes to pasta, whole wheat to sourdough. The primer includes culinary projects for young readers and playful trade secrets for adults, written with wit and affection: “Whichever type of yeast you choose, … remember that it is composed of tiny, living, growing plants which have just about the same feelings about being warm and cold as you do.”
Thai Food, by David Thomspon (Ten Speed Press, $40) — David Thompson ended up in Thailand on a fluke and fell in love with the culture. This cookbook, accompanied by Earl Carter’s artful photography, offers classic favorites as well as lesser-known dishes, and even a chapter on street and snack food. Thompson focuses on taste, texture and seasoning with detailed explanations of vegetables and herbs. The book also delves into Thai cultural history, for example, with an essay on the importance of Buddhism, which adds depth to the cooking tradition. If you’re a fan of Thai food and want to choose just one cookbook on the subject, this is it.
In the Sweet Kitchen: The Definitive Baker’s Companion, by Regan Daley (Artisan, $35) — With more than 150 simple recipes, this International Association of Culinary Professionals’ Cookbook of the Year provides easy-to-follow techniques and gives away a trade secret for making top-notch sweet treats — high quality ingredients; flour isn’t just flour — that Daley calls the most important element in baking. The professional pastry chef also includes advice on how best to select, store and use ingredients in order to make a wide range of recipes, from wild blueberry pie to roasted clementine and chocolate tart with macadamia nut crust. This is an invaluable reference for the serious home baker.
Sushi Secrets, by Kazuko Masui and Chihiro Masui (Hachette Illustrated, $24.95) — This gorgeously photographed book not only covers ingredients, recipes and techniques for making sushi, it takes readers on a voyage over the sea and into the Japanese fish market, also detailing the lives of sushi chefs who spend 10 years learning and perfecting the deceptively simple-looking craft so often taken to the level of art.
The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook (Hearst Books, $30 — This classic, recently revised and updated, is a perennial bestseller because it’s a clear, yet often sophisticated, resource for cooks assembling their own collection of family favorites. It’s stuffed with more than 1,400 time-tested recipes and 5,000 step-by-step illustrations, as well as an illustrated dictionary of herbs and spices, and complete menus for entertaining.
The Essential Cuisines of Mexico, by Diana Kennedy (Clarkson Potter, $35) — When Diana Kennedy first went to Mexico to marry her husband, she was entranced by the country’s colorful markets and air full of spices. By 1972, she had published her first cookbook, The Cuisines of Mexico, to much acclaim. Since then, Kennedy has come to be regarded as a top authority on Mexican cuisine, one of the first writers to enlighten Americans about the diversity of Mexican regional cooking when we knew only burritos and margaritas. This book compiles Kennedy’s three masterpieces into one volume: The Cuisines of Mexico, The Tortilla Book and Mexican Regional Cooking, with more than 300 recipes. Kennedy writes candidly, making the book an enjoyable as well as informational read.
Marcella’s Italian Kitchen, by Marcella Hazan (Knopf, $19.95) — Before Mario and Michael and Giada and the rest of them on the TV Food Network, there was Marcella. The seasoned author Marcella Hazan knows Italian food, and this book shows off her writerly flair. For example, about anchovies, Hazan writes that “you are not aware of them, but if you were to try the dish without them, you’d miss them.” Many recipes in Marcella’s Italian Kitchen are her inventions, written with simple and precise instructions, and peppered with nostalgic childhood stories and personal culinary flourishes.Rebecca Mazzei is Metro Times arts editor. Send comments to [email protected]