What are the best cookbooks in regards to technique and theory?
December 4, 2006 1:38 PM   Subscribe

Cookbooks: What are the definitive resources for technique, cuisines?

I know that generally "Larousse Gastronomique" and "Escoffier" are standards for (French) culinary resources. What else should I look into?

"The Professional Chef" looks pretty comprehensive, and "The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking" by Marcella Hazan seems to be in line with what I'm looking for, based on Amazon reviews.

Any recommendations? I'm particularly interested in French, Italian, Japanese and Thai. I'm also interested in a really good book on baking, if there is something that fits in line with this type of books.

I'd really like *THE BEST/MOST COMPREHENSIVE*, what they'd give you in cooking school, and I'm not necessarily concerned with quantity of recipes or pictures as much as I am in technique and theory.
posted by mhuckaba to Food & Drink (27 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
Rose Levy Beranbaum's Bread Bible and Cake Bible would fit your criteria for the baking world. She is incredibly rigorous and provides (tested, non-bullshit) measurement conversions that put other cookbook writers to shame.
posted by bcwinters at 1:49 PM on December 4, 2006

Jacques Pepin's Complete Techniques is just that.
James Peterson's similar book is less extensive, but worth a look. Peterson also has an extensive book on sauces that seems fairly comprehensive for French inspired sauces.
posted by OmieWise at 1:56 PM on December 4, 2006

For Thai, it doesn't get more comprehensive (in English, anyway) than Thai Food by David Thompson.
posted by cerebus19 at 1:56 PM on December 4, 2006

For Italian, the most comprehensive is probably The Silver Spoon, which is a translation of the bestselling Italian cookbook ever, I believe. As it's a translation, though, it's not the best cookbook ever.
posted by cerebus19 at 1:59 PM on December 4, 2006

For general technique, Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything and The Best Recipes in the World are outstanding. IMNSHO, no cookbook library is complete without them.
posted by cerebus19 at 2:02 PM on December 4, 2006 [1 favorite]

The CIA textbook.
posted by birdie birdington at 2:08 PM on December 4, 2006

(oops, you already said that)
posted by birdie birdington at 2:11 PM on December 4, 2006

The Cook's Illustrated cookbook is wonderful. Very comprehensive, easy to follow recipes, interesting discussions of why this technique or that ingredient choice. We rely on it now.
posted by Amizu at 2:18 PM on December 4, 2006

Like cerebus19 said, The Silver Spoon is really comprehensive, but I'm not sure it's at all usable in the kitchen (I just read it for fun). For an exhaustive look at one region of Italian cooking The Splendid Table is awesome. She spends pages on minor differences in ragus alone.

I don't have any other Japanese books to compare it to, and it might be slightly trendy to like, but I love Washoku. The author advises the reader on how to stock a kitchen properly for the recipes she includes. She offers advice and history on table settings. And it's extremely beautiful. It's definitely comprehensive but it might be so comrehensive that it's really more "lifestyley" than cooking.
posted by birdie birdington at 2:26 PM on December 4, 2006

Marcella Hazan is definitely awesome and my total bible for Italian cooking, but I also like Ada Boni's Italian Regional Cooking because it separates things by province. Given how really separate each of these areas' cultures, food, and even languages really are, I think it's nice to see that reflected in a cookbook.

I think the book's out of print, but I do see it every so often in used bookstores (which is where I got my current copy, after I lost my mother's old copy).
posted by occhiblu at 2:34 PM on December 4, 2006

Cookwise: The Secrets of Cooking Revealed by Shirley Corriher is an interesting addition. The recipes aren't amazing but the author is a food biochemist and gives good explanations about why adding vinegar to broccoli keeps it green, how gluten works, etc. If you don't have a techniques book that covers these topics consider adding this one.

I too like Marcella Hazan's books but you do have to be prepared for a bit of conversational conceit in a charming old world kind of way (I recall her section on gnocci states in no uncertain terms that good potatoes cannot be purchased anywhere outside of Italy - ironic considering the origin of the potato).
posted by rosebengal at 2:50 PM on December 4, 2006

Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1. Let it be your bible.
posted by mkultra at 2:57 PM on December 4, 2006

Some of these Amazon reviews of Escoffier are actually pretty good. For today's cook, it's more likely to be a historical reference than an actual cookbook--as in, how did they season this 100 years ago?
posted by gimonca at 3:23 PM on December 4, 2006

Patricia Wells' Trattoria for Italian.

Patricia Wells has also written several books on French cusisine. My favorites are Bistro Cooking and Simply French. If you are interested in cooking the French way you must own at least one title by Ms. Wells.
posted by LoriFLA at 3:25 PM on December 4, 2006

Cook's Illustrated is too geared toward the person who wants to make plainish food for US families. The CIA's Professional Chef is too obsessed with French tradition and tends to treat things outside that tradition in a soulless "this is a study of ORIENTAL foods!" type manner. They're both good references, though.

Off the top of my head, if you're at all interested in Indian home cooking, I recently read through Suvir Saran's book and it's excellent.
posted by rxrfrx at 3:39 PM on December 4, 2006

If you're at all interested in breadmaking check out The Art of Bread, it was put out by the cooking club of america, whatever that is, but you can get it used for cheap on amazon and it's got some fabulous recipes in it. Other highlights are full color photos with step by step rising, kneading, punching down, etc. instructions and a nifty how to save your dough when x goes wrong section. I swear by it.
posted by nerdcore at 3:58 PM on December 4, 2006

Larousse Gastronomique is a waste of time. Peterson's book series is excellent.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:19 PM on December 4, 2006

Oh, and I can definitely make recommendations on bread. Beginner: The Bread Baker's Apprentice. Once you know what you're doing and want to tune up your recipes to that next level: Bread by Hamelman.
posted by rxrfrx at 6:01 PM on December 4, 2006

No shoutouts to the Joy of Cooking? It's the bees knees, IMO.
posted by casconed at 11:28 PM on December 4, 2006

The Cook's Companion by Stephanie Alexander.

Allegedly the most shoplifted book in Melbourne.
posted by goshling at 4:23 AM on December 5, 2006

Prue Leith's Cookery Bible is about as comprehensive as it gets. She's a veritable one-woman institution in the UK.
posted by mooders at 5:40 AM on December 5, 2006

Check out The Professional Pastry Chef for pastries and baked goods.
posted by Atom12 at 7:43 AM on December 5, 2006

I second Jacques Pepin's complete techniques. That has the classical techniques from a true master, and the photos are so very helpful. Every stage is photographed, so you can tell what you're doing.

James Peterson's Essentials of Cooking is the other best instructional books on how to actually cook--like how to hold a knife, how to dice, how to stir, how to fold, what creaming means and how to do it, how to butcher meat, poach fish, brown chicken. Cooking through these techniques will teach you how to actually cook without a recipie.

Julia Child's Way to Cook is more comphrehensive and general, in my mind, than her other books. But it's not specifically dedicated to French cooking (as MTAOFC I and II are). For general french cuisine, MTAOFC is key. But Honest to god traditional French haute cuisine is based on Escoffier, start to finish. He is the bible of haute cuisine.

Italian, Marcella Hazen is great. I've found Silver Spoon to be more like the Joy of Cooking for italian food. There's so much in it, but so much of whats in it is kind of "basic" recipes. Not that that's bad, but it's certainly not the kind of book that you can really learn the cuisine by cooking from it.

That's kind of the same way I feel about the Cooks Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen books. They're great for traditional middle of the road American food, and god knows if you're looking for a good standard "classic mom" recipie, they're perfect (and their recipe for waffles is killer), but I second the reccomendation not to rely on them for anything remotely ethnic.

Joy of Cooking is an excellent resource that I would not be without, but again, not the kind of book that you're going to learn anything comprehensive from. To me, it's certainly better than How to Cook Everything (which I also like, but don't find nearly as comprehensive as so many others do--when i look up beans, I want like 40 different ways to cook them, not two.), but again, it's more for traditional American cuisine, and not so good with other cultures. It's a fabulous basic, but it's light on teaching techniques.
posted by kumquatmay at 8:03 AM on December 5, 2006

The Joy of Cooking is the bible which no kitchen should be without.
posted by wsg at 12:03 PM on December 5, 2006

The Art and Science of Culinary Preparation hasn't been mentioned yet, nor has On Food and Cooking, which is one of my personal favorites. Joy of Cooking is great and everyone should have a copy for the simple explanations of theory, but the recipes for basic things are strange and non-standard to me. That and the New Professional Chef, mentioned above, are the best available. NPC is particularly good for basic things like roux, basic sauces, preparing meats, cooking techniques appropriate for different ingredients, and so on.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 12:52 PM on December 5, 2006

The Joy of Cooking is the bible which no kitchen should be without.
True, even if it is full of ham.
posted by oats at 9:42 PM on December 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

Slate has an article today on Arabesque, which they rave about as a sort of ethno-culinary tome for Middle Eastern cuisine. Looks really good.
posted by mkultra at 9:02 AM on December 6, 2006

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