I don’t know about you, but I love food. I think it’s one of the best benefits of being human, that we can manipulate things to make fire. Because of our ancestors roasting beasts over open flames we have inherited a rich tradition of transforming ingredients and flavors, and enjoying the result!
Now, I’m not a natural cook. When I was a kid I wasn’t interested in what my parents were doing in the kitchen, so I’ve been learning as an adult. I love instructional material on cooking, but am not particularly thrilled with books or TV shows that are jam-packed with recipes. When I read a book on cooking, I want to learn skills, tricks, techniques, and principles. Don’t get me wrong, recipes are great, too, but what I look for are tangible skills that I can use. These are some titles from which I’ve picked up more than just recipes to try:
The 4-hour Chef : the Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life – Timothy Ferris – By the author of The 4-hour Work Week. This “cookbook” covers topics from learning languages to gutting a deer to making a makeshift survival shelter, oh and cooking too. Mr. Ferris boils cooking down to the bare essentials: ingredients, techniques, science, and no-frills cooking.
How to Cook : an Easy and Imaginative Guide for the Beginner – Raymond Sokolov – An excellent primer on the basics of cooking. The author describes techniques and preparation in detail with plenty of excellent tidbits to give you the skills to thrive in the kitchen. This book has plenty of recipes, but the focus is on the principles of cooking, and the recipes have very detailed instructions for preparation.
How to Cook Everything : Simple Recipes for Great Food – Mark Bittman – The popular New York Times food journalist explains how to cook everything in this monster tome! Literally everything, from how to boil water and strain noodles to how to make haute cuisine. Much like the above selection, this book has recipes, but it’s more of a how-to. This book in ebook format has awesome links to navigate back and forth between recipes and technique descriptions!
The Flavor Bible : the Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America’s Most Imaginative Chefs and Culinary Artistry by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg - This culinary couple has collected and distributed the culinary wisdom of the nation’s best chefs. These books are filled with tips, principles, and charts to help you learn what works in the kitchen. Excellent resources!
Jacques Pépin’s Complete Techniques : More Than 1,000 Preparations and Recipes, All Demonstrated in Thousands of Step-by-Step Photographs – Jacques Pepin – If you’re not familiar with Jacques Pepin, then it’s time to meet him! He is everything a TV chef should be, and while enjoying his TV shows or books you will learn more principles and techniques than recipes. He also did a great series with the legendary Julia Child, Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home!
How to Grill – Steven Raichlen – Definitive primer on grilling. You learn how to work with different kinds of grills, the difference between “direct” and “indirect” grilling, and Steven Raichlen’s 3 rules for great barbecue!
My next venture is delving deep into the art of cooking rice. Until recently, cooking rice for me meant just getting out the rice cooker, rinsing the rice one time and proceeding to cook it. That is not the only way; actually there are MANY different ways to cook rice. I love the way people in Latin America use an aluminum pot to cook rice.
Often times they fry a little bit of rice in oil before adding the rest of the rice and the liquid. Also, the hard rice that sticks to the side of the pan is highly prized and referred to as “pegao.” Rice cooked like this is way better than anything I could make using my rice cooker.
I also heard the story of Korean chefs washing rice up to 10 times before cooking it. Then there are the different types of rice, different types and varying levels of starches in rice, and infinite ways to prepare rice. This is why I need more than just a collection of recipes, I need how to books to provide me with knowledge that is transferable from dish to dish. To assist me in this new culinary journey I’ll be checking out and reading:
The Rice Book – Sri Owen
Rice : from Risotto to Sushi – Clare Ferguson
Again, when I check out these books I’ll be looking for the books that have information on technique, principles, and even the science of achieving the desired flavor, consistency, and presentation. Do you have any cookbooks that have been instrumental in your development as a cook? I’d love to hear about them!