My Top 10 Cookbooks

I own a lot of cookbooks and I love looking at all of them on my bookshelf, from the popular and trendy, to serious reference books and some classics. And while they all have been invaluable to me at some point in my culinary career, they're not all equal. There are some books that stand the test of time—classics that have continued to captivate me year after year. I still recall buying an old, used copy of Harold McGee’s "On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen", when I decided to become a personal chef almost a decade ago. This is not a recipe book but rather a repertoire of essential facts from which the intelligent cooks can make a recipe or, better still, understand one.

Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of diving into many cookbooks, so this is a list of what I consider to be the most essential cookbooks—the ones every library or home cook should include. Mind you, this isn’t a complete list. Rather, these are the ones I turn to first when I have a question about a particular cuisine, technique, or recipe. They tend to be the most comprehensive, and they serve as my go-to for answers

For example, after a hoarding trip to the farmers market, I almost always look first to "Plenty Vibrant Vegetable Cooking from London's Ottolenghi", for inspiration. At times I also use it for discovering a new style of cooking or an entirely new vegetable in my repertoire. After that, I'll turn to my spice cabinet to further adapt the recipes. I inevitably end up learning more from this process than thumbing through hours of cookbooks. This book is essential for anyone interested in adding more vegetables, flavors, and new techniques for your daily cooking.

The newest member of my collection is “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking ” from Samin Nosart. This book is absolutely genius and more than deserves all the praise it has received. Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is far from a normal cookbook: Nosrat uses approachable, funny prose and helpful drawings to explain the basics of cooking and baking by considering the elements of salt, fat, acid, and heat. In this way, the book really teaches people how to cook everything, not just the recipes clustered at the book's conclusion. This is a cookbook you actually read vs. flipping through a litany of recipes before giving up.

In many ways, the cuisine of the US has changed dramatically over the last decade - not just what many of us eat when we go out, but also what many of us cook for ourselves at home. That makes it inherently hard to compile a list of this kind. Add to that the even greater difficulty in deciding which cuisines and topics to include in the first place. Sure, I've enjoyed reading American, Italian, and French classics, but many of you may not want to spend your evenings curled up with Julia Child. I tried to put myself in a home cook’s shoes and distill a list that’s not only comprised of essential books, but also more practical books. Finally, note I didn't include any baking, pastry, or sweets cookbooks because I don’t bake that often.

With that in mind, take this list as a starting point for the home cook or the novice chef —not definitive and not final. It will never be complete or comprehensive enough. Still, I'll stand by any of these books as deserving of a place on your shelf.

TOP 10 Cookbooks

  1. Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking by Samin Nosrat 
  2. Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes by London's Ottolenghi
  3. Essentials of Italian Cooking: Marcella Hazan
  4. The Moosewood Cookbook: Mollie Katzen
  5. The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution by Alice Waters
  6. Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Julia Child
  7. 660 Curries: Raghavan Iyer
  8. Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico Rick Bayless
  9. Ratios: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking
  10. On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee

Top photo, Shay Paresh; bottom photo: Palak Patel

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