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Cookbooks: Hows & Whys not Recipes

Hey everyone, I'm looking for a cookbook that isn't simply recipes, but instead explains the "How's & Whys" of fine cooking. Every book I've looked at seems to be all recipes or mostly recipes with small sections of "How to properly cut the fat off a _______ and what it does to the dish by removing it"

Essentially I'm looking for something more textbook style than cookbook. Any tried and true suggestions?


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  1. I would suggest Essentials of Cooking by James Peterson; it has a lot of photos for basic techniques and suggestions and different ways to cook almost anything. Good Luck

    1. You might be interested in Harold McGee. Very briefly, he writes about the science of cooking, the technique and history.


      2 Replies
      1. re: Gio

        Seconding Harold McGee; On Food and Cooking has the history and science behind every major ingredient you can think of.

        Not exactly what you want, but Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home cookbook has detailed explanations for each of the techniques used in the recipes (don't know about his other cookbooks, but I'm guessing this is generally true of him in general).

        1. re: caseyjo

          My husband is a big fan of McGee, but for me he has only limited appeal because things like farinograms to measure dough strength, illustrations of the pot vs column still, and drawings of tongue papillae are just not that interesting to me. He really discusses things down to the molecular level but what I do enjoy is his explanations of how to make and rescue sauces, all about egg cookery and nutritional fads. Fascinating and dry as dust all in one.

      2. Martha Stewart's Cooking School is written in a way that describes basic techniques and has lots of photos. Each technique is followed by a few recipes that use the technique. I checked it out of the library and found it very interesting to flip through and easy to understand.

        1. With these four, you won't need anything else. The first one is especially critical to a well stocked culinary library.





          If you lose the list you can always find it again under "Recommended Reading" on my web page:

          1. Since your name is KillerGriller, you may find Steven Raichlen interesting: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_...

            He also has a show on the Create Channel (PBS). I always learn something about "why" (as well as "how") when I watch his show.

            2 Replies
            1. re: Jay F

              Haven't made any of the recipes from his show, but I find Steven Raichlen very informative and knowledgable.

              1. re: cheesecake17

                Me, too. And I don't even like to BBQ or grill.

            2. Shirley Corriher's Cookwise. I go back to it frequently.

              1 Reply
              1. re: sancan

                She is really terrific! I revisit the book often.

              2. Cookwise by Shirley Corriher. Hands Down. Written by a food scientist with a home cook in mind.

                I have almost all the ones mentioned in this thread, both Einsteins, How to read a French Fry, McGee, Peterson, Just here for the food.

                They are all good but Corriher is the best, IMO

                1 Reply
                1. re: C. Hamster

                  Corriher has appeared on FN Good Eats a number of times.

                  Americas Test Kitchen also has food science segments.

                2. CH MMRuth writes that she taught herself to cook with Julia Child's The Way to Cook. It has TWO PAGES on boiling eggs :)

                  1. Here is a list of books you will want. You won't need all of them but you will probably end up with most of them before you figure it out.

                    Cooking Know-How by Bruce Weinstein, Mark Scarbrough

                    How to Cook Without a Book by Pam Anderson

                    The New Best Recipes by Cook’s Illustrated

                    The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook

                    I’m just here for the food 1 and 2 by Alton brown

                    The Joy of Cooking

                    I highly recommend some self study and research on the web.

                    Here is a list of cooking techniques. They are split into 2 groups ... wet and dry. Pull some articles on these techniques and read them and take notes.

                    If you actually learn it, you will have come a very long wy to learning what you want to know.

                    Wet Techniques


                    Dry Techniques

                    Roasting oven and pan
                    Stir Frying

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: Hank Hanover

                      I second The New Best Recipe. Very good basics, and the instructions read like lab notes.

                      1. re: roxlet

                        I would just encourage anyone not to take everything they say as gospel. They're wrong often enough to keep me skeptical. But, when I can't find a recipe anywhere else, they usually come through for me.

                        1. re: c oliver

                          Yes, they are wrong sometimes and a bit overbearing.

                          And very weak on food science if that's what you're after.

                      2. re: Hank Hanover

                        I would also recommend the new cook buy the subscription to Cook's Illustrated web site and order the America's Test kitchen DVD's from their Netflix account. At least for the first year or two, this info is critical.

                      3. The following books are what I learned the most from as far as technique goes:

                        Larousse Gastronimique is amazing but perhaps not precisely what you are looking for. It is a food/ingredients/technique encyclopedia that is an absolute must for everyone culinary minded. There are recipes in there but Escoffier style. Speaking of which, Escoffier anything is also good but he offers little in the way of instruction.

                        The French Laundry by Thomas Keller is one of my favourites, as is James Peterson (already mentioned). McGee (also mentioned) is excellent.

                        The CIA textbooks are also very good at explaining and describing - I have several. The Oxford Companion to Food is interesting but again, more encyclopedic.

                        1. Thanks for the feedback all. I do experiment and cook by nose quite a bit, it's just nice to know a few golden rules to keep from wasting/ruining expensive food.


                          1. James Beard, Theory and Practice of Good Cooking.