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Best technique cookbook?

HI all.
I'm on the lookout for a really good go-to technique cookbook that teaches the fundamentals of cooking, not 'recipe book'. After doing my homework, I've narrowed down to Complete Techniques by Jacques Pepin, The Way to Cook by Julia Child and Sauces by James Peterson. If you can only buy one book, what would it be? Any recommendation outside those mentioned above is welcome.

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    1. re: ninrn

      Still think the Pepin Complete Techniques is best, but another possibility for solid explanation of classic European technique La Varenne Pratique by Ann Willan.

    2. The French Culinary Institute book in really good as is Madeleine Kamman's The New Making of a Cook.

      4 Replies
      1. re: AAQjr

        Do you mean French Culinary Institute's Salute to Healthy Cooking? That's the only cookbook titled French Culinary Institute on Amazon.

        1. re: pearlyriver

          Or else "Fundamental Techniques of Classic Cuisine": http://www.amazon.com/Fundamental-Tec...

          My basic cookbook was the 1970s trade paperback version of "Joy," and I found a lot I wanted to cook in "Bon Appetit" magazine from 1978-1983.

          Now I like "The Complete America's Test Kitchen Cookbook 2001-2011." It features the very well tested ATK/CI recipes for practically everything I think is worth eating. If I were learning how to cook, this might be my first choice.


          1. re: Jay F

            Yes, Thank you Jay! That's the one.

            1. re: AAQjr

              Thank you AAQjr and Jay F. That's right up my valley. I don't care about recipes, I believe once I master the techniques I can be on my own.

      2. I'm considering Jacquies Pepin as well - I hear the newer editions have combined the two book technique and method into one? If anyone has any experience with this book I'd be interested to hear.
        I already own a "basic cookbook" which tells you things like how to boil rice or scramble eggs as well as having diagrams of meats and pastas etc but alas it does not tell you how to bone a duck (or anything for that matter).

        1 Reply
        1. re: Xantha

          i have the combined Pepin. It is very direct and has a lot of step-by-step illustrations which are rather small, but when you read the accompanying text it is easy to appreciate what is being depicted.

          Sections of McGee's "On Food and Cooking" are also invaluable in terms of teaching the reasoning for various techniques.

        2. I use "On Cooking". That's what we used in our cooking classes. Each chapter has techniques, information then a few recipes that utilize the techniques for that chapter, (i.e. Meats, Vegetables, etc.). Nothing fancy, just the facts.

          here's the link to Amazon for it. This is just the 3rd edition, but I think they are newer editions.


          1. I thought Food + Heat = Cooking by Alton Brown does a good job explaining techniques rather than recipes. There is a chapter for each type of cooking, like broiling, sauteing, frying, etc. He explains what is happening from a scientific point of view so you understand why one technique vs another may be more appropriate for what you are trying to do. If you a familiar with AB from the Food Network, you know there are diagrams and examples that help him explain things if you are new to cooking. I found this book very helpful in my informal way of learning how to cook.

            2 Replies
            1. re: egbluesuede

              I agree that is a great book, and AB is a great resource, though his book doesn't have many of the more complex, fancier (ie, chefier) techniques, but rather sticks to the basics that home cooks really should have down pat [Not sure if you're looking for one or the other]. Also, the title given above is the subtitle, I'm Just Here for the Food is the title.

              1. re: GardenFresh

                I've just checked out this book from my library and it seems phenomenal. I've been cooking seriously for several years, collecting thousands of recipes without really understanding the whys and hows of cooking. Time to learn the techniques properly.

            2. I like Pepin's 'Complete Techniques.' Tom Colicchio's "Think Like a Chef" is also probably right up your alley.

              ETA: also worth noting - pretty much every episode of Good Eats is available on youtube. They have some pretty decent instruction on technique and theory. The early seasons are less esoteric than the later seasons, generally.

              1. I'm also open to suggestions of technique cookbooks for other cuisines, especially Japanese and Chinese.

                3 Replies
                1. re: pearlyriver

                  For Japanese: 'Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art' by Shizuo Tsuji

                  1. re: cowboyardee

                    How does it compare to Washoku by Elizabeth Andoh?

                    1. re: pearlyriver

                      I haven't read Washoku. They're both well regarded.

                2. by the way, can I learn anything from James Beard? Never seen anyone mentioning his cookbooks.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: pearlyriver

                    I bought "Theory & Practice" and "Beard on Food" in the early 1980s, but I relied more on other books. I was more into Italian, and James Beard kind of slipped through the cracks.

                    Per Amazon, "American Cookery" looks like the one to buy today. Can you take any of these out of your library to see if you'd like them?


                  2. While I don't know about the Pepin or Julia book, I would say you've listed the incorrect James Peterson book. Sauces is an incredible book, for making sauces. He has another called simply Cooking that will teach you how to handle every situation you'll likely encounter in a home kitchen, and many more.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: MyNameIsTerry

                      Correct. 'Cooking' by James Peterson is a very good resource...it was one of the first cookbooks I ever bought and continues to be one of my most heavily used.

                    2. I have the Pepin, and it's good, if a little dated (making decorative swans out of apples!) but still extremely useful. The only thing that bugs me about it -- and it bugs me every time I use it -- is the indexing system -- irritating "technique numbers" vs. page numbers, and having to flip around to find what I'm looking for -- but it's a small thing.

                      My go-tos are generally Pro Chef, On Cooking and Pepin, but when I need to know WHY to do something some particular way, it's always McGee. I have that Alton Brown book as well, and it's good basic stuff.

                      1. Professional Cooking by Wayne Gisslen. It's a textbook but has very good recipes, photos and technique

                        1. Darina Allen's Ballymaloe Cookery Course is the bookmarked, battered, standby on my kitchen bookshelf, but hard to find in the US. The Pepin book is dependable, but I learnt more from his Fast Food My Way DVDs. Just watch his hands ...

                          1. I like Professional Baking and Professional Cooking, both by Wayne Gisslen. These were textbooks written for aspiring professional chefs, with recipes that serve too many people for the home cook. However, the recipes are easily scalable because of the way the ingredients are presented. Gisslen expects you to weigh, not measure dry ingredients, and all ingredients are given in both metric and imperial measurements. Procedures are sometimes separated from the recipes. You learn why you do things. These books have the potential to turn you into a chef.

                            1. I am a chef, and my original "go to" book for how and WHY is "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" - Berthold, Brecht and Child. ALL of the technique and very accessable for the untrained.

                              1. I have Martha Stewart's Cooking School and it is too basic if you are already cooking competently. It is good for a beginner.

                                1. I'd make a pitch for checking out some of your top candidates, and some suggested by posters here, at the library, before springing for one or two.

                                  Peterson's Essentials of Cooking has been very helpful to me in the last several years (I owned it for a while before ever opening it). I got a _lot_ out of a library loan of Madeleine Kamman's New Making of a Cook, and might end up getting a copy of my own.

                                  But I think if I were going to get one book of technique, it would be Peterson's Cooking.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: ellabee

                                    There are so many great cookbooks, which inevitably leads to building cookbook libraries, because you find that you like reading what authors have to say.

                                    For regional specialties, go with people who have spent time in the regions (natives or not).

                                    I got a Sunset Cookbook recently, on sale at Borders. It's really nice, lots of recipes from home-chef contributors. I haven't used it much, except for its SF sourdough recipe, "Oh now I get it. " The "secret" is mixing non-fat milk to provide lactose, fermenting it with live-culture plain yogurt (lactose-loving bacteria make lactic acid), with flour, as a sourdough starter for 5 days under a heat lamp, temp-regulated to 85 deg F.

                                    I'm not saying SC is "the Bible", some things are a little off
                                    (like how to do abalone, totally off), but it is a FUN READ.

                                    For science-of-cooking, McGee is hard to beat.

                                    But , if you want to do French, Italian, Spanish, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Thai, Indonesian, Greek cooking, specialty books are out there. When shopping, peruse cookbooks, see what they have in the way of descriptive intros, then specific recipes.

                                  2. It's a year after my original post. I haven't been able to buy any of the recommended cookbooks here but I'm learning a lot from Julia Child's TV series, Elizabeth Andoh's cookbooks, The Cook Companion by Stephanie Alexander and Alton Brown. I think I'll buy Cooking by James Peterson next. I'm not big on cookbooks for economical and storage reason . In fact I've learned many things about cooking from the amazing internet, but if I need to buy one, that'll probably be Cooking or The Way to Cook by Julia Child. or Complete Techniques by Jacques Pepin.

                                    1. Certainly Pepin's book is excellent. A bit intimidating because it is large, imposing and covers things you didn't even know were done. Beard's book on sauces is another large imposing reference book. If you are comfortable with the basics, go with these two.

                                      For the beginner, I would recommend two books. Cooking Basics for Dummies and How to Cook without a Book. if you are new or want to start teaching people how to cook go with these two.