Week 19: You need some Cook Books.

I know what you are thinking. “I have cookbooks” But do you? Or do you have recipe books? Are your books just lists of ingredients, times and temperatures? Or do they delve into in-depth instruction on cooking techniques? This is the difference in recipe books and cook books. Look for a couple books that teach techniques for basic and more advanced cooking that can be applied to any list of ingredients. A recipe book may call for you to sauté some ingredients where a cook or cooking book will teach you how to sauté. I’ve never seen a recipe book discuss the Maillard Reaction. If you don’t know what that is, you need some cooking books.

A recipe book and a cook book.

Above are two great books. Very different in purpose and scope but equally important. On the left is Jamie Oliver’s 5 Ingredients. It is at heart, a recipe book. Wonderful recipes with only five ingredients that most people should be able to cook with techniques they have already picked up. It is not intended to to teach cooking technique.

On the right is Ken Forkish’s masterpiece on bread. It contains several recipes but they are all variations on just four ingredients. Flour, water, salt and yeast. The rest of the book is techniques to get the most out of these ingredients and some wonderful essays on the history and culture of bread. The essays alone are worth the price of the book.

Far too many cooks have an assortment of recipe books but are hobbling themselves by not increasing their knowledge on cooking techniques. If you think you have mastered your culinary skills, stretch you horizons. If you have mastered frying and sautéing, try your hand at Wok Hei. You will be humbled as you master what is called The Breath of the Wok. If you think your skillet is hot try an iron wok at the proper temperature. You will be in awe of what can be done with proper wok technique. There are books dedicated to Wok Hei as well as most other techniques.

Stretch your culinary legs and read some cooking books. Yes I said READ them. A recipe book is just lists of ingredients and basic instructions. A great cook book teaches techniques but should also have a great amount of readable material. History, family stories, philosophies as well as recipes. Take my challenge and read a cookbook.

See you next week. John

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