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Old 07-04-2012, 07:18 AM   #1
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Books on fundamentals and understanding food

Apologies if this has already been asked - weren't sure what to search for and didn't fancy trawling through hundreds of threads.

I've got 50-100 cookbooks of varying degrees, from Perfect 68 to Larousse Gastronomique. But what I'm really looking isn't a recipe book, but something that will teach me the fundamentals and techniques I'll need to go get started on seriously cooking. Along with that, I want to understand food and what it's doing when it's cooking and why what I'm doing tastes good and not bad. I don't want 'sauté the onions for 10 minutes, then do this and that...'; I want 'sauté the onions till soft - we want these to blend in to the background and gentle cooking will mellow the flavour; if we don't cook them long enough or cook them too fast then this will leave them either sharp or bitter - overpowering the other delicate flavours' etc.

A good example of what I'm looking for is a book called 'How To Cook Without Recipes'. It seemed like just the book I wanted, however the writer is so far up on his own pretension that he completely loses the reader and in turn, you entirely miss the valuable lessons he's trying to teach. I couldn't even finish the book, and learnt very little from it. BUT if I could find a similar book that's far better written, then that would be perfect!

Thanks for your help!


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Old 07-04-2012, 08:41 AM   #2
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The problem is that the alternative to recipes is solid knowledge of the practical chemistry and physics of cooking and a certain instinct. And that can't really be done in a book that isn't technical. I mean, if I want to rebuild an engine, I have three choices. One is a book of step-by-step instructions (recipes). Another is an adequate set of technical books on internal combustion engines and engineering that I study for years. The third is that I take it apart and try putting it back together many times, learning something each time. Those are also the cook's choices, although most of us use each of them to one degree or another. Just like experienced mechanics who need only some specification references to rebuild any engine.

There are some things that can be very helpful to the serious cooking student.

Half.com: Professional Cooking by Wayne Gisslen (2006, Other, Mixed media product)(9780471663744): Wayne Gisslen: Books
A reasonably good textbook that covers technique and technical practicalities.

Half.com: The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America's Most Imaginative Chefs by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page (2008, Hardcover): The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of
One of my favorites for guidance in flavor combinations.

Half.com: On Food And Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee (2004, Hardcover, Revised): The Science and Lore of the Kitchen(9780684800011): Harold McGee: Books
The all-time classic technical work.

Amazon.com: Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking (9781416571728): Michael Ruhlman: Books
An interesting book, useful for those seeking to whip up something without a recipe, mostly baking. Not everyone likes it, preferring to be guided by textures, feel, etc.

And one of my favorite web sites for the more analytical cook.
Cooking For Engineers - Step by Step Recipes and Food for the Analytically Minded

"Kitchen duty is awarded only to those of manifest excellence..." - The Master, Dogen
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Old 07-04-2012, 09:21 AM   #3
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Thanks for that. Yeah it sounds like the second kind of book you described is what I'm after. I've cooked hundreds of recipes before and learnt plenty along the way. What I'm really yearning after is a book that really analyses what I'm doing in the kitchen, with cooking exercises rather than just recipes. Or simply just a very thorough explanation of everything. Why 100ml of stock and not 50ml or 200ml? Why season at the end and not the start? Why am I toasting the spices with the garlic and onions at the start, then adding more spices at the end?

I've seen the Harold McGee book before with interest so I'll definitely get that. And I'm gonna be all over that website when I get to my laptop! Thanks again, I'll be sure to check them all out!
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Old 07-04-2012, 09:36 AM   #4
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there are culinary textbooks available. "The Professional Chef", "Professional Cooking", "Culinary Fundamentals", are all professional culinary texts of repute. They explain the technique and give recipes to illustrate the concepts and expand beyond the recipe.

James Petersen's "Cooking" is a similar kind of book for the good home cook. He is a thorough professional and great teacher.
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Old 07-04-2012, 09:44 AM   #5
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I have three, one of which is still packed and I'll have to find, but two have made it to my bookshelves:

Culinary Arts Institute Encyclopedia Cookbook: Amazon.ca: Ruth Berolzheimer: Books

Amazon.com: Family Circle Encyclopedia of Cooking (9780717245789): Donald D. Wolf: Books

The third one I know I have (I may have more...I do have over 1000 cookbooks) has illustrations of all the equipment one uses in the kitchen, techniques, etc. I don't know in which box it is packed and I don't have enough bookshelves (or space) at the moment to unpack too many more of the boxes...
I've got OCD--Obsessive Chicken Disorder!
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Old 07-04-2012, 09:54 AM   #6
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One of my favorites for this purpose is Shirley Corriher's "Cookwise: The Secrets of Cooking Revealed." She describes the science of different techniques and provides recipes using one or more of the techniques.
The trouble with eating Italian food is that five or six days later you're hungry again. ~ George Miller
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Old 07-04-2012, 12:01 PM   #7
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Perhaps "Ratio" by Michael Ruhlman.
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Old 07-04-2012, 02:29 PM   #8
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I like the "What Einstein Told His Cook" books. I just got them for my dad.
“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” - Albert Einstein
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Old 07-05-2012, 11:44 AM   #9
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"On Food and Cooking" by McGee should be the first one you buy and read. Anything after that is just icing. I've been reading my copy over the last few months, and I've learned a LOT.
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Old 07-05-2012, 01:32 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by PrincessFiona60 View Post
I like the "What Einstein Told His Cook" books. I just got them for my dad.
Every time I hear that title, I think about Einstein's statement that his second greatest idea was adding a whole egg when he cooked his soup so that he also got a soft boiled egg without using an additional pot. And that leads me to think that it wasn't what Einstein told his cook that was interesting, but what the cook said to Einstein as soon as Einstein was out of earshot.

He might have had something to say to his cook, but since he is said to have married his second wife almost entirely on account of her cooking, it's probably safe to say his knowledge of cooking was largely theoretical at best.

"Kitchen duty is awarded only to those of manifest excellence..." - The Master, Dogen
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