Cooking started with me by reading recipes when I was in high school. They are the cornerstone of how cooks communicate from one person to the next. From the early Roman days when the first recorded book of recipes seems to have been found (I am sure there were ones sooner) to now, recipes are a great starting point for most people who endeavor to cook.
As you may well guess, I have several cookbooks in my library, and I do scou
r the interwebs for more recipes or when I need some inspiration from time to tim
e. I will go through them one by one and share some feelings on them as we journey down this website together.
Let me start by saying this is more of an endorsement than a review. This book is a staple of my kitchen, and the one that sees the most use. It has spills on it, dog-eared pages and I lost the dust jacket years ago. This is not a nice book to have, it is a MUST HAVE for anyone serious about cooking.
There are also many styles of recipe books these days, from the very photographic to the straight-forward recipe only kind, to instructional, and I am sure a few I may have missed. The one I am going to bring to you today is the later, an instructional version. Not just ANY instructional mind you, but one written by the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), which is arguably the best place to get trained in the United States. It still serves as a text for students who attend the school.
The beauty of this book it not in the recipes it contains, although there are great takes on classic dishes, but in it’s instructional value. One could read this book cover to cover and have a great understanding of food and how to cook. I use this book primarily as a reference, and use it whenever I need a basic recipe that may elude me. Once upon a time I had the recipe for Creme Brulee memorized, but now that I don’t cook it every day (wish I could!) I find I need to check, and the same goes for Genoise (basic cake batter) and things like Pate a Choux (for eclairs), Pate Brissee (pie crust) and so on.
The book is written like a class being taught, that is to say it starts out with the very basics, like how to use a knife, and moves on to stocks, sauces, cooking methods, baking, and so on. It is a natural progression, and one very similar to my path of studies in the classes I took.
It contains the basic recipes cooks need, and has a multitude of pictures with captions to guide you through complicated tasks, like tempering an egg. The pictures and text are written so anyone, regardless of training, will understand the concepts in the book as well. Recipes are abundant in the book, and most of the classics are going to be represented as well. The biggest updates come in the form of changing recipes to meet the current interest of the times as well as updating recipes so they can be easily executed. All that is to say, you buy this once and it will last a life time.
This is a large book, and very heavy, which is great when you need some weight to hold the pages down. Anyone who has cooked with a thin and flimsy cookbook knows what I am talking about. It has also come down in price, as I recall my copy was about $100 in 1992, so it is a bargain these days.
Any cook worth their salt should have some basic books on their shelves. This is the one I keep as my go-to weapon of choice, and when I need a brush up on a technique, on say Terrines, it is very handy to have sitting on the shelf.