While I’ve long loved to cook – having, for example, requested a hand-cranked pasta press for my fifteenth birthday – I’ve also never been a big fan of cookbooks. Most, it seems to me, are focused solely on specifics – one recipe at a time. A bit like collections of individual mathematical equations without any discussion of the underlying theories.
Still, for some time, I’ve been on the lookout for culinary education that transcends the what’s and when’s, reaching through to the how’s and why’s. A few years back, for example, I was lucky enough to discover a ‘knife skills’ class at the Institute for Culinary Education. Though just hours long, it permanently changed the way I wield a kitchen blade. And, as nearly all cooking involves some cutting, that one class has therefore affected nearly all of my kitchen adventures since.
Last week, I discovered two cooking books with similarly broad-reaching potential: Wayne Gisslen’s Professional Cooking, and Linda Carucci’s Cooking School Secrets for Real World Cooks. While the first is a wheelbarrow-worthy textbook and the second just a significantly oversized trade paperback, both are packed through with detail and insight across an astounding array of cooking topics:
From the importance of mise en place or the technique for perfect dicing, through the chemistry of caramelization and how that drives the choice of any of the twelve primary wet or dry cooking methods, to odds and ends like why you should dab off marinades but never directly rinse scallops or mushrooms. And, of course, recipes. Lots and lots and lots of exceedingly intriguing recipes, the first of which seem to be field-testing well in my Manhattan apartment kitchen.
Whether you can’t tell the difference between a saucepan and a Dutch oven, or whether they know you by first name at your local Sur La Table, your cooking is bound to improve with either or both of these books. Pick up copies today, and, once you’ve read your way through, invite me over for a home-cooked dinner by way of thanks.