My ultimate list of the best books for foodies. Whether you are shopping for yourself or a loved one (Christmas is coming!) this collection of books spans some of my absolute favourites. Some are cookbooks, some are culinary history, all are centred around food.
You can’t go wrong with any book from this list.
This is not an exhaustive list, just an ultimate fundamentals guide for serious home cooks. The first version of this article was way too long and I found myself needing to implement a handy index (see below) and also removing certain sections entirely. Those will be saved for further articles.
So, here we go:
My ultimate list of the best books for foodies (Part I)
Serious Home Cooks & Ambitious Amateurs
These books are about the how as well as the why of cooking. It is easy to parrot a technique without knowing why it is the optimal way, or in fact, if it even is the best way to do something. How do you know after all?
If you are serious about your home cooking, you can’t go wrong with any single book here. This is how you elevate your cooking fast.
The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science
by J. Kenji López-Alt
You probably already have this, so let’s just get it out of the way now. If you don’t, what are you doing? Being a contrarian? Just buy the book already, it really will make you a better home cook. I’m going to be building a home meat ageing locker based on the instructions in here.
Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking
by Samin Nosrat
Another book you probably already own or should if you don’t. This and The Food Lab are all you really need if you’re getting serious about cooking.
In the tradition of The Joy of Cooking and How to Cook Everything comes Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, an ambitious new approach to cooking by a major new culinary voice. Chef and writer Samin Nosrat has taught everyone from professional chefs to middle school kids to author Michael Pollan to cook using her revolutionary, yet simple, philosophy. Master the use of just four elements—Salt, which enhances flavour; Fat, which delivers flavour and generates texture; Acid, which balances flavour; and Heat, which ultimately determines the texture of food—and anything you cook will be delicious. By explaining the hows and whys of good cooking, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat will teach and inspire a new generation of cooks how to confidently make better decisions in the kitchen and cook delicious meals with any ingredients, anywhere, at any time.
The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America’s Most Imaginative Chefs
by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg
Okay, so this is for me a quintessential guide. Once you are comfortable cooking beyond-the-basics and you want to start actually creating your own unique recipes, this is the guide you need.
There are no recipes here. Instead, this is an alphabetical listing of ingredients (flavours) followed by the ingredients that pair well with those flavours.
I use this book more than anything else in my culinary library. If you’re a passionate home cook, a food blogger, unsure of how recipes are created — get this book now, seriously. It will really get your creative juices flowing in the kitchen.
The Flavor Matrix: The Art and Science of Pairing Common Ingredients to Create Extraordinary Dishes
by James Briscione
Similar to The Flavor Bible but yet different — The Flavor Matrix looks at uncommon and discordant flavour pairings that still somehow work to create amazing dishes.
There is so much interesting science in this book regarding flavour!
As an instructor at one of the world’s top culinary schools, James Briscione thought he knew how to mix and match ingredients. Then he met IBM Watson. Working with the supercomputer to turn big data into delicious recipes, Briscione realized that he (like most chefs) knew next to nothing about why different foods taste good together. That epiphany launched him on a quest to understand the molecular basis of flavour—and it led, in time, to The Flavor Matrix.
The Professional Chef Hardcover
by The Culinary Institute of America
A hefty and useful volume that frequently graces many professional culinary programs required textbooks list. And equally as useful for a serious home cook.
A complete introduction to the fundamentals of cooking.
The Professional Chef has always provided a complete introduction to classical European cooking. The ninth edition has been reorganized to reflect the way people cook in the kitchen today, with the best foods and flavours from around the world. Learn the ingredients, equipment, and skills of the professional chef while exploring techniques for the full range of food items.
In this edition, global cuisine is integrated throughout the chapters and recipes to reflect the growing globalization of cooking. Rich photographs and images help readers navigate the basic principles behind cooking techniques at a glance, with diagrams and charts to help professionals and home cooks quickly access the information they need to succeed.
Taste & Technique: Recipes to Elevate Your Home Cooking
by Naomi Pomeroy
James Beard Award-winning and self-made chef Naomi Pomeroy’s debut cookbook, featuring nearly 140 lesson-driven recipes designed to improve the home cook’s understanding of professional techniques and flavour combinations in order to produce simple, but show-stopping meals.
Traditional Nose-to-Tail Cookery
I eat a primarily animal-based nose-to-tail diet, both for the unparalleled nutrition and health, as well as for taste. But cooking nose-to-tail can be intimidating for beginners so I highly recommend investing in a few good books.
Pâté, Confit, Rillette: Recipes from the Craft of Charcuterie
by Brian Polcyn with Michael Ruhlman
In Pâté, Confit, Rillette, Brian Polcyn and Michael Ruhlman provide a comprehensive guide to the most elegant and accessible branch of the charcuterie tradition. There is arguably nothing richer and more flavorful than a slice of pâté de foie gras, especially when it’s spread onto crusty bread. Anyone lucky enough to have been treated to a duck confit, poached and preserved in its own fat, or a pâté en croute, knows they’re impossible to resist.
And yet, pâtés, confits, rillettes, and similar dishes featured in this book were developed in the pursuit of frugality. Butchers who didn’t want to waste a single piece of the animals they slaughtered could use these dishes to serve and preserve them. In so doing, they founded a tradition of culinary alchemy that transformed lowly cuts of meat into culinary gold.
Odd Bits: How to Cook the Rest of the Animal by Jennifer McLagen
This cookbook has a special place in my heart. It was the first cookbook I ever bought and the first one I practically cooked through the entire way. I can attest to these recipes wholeheartedly and the interesting bits of lore are a lovely addition.
Much more than a cookbook, Odd Bits delves into the rich geographical, historical, and religious roles of nose-to-tail cooking.
In a world of costly prime cuts—stately crown roasts, plump pork chops, and regal racks of lamb—it’s easy to forget about (and steer clear of) the more economical, but less lovable parts of the beast—bellies, brains, cheeks, combs, gizzards, hearts, hocks, kidneys, lungs, marrow, necks, shanks, spleens, tongues, trotters, and, oh yes, testicles.
Historically, these so-called odd bits have had a regular place on our plates and in our culinary repertoires. In fact, many are considered delicacies and routinely appear in regional specialties. So why do we eschew and waste valuable protein? When have our sensibilities become so squeamish? In short—when did we decide offal had become awful?
Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient & Bones: Recipes, History, and Lore
by Jennifer McLagan
Also from Jennifer McLagen are these two incredible cookbooks, and in fact I consider Odd Bits, Bones & Fat a trilogy of sorts and a perfect set to give as a gift. Each book is an absolute work of art with beautiful photography and incredible recipes.
by Calvin W. Schwabe
This is the most unique cookbook ever written.
Bold claim? Maybe. It is not a beautiful book. There are no pictures. There are, however, recipes for dog and cat and all sorts of other unmentionable cuisines. You may never cook from these recipes, but they are worthy of remembering and recording.
Much of what is contained in these pages was borne from desperation.
“An engaging look at “food prejudices,” or why we eat what we eat and why we reject other food sources as unpalatable–with recipes! “This is a unique and engrossing work and, to my mind, an important contribution to the annals of gastronomy. It will not, of course, appeal to all palates . . . but neither do snails and sweetbreads, brains and other oddments of animals.” –Craig Claiborne “I read from cover to cover with huge enjoyment. . . I can recall no other book that has covered the subject of strange foods with quite his flair and authority, and I consider the book required reading for anyone interested in the lore of food.” — James Beard
Offal Good: Cooking from the Heart, with Guts
by Chris Cosentino and Michael Harlan Turkell
The off cuts, the odd bits, the variety meats, the fifth quarter—it seems that offal is always hidden, given a soft-pedalled name, and left for someone else to eat. But it wasn’t always this way, and it certainly shouldn’t be.
Offal—the organs and the under-heralded parts from tongue to trotter—are some of the most delicious, flavorful, nutritious cuts of meat, and this is your guide to mastering how to cook them. Through both traditional and wildly creative recipes, Chris Cosentino takes you from nose-to-tail, describing the basic prep and best cooking methods for every offal cut from beef, pork, lamb, and poultry.
On Eating Insects: Essays, Stories and Recipes by Nordic Food Lab
The concept of eating insects has taken off in recent years in the West, with media coverage ranging from sensationalist headlines to passionate press pieces about the economic benefits. Yet little has been written about how they taste, how diverse they are as ingredients, and how to prepare them as food. On Eating Insects is the first book to take a holistic look at the subject, presenting essays on the cultural, political, and ecological significance of eating insects, alongside stories from the field, tasting notes, and recipes by the Nordic Food Lab.
Culinary History & Lore Lovers
Not a complete list, just some of my favourites/most interesting. Culinary history and lore go hand in hand when we examine the dietary habits of our ancestors.
Salt: A World History
by Mark Kurlansky
Mark Kurlansky turns his attention to a common household item with a long and intriguing history: salt. The only rock we eat, salt has shaped civilization from the very beginning, and its story is a glittering, often surprising part of the history of humankind. A substance so valuable it served as currency, salt has influenced the establishment of trade routes and cities, provoked and financed wars, secured empires, and inspired revolutions. Populated by colourful characters and filled with an unending series of fascinating details, Salt is a supremely entertaining, multi-layered masterpiece.
A History of Food
by Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat
This wide-ranging and comprehensive reference history covers in one volume the history of foodstuffs, the story of cuisine and the social history of eating. From the origins of mankind, and the transition from a vegetable to an increasingly carnivorous diet, the story unfolds of the interrelationship between people and diet, between particular foods and social mores, between dietary custom and cuisine.
A strong theme of natural history runs through the book. Bees and honey are examined and discussed, as are pulses, soya, fungi, cereals and the sources of vegetable oils. Game and meat of all kinds from poultry to horsemeat are described, as are all kinds of seafoods. Domestic animals, vegetable and fruit farming, fish farming and other human initiatives are compared with the economic markets they serve, and the dietary effects they have. Foods of pleasure, from confectionery to wine, from coffee to caviare are also covered.
The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South
by Michael W. Twitty
2018 James Beard Foundation Book of the Year and for good reason.
Southern food is integral to the American culinary tradition, yet the question of who “owns” it is one of the most provocative touchpoints in our ongoing struggles over race. In this unique memoir, culinary historian Michael W. Twitty takes readers to the white-hot center of this fight, tracing the roots of his own family and the charged politics surrounding the origins of soul food, barbecue, and all Southern cuisine.
From the tobacco and rice farms of colonial times to plantation kitchens and backbreaking cotton fields, Twitty tells his family story through the foods that enabled his ancestors’ survival across three centuries. He sifts through stories, recipes, genetic tests, and historical documents, and travels from Civil War battlefields in Virginia to synagogues in Alabama to Black-owned organic farms in Georgia.
Menus that Made History: 100 iconic menus that capture the history of food
by Alex Johnson & Vincent Franklin
Delve into this captivating collection of the world’s 100 most iconic menus which reveal not just the story of food but periods of history,
Each menu provides an insight into its particular historical moment – from the typical food on offer in a nineteenth-century workhouse to the opulence of George IV’s gargantuan coronation dinner. Some menus are linked with a specific and unforgettable event such as The Hindenburg’s last flight menu or the variety of meals on offer for First,
Food: A Culinary History (European Perspectives: A Series in Social Thought and Cultural Criticism)
by Jean-Louis Flandrin & Massimo Montanari
When did we first serve meals at regular hours? Why did we begin using individual plates and utensils to eat? When did “cuisine” become a concept and how did we come to judge food by its method of preparation, manner of consumption, and gastronomic merit?
Food: A Culinary History explores culinary evolution and eating habits from prehistoric times to the present, offering surprising insights into our social and agricultural practices, religious beliefs, and most unreflected habits. The volume dispels myths such as the tale that Marco Polo brought pasta to Europe from China, that the original recipe for chocolate contained chili instead of sugar, and more. As it builds its history, the text also reveals the dietary rules of the ancient Hebrews, the contributions of Arabic cookery to European cuisine, the table etiquette of the Middle Ages, and the evolution of beverage styles in early America. It concludes with a discussion on the McDonaldization of food and the growing popularity of foreign foods today.
Sourdoughs to Pasta to Sauces: Single Topic Mastery
Generalized cookbooks are great, but to truly master a single technique, ingredient or cuisine, sometimes you have to turn to a book that is solely focused on that thing.
Sauces: Classical and Contemporary Sauce Making, Fourth Edition
by James Peterson
The only book on sauces you need, and if you consider a good sauce an important thing, you will want to get this.
Every good cook knows that a great sauce is one of the easiest ways to make an exemplary dish. Since its James Beard Award-winning first edition, James Peterson’s Sauces has remained the go-to reference for professionals and sophisticated home cooks, with nearly 500 recipes and detailed explanations of every kind of sauce.
The Noma Guide to Fermentation
by René Redzepi & David Zilber
As beautiful as it is useful. I have this on my coffee table.
At Noma—four times named the world’s best restaurant—every dish includes some form of fermentation, whether it’s a bright hit of vinegar, a deeply savoury miso, an electrifying drop of garum, or the sweet intensity of black garlic. Fermentation is one of the foundations behind Noma’s extraordinary flavour profiles.
Now René Redzepi, chef and co-owner of Noma, and David Zilber, the chef who runs the restaurant’s acclaimed fermentation lab, share never-before-revealed techniques to creating Noma’s extensive pantry of ferments. And they do so with a book conceived specifically to share their knowledge and techniques with home cooks.
There are few things more satisfying than biting into a freshly made, crispy-on-the-outside, soft-and-supple-on-the-inside slice of perfectly baked bread. For Portland-based baker Ken Forkish, well-made bread is more than just a pleasure—it is a passion that has led him to create some of the best and most critically lauded breads and pizzas in the country.
In Flour Water Salt Yeast, Forkish translates his obsessively honed craft into scores of recipes for rustic boules and Neapolitan-style pizzas, all suited for the home baker. Forkish developed and tested all of the recipes in his home oven, and his impeccable formulas and clear instructions result in top-quality artisan breads and pizzas that stand up against those sold in the best bakeries anywhere.
Einkorn: Recipes for Nature’s Original Wheat
by Carla Bartolucci
Einkorn is the very first wheat humans domesticated some 12,000 years ago. And then it nearly went extinct. It’s difficult to grow, harvest yields are much lower, and it can be difficult to work with — it’s also incredibly tasty, easier on the digestion, and might be a solution for non-celiacs who experience gluten-sensitivity but still want to eat wheat.
The only wheat in existence that has never been hybridized or modified, einkorn grew thousands of years ago in the Fertile Crescent. Carla Bartolucci came across it when searching for an alternative grain for her daughter Giulia, who was diagnosed with gluten sensitivity in 2008. Einkorn has remained unaltered for thousands of years, which allows many, including Giulia—who suffered from mood swings, asthma, and digestive problems—to eat wheat without symptoms. Amazed by her daughter’s health transformation, Carla became a champion of this little-known, nutrient-packed grain.
Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables
by Joshua McFadden
This is not a vegetarian/vegan book, just one that focuses on vegetables.
In Six Seasons, his first book, McFadden channels both farmer and chef, highlighting the evolving attributes of vegetables throughout their growing seasons—an arc from spring to early summer to midsummer to the bursting harvest of late summer, then ebbing into autumn and, finally, the earthy, mellow sweetness of winter. Each chapter begins with recipes featuring raw vegetables at the start of their season. As weeks progress, McFadden turns up the heat—grilling and steaming, then moving on to sautés, pan roasts, braises, and stews. His ingenuity is on display in 225 revelatory recipes that celebrate flavour at its peak.
Sous Vide at Home: The Modern Technique for Perfectly Cooked Meals
by Lisa Q. Fetterman
If you’re thinking of getting into the world of sous vide — get this book first.
From the creator of Nomiku—the first affordable sous vide machine—comes this easy-to-follow cookbook that clearly illustrates how to harness the power of sous vide technology to achieve restaurant-quality dishes in the comfort of your own kitchen.
Under Pressure: Cooking Sous Vide
by Thomas Keller
When you’re ready to tackle more obscure ingredients — squab, rabbits, pigeon etc. get this book on sous vide from America’s most celebrated chef. But if you want something more practical and easily accessible, stick to the previous book on sous vide or you may become frustrated and blame me for the recommendation.
Mastering Pasta: The Art and Practice of Handmade Pasta, Gnocchi, and Risotto
by Marc Vetri & David Joachim
Award-winning chef Marc Vetri wanted to write his first book about pasta. Instead, he wrote two other acclaimed cookbooks and continued researching pasta for ten more years. Now, the respected master of Italian cuisine finally shares his vast knowledge of pasta, gnocchi, and risotto in this inspiring, informative primer featuring expert tips and techniques, and more than 100 recipes.
American Sfoglino: A Master Class in Handmade Pasta
by Evan Funke & Katie Parla
A comprehensive guide to making the best pasta in the world: In this debut cookbook from Evan Funke, he shares classic techniques from his Emilia Romagna training and provides accessible instructions for making his award-winning sfoglia (sheet pasta) at home. With little more than flour, eggs, and a rolling pin, you too can be a sfoglino (a pasta maker) and create traditional Italian noodles that are perfectly paired with the right sauces.
Features recipes for home cooks to recreate 15 classic pasta shapes, spanning simple pappardelle to perfect tortelloni.
Baking and Pastry, Third Edition continues its reputation as being a must-have guide for all culinary and baking and pastry students and baking and pastry industry professionals. This new edition improves upon the last with the addition of hundreds of new recipes and photographs, and revised, up-to-date information on creating spectacular pastries, desserts, and breads.
Wild Game & Hunting
Wild game and hunting stories and cookbooks. These are some of my most cherished books. Do you know a new hunter? Gift them something from this list.
The Scavenger’s Guide to Haute Cuisine: How I Spent a Year in the American Wild to Re-create a Feast from the Classic Recipes of French Master Chef Auguste Escoffier by Steven Rinella
This is my favourite book by Steven Rinella. Get this one for yourself even if you’re not a hunter. This is not a cookbook, but the story of how he constructs a single, enormous, feast.
When outdoorsman, avid hunter, and nature writer Steven Rinella stumbles upon Auguste Escoffier’s 1903 milestone Le Guide Culinaire, he’s inspired to assemble an unusual feast: a forty-five-course meal born entirely of Escoffier’s esoteric wild game recipes. Over the course of one unforgettable year, he steadily procures his ingredients—fishing for stingrays in Florida, hunting mountain goats in Alaska, flying to Michigan to obtain a fifteen-pound snapping turtle—and encountering one colourful character after another. And as he introduces his vegetarian girlfriend to a huntsman’s lifestyle, Rinella must also come to terms with the loss of his lifelong mentor—his father.
Girl Hunter: Revolutionizing the Way We Eat, One Hunt at a Time by Georgia Pellegrini
What happens when a classically-trained New York chef and fearless omnivore heads out of the city and into the wild to track down the ingredients for her meals? After abandoning Wall Street to embrace her lifelong love of cooking, Georgia Pellegrini comes face to face with her first kill. From honouring that first turkey to realizing that the only way we truly know where our meat comes from is if we hunt it ourselves, Pellegrini embarks on a wild ride into the real world of local, organic, and sustainable food.
Each chapter offers beautiful recipes from a hunter who is also a trained chef.
Call of the Mild: Learning to Hunt My Own Dinner Hardcover by Lily Raff McCaulou
When Lily Raff McCaulou traded in an indie film production career in New York for a reporting job in central Oregon, she never imagined that she’d find herself picking up a gun and learning to hunt. She’d been raised as a gun-fearing environmentalist and an animal lover, and though a meat-eater, she’d always abided by the principle that harming animals is wrong. But Raff McCaulou’s perspective shifted when she began spending weekends fly-fishing and weekdays interviewing hunters for her articles, realizing that many of them were more thoughtful about animals and the environment than she was.
This is an enjoyable book that delves into the how of procuring meat. Although there are no recipes as such, it would make an excellent book for a newbie hunter or just any lover of the outdoors and conservation topics.
Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast: A Cookbook;
Duck, Duck, Goose: The Ultimate Guide to Cooking Waterfowl, Both Farmed and Wild;
Buck, Buck, Moose: Recipes and Techniques for Cooking Deer, Elk, Moose, Antelope and Other Antlered Things;
Pheasant, Quail, Cottontail: Upland Birds and Small Game from Field to Feast
by Hank Shaw
I have every single one of Hank Shaw’s incredible, beautiful cookbooks and I highly recommend them to absolutely every hunter, wannabe hunter (me), or cook who is interested in wild game cookery.
The entire set would make for an incredible gift, but any individual volume stands on its own.
And even if you’re not a hunter or you don’t have access to wild game, these recipes always provide alternative meat sources and are phenomenal on their own.
If you have to choose between them, my favourites are in this order: Buck, Buck, Moose; Pheasant, Quail, Cottontail; Duck Duck Goose; Hunt Gather Cook.
The MeatEater Fish and Game Cookbook: Recipes and Techniques for Every Hunter and Angler
by Steven Rinella
Steven Rinella is a national treasure and his Netflix show MeatEater is a must-watch even if you are not a hunter — actually, especially if you are not a hunter.
His latest book is also a must-have.
Whether you’re cooking outdoors or in the kitchen, at the campfire or on the grill, this cookbook will be an indispensable guide for both novices and expert chefs.
So there you have it, my incomplete list of the best books for foodies and home cooks.
Did I miss anything? What would you have put here? Let me know in the comments.