The Eating...Our Words Library: 10 Essential Cookbooks Everyone Should Own and Use

Cooking, eating and reading: three of our favorite things.
Cooking, eating and reading: three of our favorite things.
Monica Fuentes

Here at EOW, we take our food seriously. We write about all things culinary every day, and for the most part that passion was born in the kitchen. Whether you dabble with molecular gastronomy or are slowly learning your way around a burner or grill, you all share the same quest for culinary knowledge.

So today we're introducing the Eating...Our Words Library. We will add to it periodically, but we're starting with 10 Essential Cookbooks, volumes we feel should be in everyone's collection.

(Some of you will, no doubt, quibble with our selections. We purposefully left off this list some old standbys that we just assumed you already had, including Fannie Farmer's treasure and those great tomes produced by Escoffier, Point and Carême. But if by chance your library is lacking Physiologie du Goût, ou Méditations de Gastronomie Transcendante; ouvrage théorique, historique et à l'ordre du jour, dédié aux Gastronomes parisiens, par un Professeur, membre de plusieurs sociétés littéraires et savantes, you should get it. There are some great English editions out there, especially the one translated by M.F.K. Fisher.)

Bon appétit, and keep cooking.

This book will change the way you cook fish.
This book will change the way you cook fish.
Image from Barnes & Noble

10. Fish Without a Doubt: The Cook's Essential Companion by Rick Moonen & Roy Finamore

Celebrated American chef and fish-master Rick Moonen shares his expertise and aims to take the fear out of cooking fish in this classic, modern and comprehensive cookbook. Here you'll find easy-to-follow instructions for more than 250 recipes, including both traditional (think Trout Almondine and Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes) and more progressive dishes (think Thai-style Mussels and Creamy Fennel Soup with Salmon and Citrus Ragu).

Why it's on our shelf: Moonen's cookbook will completely change the way you cook fish...and trust us, it will be a change for the better. Moonen covers all the angles, from shopping, prepping and cleaning the fish to nearly every kind of cooking technique. The book's modern and classic recipes are approachable and, better yet, eco-conscious -- there are recipes only for seafood that is not overfished.

Bonus recipe: New England Steamed Dinner with Horseradish Cream

9. Hot Sour Salty Sweet: A Culinary Journey Through Southeast Asia by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

Award-winning authors Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid pair up to bring us a masterful tale of food and travel. It was the duos' journey along Southeast Asia's Mekong River, which rises from the Tibetan Plateau and finally meets the sea in Vietnam, that led them to an epiphany: Each region they encountered followed the same approach to cuisine -- the perfect balance of hot, sour, salty and sweet. The book, containing more than 175 exotic and compelling recipes, is rich in both taste and culture.

Why it's on our shelf: We love that you can learn to appreciate the passion and beauty behind Southeast Asian comfort food from the comfort of your own kitchen. Grab a glass of wine and indulge in the evocative stories of the authors' travels along the river. Then learn how to balance flavors as you make and indulge in some equally evocative food, including Lao Sticky Rice, Vietnamese Green Papaya Salad, Thai Grilled Chicken With Hot and Sweet Dipping Sauce, and Tapioca and Corn Pudding With Coconut Cream. Cooking has never been so (hot, sour, salty and) sweet.

Bonus recipe: Vietnamese Peanut Sauce

Read this and veggies may just become a way of life.
Read this and veggies may just become a way of life.
Image from Barnes & Noble

8. How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Simple Meatless Recipes for Great Food by Mark Bittman Mark Bittman continues his How to Cook Everything series with this one-stop vegetarian cookbook that will even satisfy meat-eaters. The book, dubbed a "more hip Joy of Cooking" by the Washington Post, has more than 2,000 straightforward and dependably delectable recipes and variations. Here you'll find easy-to-follow instructions for everything from produce selection to preparing pad Thai.

Why it's on our shelf: We're not claiming to be meat-free, but everyone can use a little veggie in their lives. Bittman's cookbook makes meatless cooking more accessible than ever. Whether you're a passionate vegetarian or looking for a more health-conscious approach to food, the recipes in this book -- from chickpea fries to lemon ricotta pancakes -- are sure to inspire more meat-free cooking in your home.

Bonus recipe: The Simplest Bean Burgers


7. American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza by Peter Reinhart

Master baker Peter Reinhart has fallen in love with pizza. And rightfully so. This book follows him in his travels in Italy and through the United States, capturing tales of the greatest pies from the Old World and the New. From Chicago deep-dish to the Italian countryside's focaccia col formaggio, Reinhart showcases the true beauty of each regional pie while providing stellar recipes and pizza-making techniques for the home cook.

Why it's on our shelf: The story of Reinhart's hunt for pizza is beautiful, resonant and enthralling from start to finish. The regional recipes and techniques he's picked up along his journey are merely the bonus. Transform a simple pie into something extraordinary with Reinhart's recipes, including sauces, toppings (both classic and whimsical) and the most perfect pizza dough we've met to date.

Note: For those interested in bread making, we highly suggest Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread.

Bonus recipe: Best Pizza Dough Ever

6. Hugo Ortega's Street Food of Mexico by Hugo Ortega

Mexico City-born award-winning chef Hugo Ortega brings the vibrant world of Mexican street food, from the masa of the central highlands to the ceviches of the coast, to life in this cookbook. In it you'll find tales of his travels through his homeland, along with stunning photography of bustling streets, colorful carts and mouthwatering food. You'll learn how to make authentic Mexican cuisine with Ortega's comprehensive, easy-to-follow instructions, from traditional cooking techniques to exciting, but accessible, recipes.

Why it's on our shelf: It wouldn't be a Houston Press list without a cookbook from one of our city's favorite culinary masterminds. Iconic chef and owner of Hugo's and Backstreet Cafe Hugo Ortega's first cookbook highlights the flavors of the his homeland streets -- ones that, thanks to chefs like Ortega himself, our city has come to know and love. Working through the book delights the senses and the mind, as the stories behind these classic Mexican soul foods -- like the fried masa cakes, pork crackling stew and slow-cooked mole -- are just as intoxicating as the recipes themselves.

Bonus recipe: Guisado de cazuela de chicharrón (pork cracklings stew)

5. The French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller

In one of the most influential cookbooks of all time, Master Chef Thomas Keller shows us how to create the highly refined, impeccable cuisine of the famous French Laundry, his Napa Valley restaurant that has been dubbed "the most exciting place to eat in the United States," by Ruth Reichl and plenty of other people in the know. Here you'll learn to deepen flavors through Keller's unique, kitchen-proven methods and find clear and concise how-tos for over 150 superlative dishes. "Cooking is not about convenience, and it's not about shortcuts. Take your time. Move slowly and deliberately, and with great attention," writes Keller.

Why it's on our shelf: This book is a master class in the culinary arts. Step behind the genius as Keller describes his thought process behind dishes like "Pearls and Oyster" (glistening caviar and oysters served on a bed of creamy pearl tapioca) or Creamy Maine Lobster Broth and "Macaroni and Cheese" (butter-poached Maine lobster in a creamy broth with mascarpone-laced orzo). Learn from the best as Keller teaches us, through basic but essential techniques, the proper way to cook vegetables, how to make the cleanest, purest stock, and why you should squeegee the moisture from the skin on fish. It's his attention to detail and refinement that have people traveling all over the world to experience Keller's genius, so why wouldn't you want to bring a little of that magic into your kitchen?

Bonus Tip: Techniques for Cooking A Lobster  

4. Sauces: Classical and Contemporary Sauce Making/Edition 3 by James Peterson

This winner of the James Beard Cookbook of The Year Award is a perfect guide to the diverse and vital world of sauces. In its latest edition, the book contains more than 350 recipes and traditional techniques, from classics like demi-glaces and veloutés to things like vinaigrettes and curries.

Why it's on our shelf: We believe that the heart of nearly every perfect dish lies in the sauce. And this book is the ultimate reference in sauce-making. Learn how to create the most intoxicating harissa sauce for your chicken tagine, a perfectly smooth and buttery pear butterscotch sauce, or the creamiest and richest béarnaise you've ever tasted. It's all about the sauces, baby.

Bonus Recipe: Pear-Butterscotch Sauce

3. The Cake Bible/The Pie and Pastry Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum Both "bibles" from Author Rose Levy Beranbaum manage to put even the novice baker's mind at ease. In them you'll find drool-worthy recipes for cakes and pastries that could not be easier to follow. Even better? Most of the recipes are broken down by measure and weight for three sizes of pans and include instructions for mixing both by hand and with a food processor. In The Cake Bible, you'll find recipes for everything from pancakes to four-tiered wedding cakes. There's even a recipe for a chocolate cake containing all of three ingredients. In The Pastry Bible, you'll find more than 70 pages on pie crusts alone, from the perfect flaky crust to tart and crumb crusts.

Why they're on our shelf: Rose Levy Beranbaum doesn't just make baking sound easy. Through her precise, detailed instructions and sweet and savory how-to guidance, the art of baking a seven-layer cake and achieving the perfect soft and flaky pie crust are demystified. Making Black Forest cake, chocolate bread, raspberry buttercream, whipped ganache, sticky buns, brioche, sponge cake and profiteroles has never been so fun. And having both books just guarantees that your family and friends will love you that much more.

Bonus Recipe: Flaky Cream-Cheese Crust

Becoming a good cook starts with la technique.
Becoming a good cook starts with la technique.
Image from Barnes & Noble

2. Jacques Pépin New Complete Techniques by Jacques Pépin

Master chef Jacques Pépin's New Complete Techniques is an update on the 1978 and 1979 culinary classics La Méthode and La Technique. Here you'll find more than 600 techniques and recipes, laid out with step-by-step photographs, covering every aspect of classical cooking -- from how to sharpen a knife and debone a chicken to an entire section on Offal & Charcuterie. Anthony Bourdain calls it "Concise. Informative. Indispensable."

Why it's on our shelf: Because we agree with Bourdain: This book is indispensable. And did we mention the entire section on offal and charcuterie? We love Pépin's clear and crisp directives, and even more, his waste-nothing mentality. His killer recipe for Pain au Chocolat even shows you how to make your own chocolate, which is quite possibly the most exciting thing ever. Covering nearly every culinary technique with concise text and informative pictures, this is a more than worthy addition to your bookshelf.

Bonus Tip: How to Make an Omelet  

1. Joy of Cooking: 75th Anniversary Edition by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker

Since its privately published first edition in 1931, Irma and Marion Rombauer's Joy of Cooking remains one of the most popular and best-selling cookbooks of all time. With extremely detailed directions for home-style classics written in the practical, friendly voice of Irma, the book has been called the definitive guide to American cooking history and has been selected by The New York Public Library as one of the 150 Most Important and Influential Books of the Twentieth Century. While the original takes us back to times in which electric mixers were a novelty, there were more "iceboxes" than refrigerators, and veal was cheaper than chicken, the 75th anniversary edition has been updated for the modern kitchen. And yet, it has in no way lost its ability to teach kitchen neophytes the joy of cooking.

Why it's on our shelf: If there's one cookbook in your collection, it should be the all-purpose Joy of Cooking. To this day, the book remains the at-home cook's Bible. It's the first place to go to learn about kitchen basics, covering everything from knife skills, cooking methods and knowing your ingredients to growing herbs and canning and preserving. And all the recipes and instructions are fool-proof. Learn the easy way to grind your own peanuts or make homemade ice cream, then master kitchen favorites like tamales and cheese soufflé. In its 75th edition, the witty but concise voice of Irma is recaptured by her grandson, Ethan. The book manages to stand the test of time and, as always, bring joy into every kitchen.

Bonus recipe: Steak au Poivre

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