Do you know your braising from your broiling? Could you confit a duck leg or cook a fish sous vide? Sometimes it can seem like recipes are written in a different language, full of strange technical terms that most of us don’t entirely understand. But in truth, cooking techniques are pretty simple if they’re properly explained, so having a good book to explain the basics can really help when you’re first starting out in the kitchen.
We’ve made a list of the very best cookbooks for explaining cooking techniques, translating technical terms, and generally demystifying the cooking process. We’ve included some old favourites and some instant classics, and there are some familiar faces to help you along the way.
How to Cook Everything: 2,000 Simple Recipes for Great Food
Mark Bittman’s encyclopaedic guide to home cooking has been a go-to for home cooks since it was first published in 1998. With practical instructions and diagrams rather than glossy photographs, everything about this book is geared towards making things as clear as possible for the reader.
Each chapter starts with a few ‘essential recipes’ - simple dishes to teach you techniques you can build on with more complex recipes. The tenth anniversary edition has been revised and expanded to incorporate new recipes and up-to-date information.
A true classic, Joy of Cooking has been defining American home cooking for almost a century. It has been named one of the most influential books of the twentieth century, and is on the James Beard Foundation’s 20 Essential Cookbooks list. Originally self-published by Irma S. Rombauer in 1931, there are now more than 2 million copies in print, with several revised versions released over the years.
The current 2019 edition maintains the book’s core of legacy recipes, but has been expanded to include new techniques such as sous vide cooking, fermentation, and cooking with both traditional and electric pressure cookers. There are also new recipes to reflect modern dietary requirements, with a larger selection of vegetarian and vegan options available.
Written by home cook S.L Watson, this book teaches simple, everyday cooking methods, with a particular focus on Southern recipes. There are hints and tips for making spice rubs, sauces, marinades and pastry, plus a useful section on freezer cooking at the end. If you’re looking for modern techniques like oil spherification and sous vide, this is not the book for you, but it offers a fairly comprehensive guide to more traditional methods.
Written by Sarah Kate Gillingham and Kate Durand for popular cooking website The Kitchn, this book features the same practical, approachable advice you’d expect from the website, with essential cooking lessons, kitchen tool reviews, and even tips on how to organise your kitchen.
An entry-level guide to the Middle-Eastern inspired dishes of Yotam Ottolenghi, this book offers recipes that are simple in at least one way, whether they’re made in 30 minutes or less, with 10 or fewer ingredients, in a single pot, using pantry staples, or prepared ahead of time. Less a resource book and more for people who like to learn on the go.
Written by home-cooking icon Ina Garten, aka the Barefoot Contessa, this book is full of the simple, elegant dishes for which Garten is famous, and it’s also packed with tips, techniques and practical cooking advice to answer all your cooking queries.
Published in 2017 to widespread acclaim, Samin Nosrat’s multi-award-winning New York Times bestseller, Salt Fat Acid Heat was a real game changer. Breaking down the science of good food into just four elements - salt, fat, acid and heat - Nosrat demystifies food theory once and for all, helping you to understand what it is that makes a dish taste good with illustrated walkthroughs and a friendly, accessible style.
Released by The Culinary Institute of America, this book examines ingredients, equipment, and the different cooking techniques used for different food items. The new edition has been expanded to include topics of growing importance such as seasonality and sustainability, and features a user-friendly design that outlines the basic principles behind each technique at a glance, then goes on to provide more in-depth information, with step-by-step photography.
The ultimate guide to taste, Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg’s The Flavor Bible is less for absolute beginners, and more for those who are beginning to create their own dishes. The book is a comprehensive resource of which flavours go together, with thousands of ingredient entries, organised alphabetically and cross-referenced.
As part of his ‘Ministry of Food' campaign to help people rediscover simple, healthy food, British chef Jamie Oliver’s book for beginners promises to get you cooking within 24 hours. Aimed at ordinary people with busy lives, and assuming no previous knowledge, this book covers all the basics in Oliver’s signature approachable style. With step-by-step photographs and simple instructions for hundreds of classic dishes, Jamie’s Ministry of Food is the perfect confidence-builder for absolute beginners.
The 4-Hour Chef, by Timothy Feriss, is for the confident home cook eager to learn some ‘cheffy’ techniques. As such, it does assume some prior knowledge, but Feriss’s way of distilling new information into minimal, learnable units makes taking your cooking to the next level easier than you might think.
If you want to see how easy it is to learn about cooking, take a look at our simple guide to 18 different cooking techniques, where we explain the basics regarding some of the most commonly-used technical terms in modern recipes.
In Andrea Fazzari's book 'Sushi Shokunin: Japan's Culinary Masters', the pursuit of unattainable perfection leads Japan's sushi masters, or shokunin, on a path of dedication, cultural expression and meaning. Paul Feinstein spoke to the author about the project, and about what it means to be a shokunin.