There are some cookbooks we all refer to again and again, even though we have dozens of others sitting around collecting dust. These are the “foundation,” or cornerstone, cookbooks in our libraries and are essential because they help us define our experience and success in the kitchen.
The best cookbooks can help one master the basics and give one the confidence to challenge oneself to reach new levels. At their best, these outstanding collections are more of a culinary master course than a mere collection of interesting recipes. However, suppose you are looking for a new resource like this to add to your collection. In that case, you may want to look at The Science of Good Cooking by the editors at America’s Test Kitchen.
This book is an impressive collection of culinary know-how. It serves as a balanced blend of a functional cookbook and a scientific textbook that promises to show how to “master 50 fundamental concepts” in exchange for “a lifetime of success in the kitchen.”
Well, that’s a pretty bold promise, so let’s look at how well it delivers on what it sets out to do.
First of all, The Science of Good Cooking is not a lightweight book of concepts and ideas, and recipes. Instead, it weighs in at a dense, information-packed tome of 486 pages. Throughout the book, the 50 unique, important cooking concepts bring science to life. More than 400 landmark Cook’s Illustrated thoroughly tested recipes illustrate each of these basic principles at work. In addition, this tome seeks to answer the “Why” behind what works and what doesn’t in the kitchen.
Here are a few examples of what these 50 basic cooking concepts comprise:
- Gentle heat Retains Moisture
- High Heat Develops Flavor
- A Covered Pot Doesn’t Need Liquid
- Good Frying is All About Oil Temperature
- Salty Marinades Work Best
- How Slicing Changes Garlic & Onion Flavor
There are in-depth scientific explanations of techniques, and that may be too much detail for many people. Still, the book demonstrates the practical reasons why a lot of popular kitchen legends came into existence.
As of the time of this post, The Science of Good Cooking has collected more than 1,500 reviews on Amazon. It has earned an outstanding 4.8-star ranking (out of 5 possible stars) based on those reviews: a whopping 86% of those who reviewed this book gave it a 5-star, and 10% a 4-star. Of course, not everyone loved this book. I will be remiss if I don’t mention that out of those reviews, there have been very few 1 or 2-star ratings. These results are impressive when you consider these numbers represent the 1,500+ individuals who have purchased and reviewed this book.
Does all of this sound interesting? Are you ready to learn the techniques — and the WHY? behind them — to help you prepare better — oh no, scratch that — AMAZING dishes? Then, take a look at The Science of Good Cooking (Cook’s Illustrated Cookbooks).
It is important to highlight that this is NOT a cookbook for everybody. Some who purchased this book felt that the overall tone of the authors was condescending and that turned them off. Others noted that the text is too small and the book itself is too heavy to be easily handled while working in the kitchen. Others pointed out that the Kindle version is actually a stripped-down version of the printed copy. Well, I’m not sure if this is, in fact, the case, as I only have the hard copy.
In the end, the majority of complaints come down to a matter of personal preferences, and you’ll need to decide if any of these concerns are deal breakers for you.
However, one complaint that can be objectively verified is the lack of color photos to accompany the recipes. This is absolutely true and represents a valid complaint given that the arts of food and cooking are highly visually driven. Frankly, this is my biggest gripe about The Science of Good Cooking, but in my opinion, in no way does it negate all the great information it has tucked away inside.
So, if any of this still sounds intriguing, you can check out The Science of Good Cooking for yourself.
Let me know what you think!