The usual cookbook follows the following pattern: list of recipes, a detailed list of instructions and hopefully, if you stick to the instructions, good results. If you’re lucky, they throw in a picture to compare your results with the perfect world of cooking. This kind of magic list of instructions thing leads one to believe that cooking is some sort of black voodoo.

I’m quite sure it’s not. What I’m looking for is a book that explains me which things go together, why things go wrong when I just throw it all in. Basically a bottom up guide. Any suggestions?

Posted .


  • Jasper
  • James

    Peter Barham – The Science of Cooking
    Harold McGee – On Food and Cooking

  • Jochem

    Ik heb het complete bak kookboek. (ISBN-13: 9789054263913)

    De recepten zijn ouderwets beschreven, maar er staan ook veel extra paragrafen in, over hoe je dingen moet mixen, wat er fout kan gaan, etc. (incl. foto’s e.d.).

    Dat gezegd hebbende, ik heb nooit problemen met tradionele recepten, van je fouten leer je immers het meeste ;-).

  • Jonas

    What you want is “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” by Julia Child. Even if you are not particularly interested in French cooking, this is simply the best cookbook in existence.

  • John (J5) Palmieri


    I used to do that, just throw things in and wonder why it sounded so good but turned out so bad. The truth is while cookbooks will give you ingreedients, measures and basic timing, cooking is really about instinct and experience as you go. What I found after taking some cooking classes was that little techniques like knowing that sweating onions before throwing in all the other bits and cooking meat in small batches really does cause a big impact on the quality of what you get. Also good ingredients such as non-salted butter, sea salt (never use iodized salt, just do a taste test with each and you will understand; btw we get enough iodine from eating seafood these days) and fresh veggi’s really make a huge difference.

    I highly suggest taking a back to basics course as they are fun as well as educational. I then suggest you choose a style of cooking to focus on and learn all about their basic ingredients. For instance I mostly cook French style so I know a lot about butter, cream, salt, pepper and stock. I can make any vegetable taste good pan fried in butter, salt and pepper or as a soup puréed in stock and heavy cream.

    AS for a good cookbook/website I suggest America’s Test Kitchen. Signup is free or you can get their magazine or the cookbook which is just each issue from the previous year bound into a book. I’m not sure if they ship overseas though. The cool thing about them is that they have a public access TV show and they basically do taste tests of ingreedients as well as testing out different techniques, equipment and ingredients when doing each dish. So, they will tell you for instance which vinegar they liked best when doing a particular dish.

    Hope that helps.

  • Paul Cobbaut

    Trial and error ;-)

    No really…there is no ‘universal’ guide towards taste. Just try it out, and gain experience.

    paul (who sometimes blogs about creme-au-beurre)

  • Troy

    I always recommend The Joy Of Cooking from Better Homes & Gardens. It teaches you how to make everything from toast to beef wellington. It also has some general information at the beginning of each chapter, like what part of the cow the sirloin comes from.

  • Tom

    Ik vrees dat koken zoiets als programmeren is, je leert het vooral door te doen. Het gezegde “Des gouts et des couleurs..” is zeker van toepassing op koken en een ultieme bijbel bestaat dan ook niet zou ik denken. Mijn raad is om ons kookboek van de boerinnenbond te kopen, waarin allemaal basisbereidingen staan. Dan kan je zelf eens experimenteren met nieuwe ingredienten en proeven wat voor resultaat dat geeft. Veel op restaurant gaan, veel proeven van verschillende chefs, verschillende exotische recepten lezen,… zullen zeker ook wel helpen :-)
    Joel heeft daar ook nog iets interessant over gezegd, dat valt hierzo te zien:

  • Andrew Jorgensen

    Cookwise by Shirley Corriher is pretty good, it’s a text book and has recipes to try the techniques on. For instance, it has a recipe for chocolate chip cookies with four variations to demonstrate the effect of the major ingredients. Her stated goal is that when you’re done with the book you will be able to spot, and correct, a bad recipe before even trying it.

    I’ve also ordered On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee, which is supposed to be more thorough and scientific than Cookwise. I haven’t read it yet, though.

  • Garo Yeriazarian

    Try this book: “Cookwise: the Secrets of Cooking Revealed”

    It talks a lot about the how and why of cooking.

  • Martín Soto

    Alton Brown’s “I’m just here for the food”. Since I bought that book I’ve having a lot more fun cooking, and I eat better as well ;-) I guess it’s really the sort of thing you’re looking for.

  • RubenV

    Thanks everybody for these high quality suggestions! There’s a lot of interesting stuff in here which I’m certainly going to try out. Highly appreciated!

  • Jonas

    Ik kan ook Cookwise aanraden. Uitstekend boek. Zoals Andrew hierbovenvermelde is On Food and Cooking inderdaad ook een klassieker. Dit boek schijnt wel iets minder toegankelijk te zijn dan Cookwise.

    Ook leuk is Cook & Chemist, dat ik laatst kocht. Dit is van Nederlandse makelij. Het is wel lang niet zo volledig als Cookwise.

    Op mijn lijstje van te kopen boeken staat, tot slot, ook de reeks On Food and Cooking. Misschien wil je daar ook eens naar kijken.

  • Ray Strode

    While not a book, the “Alton Brown” tv series is great. He goes to great lengths to explain the science behind all of his recipes.

  • Cookie

    The New Best Recipe, based on the magazine Cook’s Illustrated.

    It’s a standard reference cookbook, a la the Joy of Cooking, but each recipe is preceded by a description of the test process, which involves playing with the variables and noticing what works (or doesn’t). All recipes give the “how”, but these also explain the why behind the how.

    It doesn’t get very deep into cooking chemistry, if that’s the level of explanation you’re after, though.

  • Mark
  • Jonas

    Oeps. Op het einde van mijn vorige post vermelde ik een tweede maal On Food and Cooking. Ik wou echter refereren naar I’m Just Here for the Food. Dit is een reeks boeken van Alton Brown.

  • Kevin
  • Daeng Bo

    I’m going to second the FoodTV show “Good Eats” by Alton Brown. The first season covers a lot of what I learned in my first semester at culinary school. You’ll learn the whys as well as the hows. It even covers a little of the chemistry that is so important in cooking.

    And it’s the whys that you need to know. One of the greatest cookbooks ever written is Le Repetoire de la Cuisine ( It offers nothing more than a list of the defining ingredients and the name of a classical method or two. There are no directions at all, but the cooks who know the whys of cooking don’t need any instructions.

    Best of luck on your journey.