From the culinary melting pot cuisine of Macau to the unsung traditions of Appalachia, from the science that makes your food taste good to the proper way to grill a whole chicken, this year’s collection of our favorite cookbooks will inspire countless meals. They’re perfect for holiday gifting — for the cooks on your list or to reward yourself.
“The Adventures of Fat Rice” By Abraham Conlon, Adrienne Lo and Hugh Amano; Ten Speed Press, $35
The debut authors and chefs have created the rare cookbook destined to transcend the kitchen by playfully yet painstakingly capturing the unlikely creation of a restaurant and documenting an endangered cuisine. They travel across continents and time to detail disappearing home dishes from simple minchi (Macanese minced meat hash) to elaborate arroz gordo (fat rice). But it’s the comic book cover illustrating the “Attack of the Chilli Clam!” that best hints at the beguiling world within and beyond.
“Cook’s Science” By the editors at Cook’s Illustrated; Cook’s Illustrated, $40
The latest tome from America’s Test Kitchen digs deep into the science behind dozens of different ingredients. If it sounds serious, that’s because it is. There’s hardly a joke in the nearly 500 pages. But as dry and scholarly as it can be, fascinating facts pop up on every page. Turns out chicken wings are made of white meat, not dark. Bacon tastes great because of “150 unique aroma compounds.” While the text is dense, the recipes are easy to follow. And you know each one has been subjected to intensive testing.
“Dorie’s Cookies” By Dorie Greenspan; Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35
The award-winning author shares 170 recipes, sweet and surprisingly savory, some from dreams. Full-page color photos capture her distinctive dearly departed Beurre &Sel collection, the cookie boutique she opened with her son. But it’s Greenspan’s personably voiced words that will guide your hands to make everything from double chocolate chunk World Peace Cookies to finicky French macarons, and share them too.
“Everything I Want to Eat” By Jessica Koslow; Abrams, $40
The cookbook details the unexpected success of Sqirl, a restaurant slinging creatively topped toast and rice bowls in Los Angeles. Sometimes the book can come off as overly precious, especially the casually tossed in shots of celebrities chowing down at the restaurant. But there’s hardly a recipe that passes by that doesn’t look immediately enticing, from the gorgeously green, vegetally versatile frittata to the abundant looking sorrel pesto rice bowl.
“Land of Fish and Rice: Recipes From the Culinary Heart of China” By Fuchsia Dunlop; W.W. Norton, $35
The Jiangnan region of eastern China, home to Shanghai, is the focus of this excellent book. Recipes range from simple — one calls just for bok choy, oil and salt — to such elaborate constructions as a beggar’s chicken baked in a salt pastry crust. Dunlop, a British food writer and Chinese cooking authority, brings her signature eye for cultural and historic context and a deep knowledge of and enthusiasm for food to this book. Illuminating headnotes and a useful glossary of ingredients make the volume all the more welcome.
“Meathead” By Meathead Goldwyn; Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35
The Chicago-based author enlisted scientists and physicists (Greg Blonder, Ph.D., of Boston University is also credited) to test dozens of myths and “old husbands’ tales” surrounding meat and fire. Reading like a geeky textbook-meets-cookbook (complete with charts, graphs and photography), Meathead meticulously takes apart everything from grill marks to beer can chicken, before building it all back together with foolproof advice, myth-busting tips and actual knowledge. As brainy as Food Network’s Alton Brown, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt of “Serious Eats” and author of “The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science,” and the team behind Cook’s Illustrated, Meathead is obsessed with testing everything down to a molecular level — and imparting that knowledge to fellow meatheads.
“My Two Souths” By Asha Gomez with Martha Hall Foose; Running Press, $35
The idea of Southern food, that monolith of American culinary traditions — a confluence of African, Native American and European flavors and techniques — takes many forms. In this book, Asha Gomez brings her particular touch to the table. Inspired by the flavors of her native Kerala, the Indian state on the southwestern tip of the subcontinent, and the foods of her home in Atlanta, Gomez injects classic dishes with pungent, vibrant spices, transforming familiar favorites like gumbo, cornbread, pork chops, and fried chicken and waffles into international affairs.
“Taste &Technique” By Naomi Pomeroy with Jamie Feldmar; Ten Speed Press, $40
Award-winning chef Naomi Pomeroy’s tome is a culinary education. With four restaurants under her belt and 20 years of experience, you’d never think twice about Pomeroy’s educational pedigree. In fact, she taught herself through cookbooks, and in “Taste and Technique,” sets out to do the same for new and experienced cooks alike. Starting with sauces — that first level of mastery in traditional French cooking — she painstakingly details how to source and shop for produce, to taste and to bring professional-quality cooking to your kitchen — each recipe offers useful skills for the challenging dishes found later in the book.
“Victuals” By Ronni Lundy; Clarkson Potter, $32.50
Describing herself as having grown up “of the mountains,” rather than in them, Ronni Lundy terms her 10th book “an Appalachian journey, with recipes.” Part reminiscence, part living history, “Victuals” (right on the book cover, Lundy stresses that the word is pronounced “vi-dls”) would be an important study of southern Appalachia even without the 80 recipes that illustrate the region’s culinary diversity, including butter-bean cassoulet with rabbit confit, venison hand pies, old-school tomato gravy and braised greens in pot likker. Interwoven with these recipes are stories of modern chefs embracing Appalachia’s unique agriculture, of heirloom-apple evangelists and of determined snout-to-tail pig farmers and butchers. And Lundy, whose roots run deep into the hills, is an ideal storyteller and guide.