I received a press copy of How to Cook Everything: The Basics weeks ago, and I meant to write about it right away. But I found myself stymied. Because I think that what Bittman and his team may have unleashed upon us here is a book so good that it could replace the full edition. And that sounds like crazy talk!
When I was living in Cambridge, MA during college, I got a paperback copy of the previous iteration of How to Cook Everything: The Basics, which was just a totally bare bones version of the book. I was hooked. The recipes were easy, and after three years of eating like the college student I was, making myself a simple tomato sauce or some grilled chicken with a homemade marinade tasted practically revolutionary. When I graduated college, I graduated to the full version of How to Cook Everything, and this blog was born.
Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time with How to Cook Everything. I’d still recommend it without hesitation to any new cook looking to get started in the kitchen. It’s got simple, dependable recipes for, well, everything. But I find myself using it less and less. Because the real gift of How to Cook Everything is that eventually it sets you free from having to use it. You’ve made the tomato sauce, you’ve learned the techniques, taco nights and pizza parties have been had, and you’re ready for recipes that go beyond the basic. That’s not to say that there aren’t more complicated recipes in there, because there are. It’s just that eventually you want to branch out. It’s not you, Bittman, it’s me.
What I end up coming back to How to Cook Everything for is the basics of what to do with ingredients and how to do it. In other words: the technique. And the new How to Cook Everything: The Basics is at its heart a rock solid book devoted to technique. Everything’s here: the basic tools you need in your kitchen, and tools that you don’t necessarily need but are good to have around nonetheless. How to rinse a vegetable, how to hold a knife, peel, cut into chunks, how to chop, and mince and slice and measure, how to boil and simmer and steam, and sautee and stir-fry and brown and braise and roast and bake and broil. The photos, which I usually hate in cookbooks (I find them intimidating) here are helpful, and they appear in each and every recipe. They’re not to show you what your dish would look like in a food stylist’s dream world, but rather what it’ll look like if you’re doing the steps right. And they’re imperfect. Imagine that: cookbook photographs that look pretty but still realistic.
So that’s it: How to Cook Everything is the best book to teach anyone the basics in the kitchen, but it looks to me now like How to Cook Everything: The Basics beats its big brother at its own game. And while I’m not going to throw out my treasured copy of How to Cook Everything anytime soon, I’ve also made room for this new edition on my shelf, because it’s so much more than a pared down version of the original. Stay tuned, as I’ll be posting some recipes from the new Basics over the next few weeks.