THE FOOD LAB by J. Kenji López-Alt

Click to purchase

Click to purchase

Better Home Cooking Through Science

The trend of food blogs begetting cookbooks is firmly established, and this is one of the better ones. I’m not sure why the blog name, Serious Eats, isn’t more apparent, but nonetheless that is where López-Alt (among others) posts his recipes and revelations, and where this cookbook was born.

There are those who believe cooking is an art, and others, a science. I would think most people think it is both; there is definitely science involved in cooking, but also there is an art to it. This book looks more at the science, and in doing so, creates art.

Every recipe and technique is explained thoroughly, with lots of pictures, thus creating a rather large, heavy book – it clocks in at 960 pages, so you definitely get your money’s worth.

One of the first cookbooks I ever cooked from was my mom’s Good Housekeeping Cookbook, circa 1960-something, and it had all kinds of charts on measurements and conversions. That practice has fallen by the wayside but is revived here, right inside the front cover. There is something to be said for Googling how many tablespoons in 2/3 of a cup, but it is often easier to just look at a book, so this simple thing gets a gold star from me. As does the meat chart, with pictures of different cuts of steaks and all the information you could want about them; where they are cut from, other names for the same steaks, what it tastes like (really!) and of course, the best way to cook it. (My suggestion – go to Bern’s Steak House in Tampa to learn about steaks and what they should taste like.)

The pictures are worthy of special mention, not for the art necessarily, although there are beautiful foodie pics galore. But other pictures, like the eggs boiled at 30-second intervals from 0 to 12 minutes is worth the proverbial thousand words. Pictures showing what happens when you add your onions too soon – burnt onions -are a powerful learning tool. Actual photographs of chicken roughly chopped, finely chopped and pulverized make it easy to see what your results should be – same for the picture of a gelled stock.

The book is divided a bit differently than most cookbooks. The table of contents:

Eggs, Dairy, and the Science of Breakfast
Soups, Stews, and the Science of Stock
Steaks, Chops, Chicken, Fish and the Science of Fast-Cooking Foods
Blanching, Searing, Braising, Glazing, Roasting, and the Science of Vegetables
Balls, Loaves, Links, Burgers, and the Science of Ground Meat
Chickens, Turkeys, Prime Rib, and the Science of Roasts
Tomato Sauce, Macaroni, and the Science of Pasta
Greens, Emulsions, and the Science of Salads
Batter, Breadings, and the Science of Frying

In addition, there explanations of what cooking really is, what kitchen gear you need and what belongs in the basic pantry – all ultimately useful information.

The 20 step-by-step pictures that accompany The World’s Most Awesome Sticky Buns is simply inspiring. The Easy Skillet-Braised Chicken with mushrooms and bacon is a delicious dinner that I don’t mind making after working all day. The Creamy Italian Salad Dressing will have you swearing off bottled dressing forever. The reverse sear method of roasting meat is just genius. But I think my favorite part of this cookbook is Kenji’s voice – he is funny. How can you not love a cookbook that includes, “My wife hates the fact that our apartment always smells like food,” and on cooking fish, “Perfect Fish Tip 7: Just a Kiss on the Backside,” and “I’m a cook by trade but a grinder by nature.”

I love this cookbook.

1/16 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE FOOD LAB by J. Kenji López-Alt. W. W. Norton & Company (September 21, 2015). ISBN 978-0393081084. 960p.

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