The Food Republic office is made of cookbooks. There are walls of cookbooks, stacks of books next to the walls and a precarious pile wobbling on my desk no matter how often I pare it down. There is a cookbook for everyone, specifically this year, fans of dumping ingredients into one pot and calling it dinner and fans of Sammy Hagar. Let’s not do that — not with all the spectacular tomes that hit the shelves this year.
Having been inundated with volumes of pasta and paleo recipes, I’ve pulled my 15 favorite books of the year, chosen for their home cook–friendliness, raw carnal photo appeal and volume of practical, applicable information. Adding to your cookbook library is always in season.
We take kindly to meat-curing types at Food Republic, very kindly indeed. Aside from being the hands-down best charcuterie-focused cookbook of the year, Elias Cairo’s eponymous volume is also a strong contender for best meat-based cookbook, owing to the gargantuan amount of knowledge both practical and deeply scientific, delicious stories from home and abroad and the single most extraordinary hot dog menu (palette, really) you’ve ever seen. Go ahead, check it out for yourself. Ready to treat that rabbit right? Ferment your own salami? Tie up and cook a whole pig’s head? Pick up a copy and let Cairo guide you smoothly through.
From a trailer hawking brisket on the side of an Austin, Texas, freeway to a barbecue god whose smoky meat-ambrosia garners hours-long lines of uncomplaining brisket enthusiasts, Aaron Franklin has made his mark on dedicated carnivores around the country. Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto takes the reader through this wild journey, with every crucial stop along the way. When the cover of your book features a butcher paper–lined tray soaked through with sausage grease, brisket juice, barbecue sauce, pickle and jalapeño brine and just a little bit of the mayo that dripped out of your cole slaw, you know you’re in for a ride. There are pages upon pages dedicated to buying or, better yet, handcrafting a smoker — yes, you will need basic welding skills, which he will teach you. Procure yours, name it well (one of Franklin’s many smokers bears the moniker Rusty Shackleford) and trust that you’re in the best possible hands. The man is an outstanding master of his very important craft.
Michael Anthony, executive chef of New York City’s Gramercy Tavern and Untitled at the Whitney, guides you through the world of elevated vegetable preparation from artichokes to zucchini in his new book, V Is for Vegetables. Flip through a colorful series of recipes for seasonal produce organized alphabetically, with notes on growing, harvesting, sourcing and preparation. C is for celery root and H is for horseradish, N is for nettles and T is for tatsoi — don’t forget these underappreciated but nonetheless spectacularly delicious, simple to prepare and wonderfully nourishing veggies. What makes Anthony’s restaurants great isn’t only the famous burger, perfect scallops or smoked pork ribs — it’s the quality and expert preparation of its vegetable companions. Looking for a new produce bible? This big, heavy volume is here for you.
A round of applause for chef Justin Warner, winner of The Next Food Network Star and Brooklyn-based chef of the rave-worthy, dearly departed Do or Dine. His new book, The Laws of Cooking (And How to Break Them) is a love letter to breaking the mold. If you sculpt sausage around boiled eggs before frying to make Scotch eggs, why not sculpt salt cod around them instead, fry, then DEVIL them? Love the buttery deluge of chicken Kiev? You’ll love it even more in nuggets. Tomato soup and grilled cheese fan? Become a tomato soup and grilled cheese ravioli fan. This book blew our minds so many times in such outstanding ways. Broken down into sections by “laws,” such as the Law of the Hot Dog (fat balanced with acid) and funky-fresh Law of the Wedge Salad, and flanked by Warner’s own sketches to best explain the various kitchen tools he’s rigged up over the course of his self-taught culinary journey, Warner’s formidable tome is one to be savored slowly, lest your head explode.
We’ve been dedicated fans since the Filipino-American chef’s Top Chef days, and the love has only grown as we’ve gained “regular” status at his Brooklyn restaurant Talde and whiskey-and-snacks heaven Pork Slope. His signature “no f*cks given” attitude, applied to his signature Asian fusion cuisine, is a formula for one hell of a cookbook. No, not like that Asian fusion, like his Asian fusion — Asian-American, as the book’s title screams in shocking pink over an image of the chef eating noodles out of a takeout container while sporting Jordan 4s and a huge gold chain. Recipe intros map out Talde’s younger self’s attraction to the food both at home and in Chicago, where he hails from. The photos are styled masterfully to appeal to those who live for food porn, the recipes appeal to cravings for any style of Asian cuisine, from bao, dumplings and noodle soups (his favorite) to Korean barbecue and American Chinese food. Grab a copy, thickly butter a few slices of near-burned toast and prepare to make Talde-style ramen. Yes, ramen.
A “best cookbook of the year” roundup is nothing without a great burger book, just like we as food enthusiasts are nothing without great burgers. The award-winning dream team of Boston chef and burger blogger Richard Chudy and partner chef Samuel Monsour unleashed American Burger Revival: Brazen Recipes to Electrify a Timeless Classic on a hungry, eager audience this year. Earnest in its goal of serving the country a better burger and wildly inventive in its manners of doing so (you need custom burger blends in your culinary life), this is a book for everyone who’s ever lovingly transferred a juicy patty to a bun and marveled in the blank canvas that is a slightly charred, perfectly fatty, medium-rare burger waiting to receive its toppings. Break down their favorite beasts, like the instantly superior McMayor, add all kinds of wondrous accoutrements to your repertoire, from the tart and pickled to the cheesy, melty, fried and cheesy-fried (ever had panko-crusted burrata on your burger?) and let these two dedicated grillmasters take you along for the ride of a lifetime.
All hail the world’s first comfort food! Think about it: It totally is. Using every tiny bit of an animal is an age-old practice developed to keep us alive and well, and the trend is back, led by New York’s East Village chef Marco Canora, hotter than ever. You know a good solid chicken soup will bring you back to life during a cold, but do you know why? Explore the mighty power of collagen, marrow and all the good stuff left behind after the meat’s gone and find yourself naturally hydrated and hungry less often by sipping on this golden elixir instead of caffeinated beverages. Best of all: The stuff tastes incredible, done properly, and Canora is here to make sure you do it right. No fancy food porn or tales of foraging wild fiddleheads here, friends, just straight, savory knowledge. Grab the biggest pot you can find, make great friends with your butcher (in case you hadn’t noticed, you can’t exactly buy 10 pounds of quality beef bones at the supermarket) and prepare to fill your home with the kind of perfume everyone can enjoy.
England is not famous for its vegetable preparation. Cabbage is mashed willy-nilly with potatoes, peas are boiled into oblivion (and then mashed) and carrots show up briefly in buttery, creamy chicken filling covered in buttery pastry. Actually, that carrot thing sounds pretty good. But sod the chicken (which is British-speak for “kindly leave that chicken behind”), because London vegetarian hot spot Mildreds — no apostrophe necessary — is serving up all the colors of the rainbow in crisp, savory, hearty ways that make the buttered parsnips of yore look like, well, buttered parsnips. The chefs spin plays on English classics like the aforementioned potato and cabbage mash known as bubble and squeak by creating croquettes stuffed with cheesy, piquant Welsh rarebit filling. Beloved bar snack Scotch eggs lose their sausage layer and gain a coating of leek- and caper-infused mashed potato before hitting the deep fryer. Smart, inventive substitutions and an extensive knowledge of vegetable cookery make for a beautiful volume that screams “redemption!” in a posh accent.
Go beyond the braise with Alex Stupak’s Tacos: Recipes and Provocations, featuring recipes from his NYC taqueria, Empellón. While there is no shortage of standby recipes like al pastor and skirt steak, the volume of knowledge and creativity contained within this book doesn’t really do your propensity for Baja fish much justice. First off, if you’re looking for a great fish taco, try one starring salmon roe or sea urchin. Second, if you’re making your own tortillas, consider infusing them with the likes of saffron, rye flour or just straight-up chorizo. There’s a whole chapter dedicated to elevating the humble tortilla into something worthy of sea urchin salsa (don’t worry, there are essential recipes for less “out there” salsas, too). And finally, if a taco is the bastard child of one totally unrelated dish and another, declare it loud and proud (see recipe below, as well as the “provocations” chapter dividers). Beautifully photographed by Food Republic friend Evan Sung and cowritten with food writer Jordana Rothman, this is one cookbook to quell those Mexican food cravings while inciting feelings of delicious confusion and perpetual hunger. Are breakfast tacos included, you ask? Por supesto! Ever had a deviled-egg taco? By the time you get to the back of the book where this invention lies, you’ll be raring to go.
“Tal Ronnen is a plant-based food whisperer,” says chef Roy Choi. With equally flattering accolades from the likes of Bill Clinton, Jay Z and Paul McCartney, the Los Angeles chef continues to grow his ardent fan base, whose desire for the healthful and produce-centric is just as strong as their discerning palates. This collection of 100 Mediterranean-inspired recipes, a follow-up to Ronnen’s New York Times best-selling The Conscious Cook, is not only one of our favorite cookbooks of the year, it’s the best vegan cookbook we’ve picked up in quite a while.
Ever heard the term “from snout to squeak?” It’s a true pig lover’s way of conveying every part of the animal, and Richard H. Turner, executive chef at renowned London house of meat Hawksmoor, is no exception. His new book, Hog, is an ode to pig of all kinds, from sausage-stuffed pork chops and roast after roast to masterful charcuterie and illustrations highlighting the differences in heritage pig breeds. You’ll find recipes from the tried-and-true to the ultra-refined and innovative, with plenty of breakfast inspiration. Breakfast is one of the best times of the day to eat pork (other than lunch, dinner and a bacon-infused dessert). Bonus points for the plush velvet hog outline that graces the book’s front and back covers.
One sign you’ve picked up one of the definitive books on Israeli cooking is an entire chapter devoted to tehina, the sesame paste that’s a staple of this vibrant, vegetable-heavy, colorful and delicious cuisine. Other signs: six hummus variations (he takes hummus very seriously), a full explanation of Israelis’ love of fried breaded chicken cutlets and a formula for a cucumber and tomato salad–infused martini. In Philadelphia chef Michael Solomonov’s new book, coauthored with business partner Steven Cook, he intersperses Zahav favorites and family recipes with tales from his diverse global culinary journey for a very well-rounded cookbook that tells a delicious story. You’ll smell kibbeh frying off in the background. If Mediterranean cuisine is your kind of thing (hey, we all really love garlic, too) and you wouldn’t mind some tantalizing process shots to boot, this is one big, heavy cookbook to keep in the library.
A follow-up to her best-selling A Girl and Her Pig, chef April Bloomfield’s latest book is an ode to the seasonal garden bounty that fuels the inspiration for her restaurants’ ultra-cravable vegetable dishes. From the hearty and cheese-swirled to the light, bright and crisp, any produce that finds itself in Bloomfield’s kitchen can expect the royal treatment. Since not everyone can turn an artichoke (or even know what that means), there are helpful tips, techniques and detailed process steps to ensure that you don’t end up with stubby carrots or limp asparagus — textural integrity is of the utmost importance when preparing vegetables. And uh…you know how cauliflower and kale are super-trendy right now? She’s got you covered, big time.
Award-winning chef Hugh Acheson penned his new book inspired by questions he hears at the farmers’ market (not limited to “What the hell is this knobby green thing?”), which, when you think about it, is all the inspiration you really need to do your produce justice. The Broad Fork is a particularly good read for new CSA members who may wonder how to prepare and cook that pile of X, Y and Z to maximize the chance they’ll want to make it again. An homage to the popular flexitarian diet, accenting vegetable dishes with small amounts of meat and fish, Acheson’s latest collection of recipes will have you running to the greenmarket for something you’ve never heard of. And as far as things you have heard of, what do you do with peak-season cantaloupe other than cut it into cubes and eat it with your fingers? Make a chilled soup with mint, crab and curry oil (see above). Any other questions?
Cook the book:Liverwurst (it goes great with homemade pickles)
We have a long, happy relationship with the brothers Sussman, who recently published their third cookbook. We even did a Sussman Brothers Day to celebrate it! Chefs Max and Eli whip up their signature style of “dude food meets Jewish comfort cuisine” once more in this utterly pleasant, often hilarious classic and modern volume. With plenty of Asian and Eastern European influence (fact: Jews love Chinese food) to fuel the flames and some plain old regular food genius like a full English breakfast sandwich on a waffle and a brisket patty melt on cornbread, you won’t be sorry you had dinner with the guys.