The best food books have just one subject. No, not food itself: I mean a single subject within the vast world of cooking and eating. Here are four of my favourites:
I Love Cheese by Teubner, Mair-Waldberg and Ehlert
Read this book and you may never eat another Kraft Singles sandwich again. There are cheeses in this book that even the man behind the cheese counter at Leo's in Kew may never have heard of: Slovakian Ostiepok, a smoked ovoid cheese, brown like a baked potato; Queso Ahumado, smoked and made from goat’s, cow’s and sheep’s milk; Burrata; Israeli Galil, like Roquefort; Irish Crimlin Fourme d’Ambert. The latter is described by the authors as a cheese with 'surface flora adding to its pronounced taste' and you can just about see the surface flora growing and smell the result in the the accompanying full colour photograph.
Then there are the recipes, revealing the alchemical nature of cheese in being able to turn an ordinary foodstuff into a meal fit for a king.
Take the gratin of celery: lengths of humble celery are sweated in butter and spring onions, cooked in stock, layered in a rectangular baking dish, scattered with sliced prosciutto, and baked with the reduced stock poured over, along with double cream, grated pecorino romano and grated parmesan. I want some now.
Oh, and have you ever tried obatzter? It's a snack traditionally eaten with beer in Germany: ripe Camembert mixed with onions, paprika and pepper. Beats Bega Bar-B-Cubes.
(Alto Books, 2008; translated by Transedition from Teubner Edition.)
Sauces by James Peterson
Throw out the White Crow, you'll never use it again. This third edition could be your only cookbook and you'd never be short of a meal idea. A history of sauces, cookware, ingredients, stocks, national and regional sauces including asian dipping sauces, dessert sauces and more. Sauces clears up the confusion of pompous restaurant menu descriptions and clarifies (pardon the pun) the differences between concassees, coulis, purees, jus, reductions and gravies. You might even be able to turn the tables on the waiter (pardon again) and rebuke him for a menu misnomer, Stephen Downes-style.
What makes a book is the quality its writing. Mark Bittman: "...what's special about Sauces is the text: it reads so well that this is the kind of book you can take to bed." Don't fall asleep while holding it up: a dropped hardback of 612 pages could damage you.
From Page 486: Indian mint pesto - process a cup of mint leaves, two tablespoons each of jalapenos and onion, a little finely chopped ginger, four teaspoons of lemon juice, three tablespoons of almond butter (toasted almonds pureed with butter) and salt. Nice on chargrilled fish with a sprinkling of coriander.
(John Wiley & Sons, Inc 2008)
The Barbecue Bible by Steve Raichlen
I've mentioned this book several times in the past. Raichlen toured the world to find barbecue such as the following:
Senegalese Fish Yassa
Fish – ideally darker, rich-fleshed - is first marinated in lemon, salt and pepper and then direct-grilled and served with a tangy sauce of onions, Scotch bonnet chiles, paprika, seed mustard, lemon juice and distilled white vinegar.
Raichlen visited a barely-inhabited island off the Cote d’Azur to find lightly-grilled tuna steaks served with a reduced and pureed sauce ‘Raito’ – of onion and quite a lot of garlic with tomato, red wine, thyme, bay, olives and capers.
Read this book and you’ll never look at another burnt sausage in white bread again. If you ever did.
(Workman Publishing, New York,1998)
Tarts with Tops on by Tamasin Day-Lewis
All you ever wanted eat between, on top of, or below pastry. My earlier review here.
Any other favourite single-subject food books?