Find our top 7 picks for the best American cookbooks of the past 25 years.
We recently heard a star New York chef declare there's only one "authentic" American regional cuisine (Southern), but in fact,
U.S. cities and regions are inventing new styles at a frantic rate right now: melting-pot cuisines filled with thrilling global
flavors and local innovation. Our winning books reflect both the importance of preservation and the thrill of what's next.
Momofuku By David Chang and Peter Meehan, Clarkson Potter Publishers, 2009. Hardcover. $40; 303 pages
Superstar New York chef David Chang's style is an of-the-moment mishmash of culinary traditions (Korean, Japanese, American, and French) that yields dishes like Brussels Sprouts with Kimchi Puree and Bacon—not simple cooking but detailed recipes and techniques described with surprising thoroughness. The book captures Chang's philosophy and funny, blunt, F-bomb style. Concerning a steak: "Put [it] in the pan and don't touch it or press it or do anything stupid like that after you add it."
GIVE THIS TO: Adventurous foodies who lean to the cool. —Robin Bashinsky
Real Cajun By Donald Link, Clarkson Potter Publishers, 2009. Hardcover. $35; 255 pages
The chef-owner of two New Orleans restaurants, Donald Link distances his rootsy recipes from the weak-tea Cajun craze of a couple of decades ago. This is food of Link's youth, country cooking, rustic and best savored with good, loud company and ice-cold beer. Recipes like Natchitoches Meat Pies and Satsuma Buttermilk Pie excite and inspire.
GIVE THIS TO: Anyone who loves New Orleans and its varied and wildly creative food. —Tim Cebula
One Big Table By Molly O'Neill, Simon & Schuster, 2010. Hardcover. $50; 864 pages
Most recipes in this opus are named after a single person from a singular place: Meryam's Preserved Lemons (Astoria, N.Y.); William Fiorino's Modiga Steak with Peppermint Sauce (St. Louis). The book is deeply impressive, an ode to heirloom recipes and the passing of food traditions across cultural boundaries. Replete with tidbits (concerning the origin of the doughnut hole, for example), the book is packed with nostalgia and history but reads as a testament to our culinary future. We've come this far, O'Neill seems to say: Stay tuned!
GIVE THIS TO: Anyone hungry for food history and folkways. —Sidney Fry
Screen Doors and Sweet Tea By Martha Hall Foose, Clarkson Potter Publishers, 2008. Hardcover. $32.50; 248 pages
Martha Hall Foose, a French-trained Mississippi cook who returned home, delivers real Southern charm in this rare combination of amusing read and great cookbook. Foose relates that one day, as a girl, she reported to her grade-school class that her family was Scotch-Irish. Her best friend Lenore Anne replied, "Well, if she's Scotch-Irish, I guess that makes my side of the family bourbon and water." The tone is quirky but not strained. Recipes range from "best in the Delta" sweet tea to Refuge Crawfish Pies ("For Shade Seekers") and Commitment Caramel Cake ("For Committing Someone to the Church, Marriage, or the Ground").
GIVE THIS TO: Anyone who enjoys Southern wit and food. —Julianna Grimes
Harvest to Heat By Darryl Estrine and Kelly Kochendorfer, The Taunton Press, 2010. Hardcover. $40; 295 pages
A cookbook based on pairing chefs and farmers (or artisanal food producers) is a high-concept idea that sounds good but can fall flat on the page, like a book report. Not so here: The authors—a photography/recipe developer duo—make a convincing case for the importance of the farm-to-table connection in the evolution of recipes. Braised Short Ribs with Red Wine is worth the afternoon simmer, and the story about Ridge Shinn's grass-fed cows adds to the savor.
GIVE THIS TO: Gardeners and locavores. —S.F.
The Border Cookbook By Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison, The Harvard Common Press, 1995. Paperback. $18; 500 pages
Focusing on food found along the border that snakes its way from the Baja Peninsula to the Gulf of Mexico, this exuberant, exhaustive book covers the culinary ground where the American Southwest meets Northern Mexico. Ingredients are shared, but dishes from Baja are totally different from those in, say, Texas. Try Watercress Salad with Tequila-Tangerine Dressing or Tilapia and Pipián with creamy dressing.
GIVE THIS TO: Cooks who like to cross borders. —R.B.
Cooking My Way Back Home By Mitchell Rosenthal, Ten Speed Press, 2011. Hardcover. $35; 263 pages
This is a charming and personal restaurant book sincerely aimed at home cooks. Rosenthal pulled recipes from the menus of his popular West Coast restaurants (Postrio, Town Hall, Salt House) and took them to his small kitchen where he and his wife adapted each one—an interesting process for Rosenthal because "I had never really cooked at home until recently."
Recipes reflect this chef's wide-ranging experiences with the likes of Paul Prudhomme and Wolfgang Puck, tending toward the comforting and exuberant over the refined, even when pro-level restaurant techniques are deployed (a duck is deboned and served with spicy fig jus). Simpler dishes range from Tabasco-Spiked Slow-Cooked Fried Chicken to Semolina Gnocchi with Wild Mushroom Ragout and BBQ Shrimp with Toasted Garlic Bread.
GIVE THIS TO: Just about anyone who loves to cook, likes surprises, and appreciates a strong voice ringing through the book. —Mary Goodbody