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Culinary Arts: A Guide to the Literature (April 2016): Culinary Reference Books

By Jeffrey P. Miller and Jonathan Deutsch

Culinary Reference Books

First published in the 1930s, when single-volume encyclopedias were in vogue, Larousse Gastronomique is dense with entries covering everything from history and ethnic cuisines to cooking methodologies, terminology, ingredients, and recipes.  Julia Child once declared that if she could have only one culinary reference in her library, it would be the Larousse Gastronomique.  The Larousse is updated on a regular basis and should be on the shelf of every serious culinarian.  Elizabeth Riely’s The Chef’s Companion: A Culinary Dictionary provides concise and reliable definitions, proper pronunciations, accepted usage, and origins of culinary terms.  An invaluable guide covering nearly all the terms that chefs might use, this companion ranges through cooking techniques, food preparation, herbs and spices, varieties of food, wine, and equipment for the professional kitchen.  Similarly, Steven Labensky, Gaye Ingram, and Sarah Labensky’s The Prentice Hall Essentials Dictionary of Culinary Arts (which has been published under various titles since its first appearance in 1997) comprises brief entries on a wide array of topics.  The strength of this dictionary is its breadth: in addition to terms related to the culinary arts, it covers terminology of related areas such as food chemistry, cigar culture, and general hospitality.  The fourteen appendixes provide tables offering metric conversions, cooking temperatures, measurement equivalents, wine bottle sizes, and other critical data.

In addition to these broad reference resources, one can, of course, find volumes that drill deeper into specific topics.  One of the most valuable is The Meat Buyer’s Guide, from what is now the North American Meat Institute, first published some fifty years ago and now in its eighth edition.  Available both as a print volume and online, where the subscription includes meat-cutting demonstration videos, The Meat Buyer’s Guide is the bible of meat.  Excellent color photographs show all commercial cuts of beef, pork, lamb, veal, and poultry in all market forms, from half-carcasses of beef to boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  All commercial meat cuts in the United States have an Institutional Meat Purchase Specification (IMPS) number.  This book includes a complete update of all the IMPS numbers, and so is the cook’s source to ensure the procurement of correct products.  Information on trim and quality grades, processed meat products, and meat safety is included.  One of the most valuable books in the culinary repertoire, The Meat Buyer’s Guide is also available in a Spanish/English version.  In the cheese arena, one of the most useful titles is Cheese Primer by Steve Jenkins.  Touted by The New York Times as today’s “foremost cheese authority,” Jenkins begins with cheese basics—for example, storing and serving cheese—before moving on to cheeses from around the world.  He devotes sections to France, Italy, Switzerland, the British Isles, Spain, and the United States, and a section titled “A Mixed Plate” considers cheeses from other countries as well.  Including numerous photographs, this encyclopedic volume also discusses cheese and wine pairings and, as an aid to eating cheese when traveling, provides a list of cheeses unavailable in the United States.

Equipment in the kitchen can be as important as a recipe.  The Culinary Institute of America’s In the Hands of a Chef: The Professional Chef’s Guide to Essential Kitchen Tools gives aspiring culinarians an overview of some of the more useful hand tools in the kitchen.  This comprehensive volume is primarily a guide to kitchen knives, their best uses, and how to sharpen and maintain them.  The instructional photos provide step-by-step guidance on all types of meat cutting, from boning chickens to cutting pork chops from a whole loin.  The last chapter, “Hand Tools for Measuring, Mixing, and Baking,” covers peelers, pitters, pastry bags, and “Parisian scoops.”

Figuring out how much food to buy and prepare without incurring waste is critical to a food-service establishment’s survival.  Arno Schmidt’s encyclopedic Chef’s Book of Formulas, Yields, and Sizes provides yields of more than two thousand food products.  In addition to standard meat, vegetable, and grain products in the United States, the volume covers ingredients for such cuisines as Indian, Asian, and Latino.  Including yields from can and bottle sizes, guidance on steam-table pan size and suggested servings, and more than fifty recipes for large-scale recipes of common restaurant preparations, this is an invaluable resource for the culinary practitioner.  Another valuable resource on yield management is Francis Talyn Lynch’s The Book of Yields: Accuracy in Food Costing and Purchasing, which has been published under several titles since it first appeared in 1997.  Now in its eighth edition, the book covers about 1,500 ingredients, and the numerous worksheet templates provided enable the cook to make quick use of the information.  Trim yields and cooking yields are also discussed.

Pairing of flavors is a crucial skill for any culinarian or cooking enthusiast.  The Flavor Thesaurus by Niki Segnit offers “pairings, recipes, and ideas for the creative cook,” with an eye toward helping cooks understand what flavors do and do not work together.  The organizational scheme is by types of flavors and then alphabetically within flavors.  A cook wondering what goes best with, say, chestnuts or rhubarb will find numerous matches here.

Works Cited