James Beard’s Theory and Practice of Good Cooking, Knopf, 1977
This is my go-to book about cooking. As the title implies, its more a book about cooking than it is a cookbook.
It has recipes, of course, but the recipes are there to illustrate the principles and methods of cooking. The chapters tell the tale. From the front: Boiling, Roasting, Broiling and Grilling, Braising, Sautéing, Frying, Baking. For example, when I buy a piece of Corned Beef for a St. Patrick’s Day feast of New England Boiled Dinner, James Beard starts with corned beef and concentrates on getting that and the vegetables cooked properly… indeed, cooked separately and for different lengths of time and brought together only at the end.
We bought a fish poacher in Boston to poach a four-pound salmon for a party. In James Beard’s Theory and Practice of Good Cooking there is more than one recipe for poached fish and in my cooking-for-parties phase I poached a few salmon, as well as other fish and shellfish. I especially like the Poached Fish with White Wine Sauce and Shellfish a la Nage, “a la nage” is the French term for a style of preparation in which shellfish are both cooked and served “swimming” in a white wine court bouillon and eaten hot, tepid or cold. Shrimp, crayfish or small lobsters are excellent prepared in this manner. Lovely.
I could cite similar examples from the other chapters, but these will give you the drift.
I grew to love James Beard. Beard encouraged me to use my fingers to mix pate, to press my fingers on the meat to feel for proper doneness; to substitute ingredients and to feel the cooking, rather than read it. He told me about meats and fish and vegetables and herbs and spices, where they come from, what they’re about, in an interesting, chatty way. It would have been nice to know James Beard. He led me to make up recipes based on what caught my eye in the market, or more likely, what was on hand. It is illustrated with informative line drawings. Sadly, it’s out of print, but it can be found used.