Cookbooks for every food lover

Our chief restaurant critic picks the year’s best culinary tomes.

  • Photograph: Virginia Rollison

  • Photograph: Bryan Mayes

Photograph: Virginia Rollison

Kitchen-counter workhorses

Pok Pok

(Ten Speed Press, $35)

The story: Andy Ricker captivated food-crazed Brooklyn and Portland, Oregon with his vibrant Northern Thai cooking. Now he shows us how to replicate it in our own kitchens with nearly 100 no-nonsense recipes, while personal essays introduce us to the Thai home cooks and street hawkers who inspired him along the way.

Point of interest: Ricker on the “absurdity” of authenticity: “People often praise the food we serve at Pok Pok and my other restaurants as ‘authentic.’ I’m flattered, but that word and its cousin in compliment, ‘traditional,’ are banished from my restaurants. The words imply an absolute cuisine, that there is a one true Thai food out there, somewhere.”

Dishes to make: You can satisfy your craving for Ike’s fish-sauce wings or papaya salad without waiting for a table.

Dish to inspire: While most of Ricker’s recipes can be cooked with standard kitchen equipment, shrimp and glass noodles are baked in a clay pot set over a charcoal fire.

Roberta’s Cookbook

(Clarkson Potter, $35)

The story: Once just a scrappy pizza joint in a desolate corner of Brooklyn, Roberta’s is now a destination, dispatching wicked pies and Carlo Mirarchi’s boundary-pushing plates in equal measure. The stories and kitchen notes that accompany these rustic and refined recipes are as irreverent as the restaurant itself.

Point of interest: Out of money and late on rent, the owners of Roberta’s had no choice but to open the restaurant on a frigid night in January before they had any gas or heat. Hundreds of friends and family showed up for wood-fired pizza and beer, and the place has been packed ever since.

Dish to make: Mirarchi makes clear that the most important ingredient in all of his recipes are good ingredients themselves, like the sweet Sungold tomatoes that he chars and serves with ragged maltagliati pasta.

Dish to inspire: If you ever tire of making pizza and pasta, try your hand at sea urchin with stracciatella, caviar and nasturtium granita.

Smoke and Pickles

(Artisan, $29.95)

The story: Drawing on both his Korean heritage and his Southern home, chef Edward Lee (Kentucky’s 610 Magnolia) weaves together a soulful collection of more than 130 recipes, along with playful stories and practical kitchen tips.

Point of interest: Words to live by from Lee: “Pickles are a lot like love stories. They both take time, and you worry that it’s not going to work out, but with patience, there is always a happy ending.” 

Dishes to make: Lee’s irresistible mash-up of Southern and Asian includes such gems as pho spiked with country ham, and chicken-fried pork crusted in crushed dried ramen.

Dish to inspire: If you’ve got 40 days to spare, try some offbeat DIY charcuterie in the form of Lee’s curried lamb prosciutto.

Le Pigeon

(Ten Speed Press, $40)

The story: Gabriel Rucker’s high-low cooking at Portland, Oregon’s Le Pigeon is on display in all its fatty, gamey glory. With entire chapters devoted to tongue and foie gras, the book has a meaty bent, but its 125 recipes bring Rucker’s robust flavors to less beastly plates like salads, veggies and fish.

Point of interest: A bonus essay from forager Lars Norgren brings you deep into the wilds of Oregon, where he procures truffles, mushrooms and other native ingredients for Le Pigeon.

Dish to make: The only appropriate accompaniments for Rucker’s over-the-top bar food—like buffalo sweetbreads and spinach-artichoke-foie dip—are football and beer.

Dishes to inspire: Channel your inner artist with a stunning rabbit-and-eel terrine, or your inner hunter with an elk’s-tongue stroganoff.

The Gramercy Tavern Cookbook

(Clarkson Potter, $50)

The story: Interspersed among 125 thoughtful, hyperseasonal recipes from chef Michael Anthony are behind-the-scenes essays from Gramercy’s cooks, Greenmarket foragers and even floral designers.

Point of interest: Not quite the type to settle for Gristedes, Anthony convinced a New York farmer to grow his family’s heirloom garlic at scale. Gramercy now buys 450 pounds of it a year.

Dishes to make: Go for Anthony’s amplified flavors packaged in familiar forms, like mushroom lasagna made with pureed mushrooms and mushroom broth, and scattered with garlic chips for crunch.

Dishes to inspire: A seasonal take on an ancient Japanese broth fortifies dashi with sweet, earthy beets, to pour over oil-poached halibut.

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