Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat
Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking is probably as close as you will ever get to a kitchen apprenticeship with a professional chef in book form. The first part is a guide to the how and why of good cooking. You get clear explanations of what makes a pie crust or a cut of meat tender or tough, how and when to salt and season various ingredients; all the keys to making great meals. The second half is a collection of recipes that let you practice what you've learned.
The author, Samin Nosrat, shares her hard won expertise here with clear instructions, clever illustrations, and stories from the memorable moments of trial, error, and experimentation that have made her a chef. As readers, we get to learn how to rescue an under or over-salted dish without having to painstakingly lift each layer of a lasagna to sprinkle in last minute salt, and hearing about it makes the lesson stick in your mind. Nosrat really does show how you can develop your instincts and judgment so that you can tell by look and taste what adjustments to make to get a dish just right. The behind the scenes look at working in top restaurant kitchens isn't the focus, but it makes for great seasoning.
Watercolor illustrations show the perfect color for browning sugar, how to build a perfect salad, or complement flavors for every regional cuisine in a unique way, and tempted me to pin them up in my kitchen. They're handy reference guides that I can happily look at every day. A breezy, confiding style make this an easy book to learn from and it's packed with good advice and demonstration recipes. It will probably be useful even if you're already confident in the kitchen, but man I wish I'd had a book like this when I was just starting out.