Learning techniques and ingredients

Joined Sep 3, 2018
Hello, all. I'm an amateur home cook that's looking for a book to help with learning how to use food as opposed to a book of recipes. I've looked up some threads with similar questions; many were pretty old, and I wanted to ask for exactly what I was going for. I want to learn about how to use different ingredients and cooking techniques. For example, if I have chicken breast I'd like to know all the different cooking methods for it, and how to do it without looking up temperatures, cooking times, etc.

I have the book "Salt Fat Acid Heat" by Samin Nosrat, and I love it. That's the kind of thing I want, where it teaches concepts instead of recipes, but I'm hoping for something a little more far-ranging. My goal is being able to walk into a kitchen, see what I have, and know how to use it without looking up a recipe. What do you think would get me closest to what I'm looking for?



Staff member
Joined Mar 29, 2002
  • Essentials of Cooking James Peterson - because it's my favorite discussion of technique from a beginner stand point. Fairly technique oriented.
  • New Complete Techniques Jacques Pepin - a picture guide book. Look at this first before buying. It may not be what you want, but is educational. Technique skill oriented.
  • The Complete Meat Cookbook Bruce Aidells - gets toward what you want for animal flesh but is more Western in it's approach. If Asian or Middle Eastern flavors are what you want skip this. Recipe oriented.
  • Vegetables Revised James Peterson - is the most complete option for vegetables from a Westernized approach. Recipe oriented
  • Modernist Cuisine Nathan Myrhvold, 5 book set, - a science based approach to food and cooking. Recipe oriented but lots of explanation along the way.
There are not a lot of strong theory books. You might consider On Food and Cooking, The Flavor Bible, Ratio.

I learned some theory from Ruhlman's The Making of a Chef, but that's not what that book is about. I still found it educational.

If you are more interested in Asian flavors, then that is a different set of books and thinking.


Staff member
Joined Mar 29, 2002
As to looking at what's on hand and creating a meal out of it that's about experience and a book can't teach it.

There are some dishes that are good about using up leftovers but a better practice really is menu planning.

I'll assume you're American for this example, Thanksgiving.

You roast a turkey for day one.
Day two you de-bone the turkey and make stock.
Day three some of the stock goes to turkey soup.
Day four, you recycle the gravy and a little stock into pot pies
Day 5 turkey pasta casserole. Or in my case tamales.

Menu planning develops the skill of inventorying your supplies and repurposing them until they're gone.

But really it's about repurposing and managing leftovers.

Recipes that are good for this: Fritatta, tacos, pot pies, casseroles, soup.
But also "cakes" like potato cakes from mashed potatoes or stuffing. see also dumplings like klosse or knoedel.
Joined Mar 4, 2015
I would say what you are asking for comes with experience, what Phatch said.

I just suggest the exact opposite of what you are asking. Find a great cookbook, and just try recipes. The more you cook and practice these techniques the more readily you can come up ideas for dinners and dishes. Positive food memories stick with you.

I just picked up Saveur: The new classics Cookbook, for that exact reason. I want to find new stuff to cook.
Joined May 3, 2015
Repurpose what you have in your pantry and refrigerator, then make something out of it. There are several cookbooks and food references that I can suggest:
If you want to gain knowledge on the techniques, ingredients on cooking and baking.
These are books that I learned while I was a garde manger at a corporate catering company. As soon as I got the books, I learned something new. The techniques is based on theory, cooking or baking techniques and experience and taste as you go. Although the sous chef and exec chef are my guides and mentors on what to expect, and timing are pretty much guidelines. Even memories on how food should taste like, smell and sight are important senses to have. I totally agree with dueh too.
1. The Flavor Bible - experiencing common and unique flavor combinations
2. Ingredients by Loukie - this just visually shows pictures on ingredients used in the culinary world - pretty coffee book and food references. Fun book to look at.
3. Insitut Paul Bocuse Gastronomique - this is probably the book you are looking for - ingredients and recipes listed but pictures about common cooking and preparation techniques are very helpful to see what you ingredients you cooked on it will looked like. Purchase the used version on Amazon - this book is so worth it! compared to other French school cook books which are expensive and not very thorough.
4. Ratios by Michel Ruhlman - great knowledge about recipe development, and memorize if you can - so versatile and great when creating your own recipes on everything about cooking and baking. This book gave me a head start while using on my day job as a Garde manger while experimenting with a lot sauces, vinaigrettes and everything else I made at the pro kitchens. Even have 2 of my notebooks written in ratios with my signature recipes.
5. Shiro the Sushi Chef - there are some essential techniques you would have to experience and master like making sushi rice, pickled ginger from scratch and how to combine different types of fish on sushi rice.
6. I remember how my exec chef told me to make 3 to 4 ingredients on making a great sandwich, or salad, or whatever you are making great dishes. I think if you would combine your know-how on The Flavor bible and you knew which method on cooking it, then you taste as you go - if it is what you expected to be - then serve the dish. He also said,"If something is not right like appearance, taste and smell - don't serve it."
7. If you were into baking - The Art of French Pastry by Jacquy Pfeiffer - the only French baking book you will ever need. I have used this for so many years and gave it to friends and family. They thought I went to pastry school to learn this...No!, this cookbook increased my baking confidence and gain the next level of baking.
8. Another great one is Clever Cook's Kitchen Handbook by Joachim - great book about ingredients and smart techniques.
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