A library of brilliant recipe books is an essential part of every foodie’s armoury. On the search for the ultimate foodie bible, Stylist quizzed our favourite chefs and tested hundreds of recipes to find the top ten cook books of all time.
Main picture credit: Rex Features
THE FRENCH LAUNDRY COOKBOOK BY THOMAS KELLER
A three-star Michelin restaurant nestled in the California Napa Valley, The French Laundry is America’s finest gastronomic destination and its cookbook is the chefs’ essential. For us it’s a coffee table collection of impossibly beautiful recipes (see the lobster consommé) and location shots that will have you flying to San Francisco. It’s the canapés section that really sets this book apart, introduced with an insightful essay by Keller on the science behind the smallest of restaurant courses.
FOOD FROM PLENTY BY DIANA HENRY
Acclaimed food writer Diana Henry is a modern day Elizabeth David, writing her own recipes based on her travels while staying committed to seasonal home cooking. Food From Plenty is a collection of her favourite recipes. Stylist loves the emphasis on thrifty cooking. Don’t know what to do with your leftover roastchicken? Henry shows you how to whip it into chicken and ham pie. It strikes a perfect balance between classic British dishes and imaginatively exotic recipes. Make sure you try the roast pork loin – it takes a while but it’s worth it. An essential recipe book.
REAL FOOD BY NIGEL SLATER
Nigel Slater’s sixth book, which accompanied his cult late Nineties TV show of the same name, is our favourite dinner party recipe book. His real style of cooking – using ingredients we’ve heard of, failsafe recipes and familiar techniques – makes Slater stand out from the rest. Plus, the way he writes about food can’t help but get you excited about cooking. Go straight to page 223 to make the leek and taleggio risotto, then tackle the more complex recipes like chicken with vermouth, tarragon and cream. The croissants with caramelised apples and ice cream is one of most satisfying desserts we’ve ever made.
THE NAKED CHEF BY JAMIE OLIVER
This was Jamie’s first book, the one he wrote before he became a social crusader. It was an instant bestseller and the recipes haven’t dated one bit. Every recipe is spot on, there’s an incredibly useful basics list for your larder, a chapter on how to grow fresh herbs plus each section starts with really useful tips. The best part though, is Jamie's philosophy – his laid-back approach encourages you to experiment rather than stick to recipes and he makes potentially boring food – like salads and veggies – totally exciting. Globe artichoke and celery heart salad with parmesan, lemon and olive oil, anyone?
THE RIVER COTTAGE MEAT BOOK BY HUGH FEARNLEYWHITTINGSTALL
When pondering how to braise the perfect chop, you need an expert. The River Cottage Meat Book has the chef’s stamp of approval. Mark Hix, owner and chef of the Hix Oyster & Chop House told Stylist that it was “the most comprehensive meat book around which tells you everything you need to know” such as how to work out the cooking time for any cut of meat. The book includes 150 home-tested recipes ranging from shepherd’s pie and the perfect crackling to delicious medium-rare steaks.
SUMMER COOKING BY ELIZABETH DAVID
One of the most prolific food writers of the Fifties, David wrote for Vogue and The Sunday Times, and penned eight cooking titles, which have sold more than 1.4 million copies worldwide. John Torode said he loves Summer Cooking because “she talked about food, not just as recipes, but as ideas”. There are no pictures, just tons of information on everything from herbs to summer soups. It’s the sections on ‘improvised cooking for holidays and weekends’ and ‘picnics’ though that show David understood cooking. Even 60 years after her books were written, it’s like she’s talking directly to you.
MORO EAST BY SAM & SAM CLARK
Skye Gyngell, head chef at the Michelin-starred Petersham Nurseries called this book an “inspiration”. It takes you through a year spent on the East End allotment of the husband-and-wife team behind cult London tapas restaurant Moro. Moro East focuses on Mediterranean-cum-Arabic small plates. In addition to the fantastic mix of recipes (the spring vegetable pilav as well as recipes for harissa and almond alioli) are amazing and really useful for last-minute dinners, this book also doubles up as a handy guide for how to grow your own and is a must for anyone wanting to eat seasonal produce.
WEEKEND BAKING BY SARAH RANDELL
Delia, Nigella, Martha Stewart… when it comes to books about baking there are dozens of big names all vying to teach you how to make the perfect Victoria sponge. But for us, there’s only one worth having. Sarah Randell’s small and unimposing recipe book contains the usual cakes, cookies and muffins but is also punctuated with more unusual alternatives. We adore the rosewater, pistachio and grapefruit cake and white chocolate and apricot roulade. Delia “warmly recommends”. And if it’s good enough for Ms Smith…
LAROUSSE GASTRO NOMIQUE
This weighty gastronomic anthology, compiled by 62 experts in French cuisine, details everything you’ll ever need to know about classic French cooking – the basis for all great food. Heston Blumenthal called it “the definitive culinary reference bible” and Sir Terence Conran believes it should be “on every kitchen shelf”. It was first published in 1938 and contains chefs’ biographies, glossaries of terms, step-by-step pictures for certain recipes and maps of wine regions. Ideal for accomplished chefs who want to perfect classic techniques or anyone with a thirst for foodie knowledge
DELIA’S COMPLETE HOW TO COOK BY DELIA SMITH
A comprehensive guide to basic techniques, recipes and kitchen etiquette, this book was billed as ‘every woman’s best friend’ when it first came out 14 years ago (presumably men didn’t cook in 1997). The recipes get progressively more challenging throughout; from boiling eggs to classics such as smoked haddock with crème fraîche and chive butter sauce and peppercrusted beef fillet. Over a decade after its first publication, Delia’s tone is also genuinely good fun. It’s the next best thing to having your mum on standby during a dinner party SOS.