For seven years now, I have shared my picks for the year’s best cookbooks. 2018’s crop contains a number of books that expertly explore single subjects. The following standout cookbooks, in alphabetical order, deserve the highest praise for their quality.
The Noma Guide to Fermentation by René Redzepi & David Zilber. Phaidon Press.
The Nordic Baking Book by Magnus Nilsson. Phaidon Press.
Rich Table by Sarah & Evan Rich with Carolyn Alburger. Chronicle Books.
So why did I pick these books as the best cookbooks of 2018?
Redzepi and Zilber carefully guide the reader on a fascinating fermentation journey. By the time you arrive at the book’s chapter on Garum, you have the confidence to take a kilogram of raw beef, mix it with homemade koji, water and salt, and let the concoction ferment at 140F° for 10 weeks. No sweat! How about swapping out that raw beef with grasshoppers? Redzepi and Zilber share a recipe to do just that. The authors make what seems plain crazy appear supremely doable and, more importantly, worth doing. Anyone with an interest in making fermented foods such as koji, miso and fish sauce needs to check out this new, outstanding cookbook.
The Nordic Baking Book is Magnus Nilsson’s food ark for Nordic baking recipes. The book contains hundreds (and hundreds) of recipes that tempt one to find some fresh yeast and bake up a storm. The recipes range from breads to rusks, from flat breads to pancakes, from porridge to sweet soup, and from sweet pastries to cakes (both soft and layered). What an amazing effort! I found the section on Shrove Tuesday buns particularly informative. The Nordic Baking Book gets my vote for the best cookbook of the year.
Rich Table makes my Best of List based solely on its chapter on pasta. The married Richs run a restaurant in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley neighborhood. Before opening Rich Table, Evan Rich worked as Chef de Cuisine at Quince under Michael Tusk, perhaps The Pasta Guru here on the West Coast. Evan writes that the pasta in Rich Table “basically evolved from what I learned [at Quince].” The sauces in Rich Table are crazy creative! I bought this book just for Rich’s recipe for Bucatini with Aged Beef, Rémoulade, Lettuce, and Burrata. Think pasta dressed with the guts of an In-N-Out Burger.
Not to anyway detract from the merit of the above books, but normally I struggle to whittle down my annual cookbook purchases to a Best of Five list. This year I failed—and believe me: I tried—to find five outstanding cookbooks that I can enthusiastically recommend to friends and family. So I decided to go with a Three Best List.
But Good News! 2019 looks promising! Katie Parla has a Southern Italian cookbook coming out next year. Evan Funke (with Parla’s help) has penned a pasta book that arrives next fall. And I understand a new Armenian cookbook entitled Lavash should hit your local bookstore’s shelf.