The most exciting cookbook of the season, to me, is without question, Momofuku, by David Chang and Peter Meehan. Momofuku combines great cooking and restaurant kitchen photography in the journalistic style I love, recipes and techniques I was eager to learn about (steamed buns, spicy fried chicken), and an intense, passionate narrative by Meehan that captures the distinctive nature of this unusual chef. My partner in Charcuterie, Brian Polcyn and I were lucky enough to find a seat at Chang’s noodle bar this fall and had a fantastic meal. As soon as I read Momofuku, I bought a copy to send to Brian.
I think it’s a sad state of affairs that Chang has been getting so much media attention that people have begun to grouse about it. What I don’t like about it is this. Chang has been getting attention for his outspoken, take-no-prisoners approach both to cooking and to talking about cooking. There’s no bullshit, there’s no compromise, no “here’s how to make this dish with boneless chicken breast instead of pork belly.” I wish that was the norm rather than an anomaly deserving of fame and notoriety.
I get sent tons of cookbooks, but another book I shelled out personal cash for is Judith Jones’s The Pleasures of Cooking For One. I plan to give it as a gift and buy it sight unseen for the intelligence and thoughtfulness of the author, who introduced us to both Anne Frank and Julia Child.
Maybe the most over-the-top amazing cookbook ever is Heston Blumenthal’s Big Fat Duck Cookbook. I wrote about this massive multi-pound, $250 book last year here; this year it’s out in a scaled-down version that costs just $31.50. I doubt I’ll be cooking from it, but as a work of art, story, passion, this book blew me away, absolutely and completely blew me away.
A few other books I’d like to mention. As cooking and cookbooks become more popular, increasingly specialized books are being published. One of these is David Leite’s The New Portugese Table. I really admire David‘s thoughtful writing on food and cooking. Another thoughtful smart writer and cook is Andrea Nguyen, whose Asian Dumplings is a book that inspired not only me but also my 10-year-old son, who filled it with Post-Its marking recipes he was eager to try. If you’re on a budget, Zora O’Neill’s and Tamara Reynolds’s Forking Fantastic is delightful paperback volume filled with lots of homey meals for entertaining, an exuberant description of how professional restaurant people eat and entertain at home.
I hope it’s obvious that the above are not chosen from an exhaustive scrutiny of the new books out this season, and intentionally exclude books I had a hand in (Ad Hoc at Home, Michael Symon’s Live To Cook, and Ratio). They’re simply a few that caught my eye that I wanted to mention and to recommend, especially Momofuku. The recipe below is from this book and exemplifies Chang’s sensible but delicious approach to cooking. Use this sauce on ramen, fresh lo mein, or even rice noodles. I haven’t made it, but it’s on the menu for an easy midweek meal this week, along with some of Andrea’s dumplings.
David Chang’s Ginger-Scallion Sauce
21⁄2 cups thinly sliced scallions (greens and whites; from 1 to 2 large bunches)
1⁄2 cup finely minced peeled fresh ginger
1⁄4 cup grapeseed or other neutral oil
11⁄2 teaspoons usukuchi (light soy sauce)
3⁄4 teaspoon sherry vinegar
3⁄4 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste
Mix together the scallions, ginger, oil, soy, vinegar, and salt in a bowl. Taste and check for salt, adding more if needed. Though it’s best after 15 or 20 minutes of sitting, ginger scallion sauce is good from the minute it’s stirred together up to a day or two in the fridge. Use as directed, or apply as needed.
Makes about 3 cups