cover image The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science

The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt. Norton, $49.95 (938p) ISBN 978-0-393-08108-4

The managing culinary director of the Serious Eats website, editor, and author of the James Beard Award–nominated column that informs this massive investigation into the best methods for preparing a litany of foods, Lopez-Alt takes a deep dive into classic recipes and their best preparation methods. Lopez-Alt’s experience as test cook and editor at Cook’s Illustrated magazine clearly comes in handy, as he recounts the many steps he took in order to determine the best way to pan-sear a steak, whip up a quick tomato soup, scramble an egg or make the best French fries. Though he’s hardly the first to tackle the topic of a more scientific approach to cooking—the ghosts of Cook’s Illustrated, Harold McGee, and Alton Brown loom large— for the most part he deftly manages to hold the reader’s interest and educate without devolving into arcane ingredients or overly complicated instructions. Yes, there are sous-vide cheeseburgers, and his four-step process for cooking steak fries will test many a relationship, but helpful tips on pan-searing a steak (frequent flipping is fine, and might even be the best way), taking the armwork out of risotto, and whipping up a flavor-rich homemade chicken stock in under an hour are genuinely informative and sure to help home cooks of all skill levels. Lopez-Alt’s writing style is friendly and informative; he’s genuinely interested in his material, and that enthusiasm shines through. Given the book’s breadth and depth, this is a remarkable piece of work that stands up to its culinary comrades, and is a terrific starting point for home cooks interested in perfecting their techniques. (Sept.)