If you're the type of cook who needs to know why onions make us cry and gets curious about the molecular structure of melting sugar, then this is definitely the book for you. It has become our #1 reference book for all questions relating to food science, and not a day goes by when we don't end up consulting its pages for one reason or another.
Title & Publisher: On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee. Published by Scribner, 2004.
First Impressions: Thick spine, double-columned pages, tiny print - yup, this is definitely a reference book! The headings and sub-headings are clearly indicated so it's easy to find what you're looking for on the page. The line-drawings and tables sprinkled throughout the book are helpful extensions of the text and useful for quick reference.
The Angle: This book is intended for anyone who's curious about the science behind (or rather, within!) our food and what happens when food cooks. It won't make you a better cook, per se, but we have found that understanding what's happening on a molecular level with our food has translated into more confidence and creativity in the kitchen. Besides the straight-up science information, McGee also covers some of the history of ingredients and the origins of particular foods.
Strengths: On Food and Cooking is simply one of the best and most comprehensive books on food science for the lay person that we've ever come across. McGee doesn't dumb anything down or gloss over details, but you also don't need to worry about having a degree in organic chemistry in order to understand what he's saying. It's not the type of book that you generally read cover to cover (though we know a few people who have!), but instead, we put the index to good use to help us find answers to specific questions.
Recommended? Yes, definitely!
Why? This book answers questions that regular cookbooks tend to gloss over, making it an excellent resource to have in the kitchen. We've also found it quite handy for clearing up food-related debates at dinner parties!
Buy the Book: On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen from Amazon.com or Powells.com
What do you think of this book? Do you use it for reference when you cook?
Related: Bakewise by Shirley O. Corriher