This cookbook hardly needs an introduction. A 1998 copy of Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything can be found in most of our kitchens and taught many of us how to cook. We were curious to see how this new (to us) revision stacked up against the original: How much had changed? Is it really worth buying a new copy?
Title & Publisher: How to Cook Everything: Completely Revised Tenth Anniversary Edition by Mark Bittman. Published by John wily & Sons, Inc. 2008.
First Impressions: This is the kind of book that makes us want to get in the kitchen and cook. Just flipping through the pages, recipes and techniques jump out at us: Thai-Style Corn Pancakes, Soft-Shell Crabs Four Ways, an illustration of separating a chicken into parts. This could feel overwhelming, but instead it just feels exciting. The claim that this book can teach you how to cook everything doesn't feel too hard to believe.
Like the original book, this anniversary edition is a hefty tome! It will lay open on your counter to whichever page you need (and work as a bookend when back on the shelf!). The layout is similar to the previous edition, with two-columns per page, numbered steps for each recipe, simple line-drawings of techniques, and shaded boxes with additional information.
The Angle: So what's new? Well...a lot! Marketing materials claim that almost half the book is new, and we believe it. Bittman explains that home cooking has changed a lot in the past ten years, both in terms of ingredients available at your local grocery store and in terms of the type of food people are wanting to cook. He's revised this edition to reflect all those changes.
This revision includes many more recipes and techniques from world cuisines - Thai, Middle Eastern, African, and Indian to name a few. He has also expanded the range of ingredients covered in the book to reflect new tastes and changing grocery store shelves. The chapters have been condensed and reorganized to make it easier to find what you're looking for.
The Recipes: Each chapter begins with several "Essential Recipes." These are building block recipes that you'll want to learn by heart and that will help you take on more complex recipes elsewhere in the chapter. As in the 1998 edition, Bittman usually gives one master recipe and then several variations, so that one recipe effectively becomes three or four or a dozen recipes.
The chapters themselves reflect the range of everything you might want to cook, from appetizers to poultry recipes to whole grains. He also includes menu ideas and lists of favorite recipes (100 Top Fast Recipes, 100 Top Vegetarian Recipes, etc.) in the back of the book.
Other Stuff: This book isn't only about feeding you recipes, it's about teaching you techniques as well. You'll find illustrations for how to prep an shallot and boxes providing lengthly descriptions of basic herbs to have in the kitchen. These extra features are well-integrated into the book, positioned right next to the recipe or series of recipes that uses them.
Overall Impressions: In the month that we've had this cookbook, it has quickly assumed a place of prominence in the kitchen. The recipes and content feel fresh and relevant, and the overall tone is supportive and friendly. When we're lacking inspiration for dinner, we play Bittman Roulette and open the book at random - nine times out of ten, there's a recipe on the page that we can make with what we already have in the cupboard and in under thirty minutes. That alone makes us love this book!
Recipes for Right Now: Warm Chickpea Salad with Arugula, Curried Rice Noodles with Pork or Chicken and Shrimp, Baby Artichokes with Potatoes, Garlic, Olives, and Shrimp, Double Coconut Sautéed Chicken Breasts, Chapati Flatbread
Recommended? Yes - If you're just starting out cooking or want a good general cookbook for yourself, this is the one. If you already own the 1998 version, spend some time with this revision in the store to see how it feels to you. The core recipes and techniques are the same between the two books, but you'll find a lot of updated recipes and modern flavors in the new edition that could really inspire your cooking.
Also, check out the new How to Cook Everything iPhone app that was just released this week! The print book is pretty huge, so this app might be a good choice if you're limited on space or unsure about switching to the new edition.
Buy the Book: How to Cook Everything: Completely Revised Tenth Anniversary Edition by Mark Bittman, $22 on Amazon.com
Apartment Therapy Media makes every effort to test and review products fairly and transparently. The views expressed in this review are the personal views of the reviewer and this particular product review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by the manufacturer or an agent working on their behalf. However, the manufacturer did give us the product for testing and review purposes.