A Nerd In The Kitchen: I am a nerd, and I’m proud of it.
This sentence on the first page of the book’s introduction describes me perfectly. I’m a nerd; I always have been and always will be. I’m passionate about a lot of things, and cooking is one of them. Kenji López-Alt is a nerd like me, and he has produced a cookbook that, 5 years in the making, is more than a cookbook. The Food Lab is an exhaustive reference that breaks down the science of cooking and makes it easy to understand, combined with his best recipes and helpful kitchen hacks.
A Demanding Behemoth
At first glance, this book is just plain huge. Weighing in at 960 pages and nearly 6 pounds, it is a behemoth that demands the attention that it deserves. It’s definitely a book that feels equally at home on a coffee table or in a kitchen. With an introduction chapter at nearly 100 pages, I have had to read this book in small doses, as it is packed with so much information that I want to digest and retain.
A very helpful touch is that both the inside front and back covers are filled with conversion tables for weight, temperature, and common ingredients by volume & mass.
An Amazon review describes it perfectly:
A real coffee table book. It will take all of the holidays to get through it. But the things I will learn will be well worth the time. It gives you all the how’s why’s and the I didn’t realize that! This could very well become a cooks go to book.
At nearly 100 pages, the introduction chapter starts with Kenji’s story: An MIT-educated, restaurant-trained chef who cut his teeth at Cook’s Illustrated before landing at Serious Eats (my most-read cooking website). Moving on, he talks of the keys to good kitchen science, while painting a vivid picture of an exhaustive New York pizza experiment with Mathieu Palombino of Motorino. Kenji continues on to explain the science behind cooking, different cooking methods, essential kitchen gear, and must-have items to have in your kitchen pantry.
9 Lives, I Mean Chapters
The Food Lab is broken down into 9 chapters separated by types of food and/or cooking technique:
- EGGS, DAIRY and the Science of Breakfast
- SOUPS, STEWS and the Science of Stock
- STEAKS, CHOPS, CHICKEN, FISH, and the Science of Fast-Cooking Foods
- BLANCHING, SEARING, BRAISING, GLAZING, ROASTING, and the Science of Vegetables
- BALLS, LOAVES, LINKS, BURGERS, and the Science of Ground Meat
- CHICKENS, TURKEYS, PRIME RIB, and the Science of Roasts
- TOMATO SAUCE, MACARONI, and the Science of Pasta
- GREENS, EMULSIONS, and the Science of Salads
- BATTER, BREADINGS, and the Science of Frying
Each chapter is loaded with recipes that are easy to follow and make, with Kenji explaining the science behind the cooking techniques involved. Combined with gorgeous photography (over 1,000 photos!), this is quickly becoming my most often-referenced cookbook, next to Ruhlman’s Twenty.
TL;DR: Buy It. You Won’t Regret It.
Don’t believe me? Make this recipe for Creamy Enchilada Soup, then decide if you think Kenji is the real deal. I made it last night using the Red Enchilada Sauce hack and leftover turkey from Thanksgiving. It was a huge hit.