2021 was an amazing year for cookbooks. And there were so many that were so good, we simply don't have the capacity to list all of them. Consider the following list—The Best Cookbooks of 2021, according to the editors of Serious Eats—to be a small slice of the incredible bounty offered up this year, representing a range of countries, cultures, and destinations. These aren't passing infatuations—these are Permanent Collection books.
If you'd like to shop from a local or small retailer, Bookshop and IndieBound both let you conveniently buy from independent bookstores online. No matter where you shop, though, one's thing's for sure: You're going to have to clear some space on your bookshelf.
Take One Fish
Josh Niland's newest book, Take One Fish: The New School of Scale-to-Tail Cooking and Eating, is essential reading for anyone who prepares fish of any kind at home. It's a follow up to Niland's previous book, The Whole Fish Cookbook, which won two James Beard Awards in 2020, but instead of focusing on, frankly, daunting recipes and techniques that are better suited for study by professional cooks, this book has the home cook in mind. There's a lot of valuable information about how to buy, care for, and cook fish, much of it premised on the principles Niland outlined in his first book, such as the benefits of keeping your fish as dry as possible. Since Niland's approach is relatively rare, it is the only resource that outlines these methods in comprehensive detail. And while Niland acknowledges that his way isn't necessarily the only right way to prepare fish, his insistence on seeing the fish and all its parts as almost entirely usable and delicious when prepared correctly is both inspiring and necessary. – Sho Spaeth, Editor
The Arabesque Table
I'm so, so lucky to work with Reem Kassis on a regular basis here at Serious Eats, where she has contributed delicious recipes and insightful articles and (spoiler alert!) we have so much more planned with her in the coming months. Reem's work is caring and thoughful, deeply researched and personal, weaving together culinary excellence with the understanding that so much of what gives the food we eat importance is rooted in its history and culture. Her latest book, The Arabesque Table, comes on the heels of her first, The Palestinian Table, and draws on the larger landscape of Arabic cooking of which the Palestinian food she grew up with is a part. It's a beautiful book in all senses of the word, rich with delicious recipes and the stories that root them, with Reem's prose effortlessly navigating a complex culinary and cultural crossroads for all our benefit. – Daniel Gritzer, Culinary Director
The Food of Oaxaca
I've long dreamed of visiting Oaxaca. It's a trip I have yet to make, and one the pandemic has made no easier. For now, this cookbook from Chef Alejandro Ruiz has held me over. It's an ode to the region he calls home and its foods, and acts as a wonderful introduction to the cuisine. The recipes span ancient traditions like nixtamilzing corn for the very best tortillas to more modern and cheffy inspirations like a shrimp, nopal, fava bean, and pea soup, presenting a living cuisine that is both deeply connected to its roots and constantly evolving. He also incorporates tributes the the regions many cooks and restaurants that he feels best represent Oaxacan food today—a list that will be very helpful when I do finally get on a plane to visit. — Daniel
Ottolenghi Test Kitchen: Shelf Love
I own every Yotam Ottolenghi book and somehow slept on the release date of this guy. In fact, I didn’t know about it until I encountered it at my local bookstore! But, you can bet I bought it as fast as I could whip out my credit card.
Now, I wouldn’t say Ottolenghi’s known for simple recipes (even his cookbook Simple often requires one to mail-order ingredients and break out several appliances for just one recipe), but Shelf Love’s different. Co-authored by Noor Murad—who leads the Ottolenghi Test Kitchen along with Ottolenghi himself—it has a more pared down mindset, focusing on ingredients you (truly!) may already to have in your fridge, freezer, or pantry. This results in dried chickpeas being turned into “Chickpeas Cacio e Pepe” or russet potatoes evolving into “Gnocchi with Sumac Onions and Brown Butter Pine Nuts.” Will you still not have—and therefore will have to buy—some of the ingredients Shelf Love calls for? Of course, but that’s true with any cookbook. But, as a longtime Ottolenghi fan, I more than appreciate the simplified approach Shelf Love takes. – Riddley Gemperlein-Schirm, Commerce EditorContinue to 5 of 9 below.
Cook Real Hawai'i
Cook Real Hawai'i is gorgeously shot, the recipes are compelling, and in general it's the sort of cookbook you'll find yourself enthusiastically turning to. But, in my eyes, what makes it one of the best books of the year is how Sheldon Simeon and Garrett Snyder's descriptions and headnotes inform not just the technique behind the recipes, but also the various cultural influences. They deliberately highlight how people from Japan, China, the Philippines, Portugal, and from other countries as well, have changed the food culture, and how those influences have intermingled with the indigenous traditions. Those descriptions helped me better understand how Hawai'i and its food culture have been affected by colonialism, and being able to not just cook from this book, but also to learn from it, makes this one of my essential acquisitions of 2021. – Jacob Dean, Updates Editor
Le goût de Cotonou
It may look like a flex to recommend a Beninese cookbook written in French and only available (at a steep price) from international sellers. But I promise you that my French, to the very limited degree it even exists, sucks. I'm recommending this book because it just blew me away. I first learned about it when a Beninese friend posted an Instagram story about it, raving about how well Chef Georgiana Viou had represented their country's cooking. I ordered it, despite the price tag and my linguistic limitations, because my considerable personal cookbook collection is woefully short on African tomes. It more than fulfilled my hopes as it contains one heart-stopping recipe after another and, as I slowly did my best to read it, it has offered me an education about a cuisine I sadly know so little about. It's a striking reminder of the near-criminal neglect we in American food media have inflicted on the cooking of the entire African continent. But don't just buy this cookbook because of that: Buy it because it's glorious. – Daniel
As someone with dietary restrictions, it can be hard to find a cookbook that not only excites me, but where I can cook every single recipe in said book. But, one does exist. It’s called Everyone’s Table and it’s by Gregory Gourdet, of Top Chef fame. Featuring recipes that are free of gluten, dairy, soy, legumes, and grains, the recipes in Gourdet’s book are inspired by his global experience, including his Haitian upbringing and French culinary background. But, free of a whole lot doesn’t mean void of flavor. It’s the opposite. Within the book you’ll find recipes like Whole Roasted Jerk Cauliflower, Pwason Boukannen (Haitian grilled fish), and My Favorite Grilled Chicken (marinated with lemongrass, cilantro, and fish sauce). After making the latter a few times this past summer, it's my new favorite, too. – Riddley
The entire book is gorgeous; wistful, even. I loved slowly pouring through the season-specific recipes (and their moody, moody poem pairings) when I had nowhere to go and nothing to do and find myself flipping through it even now, when I do have places to go and things to do. I guess that makes it a weirdly timeless cookbook—a rarity now, yeah? Anyway, I'll never make a lemon curd dessert without a streusel topping again, no matter the state of the world. – Tess Koman, Senior Editorial DirectorContinue to 9 of 9 below.
The Oxford Companion to Spirits and Cocktails
Ok, so I realize that this isn't actually a cookbook, but The Oxford Companion to Spirits and Cocktails is such a monumental achievement that it's worth highlighting regardless. Editors David Wondrich and Noah Rothbaum have assembled not just a gargantuan tome of boozy knowledge (864 pages worth!), they've tapped a diverse, respected cohort of authors and experts to source, fact check, and present that information. The end result is a compendium of information on drinks, ingredients, and traditions from around the world that will leave even the most curious, thirsty reader fully sated. – Jacob