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Ruhlman and Polcyn do a great job of demystifying one of the more abstruse cooking arts, showing that, while charcuterie may seem daunting, it can be gratifyingly easy. Start simple, with the pancetta, confit, rillettes, and duck prosciutto, and you'll find yourself with a mold-inoculated curing chamber in no time.
A staple of American kitchens for close to a century, Joy of Cooking continues to be a valued resource for all the basics, from pancakes and waffles to casseroles, stews, and roasts.
Jacques Pépin has more than 20 cookbooks to his name, but this one might be the most universally useful to home cooks. Clear photos and descriptions walk newbies through holding a knife properly, then using it to slice and dice an onion and debone a chicken. But there's also an endless number of little tricks and tips, like why your salad greens should be bone-dry before you dress them, that will raise your kitchen IQ.
Shizuo Tsuji's masterwork on Japanese cooking is as useful today as it was when it was first published, more than two decades ago. He takes you through essential equipment, cooking techniques, ingredients, recipes, and the philosophy that underlies it all. Reading this book doesn't just help you learn to cook Japanese food; it helps you to understand and appreciate it far more, too.