How to Cook Everything: Mark Bittman

by The Charlie Photography FriedChillies on Tue, June 29, 2010

This book teaches you how to cook almost everything. The recipes are simple enough to follow and you're given variations to work with making it the ultimate cookbook to have in the kitchen.

My favourite part of this book is the almost OCD-ness of it

Ever since I was a child, I would read cookbooks to sleep. I still do. Imagining proportions and flavours while looking at the pretty pictures in my mother's Betty Crocker cookbooks, and hoping that someday I would get a big shiny kitchen with an island counter to crank out one elegant meal after another for my gourmet husband. I never did cook any of the recipes. I simply hoarded the books so I could always lovingly caress and gaze at the wonderful photos. In other words, I was living “cookbook porn” before it became trendy.

This is the kind of book you would want in your kitchen

But with all of our fascinations and hobbies, they evolve and eventually we grow up. I started turning more and more to cookbooks that described techniques, listed down must-have herbs and spices. And amazingly, they didn't have colour pictures! There was always a copy of Joy of Cooking in the house (which is very informative), but I needed something... younger. More accessible. And along came Mark Bittman.

Bittman, a food writer for the New York Times is now an ubiquitous name in the foodie world, with his straightforward approach and immediate likeability. His now-signature book, How to Cook Everything released in 1998, has been completely revised for its tenth anniversary edition. This new edition is truly massive, boasting 2,000 recipes (so said the cover, I didn't count), and dozens of diagrams, lists, and charts.

My favourite part of this book is the almost OCD-ness of it. It's never a list of additions to sautéed mushrooms, it's “7 Additions to Sautéed Mushrooms”. The charts are detailed, like “18 Variations on Vinaigrette”, with sections on oils, acids and flavourings. But it surprisingly comes across as incomplex and a joy to peruse. At the end of it, you really feel like you do know how to cook (almost) everything. It also makes a great go-to cookbook for those just starting out in the kitchen or as a housewarming gift.

The recipes are simple to follow

Although I've made lasagna and chicken pot pie from this book (both of them winners), I decided to make something that I could store in the office fridge. Sort of a little hello-I'm-new gift to my colleagues so they could stuff it into sandwiches and the like for snacks. Caramelized onions are a magic thing, transforming from tear-inducing acid in your eyes to tear-inducing heaven in your mouth. The recipe was easy to understand and completely foolproof... followed by 3 variation suggestions, a time chart on cooking onions and a list of “10 Uses for Caramelized Onions”. Gotta love Bittman. As these onions are so versatile, I recommend as he does to make as much as your pan will hold.

Caramelized Onions
Makes about 1 cup, keeps in the fridge for about 2 weeks in a tightly sealed jar.

4 large yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons butter, plus more as needed


Put the onions in a large non-stick pan over medium heat. Cover and cook for about 20 minutes until the onions start to stick to the pan, stirring once in a while. Stir in the butter and a good pinch of salt and turn the heat down to medium-low. Keep cooking and stirring occasionally until the onions are to your preferred doneness. Remember to keep adding just enough butter to keep them from sticking without getting them too greasy. The onions will be done after about 40 minutes or longer. I prefer them almost jammy and falling apart, perfect for a grilled cheese sandwich or on top of a burger. Try taking them off the heat earlier if you want to retain a bit of texture and bite. You can also season them as you like, though I like them just as they are.