Coast Cooking

Essential cookbooks to consider giving for Christmas

‘The Pleasure of the Vietnamese Table’ will teach you how to make pho.
‘The Pleasure of the Vietnamese Table’ will teach you how to make pho. Special to the Sun Herald

Is there a better holiday gift for the serious foodie than a great cookbook?

Hundreds of titles are published every year, some by super chefs and some by home cooks, but how do you decide which one to get?

Start by discerning which cuisines are of interest to your aspiring chef.

Most often it will be a blend of styles, such as French and Italian, but there may be subtle Asian, Caribbean or even Creole influences, so take your time and have a long, but coy conversation. You don’t want them to figure out where you are going with this line of questioning, do you?

‘Larousse Gastronomique’

Once you are sure what styles interest them, the answer is simple. There are plenty of classics that every serious cook should have, covering all the basic cuisines of the world.

These are a few of my favorites, but it certainly is not a complete list. So lets start with perhaps the most important, “Larousse Gastronomique,” which is an encyclopedia of all things French, from famous recipes, to renowned chefs, history and ingredients. It also covers cookery from around the world. Want to know what a gratin is? An infusion? Nuoc-mam? Diplomat sauce or who Fernand Point was? This is the book for you. “Gastronomique” is published yearly and is quite expensive, but you can find an older edition at a relatively affordable price. New this cookbook is $60, used it is half the price.

‘The Silver Spoon’

Next on the list is “The Silver Spoon,” the most popular Italian cook book in Italy for the past 50 years.

It is not as popular in the United States as it is in Italy, as so many people here confuse Italian-American cooking with Italian.

There is a significant difference. This cookbook covers everything from antipasti to frittatas and sauces. It has 1,500 pages and 2,000 recipes and can be had for about $30, and half that used.

‘Talk About Good’

If you are interested in Creole and Cajun cooking, nothing beats “Talk About Good,” published almost every year by the Junior League of Lafayette, Louisiana, and having sold tens of thousands of copies since 1967. Look for Mardi Gras recipes, seafood specialties such as Shrimp Arnaud, Crawfish Amandine and Oyster Bienville. This spiral bound cookbook sells for about $20, and can be found used for $5.

‘The Pleasure of the Vietnamese Table’

If your chef wants to figure out how to make the pho that can be found in all the Coast’s Vietnamese restaurants, “The Pleasure of the Vietnamese Table” is the book to get. It was recommended to me by a Vietnamese friend, Loan Ly, years ago, and I have kept it by my desk since.

Your chef will love caramelized garlic shrimp, lemongrass roasted chicken and pork in a clay pot. This cookbook costs just about $18, and used is only $5.

Other cookbooks

Almost any cookbook by Mario Batali, Anthony Bourdain, Julia Child and Marcella Hazan would be great additions. For the advanced cook look for Sauces by James Peterson or perhaps a book by the most famous French gourmand of all, Auguste Escoffier. If there is a Maitre Fromager (someone with a serious interest in cheese) in your life, check out Steven Jenkins “Cheese Primer,” in paperback it is just $12.

If you want something local, look for Sonya Fountain Miller’s cookbook, “Old Biloxi Recipes” ($20), or a cookbook I penned a few years ago for the Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum, “The Biloxi Seafood Cookbook” (available only at the museum gift shop for $21.95).

Whatever cookbook you choose, you will open new doors for the foodie in your life, and if you have played your cards right, you will have something special to enjoy on your dining-room table.