You Complete Me

Maybe because my life so often seems like a messy accumulation of loose ends, I’m a sucker for completion in cookbooks.  When a cookbook claims to be “complete,” I sigh with satisfaction and think “Ahhh…I will never need another cookbook on this subject again.” 

Of course, that has not even once proven to be true.  For example, there was the time when I turned to a “complete” guide to seafood to try and answer the following question: “what do you do when you let go of some of the monkfish membrane while you’re trying to trim it off and it does that weird self-healing thing where it re-wraps itself around the fillet again, only now it’s clingier and thinner and harder to get off?”  Of course, despite the very nice pictures of an immaculate monkfish-trimming operation, there was no answer to my question.

You could argue it was an unreasonable question.

Anyway, “Complete” continues to be a popular claim among new cookbooks, even when you’d think just about every subject had been covered.  The Complete Indian Regional Cookbook tackles a topic so underserved I would have been happy to see it even if it had been called, more modestly, “The Partially Authoritative Indian Regional Cookbook” or “A First Stab at An Indian Regional Cookbook”.

On the other end of the spectrum, The Complete Leafy Greens Cookbook is just asking for a game of gotcha.  Complete, eh?  Do you have…purslane? (yes!)  Do you have…callaloo? (yes!) Do you have…water spinach? Lambs-quarters? (yes! yes!) Do you have a recipe for the iconic greens dish of Persia, gormeh sabzi?  (ummmm….)

And then you have Fergus’ Henderson’s The Complete Nose to Tail. . You may not have realized you’ve been waiting all your life for “Crispy pigs’ spleen” or “stuffed lambs’ hearts’ or “jellied tripe,”  but that’s the thing about Complete books. They have a way of rousing the least aware parts of you from a peaceful state of oblivion.

Maybe that’s what’s so appealing about them.  I mean, when the bulk of human knowledge is at your fingertips for the asking – as long as you have a decent Internet connection – isn’t there something irresistible about stumbling upon a well-explained but under-explored corner of knowledge that you can hold in your physical hands?

As long as I continue to believe that, I guess we’ll have to keep building bookshelves.

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  • Christine  on  September 24, 2013

    I hadn't really thought much about the lure of this type of book, but considering that I just ordered a used copy of the Cooking Light Complete Cookbook this morning, maybe I'm a sucker after all! While a magazine tie-in book is a bit different from a "complete" cookbook that covers a more specific culinary area, there is a definite appeal. On the one hand, I feel like I am just asking for duplicate recipes given the nature of a magazine tie-in cookbook, but on the other hand, as an on-again-off-again subscriber who'd like some more of their recipes in her collection, the price was right…

  •  on  September 25, 2013

    I can highly recommend Fergus Henderson's books – he has a love for the art that truly shows through and if you ever wanted to explore cooking and lost arts, then you just have to get a copy and go for a deep dive.

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