Mark Bittman's new "How to Cook Everything" (Macmillan, $25) sets itself a pretty tall order. The surprising thing is not that he manages to fill it but how stylishly he does so.
Although last year's mammoth "Joy of Cooking" revision took a cast of hundreds to put together, Bittman by himself has managed to write a book that is at least as useful. And though the new "Joy" could be faulted for sometimes reading like a book cobbled together by committee, "How to Cook Everything" has the coherent feel of fitting one man's palate.
In just under 1,000 pages, Bittman covers everything from sanitation and basic cooking techniques to in-depth discussions of meat and vegetables, including the too-often-overlooked topic of how to buy and store them. Accompanying the information are recipes that reach, but never quite too far. They sound delicious without piling on oddball combinations of fancy ingredients.
Roast Chicken With Roasted New Potatoes, Crispy Skin Salmon With Gingery Greens, Garlicky Beef Daube, Grilled Octopus and Aunt Big's Gingersnaps. . . . The book's subtitle, "Simple Recipes for Great Food," is certainly appropriate. The most basic recipes come with lists of suggested variations, fresh twists that can be done without elaborate instructions.
Combine that with instructions on everything from how to bone a leg of lamb to how to soft-boil an egg and you've got pretty close to an ideal kitchen manual for the beginning or intermediate cook.