In honor of our spring books issue, here's a roundup of interesting titles that have crossed my desk lately.
Forgotten Skills of Cooking: The Time Honored Ways are Best—Over 700 Recipes Show You How | Darina Allen | Kyle Books, $40
Allen, who runs a cooking school in County Cork, has been dubbed the Julia Child of Ireland, but she's more like a matronly version of British "real food" advocate Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall with a touch of the survivalist about her. Based on her series of "Forgotten Skills" courses, this doorstop teaches readers how to fillet fish, gut game birds, strain colostrum into curds, and forage seaweed to make cough syrup. And did you know you can judge the age of that hare you just bagged by how easily a child can tear off its ear?
The Modern Mixologist | Tony Abou-Ganim with Mary Elizabeth Faulkner | Surrey Books, $35
Las Vegas barkeep Abou-Ganim, a 30-year-veteran who began working near the dawn of the classic cocktail resurgence, has written a useful manual for anyone considering a home mixology self-improvement course. Or at least the first half—concerned with history, fundamentals, equipment, and technique—works that way. What follows are 40 cocktail recipes of the author's own creation. Those most likely to tackle these appealing but nontraditional formulas, lavishly photographed and presented with deep backstory, aren't likely to have much use for the introductory info. Novices ought to at least have been offered instructions for the manhattan, the margarita, and other classics before being unleashed on Abou-Ganim's Blond Mary, Vanilla Gorilla, or Bluegrass Cobbler.
Japanese Cocktails | Yuri Kato | Chronicle Books, $24.95
This novelty by New York- and Denver-based beverage consultant Yuri Kato provides the slimmest glimpse into Japanese cocktail culture, focusing mostly on low-alcohol potions made with sake (rare in Japan), shochu, and whiskey. Its credibility is suspect: the book was subsidized by the Suntory conglomerate, which is represented by the marketing firm Kato leads, and draws heavily on spirits in the company's portfolio. Though not played for shock value, there are a number of dubious combinations—avocado, sake, and soy milk? bourbon and grape juice? Still others are simple variants on American classics. But a few sound pretty darn inviting, including hot buttered scallop sake shooters and shochu Bloody Marys with tonkatsu sauce and togarishi.
Chasing the White Dog: An Amateur Outlaw's Adventures in Moonshine | Max Watman | Simon & Schuster, $25
Combining paranoia and serious inquiry much as Michael Pollan did in his Harper's piece about poppy growing and tangled drug laws, "Opium Made Easy," Watman alternates accounts of his comical attempts to distill his own hooch with discussions of its history and contemporary social issues. His most interesting revelation: to this day underground liquor remains big business, and its biggest consumers are not straw-munching white yokels or affluent white hobbyists but poor inner-city African-Americans. His chapters on the subject could have informed a season of The Wire.
Pig: King of the Southern Table | James Villas | Wiley, $34.95
Ham: An Obsession With the Hindquarter Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough | Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $29.95
The pork boom continues, and these two fat books on pig eating still manage to offer original insight. Villas's follow-up to The Bacon Cookbook (unfortunately with far fewer photos) is a snout-to-tail encyclopedia of 300 southern pork recipes, quite a few of them of them wonderfully arcane (Alabama Hog Pot, Outer Banks Muddle, Frogmore Stew).
New Englanders Weinstein and Scarbrough, veteran cookbook authors, set out on a broader quest to cook haunch in a global variety of styles. And while Pig is a straight-up cookbook, Ham incorporates a funny narrative of the couple's exploits in procurement into a wealth of piggy research, all in Scarbrough's wry tone. (Weinstein does the cooking.)