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4.8 out of 5 stars72
4.8 out of 5 stars
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on 31 December 2004
I was eagerly anticipating this book ever since reading the reviews of the first edition. Since its arrival, I've not been disappointed. The first thing you notice about the book is its sheer size - it's enormous. It quickly became apparent that this was not a book to be read from start to finish - it was going to be a reference book.
And so it is turning out. It's great fun to dive in at random, and just read all about the topic at that point. I guarantee there will be numerous things you never knew, and some things that you did know, explained in more detail than you would have thought possible. Initially, some of this level of detail might seem unnecessary, but when taken in the context of the whole section it all makes perfect sense, and enhances the overall understanding of the subject.
The art of beating eggwhites, for example, is described in minute detail, covering the various stages that the beaten whites pass through, together with a scientific explanation of why this happens (and why the same process does not work for egg yolks). Having the scientific background knowledge helps you understand just why things can go wrong, and hopefully avoid those problems in the future.
Incidentally, for anyone who may have purchased Heston Blumenthal's book "Family Food", it is clear that Mr Blumenthal has been strongly influenced by McGee's book. The section on the effects of temperature on meat proteins is fascinating, and is very closely paralleled in Blumenthal's devotion to low-temperature meat cooking. The two books certainly complement each other very well indeed, and would make an ideal joint-purchase.
Something else that I particularly like in McGee's book is the numerous references to professional shortcuts or tricks - not necessarily because I need to know (although some are helpful), but often because they've simply bugged me for ages! How, for example, do you cook risotto in bulk in a restaurant when it's the sort of dish that doesn't appreciate sitting around? The answer's in there, along with many others.
All in all, this book is astonishing, fascinating and nothing less than brilliant. The sheer volume and diversity of factual information packed into it is a joy. Buy it!
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on 24 February 2006
Without doubt this is the book for all those who enjoy the scientific aspect of cooking. If you have ever thought why did that happen, or why do we do that? McGee on Food and Cooking has probably got the answer. But this is not just a story of what we eat and the whys and wherefores, but full of practical advice as to the nature of food, what slows spoilage and how different processing methods can either kill or enhance flavour. This is a serious book for the applied scientist in the Kitchen and should be a text which is compulsory reading in catering schools as it adds a unique dimension to culinary knowledge which can only add to gastronomic success. For the serious amateur cook they will find a host of facts competently marshalled and lucidly explained. A unique publication
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on 27 August 2006
An unrivalled guide to the science of cooking.

Every concievable topic is covered in detail; from the manufacture of soy sauce, to descriptions of the aromatic compounds in different herbs and spices. Why does fish smell fishy, and exactly what happens to meat when it's browned?

This is an almost overwhelming resource, and a must for anyone eager to develop their culinary understanding beyond the basic information found in most recipe books. I have been better able to control the food that I cook with a fraction of the information found within this amazing read.

An absolute must.
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on 20 January 2010
I haven't actually finished reading yet, I'm only about 3/4 of the way through. Many of the reviews I have read about this book suggest that it should be used more as a reference, rather than a reading book. While that would certainly work to improve your technique when looking up a specific ingredient, you'd miss out on a lot. If you DO work your way through from beginning to end, and are serious about cooking, this will improve every aspect of your cooking. The book is laid out in sections of basic ingredients and explains in layman's terms (mostly) how they're constructed, why they do what they do when treated in a certain way and gives tips that will apply to literally every single meal you cook. There are handy little science class diagrams which help clarify and text boxes containing recipes, lore and writing hundreds of years old.

In a nutshell:
If you read this book, you will be able to get the most out of every ingredient and piece of equipment in your kitchen. There will be a hundred "AH! THAT'S where I've been going wrong!" moments and countless times when answers you have searched for all your culinary life (Like "How can I get my cheesecakes not to crack??") will suddenly shine from the pages.

Also a brilliant gift for any foodie!
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on 29 June 2009
I had been looking forward to reading this book for some time and I'm happy to say that it is excellent! I'll admit that it is not an easy read because the level of detail is impressive to say the least. Why not 5 stars? Honestly? The constant references to U.S food production etc bored me. The book was obviously intended for the American market and whilst I can't blame McGee for doing so (he is American afterall!), he's written the book without considering the fact that not all readers will be interested in knowing about the USDA et al.
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on 7 February 2009
I bought this book thinking that it would be full of recipes as it was mentioned by Heston Blumenthal as his favourite, on one of his TV programmes. It turned out not to be full of recipes at all, but my wife, who is an advanced and brilliant cook, found the book fascinating as it explains all the things that are never mentioned in the usual recipe books. It is an informative encyclopedia on the whys and whats in food and my wife can't stop reading it, although she does find some parts of it a bit too technical.
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on 28 December 2008
I buy this book having read some of the reviews from other reader. I am a keen cook and keen reader and I am not let down by the book. I would like to recommend it to every keen cook or food lovers.

True to its subtitle of encyclopaedia, this book contains an extensive summary of modern research and science on food and cooking. It is hard not to praise Mcgee's effort to compose such voluminous volume to the general readers and professionals alike. In about 800 pages the book encompass a huge range of subject useful for anyone to get an overview of the subject. It also contain a long reference page useful to those who like to research further. The book is hugely informative without being excessively long. Content organized into section with bold heading for easy reference. Language simple and thoroughly enjoyable to read.
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on 26 October 2010
I like to ask questions about everyday things and this book gives me all the answers I need about food and cooking. I hate it when a recipe dictates that you must do this or that to get the right result, without telling you why. McGee tells in details about the science and chemistry of food and cooking, and it is great for reference and gives you a possibility to be critical when reading ordinary recipe books. For example I made a perfect sabayonne after reading this book, because I understood the principles behind cooking with eggs. If you want to entertain with nerdy facts about food at dinnerparties, this book gives you enough knowledge for years to come.
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on 25 April 2008
A row is brewing. Your daft *****/******* of a wife/husband and you are trying to come to terms with the fact that only one of you will get to decide what to do with the Jerusalem Artichokes/ Lamb chops...

McGee settles it. Ask McGee. He WILL have the answer, and then a whole lot more. I mean it people, this book could save your marriage. In point of fact, if your going to get stranded on a desert island, take this along, IT COULD SAVE YOUR LIFE!

Everything you or anyone else will ever ask yourself about food. And then enough to keep you entertained (never mind well fed) for 10 years on a desert island.

Mr. McGEE I hope you read this one day, you are a great man, I salute you.

I'm also slightly toasted on Mulberry Gin, so forgive my grammar!
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on 8 March 2012
This book is amazing, not only does it give you scientific details of why certain reactions happen it explains them in such an easy to understand way that it's hard to believe you didn't know it before. The book is split into easily readable sections and is peppered with interesting facts. This is without doubt one of the best cookery books I've ever bought.
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