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The Four Cookbooks That Got Me Out of My Pandemic Cooking Rut

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Sometime last year, I riffed on the Korean soft tofu and kimchi stew called kimchi soondubu, and found a dish that I loved. It was quick and comforting, and we ate it a lot, probably once a week, and then we snapped. We didn’t need any more of that dish. It’s over.

Coming into the end of an extended year of what was, for most of us, relentless cooking, even the most enthusiastic cooks have worn down some grooves. Like lots of folks, I didn’t go anywhere—no palate cleansing week at the beach, no campfire grits with cane syrup, no flat of Mount Hood cherries eaten in the rental car.

A good cookbook can step into this breach, because a good cookbook feels like someone else is taking over for a while. It’s a pleasant feeling—I like listening to what someone else has to say about food. I want to have the way I think about flavor and technique nudged around a little.

Here are four recently published books that did the job:

Mister Jiu’s in Chinatown is a formal and beautiful book from Brendan Jew, who is the chef and owner of the Michelin starred Mr. Jiu’s in San Francisco. It includes Pete Lee’s gorgeous and inspiring photographs that evoke an entire world—street scenes and stacked crab traps, glimpses through Chinatown windows, and what I like most: lots and lots of hands, lots of process, tons of knife work. Much of the food in these pages is being eaten, being offered or being made, and that reins in the exuberance of Jew’s cuisine and brings it to the table.

That is not at all to say that some of the food in Mister Jiu’s isn’t aspirational—there are monster dishes in here. They sound and look fantastic, but one had better set aside some time before embarking on the Pig Trotter Ham Sui Got or the White-Cut Chicken Galantine. On the........

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