More a compendium of books I love about cooking and food than strictly cookbooks:
Ad Hoc at Home: Thomas Keller’s book of recipes from his more casual restaurant Ad Hoc is pretty enough to put on the coffee table, but it belongs in the kitchen. It’s chock-a-block with doable recipes, pantry items, technique tips and how to do stuff better at home that you would normally buy at take-out for some outrageous price, like preserved lemon or duck confit.
How to Eat a Wolf – MFK Fisher: collections of essays from the master on how to eat with frugality.
The Raw and the Cooked – Jim Harrison: He doesn’t write about food so much these days, what being occupied with novels and poetry. My hero, he hunts, fishes, cooks and writes with energy and durability. These essays were mostly from his Esquire days. “What Have They Done With the Thighs” is a classic.
Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home – Julia Child and Jacques Pepin: Their genuine affection for each other leaps off the page.
Kitchen Confidential – Anthony Bourdain: the book that took him out from behind the hot grill. Another hero, except for the heroin addiction thing.
Professional Chef – Culinary Institute of America: A tome of a book, if you can’t find a recipe here it here, it either doesn’t exist or it isn’t worth it. Written for the pro, but invaluable for the avid home cook.
Mexico, One Plate at a Time – Rick Bayless: Oh boy, this is a cookbook. Rick Bayless has an impeccable palate. His flavors explode. Try the peerless Duck Adobo, the guacamole, the pork braised in tomatillo sauce…
Larousse Gastronomique – The Encyclopaedia Britannica of cookbooks.
Fish and Shellfish – James Peterson: This book is one part at-home cookbook, one part culinary textbook. In addition to recipes, Peterson imparts a lot of information about techniques – not just what to do but why. As one who loves stuff that comes out of the water, this text has been indispensible to me.
That got me started, I will add more as time goes by.