Justin Iso is the head pastry chef behind chefiso.com. He is the winner of the Christmas Cookie Challenge on Food Network and was named Best Baking and Sweets Blogger by Saveur Magazine. With a background in Japanese confections and French pastry, he brings the best of both worlds into his recipes.
As a chef, I cannot over-emphasize the importance of cookbooks. And as a Japanese chef, I have read my fair share of Japanese cookbooks, building my collection since I first started cooking as a young boy. These collections are so important for preserving Japanese traditions, food, and recipes. Great cookbooks are a prized commodity in the food community world, but it can be tricky (and expensive) to vet the good from the bad. Japanese cuisine is still a bit on the niche side unfortunately, so finding good recipes and information can feel daunting. If you're a beginner in Japanese cooking or an expert looking to deepen your knowledge, I got you covered!
Here are 12 Japanese cookbooks I highly recommend you add to your collection!
Washoku is an excellent all-around general-purpose Japanese cookbook. Whether you’re cooking for everyday family meals or entertaining to impress, you can find stellar recipes in this cookbook. Most cookbooks have a few recipe winners, but I am consistently impressed with the quality of all recipes in this book and I often find myself referring back to it.
Goma Miso (Creamy Sesame Miso Sauce)
Gomoku Chirashi-Zushi (Five-Colored Foods with Sushi Rice)
I do feel that the breadth of this book's recipes means it doesn't go deep into any one category. You'll get better information on noodles and ramen from Ivan Ramen, and sushi from Edomae Sushi. So you will definitely want to complement this book with the area you want to specialize in. But if you're looking for a great cookbook to get started with Japanese cooking Japan: The Cookbook is it!
Many of these recipes cannot be sped up, but the rewards are well worth it. There is a reason almost every top restaurant in the world uses some sort of fermentation or aging in their food. I recommend this book for any hobbyist chef or home cook willing to put in the time and effort of learning aging and preserving techniques.
All of the beginner-oriented cookbooks for sushi focus on maki (rolls) with bad recipes for sumeshi (sushi rice) and no valuable information you can't easily find online. But there are very few sushi cookbooks that target an intermediate or advanced audience. Edomae Sushi is the best sushi book in my opinion because it feels more like a master sushi chef handing down his decades-old knowledge.
The great thing about izakaya food is that you don’t have to love Japanese food to love izakaya. Asian, western, and all palates find this kind of fried, rich, and satisfying soul food delicious. Japanese Soul Food has over 100 recipes that also cover the history and origins of recognizable Japanese food like tempura. You don’t have to like everything in this cookbook, but you’ll surely find numerous recipes you love!
It covers foundational recipes like ramen broth and tare (Japanese barbecue sauce), at a quality suitable for David Chang’s award-winning restaurants. But the real value in the Momofuku cookbook is the imaginative recipes like lychee with shaved foie gras. I love this book. It was an inspiring series of recipes that helped me to discover my style as a young chef. One downside is the small number of recipes.