For far too long, British cuisine has had a dismal reputation. To put it succinctly, it's been seen as drab as Britian's cold weather. Culinary historians say this is largely due to the fact that its cuisine has been scarred by postwar frugality and rationing. There’s also the fact that its climate is not really conducive for abundant growing.
These days though, that’s no longer the case. As diverse as the population of modern Britain is today, so too is its food culture. British cuisine has embraced the flavors and influences from all over the world, without abandoning its traditional classics. This has resulted to a thriving culinary scene with a wide range and depth of flavors and textures.
The best way to get to know their cuisine is through a British cookbook. But even their cookbooks might surprise the veteran cookbook collector. That’s because they write them differently over there.
Our American cookbooks are usually written for practical use in the kitchen. This means that the recipes are given prominence in the pages, with additional facts and tips relegated to straightforward side notes.
The British, however, tend to revel in the process of cooking. There’s ample sensual description, lush prose, and yards of culinary and personal history present on each page of a British cookbook. This makes them a joy to read, not only in your kitchen but also during your free time. Similar experiences may be found in other cookbooks too, including some French cookbooks.
The best ones are those that have a balanced mix of delicious recipes and beautiful ruminations that combine philosophy and history. Not only do the cookbooks make the recipes easy for anyone to follow but they also vividly convey the sensual experience of cooking and the pleasure of eating the finished dish.
Here are my top 10 best British Cookbooks that everyone should read.
Best British Cookbooks
- The James Martin's Great British Adventure: A celebration of Great British food, with 80 fabulous recipes
- Mary Berry Cooks to Perfection Hardcover
- Nose to Tail Eating : A Kind of British Cooking Hardcover
- Nadiya's British Food Adventure: Over 120 Fresh, Easy and Enticing New Recipes Hardcover
- Tender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch [A Cookbook] Hardcover – Illustrated
- How to Cook: The Victorian Way with Mrs Crocombe Hardcover
- Great British Cooking: A Well-kept Secret Paperback
- New British Classics Illustrated edition
- The London Cookbook: Recipes from the Restaurants, Cafes, and Hole-in-the-Wall Gems of a Modern City Hardcover – Illustrated
- Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London's Ottolenghi Hardcover
1. The James Martin's Great British Adventure: A celebration of Great British food, with 80 fabulous recipes
This cookbook is a compilation of classic British recipes featured on the James Martin’s Great British Adventure cooking show. It also features entries on the country’s top restaurants, local producers, and top chefs.
Recipes are mostly accessible from an ingredient and technique perspective. A sampling of the ingredients used for the recipe selection includes Orkney scallops, Lancashire lamb, Northern Ireland stout, and guinea fowl from Devon. Because this is a regional cuisine book, some recipes will have the odd ingredient (like Scottish black pudding) that might be difficult to obtain in America.
Readers liked that there are a lot of delicious fish and seafood recipes in the book. Another liked that there are good clear photographs of the featured dishes.
Recommended for experienced home cooks, chefs and fans of his cooking show.
2. Mary Berry Cooks to Perfection Hardcover
This cookbook collects over 100 of May Berry’s foolproof recipes for everyday meals and for special occasions. It includes crucial techniques for making perfect dishes, like making ham from scratch or baking tasty and light muffins.
Recipes have detailed step-by-step directions and include color photos to further clarify the instructions. The selection has a mix of easy and multi-step recipes that range from familiar British classics to modern cuisine. Most of the ingredients are easy to obtain in local stores; for the few that aren’t, Berry offers substitutions.
Readers found her tips and tricks very useful for cooking the recipes. Another liked that some recipes feature interesting ingredient combinations like cod and salmon.
Recommended for the newbie or casual home cook and fans of May Berry’s cooking shows.
3. Nose to Tail Eating : A Kind of British Cooking Hardcover
This is a new edition of a cookbook that features recipes from the St. John restaurant in London which is known for embracing the British tradition of using every part of the animal. Samples of the recipe selection include Roast Bone Marrow and Parsley Salad, Grilled Marinated Calf's Heart, Duck Hearts on Toast, Hairy Tatties, Chicken and Ox Tongue Pie, and Eel Pie Johnnie Shand Kydd.
This is not a casual cookbook so knowledge of techniques and how to approach ingredients is required. There are also no photos. The recipes are uncomplicated but are elevated and complex. They will impress anyone if one is successful in recreating them. Some meat cuts might be unfamiliar and other ingredients might be hard to come by in American stores.
Recommended for expert home cooks and professional chefs.
4. Nadiya's British Food Adventure: Over 120 Fresh, Easy and Enticing New Recipes Hardcover
Popular Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain presents her collection of familiar British favorites reinvented for the new generation. Her selection includes Masala Eggy Bread, Spiced Bean and Banger Stew, Ploughman's Cheese & Pickle Tart, Fish Pie with Cinnamon Sweet Potato, Rosemary Banoffee Pie, and Eton Mess Cheesecake.
Recipes are delicious and easy to follow but the measurements and ingredients are British. Most of them have color photos of the featured dish. They are also easily adaptable for those looking for veggie variations.
Readers loved the accessibility of the recipes. Those who’ve tried them said that the dishes were flavorful and doable.
Best for fans of Nadiya Hussain and home cooks looking for family-friendly modern British fusion cuisine.
5. Tender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch [A Cookbook] Hardcover – Illustrated
A homage to British farm-to-table produce, this cookbook showcases 29 vegetables and more than 400 recipes that highlight a diversity of flavors. Samples of the recipe selection include Potato Cakes with Chard and Taleggio, a Tart of Asparagus and Tarragon, and Grilled Lamb with Eggplant and Za’atar.
Recipes are accessible and not complicated but they are not technically vegetarian recipes since most call for the addition of cream, cheese, or bacon. Those who’ve tried the recipes said that they are delicious. There is lots of lush food photography in between the recipes.
Readers also liked the book’s ruminations on vegetables and gardening. One found the book useful for inspiration on how to cook vegetables. Another liked the book’s lavish design.
Recommended for casual to experienced home cooks and anyone looking for a comprehensive guide to cooking British fresh produce.
6. How to Cook: The Victorian Way with Mrs Crocombe Hardcover
This is a cookbook tie-in to one of YouTube’s popular series on historical cooking. It features heirloom recipes from Alvis Crocombe, the head cook at Audley End House in Essex from 1878 to 1884. They range from the familiar (Ginger Beer, Custard, and Christmas Cake) to the marvelous (Roast Swan, Preserved Lettuce, and Fried Tongue Sandwiches).
Recipes are typically upscale Manor House although there is also a chapter on recipes for the poor and the invalid. Their original ingredients have also been translated into their modern day equivalents so that anyone can follow the recipes easily. These were also kitchen-tested so that anyone can do it successfully from their home kitchens.
Readers loved how the book offers an informative view into the culinary life during the Victorian age. Foodies loved the authenticity of the recipes while history buffs found the social history interesting.
Recommended for anyone interested in recreating an authentic Victorian meal and fans of the English Heritage YouTube series.
7. Great British Cooking: A Wellkept Secret Paperback
This is a fun cookbook that’s full of recipes for dishes that are usually mentioned in English fiction. From Cornish Pasties or Pease Porridge and Scotch Woodcock to Brown Bread Ice Cream, these recipes have been adapted to American ingredients and measurements. It also includes historical tidbits and the culinary history of each dish.
There are over 200 recipes in this book which are organized by their key ingredient. There are, however, no food photos but the directions are generally easy to follow. The recipes are also easy to modify for those with dietary restrictions.
Readers liked the diversity of the recipes. One said that the selection is a celebration of the best of traditional British cooking.
Recommended for British foodies, cookbook collectors and experienced home cooks.
8. New British Classics Illustrated
This is a cookbook that collects traditional British recipes that have been updated by the author, who was a well-known British TV chef, for the new generation. It includes everything that is important in British cuisine, from soups and sauces, cheese and eggs, meat and vegetables to recipes for pastries, preserves, pickles and pudding. Chapters are divided into The Great British Breakfast, Savories and Snacks, Sunday Lunch Roasts, A Festive Christmas, and Afternoon and High Tea.
This is a landmark book because it gives British cuisine a high-end treatment that’s usually reserved for the French. The culinary history is comprehensively described and the British meal is broken down into courses and types of dish and recipes. When this book was published in 2001, it jumpstarted a new culinary era of British fusion cuisine.
Recipes work well and are easy to follow. Samples of the recipes include Bubble and Squeak, Soused Mackeral, Fig Rolls, Baked Egg Custard Tart, and more.
Recommended for foodies and anyone fond and curious enough of British cuisine to learn about its origins.
9. The London Cookbook: Recipes from the Restaurants, Cafes, and Hole-in-the-Wall Gems of a Modern City Hardcover – Illustrated
This cookbook explores London’s diverse and thriving culinary scene with 100 recipes from the city’s best restaurants, lounges and cafes. The selection includes the Cinnamon Club's Seared Aubergine Steaks with Sesame and Tamarind, River Cafe's Tagliatelle with Lemon, Tramshed's Indian Rock Chicken Curry, and Nopi's Sage and Cardamom Gin.
Recipes have been adapted for easy use in a home kitchen with straightforward directions that any cook can easily follow. The ingredient lists are accessible if you’re in the UK but some of them might be difficult to source in American markets. There are beautiful photos of almost every dish.
Come for the recipes, stay for the beautiful writing. Even if some may not find this a practical cookbook to use, it’s an excellent insider's guide to London’s delicious culinary scene.
Recommended for experienced home cooks and foodies looking for inspirational coffee table cookbooks.
10. Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London's Ottolenghi Hardcover – Illustrated
This is a collection of 120 vegetarian recipes from popular London chef Ottolenghi that features innovative uses of spices and fresh produce to create surprising flavors. Samples of the selection include Ragout of Mushrooms with a Poached Egg, Lentils with Celeriac and Hazelnuts, and Mint and Soba Noodles with Eggplant and Mango.
Most recipes involve a number of steps and use a large variety of ingredients which might intimidate newbie cooks. Those with adequate kitchen experience, however, will find that the recipes are not technically difficult but will require planning. All the recipes have gorgeous food photos.
Readers liked the diversity and creativity of the dishes. One liked that there are notes on each recipe which indicates what steps can be made ahead of time.
Recommended for experienced home cooks and foodies looking for gourmet vegetable-centric recipes.
MARY BERRY COOKS TO PERFECTION by Mary Berry
Nothing like having Britain’s most beloved food personality coach you through cooking British food. Even if you’re not a fan of the Great British Baking Show, you’ll appreciate how Mary Berry makes cooking accessible with her tips and suggestions drawn from her years of culinary experience.
The step-by-step recipes are very helpful for newbie home cooks and there are lots of color photos for easy reference. The recipes aren’t strictly traditional British but they’re reflective of the culinary melting pot that is modern Britain.
Great entry-level cookbook for anyone interested in the British way of cooking food.