The massive new reference work from the managing culinary directors of Serious Eats is an essential in any kitchen.

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Books for Cooks

We recommend: “The Food Lab” by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt (W.W. Norton, $49.95.)

What’s special: An authoritative, instant-classic reference book that’s also an engaging read. Lopez-Alt, managing culinary director of Serious Eats, is the Science Guy of the kitchen, offering thorough investigations of the best recipes and cooking methods for everything from crispy French fries to a mind-blowing Bolognese sauce.

The 958-page tome is an entertaining education for readers at every level, from beginning cooks to superstar chefs, explaining the “why” as well as the “how” of recipes. The only thing missing is desserts — “rather than fake a few of ’em, I figured I’d just own up to the fact that they just don’t interest me in the way savory food does.”

Upcoming appearances: A happy hour at Chefsteps and a cooking class at The Hot Stove Society are already sold out, but tickets are still available for Lopez-Alt’s appearance at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 24, at Town Hall. He’ll talk about “The Science Behind Better Cooking” with Sansaire founder Scott Heimendinger. Cost: $5 (


Roasted Potatoes

Serves 4 to 6

3 pounds russet (baking) potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1- to 2-inch cubes

Kosher salt

¼ cup duck fat, bacon fat, or olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper

Chopped fresh herbs, such as thyme, rosemary, parsley, and/or chives

1. Adjust the oven racks to the upper- and lower-middle positions and preheat the oven to 450°F. Place the potatoes in a large saucepan and cover with cold water by 1 inch. Season generously with salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are just barely cooked through, about 10 minutes (a knife or cake tester inserted into a potato should meet little resistance). Drain and transfer to a large bowl.

2. Add the fat and a few generous grinds of pepper to the hot potatoes and toss well; the potatoes should end up with a thin coating of potato-fat paste. Spray two rimmed baking sheets with nonstick cooking spray (or coat with a thin layer of oil). Transfer the potatoes to the baking sheets and roast until the bottoms are crisp, rotating the pans halfway through cooking, about 25 minutes. Test the potatoes by trying to pry one or two pieces off the baking sheet with a stiff metal spatula. If they don’t come off easily, roast for additional 3-minute increments until they do.

3. Flip the potatoes with the spatula, making sure to get all the crisped bits off the bottom, then continue to roast until golden brown and crisp all over, about 25 more minutes. Transfer to a serving bowl, season to taste and toss with chopped herbs.