The Austin Chronicle

Food, Foodies, Foodways

Cookbooks and cultural conversation starters top our summer reading list

Reviewed by Mick Vann, May 23, 2014, Food

Yucatán: Recipes From a Culinary Expedition

by David Sterling
University of Texas Press, 576 pp., $60

David Sterling is the owner/chef-instructor of the renowned Los Dos cooking school in Mérida, Mexico, run from within his restored colonial home. It's a total immersion experience, with tours of markets, street vendors, restaurants, food producers, etc. He has taught for years, and knows the foods and culture of the Yucatán as only a native can. Sterling has managed to transfer that vast culinary knowledge into the seminal work on Yucatecan cuisine in the English language. At over 500 pages, and loaded with more than 275 easily accessible, authentic, and delicious recipes, the book would be a masterpiece even without the sumptuous photographs that grace almost every page. Sterling's Yucatán may be food porn at the highest level, but at its heart, it's a definitively delicious cookbook.

Sterling explains every aspect of a dish in detail – its history and regional variations, the way the ingredients are produced, the difference between restaurant and home cook production, and each step of its preparation and cooking process; by the time you sample the fantastic flavors, you'll be convinced you're there in Valladolid, Campeche, Celestún, or Oxcutzcab. The entire peninsula is covered in depth, from the seafood obtained from a thousand miles of coastline, to the agricultural treasures of the milpa, scrubland, and forest.

Whether you're cooking toasted pumpkin-seed dip, pork belly confit, venison salad, chicken livers in smoky tomato sauce, duck with honey-anise sauce, roasted chiles stuffed with seafood, egg enchiladas in squash seed-tomato sauce, or Mayan chocolate frozen custard, the dishes are easy to cook in any American kitchen (this is, after all, a primitive cuisine that started well over 2,000 years ago). Some of the ingredients can be esoteric, but sources and substitutes are provided. When you're through reading this cookbook, you'll know the Yucatecan pantry inside-out and feel qualified as an expert on the cuisine.

Rarely has the food and culture of an area and its people been so exhaustively chronicled and revealed in such a satisfying fashion. I am seldom as impressed with a cookbook as I have been with Sterling's Yucatán. There may be a bit of sticker shock, but trust me, it would be a steal at twice the price.

Copyright © 2022 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.