Madhur Jaffrey is an award-winning actress and bestselling cookery author. Her first book, An Invitation to Indian Cookery, was published in 1973, and her series for BBC Television, Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cookery, made her a household name. She has appeared in more than 20 films, including Merchant Ivory's Heat and Dust, and written more than 15 cookery books, including Madhur Jaffrey's Ultimate Curry Bible (2003) and Curry Easy (2010). She talks us through her favourite cookbooks
Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child
This was really my introduction to French food. I grew up with some French food in the house and knew a little bit about it and had eaten a certain number of dishes, but I had never made good French food on my own. This was in the early Sixties and I just thought the book explained to me in such detail about how to cook the food, what the food was. It later became a kind of model for me about how to write a cookbook. It tells you how not to make mistakes. For example, it tells you what to do if your hollandaise sauce curdles. It just takes you by the hand. By the way, if your hollandaise sauce curdles take it off the hob and mix in more milk or something cold like cubes of ice. You have to cool it quickly and then put it back. You might need to put another egg in and start again.
Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan
Marcella has a sense of what a cookbook should be, and I've really learnt from her. Again, she takes you by the hand. If you are going to make a risotto she tells you what rice to buy. Not just one, but two or three. She'll tell you what kind of temperature you should cook at, how much liquid you need, all the possibilities.
The Key to Chinese Cooking by Irene Kuo
This is sadly out of print now, but you can get it from specialists. Judith Jones [the editor] demands that cooks explain what they're doing. In some cases she'll pair them with somebody who can write and who watches and describes what is going on. For example, swirling something in hot oil. If you describe it properly then someone else can copy it, but not everyone is a writer. This book also tells you how to velvet: if you're making stir-fried chicken or stir-fried fish, you don't just slap the fish into oil. It will break and it won't be as good. So what the Chinese do is they take the fish and put a little egg white, put a little cornflour, a little seasoning on it, rub it in and put it aside for a while. Then you blanch it in water or oil, and that readies it for stir-frying. So that's why if you do a stir-fry at home without doing this it doesn't taste very good. It doesn't taste like it would in a Chinese restaurant.
A Platter of Figs by David Tanis
David Tanis spends half the time in France so it's a book that's American but has French and Italian, generally European, influences. It's a book that I can cook from all day. There is a recipe for rabbit: Rabbit in the Oven with Mustard. I love to make that, I also love the Roasted Quail with Creamy Polenta. He goes by the seasons, recipes for chicken, often with French techniques, so many wonderful dishes. I've cooked dozens of dishes from this.
The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum
Levy Beranbaum has written Rose's Heavenly Cakes and The Cake Bible (also sadly out of print), and everything you need to know about baking, she knows. Every little trick of the trade to get it perfect, she can show you. I was doing a banquet for 50 to raise funds for my husband's chamber music group in New England and it was mango season and I wanted a mango cheesecake. She has cheesecake in her book but I wanted something with swirls of mango inside and mango on top. I called her up and she said: "I'd love to work that out with you." We chatted back and forth for three weeks and kept trying and she has somehow worked out the creamiest interior with swirls of mango in it and mango purée on top and it is heavenly. Sadly that recipe will be in a future book! All the cheesecakes in her books are marvellous though. She does one with pumpkin for autumn. You could make it especially for Thanksgiving.
This interview by Anna Blundy first appeared on www.fivebooks.com.