Give me credit. It’s been a while since I’ve declared something “the best ___ of your life.” There is, of course, the broccoli, which brought all of you to my blog in the first place. Then there’s the chili which, as far as I’m concerned, has never been topped. The brownies remain unrivaled and the curry is definitely the best I’ve ever made.
Now, into the pantheon, comes this fried chicken which–as you’ll soon discover–has nothing to do with a specific recipe and everything to do with a piece of equipment that costs a minimal amount of money ($33.31 on Amazon) but makes all the difference in the world.
Sometimes you make dinner, and everyone nods in approval, eating pleasantly and saying, “This is very good. Nice job.” That’s most of the time. Then, every so often, you make a dinner that has people piping up a bit more enthusiastically. “Ooooh this is delicious,” they say. “Where did you get the recipe?” But only once in a blue moon you make a dinner that has people eating in stunned silence, taking their time to process the glory that is happening in their mouths, only to mutter–after a several minutes have gone by–“This is incredible.”
Ladies and gentlemen, this is that dinner.
My mom loves Regis Philbin. Growing up, she’d watch Regis & Kathie Lee religiously; she even once went to a shopping mall, somewhere on Long Island, to get Kathie Lee Gifford to sign a copy of her book. These days, she and my dad Tivo Regis and Kelly in the morning and watch it at night. I’m a View man myself (though Whoopie is no Rosie; I miss the compulsively watchable hysteria of Rosie vs. Elizabeth) but once I went to a taping of Regis & Kathie Lee, almost ten years ago, because my friend Dana was Harrison Ford obsessed and he was the featured guest.
Why am I telling you all this? Because if you’d asked me last week, “Who are the last two people you’d expect to have the key to unlock the mysteries of one of New York’s greatest cookies” I would not have said “Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa.” And yet, thanks to this post on Eater New York, it became evident last week that if I wanted to make Momofuku Milk Bar’s compost cookies at home, the recipe was right there on Regis & Kelly’s webpage.
Remember that broccoli post I posted a few months ago? The Best Broccoli of Your Life? It kind of took the world–or, rather, the web–by storm. To prove it, do a Google search for “best broccoli recipe” and marvel at the #1 result. If Google says it’s the best broccoli recipe, then it has to be, doesn’t it? Just like if you Google “best food blogger,” my blog… what? WHAT? Get Google on the phone right now!
I think so many people liked that recipe because it resulted in broccoli with a texture and a flavor few of us were familiar with. Crispy, caramelized broccoli? Not that mushy, frozen stuff? Plus all that lemon juice, lemon zest, garlic, and Parmesan cheese; it was kind of hard not to love that broccoli. It’s the kind of recipe that’d be difficult to improve upon; that is, until you add shrimp.
Now that I’m a health guru you might suspect that I made granola last week because of my new fitness regimen. But you’d be wrong, very wrong indeed; I made granola last week because of the newest cookbook in my collection, a gorgeous cookbook that I bought for my friend Lisa’s 30th birthday and that I secretly wished I’d kept for myself. But then the publisher offered to send me a review copy and I was in heaven. The book in question is “Baked: New Frontiers in Baking” by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito of the Baked Bakery in Red Hook and next to Martha Stewart’s Baking Book this may quickly become my favorite baking book in my collection.
If you haven’t heard about the no-knead bread by now, you clearly don’t read many food blogs (or newspapers, for that matter.) Last year, in The New York Times–actually, TWO years ago in The New York Times (the article was published November 8, 2006! Boy, I’m way behind on making this)–Mark Bittman coaxed a recipe from master bread baker Jim Lahey for perfect bakery-quality bread at home. Shockingly, the recipe required no work, no kneading of any kind. The food world was astonished. Food bloggers went ga-ga. I watched them go ga-ga. And, finally, last week I decided to go ga-ga myself.
I frequently have to remind myself that there was a time when any exotic-sounding, technique-heavy recipe would fill me with terror. Cook the pasta until al dente? How will I know when it’s al dente? Toast the garlic until golden brown? What’s golden brown? How’s that different from brown brown?
And by facing my fears head on, tackling recipe after recipe, the fear is gone and now I love to cook. But I remind myself of my old fears because I imagine there are many among you who experience similar fears: “Me? Make spaghetti carbonara? Oh no, I couldn’t. Me? Little old me?”
But spaghetti carbonara is a good recipe for beginners because the payoff is huge and the techniques required are basic and quickly learnable. Here, let me prove it.
When Anthony Bourdain cooks with Michael Ruhlman on the Cleveland episode of “No Reservations,” he layers meat and beans together in a giant drum, tops the whole thing off with breadcrumbs and produces a dish most of us aren’t used to seeing on Food TV (and I say that as someone who now works for Food TV): a classic French cassoulet that’d put Julia Child to shame.
Cassoulet is a dish that just makes sense. Why does it make sense? You take fatty, flavorful meat, put it in a big pot with moisture-hungry beans and bake the whole thing until the beans are infused with all that fat and flavor and the meat is cooked. It’s not meant to be a fancy dish–this is the kind of food French people make at home–and it’s infinitely variable, as evidenced by the infinite cassoulet recipes you will find in my infinite cookbook collection, recipes that vary the type of meat, the type of bean, even the amount of time it takes to make the dish (Bourdain’s recipe, in his “Les Halles Cookbook,” calls for three days). I didn’t have three days to spare on Friday night when I set out to make my very first cassoulet. So I turned to an under-praised, underused book in my collection: Daniel Boulud’s “Daniel’s Dish: Entertaining at Home with a Four-Star Chef”.
It’s a great recipe for its simplicity (it’s called “Casual Cassoulet”) and yet the recipe has a serious flaw: it’s meant to be cooked in a 15-Qt Dutch Oven. I completely missed that part when I shopped for my ingredients, so I prepped enough food for a pot 3X bigger than the one I had. Therefore, the recipe that follows is my adaptation of Daniel’s recipe for Dutch Ovens of a more realistic size. Daniel’s recipe calls for lamb shoulder, but I left that out too: sausage + duck + bacon = plenty of meat for one dish, thank you very much.
Since winter’s almost over, this is the perfect dish to make on one of our last cold winter’s nights. I promise it’s easy and I promise the pay-off is big. And so, without further ado, Cassoulet in 10 Easy Steps.