For her 11th cookbook, Ina Garten — the Emmy-winning force behind the Food Network’s “The Barefoot Contessa” — turns her attention to passing along easy-to-apply tips that she’s gleaned from professionals, her own career and her busy test kitchen.
“My goal with this book is that everyone will have the tools and information to cook totally delicious and professional-looking dishes every time,” she writes in “Cook Like a Pro” (Clarkson Potter, $35). “And even better — your family and friends will love you for it! How great is that?”
In advance of her visit to the State Theatre on Nov. 28, Garten chatted via phone about Instagram, her favorite kosher salt and her easy-to-make remake of a famous 1980s chicken dish.
Q: What comes first, the book or the television show?
A: Usually I write the book, and then once the book is published I do the recipes on TV. This is the first book that I’ve done where I did them together. I’ve always been so rigid about it, because I had the idea that, once you’ve seen the recipe on TV, why would you need the book? But sometimes, when I’m working on the TV show, I’ll think, “I wish I could have put this recipe into the book.” So, for this book, I decided to see what happens, and let it happen organically. Sometimes we have to let the universe react.
Q: You include lots of famous people in the book, including New York restaurateur — and Shake Shack founder — Danny Meyer. How did you connect him with hummus?
A: Can I tell you how much I admire Danny Meyer? He does what he does with the fullest heart, and with a graciousness and generosity that is so embracing. He only wants people to be happy. I just adore him, both professionally and personally. He was traveling in Israel, and he posted a video of someone making an enormous batch of hummus. They were using it as a sauce; it wasn’t a thing on its own that you’d serve with pita chips. And I immediately thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to put together a big platter of hummus with a big vegetable salad on top?” I went into the kitchen the next morning and played with it, and I nailed it on the first shot. It’s really good, and it’s different from the way you normally use hummus.
Q: Wait, Ina Garten eats at Shake Shack? That probably explains the book’s Shake Shack-inspired fried chicken sandwich recipe.
A: It was a treat; it wasn’t an ordinary Shake Shack date [laughs]. They had just come out with their chicken sandwich. It’s so good, it’s crazy. The secret to making it is that before you fry it, you double dip it in the buttermilk and the flour. That gives it a nice, crisp crust.
Q: I loved encountering Chicken Marbella à la Ina. How did that remake of a famous recipe from “The Silver Palate Cookbook” come about?
A: I wrote in the book that Nora Ephron used to say that if you went to a dinner party in New York in the ’80s, you’d have Chicken Marbella. But the reason why is that it’s so good, and it’s so simple. I thought, “Let’s go back and try the original recipe.” And it was very good, but it needed more flavor. I wondered: Does our garlic have less flavor than the garlic of the ’80s? I doubt it. But really, the recipe demanded more flavor. (See the recipe here.)
Q: What is it about you and chicken?
A: Someone once said that the most-googled word at 4 in the afternoon is “chicken,” because everyone is trying to figure out what to make for dinner. I like chicken because it’s so satisfying. It’s more satisfying than seafood in a lot of ways, and it’s not red meat.
Q: Why are you so drawn to Diamond Crystal kosher salt? You specify it in your recipes.
A: So many companies have tried to get me to endorse their products, but I never do. That way I can tell you that I love a product because I love it, not because I was paid to tell you that I love it. I’m very scientific about products. I’ll buy six brands of olive oil and try them all at once to figure out which one I like best. I did the same with salt. I think that Diamond Crystal has the right amount of saltiness. Some kosher salts are saltier. And salt is tricky, but salt is so important for making the intrinsic flavor of something taste right. Even saying “salt to taste” is tricky. With Diamond Crystal, you can follow the amounts that I recommend with that salt.
Q: About 1.6 million people follow you on Instagram [@inagarten]. Who do you follow?
A: When I first hired Lidey [Heuck, follow her @lideylikes], who does my recipe testing and social media, she told me, “You should be on Instagram.” That was five years ago. And I told her, “I don’t have time; I have too much to do.” So she just loaded it on my phone and put it on my desk, and within minutes it became my favorite thing to do. It’s the first thing I look at in the morning, and the last thing I look at before I go to sleep. I think it’s such an interesting platform for visual people, and it keeps me up on what my friends are doing, and what serious food and design people are doing. I follow Debby Tenquist [@debbytenquist], she’s a garden designer in South Africa; Patti Paige [@bakedideas], she makes hand-painted cookies and I’ve known her forever; Miguel Flores-Vianna [@miguelfloresvianna], a dear friend and an incredible photographer; Missy Robbins [@missyarobbins], the chef at Lilia in New York; and Taylor Swift [@taylorswift], of course, because I’m a serious fan. Oh, and Faith Hill [@faithhill]. I adore Faith Hill.
Q: I picture your cabinets filled with lots of dishes. Do some get used more than others?
A: I like white serving dishes. I just find that the simpler they are, the more the food pops. What’s also important is the size of the dish. You want to fill the dish, but you also want a border, which acts like a frame. A lot of people use bowls, but I don’t like bowls. You couldn’t make that Israeli Vegetable Salad in a bowl, for example, because then you couldn’t see what it was. If you’re going to use a bowl, a low, shallow bowl is better. And sometimes I find a pale gray serving dish that I like, because the color makes a green vegetable — like broccoli — really pop. But if you want to collect six to eight serving platters that work with everything, it’s best to stick with white.
Q: With Thanksgiving on the way, do you have any recommendations from the book?
A: Anything with butternut squash. I had so many butternut squash recipes that I had to take some out and save them for the next book. I think the Haricots Verts With Dill and Hazelnuts is good because it’s always nice to have a green vegetable at Thanksgiving, and you can make it in advance and reheat it, which is so easy.
Q: This is your 11th book. Looking back, do you have a favorite?
A: Usually, people say to me, “I make your so-and-so all the time,” or “I make your so-and-so every year at Thanksgiving.” For me, my favorite book is always the last one. It’s always the recipes that I’m working on.
Q: I’m sorry to ask this while you’re promoting a brand-new book, but is there another one in the works?
A: I’m halfway through the next one. This is what I love to do. I get up in the morning and think, “What do I feel like cooking today?” I’m thrilled that people are interested in what I’m doing, and I’ll keep doing it because it’s what I love.