Imagine a cooking school with the most renowned faculty of all time — Julia Child, Alice Waters, James Beard — sharing the best tips and tricks of their combined eons of experience in the world’s greatest kitchens.
Kristen Miglore, editor of the blog Food52, has distilled that caliber of culinary wisdom down to 100 essential “Genius Recipes” in a new cookbook based on her site’s column of the same name.
The compilation is a road map to good cooking and a bible for those who worship great chefs. Kitchen techniques invented or streamlined by Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Marcella Hazan, Yotam Ottolenghi, the teams behind Rao’s, Le Bernardin and Momofuku, et al., are just begging to be tried at home.
Miglore’s recipe choices are as varied as their writers, but they are united in their simplicity. It would seem that the trick to being a genius in the kitchen is to limit the number of ingredients; many recipes top out at four or five, while some have just one, such as a caramel made from sweet potatoes and a buttery spread made out of fresh corn.
Clarified butter and salt turn a typical side of potatoes into Francis Mallman’s Potato Dominoes — thinly sliced stacks baked until crisp on the edges, their soft centers evoking a creamy mash. Canal House’s Chicken Thighs With Lemon cook skin side down and unmoved until the fat renders and the skin caramelizes to a deep gold with the crunch of fried chicken. Only salt, pepper and a little preserved lemon rind complete the dish.
Secret ingredients elevate common dishes to new heights. Just a couple of pads of butter transform mashed egg yolks into an insanely silky filling for Virginia Willis’ perfect deviled eggs. A rosemary-spiked brine turns fried chicken into a fragrant, otherworldly pleasure, courtesy of Michael Ruhlman.
Italian cookbook author Marcella Hazan’s famed Tomato Sauce With Butter and Onion — I really don’t need to list the ingredients — is a bright, concentrated and deeply rich sauce that doesn’t require hours on the stove, or even fresh tomatoes. Of course, there are some “genius” ways to prep a batch of the fresh stuff, and Miglore offers three methods with the recipe for those who want to make things a little harder for themselves or, at the very least, walk away with new skills.
These “Genius Tips” tacked onto some of the recipes sometimes hold the key to their success. Barbara Kafka’s Simplest Roast Chicken, in which the bird, barely tampered with, gets blasted at 500 degrees for an hour, came out brilliantly the first time around — skin unbelievably crisp, insides juicy and tender. But the smoke alarm was not happy whenever some of that juice dripped down into the pan and made a steamy sizzle. On another go-round, I heeded Miglore’s suggestion to chop up some root vegetables and load them into the pan — they absorbed the juices, making an incredibly easy and meaty side that managed to keep the alarm silent.
Many of the recipes in “Genius” are available elsewhere, from their source cookbooks or in the Food52 column. But the blog contains only about half of those found in the book. And Miglore’s tips, introductions and quotes from the authors, plus sumptuous photography, add a deserved heft to the experience of cooking with the masters.