Kenji’s Favorite Recipes of 2016

By | December 12, 2016

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[Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, except where noted]

It’s been another great year of recipes at Serious Eats, both at my home kitchen here in San Mateo, and back at Serious Eats World Headquarters in New York, where Daniel and Stella have been cooking and baking up a storm. Can I just stop for a second and mention how awesome it is that we now have a full time pastry chef on the team? And get ready, because in the upcoming year, we’re going to have another big surprise or two coming your way. Don’t worry, though, you’ll find out soon enough—no peeking!

Never in my wildest dreams as a young, bushy-tailed, clean-clogged line cook did I think I’d ever find myself earning a living doing something I love so much. I’m truly grateful for all of the many folks at Serious Eats who make this all possible, especially its founder and overlord, my friend Ed Levine. And I’m equally grateful for all of the readers and home cooks out there who make this job worth doing. The very best compliments I ever receive are when people tell me that one of our recipes has become a new family favorite.

Here are a few of MY favorite recipes from this year. I hope you like them, too!

Crispy Braised Chicken Thighs With Cabbage and Bacon

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I’m not really sure what more to say about this one. It’s one pot, it has crispy chicken, and cabbage flavored with bacon and mustard, it’s simple, it’s quick, it’s inexpensive, and most importantly, it’s delicious. With their crispy golden skin on top and fork-tender meat underneath, these thighs make a perfect weeknight dinner.

Get the recipe for Crispy Braised Chicken Thighs With Cabbage and Bacon »

The Best Roast Potatoes Ever

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Bold statement, right? But I really mean it. These are the best roast potatoes I’ve ever had. And I can almost certainly guarantee that they’ll be the best roast potatoes you’ve ever had, as well. In fact, let’s make a deal: throw a dinner party and serve these potatoes to the guests. If at least half of them don’t tell you that they are the best roast potatoes ever—unprompted, even—then I will eat my words.

The secret is to par-boil them in alkaline water (i.e. water doctored with baking soda) in order to encourage the breakdown of pectin, the carbohydrate glue that holds potato cells together. This lends them a ton of extra surface are during roasting, and more surface area equals more crunch. Science: it works!

Get the recipe for The Best Roast Potatoes Ever »

Sicilian Pizza With Pepperoni and Spicy Tomato

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Now that I live in the Bay Area, the thing I miss most about New York is its pizza. And of all the pizzas I miss, the Spicy Spring from Prince Street Pizza is the one I miss most. So I did the next best thing and recreated it at home. This square pie is covered in a spicy tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese, with a ton of pepperoni. But not just any pepperoni: Natural casing pepperoni curl up and crisp around the edges. Yes, you’ll probably need to seek out good pepperoni at a local specialty shop (or you can order my favorite pepperoni from Vermont Smoke & Cure online), but boy oh boy is it worth it. Incidentally, have you ever wondered why some pepperoni curls and some doesn’t? I did too, so I did a little bit of research.

Get the recipe for Sicilian Pizza With Pepperoni and Spicy Tomato »

Daniel’s Ribollita

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[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

With a summer garden in full bloom and neighbors starting their own bakery, I found myself with lots of vegetables and bread this past year. There’s no better way to make use of them than a hearty pot of ribollita. I just love Daniel’s description of this classic Italian soup: the soup that’s also a pancake. And it’s true. It starts as a hearty vegetable soup thickened up with bread. But let it simmer down long enough, and it passes through the stew phase and straight into solid, getting a custardy, almost bread pudding-like texture. It’s delicious in any of its forms, and a perfect blank-slate technique for using up whatever vegetables you may have kicking around.

Get the recipe for Ribollita »

Cacio e Pepe

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This is just about the simplest recipe on the site. Cacio e pepe is the Roman late-night equivalent of macaroni and cheese: spaghetti tossed with Pecorino Romano and plenty of black pepper. The trick is to cook the pasta in just a small amount of liquid—I lay it out in a 12-inch skillet with just an inch or two of water to cover—in order to concentrate its starches, which helps the cheese form a smooth, creamy sauce instead of clumping up. For this version, I also infuse some olive oil with black pepper to double down on the flavor.

Get the recipe for Cacio e Pepe »

Thai-Style Beef With Basil and Chilies (Phat Bai Horapha)

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If you’ve managed to get your hands on some makrut lime leaves, there’s no better dish to showcase their citrusy flavor than this simple Thai beef stir-fry. The dish features a pounded sauce made with chilies, palm sugar, and fish sauce (if you found those lime leaves, you can find the rest of the ingredients in the same place), which I toss with stir-fried beef and cook down until nearly dry, forming an intense sweet-hot-savory glaze on the beef. It’s another simple winner that will wow you with flavor and minimal effort.

Get the recipe for Thai-Style Beef With Basil and Chilies (Phat Bai Horapha) »

The Ultimate BLT Sandwich

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What’s so special about BLTs? you might ask. If you are asking that question, then I can only conclude that you have never tried a perfect BLT. This was a fun recipe to develop and a fun video to make, especially because it meant I got to buy pounds and pounds and pounds of the best summer tomatoes I could find. After all, a BLT is a tomato sandwich seasoned with bacon and lettuce—not, as some would have you believe, a bacon sandwich. In my version, the bacon is slow-cooked, the tomatoes are seasoned right, the mayonnaise is homemade, and the bread is toasted in rendered bacon fat. There’s no better sandwich on the face of the planet.

Learn how to make The Ultimate BLT Sandwich »

Channa Masala

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Can we all agree that chickpeas are the greatest legume? This channa masala recipe is not spectacularly different from a host of other great channa masala recipes in the world, but sometimes it’s okay if a recipe doesn’t break new ground. What it does do is improve flavor at every step, from caramelizing and sweetening onions faster and deeper with a touch of baking soda, to tempering the pungency of garlic with a squeeze of lemon juice, to enhancing store-bought garam masala with a homemade spice blend bloomed in oil.

Get the recipe for Channa Masala »

Falafel

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There’s a wide gap between excellent falafel and poor falafel, and the unfortunate reality is that most falafel is dense and starchy. This recipe, which uses dried chickpeas and zero added starch, fries up light as can be and comes together in a snap using your food processor. The secret is to use dried, soaked, uncooked chickpeas as the base, to chop them just right, and then to let them rest so that the natural starch that seeps out from the ground up bits can bind the balls together without relying on added flour. The classic is great, but I think I like this variation with olives and harissa even more, especially when served with zhug, a simple and delicious Yemenite hot sauce with a base of ground fresh herbs.

Get the recipe for Easy, Herb-Packed Falafel »

Homemade McRib (a.k.a. the Ribby McRibface)

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The McRib only comes around every so often. And let’s be serious here: despite the hype, it’s not very good. But the idea of a boneless, smoky, barbecue pork sandwich is an appealing one, and I honestly like the patty-shaped-meat factor. In this recipe, I decided to go all out, making every single element from scratch. You’ll find a recipe for dill pickle chips, homemade barbecue sauce, a homemade bun, a homemade rub, and, of course, for the rib patties themselves. The latter start off with real, honest-to-goodness ribs that I smoke low and slow, then grind into patties and grill until crisp and charred. A lot of work? You betcha. But you’ll learn a few things in the process. and the sandwiches are delicious.

Admittedly, you do have to be a bit of a “work is its own reward” type person to get the most pleasure out of this (insane) recipe.

Get the recipe for Homemade McRib (a.k.a. the Ribby McRibface) »

Stella’s Peach (OK, Plum) Galette

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[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

Real pies are nice and all, but for a casual summer evening with friends, a galette is the way to go. I first made Stella’s Freeform Peach Pie as a last-minute addition to a grilled pizza party, when I found a big batch of windfall plums from the tree in my backyard. So it wasn’t exactly her recipe, but still, the genius move of using tapioca starch to bind the simple filling worked wonders for my peaches. It forms a lighter, less gloppy gel than cornstarch or flour, which coats the fruit in a glossy sheen without compromising their texture or flavor. This is a case where you definitely want to make Stella’s Old Fashioned Pie Dough over my Easy Pie Dough. It has more structure and bakes up a little sturdier, which you need to help this plate-free pie hold its shape.

Get the recipe for Freeform Peach Pie »

Stella’s Sunny Lemon Bars

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[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

Another “what do I do with all this fruit?” moment inspired me to make Stella’s Sunny Lemon Bars using the Meyer lemons I’ve got growing out back (yes, this is a Northern California #humblebrag). As advertised, they come out soft and rich, with a bright flavor as refreshing as a cold glass of lemonade. Not only that, but they take just about half an hour of actual work, start to finish (excluding the time it takes to pick the lemons you all have growing on the side of your house, that is).

Get the recipe for Sunny Lemon Bars »

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