It's a fun exercise to scroll through the recipes we've published in the past year, even just to be reminded of how much our small team manages to crank out. And we do so while still giving every dish the consideration and obsessive testing it deserves, and delivering enough easy recipes to not make every cooking endeavor a project. These are some of my top picks from the past year—the dishes that are so delicious I can't get them out of my mind weeks and even months later. I sincerely hope you enjoy them too.
The Original Tapenade
Possibly the single greatest thing that came out of my research and testing on how to make the best tapenade was the realization that the original version of tapenade is nothing like the olivey spread most of us know today. The result of that discovery was not one recipe, but two: the more modern version and the original one, made with equal parts capers, olives, and a blend of anchovies and tuna. It's brinier, more deeply flavorful, and basically my new favorite. I still like the olive-heavy version, but for the foreseeable future, I'll be whipping up its ancestor instead.
Shrimp and Cheese Grits
I've loved grits since I was a little kid, and no, not because my last name is Gritzer. Most of the time, those grits came from a cardboard box, and they were just like the grits you find at diners—only really good once they were loaded up with butter and salt. Working on this shrimp and grits recipe, though, gave me the chance to use real-deal stoneground grits, which cook up with a creamier texture and more intense corn flavor. I started by basing my version on the one made famous by Crook's Corner in Chapel Hill, but refined several steps, amped up the flavor, and used a baking soda trick to make the shrimp more tender. It's the best bowl of shrimp and grits I've ever eaten, and I've had some of the most lauded versions out there.
The Un-Composed Niçoise Salad
It may seem like there's not much to do to improve a Niçoise salad, since, as a composed salad, it's just an assemblage of little piles of simple ingredients on the plate. That's why I decided to burn it to the ground. I hate composed salads, but I won't get into why here—you can read the article for that. What's more important is how much I love the un-composed Niçoise I came up with in its place. Every ingredient is cut into bite-size pieces and tossed together with the vinaigrette, creating a far more delicious and easy-to-eat dish.
Kenji's Chicken-Fried Chicken
2015 was the year of fried chicken recipes on Serious Eats, but none made me salivate as much as Kenji's version of chicken-fried chicken. He starts with buttermilk-marinated boneless chicken thighs and gives them an intensely crispy, craggy crust—made by drizzling some of the marinade into the seasoned flour before dredging. The fried chicken is smothered in a peppery white gravy, making it, in my eyes, a fried chicken recipe that's pretty hard to top.
Italian Seafood Salad Pasta Salad (With Vietnamese Noodles)
Put a plate of Italian seafood salad in front of me and watch how quickly it disappears. I simply cannot resist chilled seafood tossed in olive oil and fresh lemon juice with minced parsley and garlic. The problem, though, is I can never get enough of it. This pasta salad is the answer to that, and if you love seafood salad as much as I do, you absolutely must make it. The pasta (Vietnamese rice noodles) has a chewy bite that mirrors the seafood well and soaks up the salad's flavors while stretching it out into a seafood-salad feast. Also, it gets bonus points for being a recipe that in no way resembles an actual salad...while requiring the use of the word "salad" twice to describe it accurately.
Coq Au Vin
Years ago, while working on a farm in France, I had the chance to make classic coq au vin using real coq (rooster). Even after braising overnight in the residual heat of a bread oven, the meat came out tough as rubber. Which gets to the heart of the problem with coq au vin: It was designed to make tough rooster meat edible enough with a long simmer in red wine, but doesn't translate as a long-cooked braise when using the tender hens most of us cook with today. This recipe works around that complication by braising the legs alone, then adding the white meat at the end, just long enough to cook it through but not dry it out; a short marinating step, meanwhile, helps the white meat taste like it spent a lot more time in the pot than it actually did.
Kenji's Slow-Cooked Bolognese Sauce
I'm a ragù obsessive, and no ragù is greater than Bolognese sauce. I've always been perplexed by some of the elements of a proper Bolognese, none more so than the milk—why, exactly, is it there? Luckily, Kenji decided to do a deep dive on this one, answering just about every question a person could have about the sauce, including that splash of milk (and if you think it's because it makes the meat more tender...well, you should read the story).
Think of how much you love a mug of hot chocolate on a cold winter day (if you don't love hot chocolate on a cold winter day...that's weird). Now what if I told you that hot chocolate, even the best hot chocolate, is nothing special at all when compared to Mexican atoles—hot, thick corn drinks flavored with anything from chocolate to peanut butter to orange zest and spices (the chocolate version is also called champurrado). It's nearly as easy to make as a basic hot chocolate, relying on store-bought corn flour for its characteristic base, and it heats you up from the inside out when you drink it. Once you've tried this stuff, there's no going back to plain old hot cocoa again.
French Onion Soup
Here's a warning: If you see a recipe for French onion soup calling for store-bought beef broth and/or claiming the onions will caramelize in under half an hour, RUN AWAY! Those are dead giveaways that the recipe won't deliver nearly as well as this one will. The difference? We use chicken stock, either homemade or store-bought (it's way better than its packaged beef broth counterpart), caramelize the onions properly for at least an hour, and then trick it out by beefing up the savory flavor with the secret weapon that is fish sauce, adding brightness with cider vinegar, and depth with a splash of sherry.
Roasted Squash Carbonara
One might expect I'd put my recent spaghetti carbonara recipe on this list, but one would be mistaken. Not because there's anything wrong with that carbonara—it's freaking great—but because I'm far more likely to make this squash dish at home instead. It riffs on those classic carbonara flavors of crispy pork, cheese, egg, and black pepper by using them as a topping for sweet roasted winter squash. It's a pretty incredible marriage of flavors and just a tad less...heavy.
Alsatian Tarte Flambée
When Kenji published his story on how to make bar-style pizzas with flour tortillas and a cast iron skillet, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it: Make bar-style tarte flambée, the Alsatian flatbread topped with bacon, onions, and a tangy fromage blanc. While I was at it, I also whipped up a more classic version on thinly rolled fresh dough, which is incredibly good, but those bar-style ones are so delicious and so stupidly easy that it almost feels like you're cheating the universe when you make them. That's a good thing.
Not-Too-Sweet Mexican Shrimp Cocktail
In my experience, Mexican shrimp cocktail, with its tender shrimp in a piquant tomato-based sauce, has everything going for it...except that it's almost always too sweet. That's because most cooks rely too heavily on ketchup, which is loaded with sugar, and then sometimes add a splash of sugary orange juice on top of that. To bring that sweetness in line, I reduced the amount of ketchup, supplementing it with tomato purée, then add that orange juice in combination with enough tart lime juice to bring its flavor into bright focus. If you're a sugar fiend you can go ahead and stick with the more traditional preparation, but otherwise I'm declaring mine the one to beat.