Kenji's Favorite Recipes of 2015

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

This has been a fun year in recipes for me. Sure, there have been the deep-dives and weekend project pieces (hello, vegan ramen!), but I've also spent a great deal of time developing recipes for harried weeknight cooks who have under an hour to spend in the kitchen but want something that tastes better than takeout. Oh, and I've been using the pressure cooker. A lot. You can expect that trend to continue into the new year.

Here are some of my favorite recipes from the past year, in no particular order.

30-Minute Pressure Cooker Pho Ga

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In many ways, this has been the year of the pressure cooker for me. I've owned a stovetop model for years now, but in 2015 I upgraded it to a an electric countertop version and the convenience has revolutionized weeknight meals for me. Take this Vietnamese pho ga. The classic chicken and rice noodle soup would typically take several hours of careful stovetop simmering to coax flavor and body out of the chicken, vegetables, and warm spices. With a pressure cooker, we get the same flavor in just about half an hour.

Get the recipe for 30-Minute Pressure Cooker Pho Ga or read up about the science!

30-Minute Pressure Cooker Chicken, Lentil, and Bacon Stew With Carrots

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What's that? You want another reason to get a pressure cooker? How about a 30-minute chicken stew that only requires five minutes of active cooking time? You've got it here. Flavored with bacon, onions, and sherry vinegar, the lentils take on a creamy but light texture and end up packed with intense flavor. Bonus: the chicken becomes soft and shreddable in the same amount of time it takes to cook the lentils.

P.S. Here's a whole slew of pressure cooker recipes to keep you and your countertop occupied!

Get the recipe for 30-Minute Pressure Cooker Chicken, Lentil, and Bacon Stew With Carrots or read up about the science!

The Ultimate Beef Stroganoff

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I really like this recipe. Not only is it delicious, but it was terrific fun to research the history of this classic dish and how it's changed over the years. What originally started as quickly sautéed chunks of tender beef in a light creamy sauce eventually morphed into a slow-cooked dish in a thickened, mushroom-enhanced sauce. My recipe takes the best parts of the original dish and the modern cafeteria version and marries them into a delicious weeknight meal (yes, the beef is served medium rare!)

Get the recipe for The Ultimate Beef Stroganoff or read up about the science!

Dried Olive and Miso Shake

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I keep to a strict vegan diet one month out of the year and try to pack plenty of plant-based meals into all 11 others. While I have no trouble living without meat, I tend to crave dairy—and cheese in particular—when I'm abstaining from animal products. This recipe for dried olive and miso powder was my attempt at creating a shelf-stable, ready-to-apply-to-pasta-and-pizza condiment that would hit a lot of the same flavor notes and grated Parm: nutty, savory, salty, tangy, and a little funky. The end result is one of the tastiest things that came out of my kitchen all year.

No, it's not a Parmesan replacement, but if you keep a supply on hand, I guarantee you'll be reaching for it just as often as you reach for the cheese.

Get the recipe for Dried Olive and Miso Shake or read up about the science!

Moist and Tender Brown Butter Cornbread

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There are very few things in this world that can't be improved by a bit of browned butter. Maybe Star Wars and pizza. Even my wife would be ever-so-slightly improved if she deigned to dip her dainty digits in a dish of browned butter. Slightly.

Cornbread is more than just slightly improved, though—it's drastically better if you brown the butter before adding it to the batter. Extra browning means extra flavor, and extra flavor means fewer crumbs left in the pan at the end of the meal.

Get the recipe for Moist and Tender Brown Butter Cornbread or read up about the science!

Japanese Pork and Cabbage Dumplings (Gyoza)

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I've been stuffing and creasing dumpling wrappers into Japanese-style gyoza ever since I was old enough to work my fingers on my own. Stocking our freezer with dumplings was a monthly family ritual. But it occurred to me earlier this year that I'd never shared the insights that 30 years of dumpling-making had imparted. Of course, those 30 years were tempered with weeks of rigorous testing in order to ensure that the recipes would not just work for my hands but for anyone's hands. My wife sometimes complains when I test one food for too long (she still doesn't want to eat another chocolate chip cookie in her life), but dumplings are her favorite food. I didn't hear a peep out of her about this one.

Get the recipe for Japanese Pork and Cabbage Dumplings (Gyoza) or read up about the science!

The Ultimate Rich and Creamy Vegan Ramen

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Ramen is not often vegetarian (or vegan, for that matter), but that doesn't mean that it can't be. Some ramen shops even go so far as to snidely inform their guests that vegetarians are not welcome. They say that ramen is simply not vegetarian. I say they're just lacking in imagination (or good recipe testing). I've written many ramen recipes in the past, but when folks ask me which one to make, this is the one I recommend. Like any ramen, it's no walk in the park. You should be prepared to spend several hours in the kitchen crafting broths, infusing oils, roasting toppings, and flavoring sauces to construct the final bowl. But you should be equally prepared to have your mind blown by the rich texture and flavor that you can coax out of your vegetables.

Get the recipe for the Ultimate Rich and Creamy Vegan Ramen or read up about the science!

Morgan's One-Skillet Chicken Spanakopita Pie

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[Photographs: Morgan Eisenberg]

This recipe makes a fantastically simple and delicious meal with a multitude of textures and flavors all built in a single skillet, with minimal cleanup required. But the real reason I love it is because the concept expanded my own weeknight meal repertoire. Layering phyllo dough the traditional way—carefully brushing each sheet with melted butter and then wrapping them around a moist filling or using them to line a casserole—is time consuming and tedious. Morgan solves that problem by having you simply scrunch up the dough in your hand and toss it casually on top of the filling. The end result is delightfully haphazard in appearance and gives you all all of the same delicate crunch that you'd get from the classic method.

Get the recipe for Creamy Garlic Chicken Spanakopita Skillet or read up about the science!

Easy Vegan Pressure-Cooker Miso Risotto

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Whaddaya know, yet another pressure cooker recipe! Risotto comes out wonderfully creamy in the pressure cooker and takes just five minutes to cook. In this recipe, I replace the typical white wine and Parmesan combo with dry sake, soy sauce, and miso paste. Sound odd to you? Maybe it's not quite as strange as you might think. Like Parmesan, miso paste is an ingredient that is packed with glutamates, the amino acids that trigger our sensation of savoriness. At Serious Eats, we use miso paste in a wide variety of non-Japanese settings, from squash soup to my mushroom risotto. This recipe is simply the purest incarnation of that concept. It doesn't taste particularly Asian (though to be fair, it doesn't taste particularly Italian either). All I know is that it tastes delicious (and it's 100% vegan to boot!).

Get the recipe for Easy Vegan Pressure-Cooker Miso Risotto or read up about the science!

Easy Pan-Roasted Chicken Breasts With White Wine and Fines Herbes Pan Sauce

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This recipe was a blast to test because it answered one of the fundamental cooking questions I had for ages: Why was it so easy for me to make a nice, tight, glossy pan sauce in a restaurant but so much more difficult at home? The answer comes down to the quality of stock used at restaurants versus what we typically make or buy at home, specifically in its gelatin content. Gelatin is what thickens up a sauce just enough that it can easily form an emulsion with butter, giving it that rich, mouth-coating texture that is the hallmark of good bistro fare. The secret to replicating that texture at home? Easy: just add some powdered gelatin to your sauce base.

Since writing this recipe, we've been finding that powdered gelatin has applications as a texture enhancer all over the place. It's one of our not-so-secret secret techniques.

Get the recipe for Easy Pan-Roasted Chicken Breasts With White Wine and Fines Herbes Pan Sauce or read up about the science!

Daniel's Juicy and Tender Meatballs

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[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

I'm a sucker for a good meatball, but a good meatball is hard to come by. I want them packed with flavor and offering enough structure to hold their shape as they simmer in sauce, but tender enough that they virtually melt in your mouth as you bite into them. Daniel's rendition hits it out of the park on all counts. The buttermilk used in the panade provides a good start, packing in extra flavor and helping to create a tender texture, but the real secret is a combination of pancetta to give them extra juiciness to start, and gelatin to help them retain that juice as they cook.

Get the recipe for Juicy and Tender Italian-American Meatballs in Red Sauce or read up about the science!

Quick and Easy Homemade Ricotta Gnocchi

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What if I told you that not only is it easy to make fresh gnocchi at home, but that you can make it from scratch in less time than it takes you to bring a pot of water to a boil? Don't believe me? Take a look at the video. I'll wait. Okay, it may take a little bit of practice to get up to that speed, but everything you need is in the recipe, all it takes is a bit of commitment on your part. And cheese. It'll also take some cheese.

Get the recipe for Quick and Easy Homemade Ricotta Gnocchi or read up about the science!