This was a big year for me. At the end of 2017, my wife, Kate, and I had a baby, so 2018 was our wild walk through his first year as he grew from a little lump of flesh to a walking and talking(ish) mini human who loves to dance to music, give hugs, and eat literally everything we put in front of him—and we've put some ambitious food on his plate.* This life-changing new family member has also meant that my memory of the past year is something of a blur. What did I cook? What did I write?
By my own personal standards, I think he's excelling in all the important areas.
This year has also been a big one for the Serious Eats culinary team. You likely (hopefully) never noticed this, but we'd been separated from our colleagues for nearly two years as our new test kitchen finished construction. We produced our recipes and cooking articles from all sorts of temporary spaces, including commercial kitchen rentals, AirBnB rentals, and even my apartment. Finally, though, the work was completed and we moved in (technically we moved in several months before the gas was turned on, using induction units as our only mode of "stovetop" cooking, but now even the gas flows, strong and hot). That gives us a lot to look forward to in 2019, our first year with a fully functioning test kitchen from day one. We've got a lot to cook for you in there!
Before we do, though, here are some of my favorite recipes from the last year. It took some sorting through our archives to jog my blurred memory, but I'm glad I did. We shared a lot of delicious stuff that's worth remembering.
Duck à l'Orange
This is one of my last recipes of 2018, and I am very proud of it. Duck à l'orange is one of those dishes that's been bastardized to the point where many renditions now bare little resemblance to the original, often featuring roasted duck doused in an overly sweet orangey glop. Instead of just copying the methods and ratios of most of the other recipes that are online now, I decided to go back to the beginning, making the sauce, classically known as sauce bigarade, with the bitter oranges that are meant to be used. Then I did my best to rejigger things to approximate that more complex, less sweet, flavor in my recipe for the sauce. Tart and aromatic, it's the perfect foil for fatty duck, and also a prime option for the holiday table.
Pressure Cooker Chintan Shoyu Ramen
When Sho approached me with the idea of doing a series of ramen recipes including homemade noodles and two different broths that harness the power of the pressure cooker, I got really excited. Homemade ramen is one of those things that just doesn't seem worth the effort, especially when you live near great ramen shops that can serve up a bowl in five minutes, then do the dishes for you. But add in the time savings of the pressure cooker, and the fact that you can first make this clear and savory shoyu broth, then a second creamy paitan broth using the spent ingredients from the first one, and that's a project I'm down for. The results are killer, and remarkably doable.
Pasta alla Gricia
Senior culinary editor Sasha Marx joined our team late this year, and he hit the ground running. He grew up in Rome, and we wasted no time asking him to share some of his expertise on that city's cuisine. One of the most memorable is his absolutely perfect take on pasta alla gricia—one of Rome's foundational pasta dishes, starring little more than cured pork jowl, cheese, and black pepper. His bowl of rigatoni is coated in a glistening, emulsified sheen of rendered fat and Pecorino Romano, all of it deeply infused into the pasta during a many-minute finishing step in the sauce. This here is how to cook pasta right.
Coming up with a centerpiece-worthy vegetarian main course for the holidays is an extremely difficult task. Vegetables just don't lend themselves to impressively hulking roasts the way meat does. I'd been wracking my brain for weeks trying to think up something clever and not tired, and was about to give up. Then Sasha suggested stuffed pumpkins. Here's the thing—I know those words don't necessarily grab one's attention. Stuffed pumpkins? Yawn. But these are no joke. Loaded with a custardy savory bread pudding, heaps of melted cheese, sautéed mushrooms, kale, and more, his stuffed pumpkins can take on any slab of roast meat or poultry, delivering layers of flavor and texture in each bite. I would happily take one and leave the meat for everyone else. Or...maybe have both?
Honey Buttercream Frosting
I'm not a huge frosted cake fanatic, and Stella isn't a huge Italian buttercream fan (you can read why here), making this an unlikely selection on my list. But despite all the odds stacked against it, this one was one of my favorite recipes she made this year. There's just something about the flavor of that honey in the light, fluffy buttercream, especially with a healthy pop of salt, that just does it for me. There's a lot of cake I'll say "no thanks" to, but this one is a "yes, please," over and over, and over again.
Steak au Poivre
This is another one of those French classics I tackled this year, and I was surprised at the tweaks I found to make the recipe, I believe, better. First I introduced a dry-brining step, which makes it possible to both season the steak and get the peppercorns to adhere to it (if you put the salt on right before cooking, the pepper won't stick), leading many chefs to add the salt after the peppercorns—in which case the salt doesn't stick! I also decided to only encrust one side of each steak with the pepper, allowing the other side to sear and develop a good fond in the pan that otherwise wouldn't happen with a layer of pepper in the way. That omitted portion of pepper, meanwhile, doesn't get lost: I bloom it in hot fat to develop its flavors, then work it directly into the pan sauce. Result: best of all worlds.
Pesto alla Trapanese
I devoted a considerable amount of time this year to digging deeper into the world of mortars and pestles, which I believe should be used way more frequently than they are in most home kitchens. One of the fun byproducts was this recipe for a lesser known Italian pesto sauce. Originating in Sicily, this one replaces the pine nuts with almonds, and adds tomato to the mix, for a fresher, fruitier summery sauce. Dare I say I like it more than classic pesto?
Oatmeal Cookie Ice Cream
When Stella unveiled her cookie ice creams (no, not cookie dough ice creams) a couple years ago, we all went crazy for them. It didn't take long for us to start lobbying her for even more recipes featuring our own favorite cookies. The fact that oatmeal-raisin are at the top of my cookie list very possibly had nothing to do with Stella deciding to turn them into this outrageous scoop, but I'd like to think otherwise.
Extra-Crispy Fried Chicken With Honey and Spice
Inspired by Popeye's but worlds beyond it in flavor (and I say that as a diehard Popeye's fanatic), this fried chicken recipe from Sohla belongs in everyone's rotation...unless you're a mutant who doesn't like fried chicken (okay, okay, or a vegetarian). The buttermilk-brined chicken is juicy, the crust is crispy and nubby, and it's drizzled in honey-butter, then finished with a dusting a fragrant ground spices and chilies. It's hard to top Popeye's, but the twists and turns here just might do it.
As I near the end of my top picks list, I begin to see a trend emerging: I set my sights on a fair number of classic French dishes. I'm not unhappy about that. This exploration of bouillabaisse got me thinking all about fish—specifically, how to select ones that approximate what traditionally goes into the soup, given that we don't have access to most of the fish used in Marseille. Too many renditions of the dish in the United States have dodged this question, instead loading the soup up with lobster, scallops, clams, shrimp, and other fish that, while delicious, produce a broth that has very little in common with what bouillabaisse is all about.
Salted Mint Lassi
I like mango lassi as much as, if not more than, the next person, but this salty rendition from Sohla is something I could drink morning, noon, and night. I'm not sure I'd ever tire of the savory combo of tangy yogurt and buttermilk with fresh mint and cilantro, fragrant spices, and a slow-burning hear of kashmiri chilies.