Yes, 2020 was a horrible, terrible, no-good, very bad year. We agree! And yet, because of the unique confluence of terrible 2020 events, a lot of people cooked a whole lot at home, which meant a lot of people visited this here website for recipes, knowledge, and advice.
We've gathered together the most popular posts we put up in the cursed year. More likely than not, you've already seen these articles and recipes, since they were, as mentioned, ridiculously popular, but maybe you missed one or two of them, or maybe you'd like to have your very good taste reaffirmed. So without further ado, here are the posts published in this annum horribilis that you, our readers, decided to click on and read the most. There are recipes, of course, wonderful recipes that all of us on staff love, but there are deep-dives on techniques and the science behind certain cooking processes, as well as a massive guide for how the coronavirus affects food safety. All in all, it was one hell of a year and we did our best. Thank you to each and every one of our readers for weathering it with us!
As with everything else in the world, there was a clear dividing line for the articles and recipes we published this year, one that can easily be summed up with two phrases: before COVID-19 and enduring COVID-19. The pandemic forced us to abandon our office and its test kitchen, and we were compelled to work from home.
Our most popular articles of the entire year concern enduring COVID-19 times, and the very most popular one was a piece we published by Kenji López-Alt right when everyone was initially freaking out about the novel coronavirus. Kenji, who was trying to keep his restaurant afloat while also keeping his staff and family (and himself) safe, took on the monumental task of providing a comprehensive guide for how the coronavirus affects food safety.
To complement Kenji's amazing work, the rest of us tried to offer up some helpful advice for everyone who suddenly found themselves relying on home-cooked meals for each and every single meal. Other top performing articles included the pantry staples we turned to immediately when stocking up for the lockdowns, our reflections on the lessons we'd learned from cooking for ourselves in isolation, and a delightfully thorough guide to sanitizing your kitchen from Nik Sharma, who has a background in laboratory sciences.
Finally, we put together a little portal for cooking during the pandemic, a single location for cooks of all experience levels to access the techniques, tips, and pantry-friendly recipes they felt they needed most at any given time.
While this recipe originated in the before-COVID-19-times, it turned out to be perfectly suited for the enduring-COVID-19-times: a cheap, widely available snack (instant ramen) that can be transformed into a meal by combining it with a cheap, widely available staple (rice) in a hot wok with a little scrambled egg. You may think that this recipe got a lot of clicks because it's a little gimmicky (sure it is, nothing wrong with that), but we all know that it continues to be popular because the dish is far more delicious than any food has the right to be.
Before the pandemic hit, we had a whole year of themes around which we were going to organize our recipes and articles, and we started off the year with a nod to the kind of convenient recipes that many people seem to be drawn to, like sheet-pan dinners. We've long been skeptical of the merits of a meal made with as little effort as possible, but Daniel took on the challenge of trying to figure out how to wring as much flavor out of the idea as possible. The result was his guide to making sheet-pan dinners, which offers some tips, tricks, and techniques for making something like a chicken fajita dinner as effortless as possible, Serious Eats-style.
Everybody started baking as soon as the pandemic forced us to sit in our houses all day, apparently, and while we took our time with putting out excellent sourdough baking articles and recipes (more on that below), Sasha helped bridge the gap by offering up his version of a no-knead skillet focaccia. A few folds creates incredible structure and the long, cold ferment means the bread has tons of flavor. This was popular not just with you, dear readers, but also with the staff, since it truly is a crave-worthy bread.
While this recipe was developed before the pandemic hit, and was meant to accompany our inaugural Starch Madness event, it ended up being the perfect pandemic dish, since pasta (whether penne or rigatoni, up to you) properly dressed with a vodka sauce is the epitome of comfort food. Daniel brought his customary attention to detail and technique to the recipe, and the result is nothing short of glorious. It's a keeper, a hall-of-famer, a weeknight staple...whatever you want to call it, you'll make it and make it again, maybe only letting up once the pandemic is gone and we're compelled to put on pants again.
As we all now know, the onset of the pandemic, combined with a nationwide shortage of yeast, led to a boom in sourdough baking. While we quickly realized we had a dearth of sourdough recipes and articles, we didn't want to just rush out a slapdash effort to chase clicks and capitalize on the trend. Instead, we turned to Tim Chin, who, in addition to being a whiz recipe developer, is an accomplished baker. Tim's exploration of the different flours you can use to make a sourdough starter was one of your favorite articles of the year, closely followed by his recipe for a sourdough starter and his recipe and technique for making a loaf of bread with that starter. Needless to say, between Sasha's focaccia and Tim's sourdough, the Serious Eats staff has been eating a ton of bread.
Kenji also gave us a small preview of what his new wok cookbook is going to be like with his incredibly thorough explanation for how to make egg fried rice. As with most simple dishes, getting the details just right is crucial for making the best version of the dish, and Kenji walks you through the process, from prep to plating.
We're generally skeptical of any product that gets an overwhelming amount of praise, but sometimes a product really lives up to the hype. Case in point, the GrillGrate, which Daniel found to be so good at boosting the performance of gas grills that he started recommending them to everyone. (Looking at this article now, it brings on waves of nostalgia for a time when our entire staff would chow down on grilled food in the interest of "science.") They truly are as good as their marketing copy claims, and it was incredibly gratifying to have our readers agree.
As we all settled into pandemic mode, we tried to figure out ways to make our readers' culinary lives easier, and Sasha hit upon the idea of using a large, relatively cheap roast like pork shoulder and using it to spin out several additional hearty and comforting meals. The idea was to offer an economical series of dishes that nevertheless were different enough to forestall any pork shoulder fatigue. While the original idea was to go from showstopper—the crisp-skinned, meltingly tender shoulder—to elevated leftovers, many of us on staff ended up loving the ragù in bianco recipe Sasha came up with so much that we started roasting the shoulder just to have the leftovers. It's a hell of a dish.
We were very excited to publish Nik Sharma's article on the science of yogurt marinades, and not just because his findings were fascinating. While the article itself, and the experiments Nik conducted, speak to how diligent he is about trying to figure out how chemical processes alter the foods we cook, the accompanying recipes for yogurt-marinated chicken thighs and lamb biryani were out-of-this-world delicious, and hit upon a theme that all of us at Serious Eats believe: Understanding the science of cooking can give you the tools to become an incredible cook.
One of our most popular recipes also happened to be one of our most recently published recipes: Amethyst Ganaway's recipe for Hoppin' John. Amethyst, aside from producing a raft of delicious recipes, also wrote an inspired history of chilly bears, the icy treats common across the South, and we are very excited to see what else she has in store for us in 2021.
Did we mention Tim was an accomplished baker? Yes, we did. But did we mention that he's also good at pastry? Well, he is, and his invisible apple cake (or, if you're French or fancy, gâteau invisible) is more evidence than anyone will ever need. Both aesthetically pleasing and tasty, Tim uses a little white miso to provide a savory bass note to both the cake and the caramel sauce you can spoon over it, the kind of off-the-wall touch that makes great dishes haunt your dreams.
Christian Reynoso put up a series of recipes designed to help our readers make Mexican-style burritos with homemade machaca, or dried, pulverized beef, but it was his homemade flour tortilla recipe that got a lot of attention. We're here to say that if you made the tortillas, you certainly should make his machaca guisada because they literally were made to go with one another!
While it's a little unusual for a side dish to be one of our most popular recipes, this one involves potatoes (everybody loves freaking potatoes!), and it's also extremely good—salty, spicy, savory, and sweet, with a little added texture from sesame seeds and a slick of toasty sesame oil, there's a lot to recommend it. And while we're glad one of Sunny Lee's recipes was received so well by our readers, we'd be remiss if we didn't note that Sunny applied all the culinary skill and wizardry she used in these potatoes to produce a massive Korean-American Thanksgiving spread, which would have been a towering achievement in any year, but in 2020 was just shy of miraculous.
This recipe is a bittersweet reminder of the loss of our test kitchen during the pandemic. Not only was everyone on staff subjected to multiple rounds of tasting Sho's attempts to produce a good version of butter chicken, they also were compelled to eat many of his terrible experiments with the leftovers, like butter chicken soufflé and Buffalo butter chicken wings. But our pain—apparently—was for your gain, as our readers seemed to like the recipe. Would that all of us could ever eat butter chicken together again.
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