At some point in my life, I heard or read someone/my mom/my grandma/BF (follow that? I have no idea where I learned it) say that while adventurous cooking can be fun, as a good cook you should have a few dishes in your repertoire that you can nail every time.
These are “your” dishes. You generally keep the required ingredients on hand, you don’t need a recipe, and should the perfect storm occur (you’re getting home late from work, you haven’t been to the store in a week and your well-meaning roommate/significant other is bringing his boss over for dinner), you can still pull it off.
I am a creature of habit with some things … breakfast, for example. Honestly, I don’t want to think too much in the morning. For other meals, I usually detest making the same recipe too often. It gets boring. And between How to Cook Everything, AllRecipes, SeriousEats, Epicurious and all the other food blogs out there (check out my Links page for what I read) … life is too short to eat the same stuff all the time!
That being said, I struggle with this “master one dish” idea. In order to master something, you have to have a lot of practice. If you see where I’m going with this … YOU HAVE TO MAKE IT A LOT. Clearly, this is a violation of my kitchen principles.
BF’s dish is beef stroganoff. I make fun of him for his taste in food sometimes (he’s not very daring), but damn can the guy make epic beef/noodles/sauce.
My mom’s dish is manicotti. I could eat this every night for dinner for a week and not get sick of it. If it wasn’t bursting at the seams with cheese, I’d make it on Sundays and take it for lunch all week.
My dad’s dish is mojo chicken. It’s this incredible barbecued chicken dripping with a garlic, lime and cilantro marinade/dressing.
It took me a while to find something that I could make “my” dish. I discovered what it was when I realized that BF would ask me to make this one thing again … and again … and again. Not only was I getting practice, but I was consistently NOT screwing it up! The dish? A roasted chicken.
It’s kind of tricky to get the hang of. You have to be unafraid of handling a carcass, and becoming intimately familiar with the giblets, insides and even that space between the meat and the skin. But once you get it? As Emeril says, “BAM.”
I’ve done a lot of research on roasting chickens. It started when I saw Tyler Florence do it on “Tyler’s Ultimate,” and my obsession slowly grew from there. I read recipes and techniques all the time. Just today I found an adaptation of Thomas Keller’s recipe, and will definitely try to dry the bird out a bit in the fridge next time.
Another bonus? This technique can be adapted to other birds like turkeys and cornish game hens (if you have not tried to do these little guys, you are SERIOUSLY missing out). BAM indeed.
So, there’s MY dish. What’s yours?
chicken picture from stevendepolo