Sometimes upon reading a recipe, I realize I have all the ingredients on hand. Why not make it? Such was my thinking as I thumbed through a new cookbook I got for Christmas, a hefty volume entitled The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science. The writer, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, might be considered the Bill Nye of the American kitchen for his scientific, sometime geeky, approach to food preparation.
The 35-year-old Kenji—as he’s known in the culinary world—studied biology and architecture at M.I.T. before taking up with Cook’s Illustrated and more recently the Serious Eats website. The nearly 1000-page cookbook costs about $27 and has 300 recipes—most of them brand new. No desserts, thank you. That’s because Kenji is a meat and pasta kind of guy.
Word from the Food Nerd
The “food nerd” of the Internet, (as Kenji calls himself), is big into technique and best practices. He applies the scientific method to the kitchen (a.k.a. the food lab) and reveals his findings for the perfect pancake, the best burger and fries, and a juicier, crunchier fried chicken.
You’ll learn why to add vodka to pie crusts; buttermilk to meatloaf; and an egg to boiling water, not cold. He explains that searing a steak after cooking makes it juicier and that adding more baking soda to pancake batter makes the flapjacks browner and tastier. All is done with great humor and authority.
Kenji in the Kitchen
For my test recipe, I picked one of his few vegetable offerings: Charred Corn and Zucchini, because—as I mentioned earlier—I had all the ingredients on hand. Or so I thought. It was an easy skillet dish, though it would have benefited by including the jalapeno, that I misplaced somewhere in the refrigerator. I fixed that with a jolt of hot sauce. I later learned that Kenji makes a Charred Corn and Zucchini Taco by inserting the vegetable mix into a tortilla along with his homemade salsa verde. Hmm. . . that looked promising.
It’s surprising how a new, colorful cookbook can draw you into the kitchen and awaken your interest in trying new dishes. I’m hoping to reap some benefit from a cookbook I gave my grandson, Austin, for Christmas. It was one that he’s wanted for a long time: Plenty More by Israeli chef, Yotam Ottolenghi. Austin has a knack for cooking Mid-eastern and Mediterranean foods, so I’m looking forward to some splendid repast in the near future.