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Food nerds everywhere love Kenji Lopez-Alt. Though he graduated from MIT with a degree in architecture, he discovered his true life calling when he went to work in a restaurant kitchen.
But Lopez-Alt didn't want to work just in a restaurant. He was interested in how food cooked, and what might be the best way to boil an egg or grill a steak.
"The main focus in a restaurant is production speed and efficiency," he told Here & Now's Robin Young. "If you have some basic questions about science, you don't have really have the time or the resources to sit down and plan experiments and test them out."
Robin Young caught up with Kenji Lopez-Alt at a pop-up event for the book in Boston, and sat down to talk him about some of his kitchen experiments. He also shared these recipes from his new book:
Note: My toppings of choice are thinly sliced raw onions, pickles, and Fry Sauce (below), but feel free to use whatever you’d like.
Serves 2 to 4
1 pound freshly ground beef (store-bought or home-ground)
4 soft hamburger buns, preferably Martin’s Potato Sandwich Rolls
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small onion, finely sliced (optional)
4 deli-cut slices American cheese
Toppings as desired
Go to any burger joint in the Midwest and ask for fry sauce, and you’ll get a little tub of pink, creamy goo to dip your fries in or slather on your burger. At its most basic, it’s a mix of mayo and ketchup. I like to liven mine up with a few spices and some pickle juice.
Makes about ⅔ cup
½ cup mayonnaise, preferably homemade (page 807)
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 tablespoon yellow mustard
1 tablespoon kosher dill pickle juice
1 teaspoon sugar
Pinch of cayenne pepper
If desired, top the mac with toasted bread crumbs just before serving.
Notes: Use a good melting cheese or combination thereof, like American, cheddar, Jack, Fontina, young Swiss, Gruyere, Muenster, young provolone, and/or young Gouda, among others (see “Cheese Chart,” pages 717–21). To reheat the pasta, add a few tablespoons of milk to the pan and cook, stirring gently, over medium-low heat until hot.
Serves 4 to 6
1 pound elbow macaroni
One 12-ounce can evaporated milk
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon Frank’s RedHot or other hot sauce
1 teaspoon ground mustard
1 pound extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated (see Note above)
8 ounces American cheese, cut into ½-inch cubes (see Note above)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 4 chunks
STOVETOP MAC ’N’ CHEESE WITH HAM AND PEAS
Stir in 1 cup cubed sautéed ham and 1 cup thawed frozen peas along with the milk and cheese mixtures in step 3.
STOVETOP MAC ’N’ CHEESE WITH BACON AND PICKLED JALAPEÑOS
Slice 6 strips bacon into ½-inch-wide pieces, place in a large skillet with ½ cup of water, and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp. Transfer the bacon and its rendered fat to a small bowl and set aside.
Follow the instructions for Stovetop Mac ’n’ Cheese, reducing the butter to 6 tablespoons and stirring in the bacon, with its rendered fat, and ¼ cup sliced pickled jalapeños along with the milk and cheese mixtures in step 3.
STOVETOP MAC ’N’ CHEESE WITH BROCCOLI AND CAULIFLOWER
Stir in 1 cup blanched broccoli florets and 1 cup blanched cauliflower florets along with the milk andcheese mixtures in step 3.
STOVETOP MAC ’N’ CHEESE SUPREME PIZZA–STYLE
Replace half of the cheddar cheese with mozzarella. Stir in 1 ounce of Parmesan cheese grated, 8 ounces Italian sausage, cooked and crumbled, ¼ cup pepperoni cut into ½-inch chunks, 4 ounces soppressata or salami, cut into ½-inch chunks, 1 cup roughly chopped drained canned tomatoes, ¼ cup sliced pitted black olives, and ¼ cup sliced jarred peperoncini, into the finished mac ’n’ cheese. Top with chopped basil and drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.
STOVETOP MAC ’N’ CHEESE WITH GREEN CHILE AND CHICKEN
Replace the cheddar cheese with pepper Jack. Stir in 2 cups shredded cooked chicken (leftover or rotisserie from the supermarket), one 3½-ounce can chopped green chiles (or ½ cup chopped roasted fresh green chiles), and 1 cup salsa verde into the finished mac ’n’ cheese. Sprinkle with chopped fresh cilantro and scallions.
2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons dried oregano
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup buttermilk
1 large egg
One whole chicken, about 4 pounds, cut into 10 pieces (see “How to Break Down a Chicken,” page 363) or 3½ pounds bone-in, skin-on breasts, legs, drumsticks, and/or wings
1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 cups vegetable shortening or peanut oil
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