Superstar Spanish chef José Andrés tells Food & Wine about his passion for paella, cooking à la plancha and why chopsticks are the perfect kitchen tool.
What’s your most requested recipe, the one dish you’re most known for?
More and more, my paella. I’ve also been making a big push for it over the past year—I truly believe everyone in America will know how to make paella within the next 50 years, and will cook paella like they now do barbecue on the 4th of July. It has all the right components: You cook it outside like you do for barbecue, but at the next level of sophistication. It gives you many options, and you can feed a lot of people once you get the hang of it. So I predict paella will be the next big thing.
What’s your favorite cookbook of all time?
I keep changing. I think my favorite book right now would be The Virginia Housewife, by Mary Randolph. If Americans want to know what America is, they need to know that book. It wasn’t the first cookbook printed in America, but you could argue it was the first cookbook printed in America written by an American. The cookbooks that preceded it were all copies of English books. It was an important book for me when I opened my pop-up, America Eats Tavern, in Washington, DC, last year; we offered a Mary Randolph tasting menu with her mock turtle soup. She even had 10 Spanish recipes in there.
What’s the best cheap cooking gadget?
The cheapest gadget—and you don’t even have to spend a dime—is chopsticks from a Chinese restaurant. I use them for everything: to toss salads, to turn a piece of meat in the pan, to flip croquettes in the Fryolator, to whisk eggs for omelets, to stir eggs into fried rice when I make that for my daughters. I also like to use chopsticks as tweezers; they can bring a level of sophistication when you cook. Sometimes I like to plate salads using chopsticks; it’s a great chance to concentrate and relax.
What’s one technique everyone should know?
How to cook à la plancha. A plancha is just a hot flat surface. So if you think about it, anything is a plancha, like a sauté pan or a griddle. À la plancha is the perfect way to cook for a crowd. Most people only use their griddles for pancakes, but you can sear vegetables like sliced zucchini or mushrooms, thinly sliced meats like chicken or pork, or thinly sliced fish or squid. You can do grilled cheese sandwiches à la plancha, a quick omelet à la plancha, you can even open oysters or clams à la plancha with hardly any need for oil. Nothing could be easier. Say you have beautiful, fresh, head-on Louisiana shrimp: You can sprinkle the hot plancha with a little salt, put the shrimp on the plancha and season the shrimp, then wait 4 to 5 minutes before flipping them to cook the other side. Wait another few minutes until the shrimp are white all the way through, and you have Louisiana shrimp à la plancha. Serve the shrimp or vegetables or omelet with a little pesto or mayonnaise, some other favorite sauce, mayo, you don’t need much. A plancha is all you need!
Can you share a great entertaining tip?
Don’t try to do more than one hot dish. To serve something hot à la minute, you have to be in the kitchen controlling the oven or the fire. Especially when you have more than eight or 10 people, things begin to get complicated. And when things get complicated, you’re not having fun, and the kitchen is a mess. Serve only one hot thing that can hold, like a soup—clam chowder, lobster chowder, pumpkin soup, people enjoy those a lot and they’re all very easy. If you want to keep your side dishes warmer than room temperature, consider buying a small steam table for the home, with the Sterno cans underneath. Last, don’t make excuses if something doesn’t turn out quite as you planned; you’ve tried your best.