10 Dishes Every Beginner Cook Should Master
What's the best dish for a beginner cook to try? We asked star chefs from all over the country for their recommendations. Here's what they had to say.
1. Grilled Cheese Sandwich with a Fried Egg
"You learn temperature control, working with butter and not burning it, caramelization, that you can screw up easily if you don't control temperature and egg cookery," says Hawaii chef Robert McGee. "Make it with American cheese on white bread, not the artisanal stuff, because you're a neophyte and can't waste good ingredients."
"I wouldn't be afraid to jump in there and get your hands dirty," says chef Matt Jennings of Boston's forthcoming Townsman. "Any dough, whether bread or pasta or gnocchi or dumplings—that's probably the best way to start. As a kid I used to have pizza nights with my dad. We would turn the kitchen into a complete disaster. I'd end up with flour in my pockets the next day at school. But that's part of cooking—you've got to be able to jump in and enjoy it." Here's an easy way to make perfect pizza margherita.
"I'd recommend risotto," says Miami chef Michelle Bernstein. "If you follow the recipe of a traditional risotto, if you have the stock hot and don't cook it over 20 minutes, it should be good. Risotto is easy to make, but you have to pay attention. And definitely stay off your stupid cellphone."
"Perfecting a roast chicken with vegetables is an art," says legendary New Orleans chef Emeril Lagasse. "I have a cast-iron vertical chicken roaster, but I've also used a basic roasting pan that I'll line with my potatoes and root vegetables. If the root vegetables are large, I'll either cut them or blanch them a little so they all cook evenly. Depending on the size of the chicken, 50 minutes to an hour is ideal. You've really got to rub the seasoning into it. Some herbs inside the carcass is nice, like thyme or a little rosemary. Then sea salt and cracked pepper. Sometimes I do citrus like orange or lemon; sometimes I'll squeeze the citrus juice on the outside before I rub the seasoning on."
"Dishes like that have stood the test of time for a reason: People like it," says Michael Tusk, the chef/co-owner of San Francisco's Quince and Cotogna. "It also doesn't have a lot of ingredients, so you can focus on what kind of spaghetti would be best, what kind of guanciale, black pepper, eggs, Parmigiano or Pecorino. It's a dish I like to make because it makes me think a lot. It's got a lot of steps. It only takes 10-12 minutes, but a lot goes on in that 10-minute span. Sometimes I'll test my cooks on it when they're doing a tryout."
6. Apple Pie
"You really get a sense for using your hands and using your mind while you're dealing with the apples: peeling, removing the seeds, monitoring the apples as they cook so they're not too mushy or too hard," says chef Joey Campanaro of Little Owl in New York City. "There's a learning curve: getting the crust flaky, following a recipe, understanding that fruits and vegetables are 90 percent water. Apple pies usually get screwed up when you make them, but they still taste good. It's good to start with something that will still taste delicious, even if it doesn't look perfect."
7. Whole Roasted Fish
"It's not very hard to do, and results are great," says chef Chip Roman of Blackfish in Conshohocken, PA. "Use a slender fish like branzino or trout because the cooking time will be more even and quicker. When the dorsal fin pulls right out, you know the fish is done."
8. Cream-Based Soup
"They all have the same basic ingredients," says Portland's St. Jack chef Aaron Barnett. "Garlic, onions, your vegetable of choice, your liquid of choice (whether chicken stock or vegetable stock or water), then cream and butter. The key is how you finish it at the end. Adjusting the salt, the acid, it's all a matter of tasting. That's one of the ways I get my cooks to learn how to work their palate out, by adjusting a soup so it tastes the best to them."
"The best thing for someone getting into baking to make: marshmallows," says pastry chef Stella Parks of BraveTart.com. "You mix corn syrup, sugar and water and boil it to about 250 degrees, which makes it firmer. Cool the syrup to 212 degrees and pour it into a standing mixer along with gelatin, whip it together and pour it into a brownie pan, like you would with jello. And you let it cool, cut out the marshmallows and you're done. The work-to-reward level with marshmallows is very high. You can flavor them in so many ways, and it's a good way to impress friends."
10. Garden Salad
"The most important thing is to know how to make a garden salad," says chef Nico Monday of The Market Restaurant in Gloucester, MA. "And to do that you have to be able to make a really good vinaigrette. People often overdo it. Here's how to do it: Take a mortar and pestle, pound a fresh clove of garlic, put a little salt in there and a good quality vinegar, whisk in olive oil, salt, fresh cracked pepper, dice a shallot and you're done."