Add these basics to your repertoire.

By Maria Yagoda
March 24, 2021
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If you've found yourself in a cooking rut, don't worry, these chefs are here to helpand they suggest going back to basics. We asked some of our favorite chefs around the country for the one thing that every home cook should know how to make, from dishes as simple as sushi rice to hearty meals like pasta bolognese.

Roast Chicken

"Everyone should know how to roast a whole chicken. Starting with this simple and versatile dish will develop basic skills to becoming a better cook. A whole roasted chicken can be brined, marinated, stuffed, basted, etc. Additionally, the chicken itself can be served with so many different sauces, with rice, inside tortillas, or over a salad. The leftovers can be pulled and made into chicken salad while the carcass is simmered into a stock. The options to have in a cook's repertoire from one whole roasted chicken are almost endless!" Christine Lau, Executive Chef of Kimika

"Making a simple roast chicken should be in every cook's repertoire. It helps teach how to truss a chicken which is a very useful skill. Also, it helps to learn how to time manage an oven, and how to reach a crispy skin and not overcook the chicken. There's something about having a perfect simple roast chicken come out of the oven and it's perfect." Brandon Silva, Chef at Degust in Houston, Texas

Marcella Hazan Bolognese Meat Sauce Recipe
Credit: Photo and Styling by Julia Gartland

Bolognese

"This dish was on my repertoire before having kids and for sure has turned out to be my go-to dish for the whole family. Believe me, everybody needs a classic Bolognese under their sleeve. I like to make mine with a little bacon fat when sautéing and I use Ají Chombo Panameño (habanero) for heat instead of red pepper flakes." Mario Castrellon, Executive Chef at Café Unido USA in Washington, DC

Pad Thai

"As one of the most popular Thai dishes, it is easy to make, and delicious. You can also customize it in so many different ways, adding your favorite protein such as shrimp, chicken or tofu, or seasonal vegetables." Tom Naumsuwan, Executive Chef of Wayla

Shrimp Pad Thai
Credit: © Con Poulos

Baked Fish

"Everyone should be able to prepare a quick baked fish such as a Mediterranean-style baked cod or lemon garlic salmon. Fish is great to eat as part of a healthy well-balanced diet, and it is quick to prepare any night of the week. Mastering the technique to properly cook fish so that it is flavorful and perfectly flaky (and does not dry out) is a great skill to have." Suzy Karadsheh, Chef/Founder of The Mediterranean Dish  

Rice

"Sometimes the simple things are the hardest to execute because we think they are easy to do, and we make mistakes. In our repertoire, on our à la carte menu, we have a Colombian atollado rice (similar to a risotto), made with vegetable broth. We serve this as a side dish to a branzino encrusted in salt and wrapped in a green banana leaf." Juan Manuel Barrientos, Chef at El Cielo DC

Soupy Rice with Chicken and Vegetables
Credit: Johnny Miller

French Fries

"We take the French fry for granted, often due to most menus having some incarnation of the dish, but everyone has a favorite, and often for good reason. There are uncountable ways to make French fries, but the best take time, care, and a surprising amount of precision." Michael Poiarkoff, Culinary Director and Executive Chef at The Maker in Hudson, NY

Eggs

"Scrambled eggs are easy to cook yet difficult to master. Versatile, they can be eaten any time of the day; served simply or elevated to a masterpiece. Scrambled eggs are food you must have." Franklin Becker, co-founder of 100 Pleats and owner of Shai, Galinha and Universal Taco

"They sound very easy to make but eggs are made in infinite ways. Whether it's omelets or fried eggs or as ingredients in baking or glaze in roasting, they are probably the least recognized ingredient but you can't cook without them." Sati Sharma, Chef/Restaurateur of Brick Lane Curry House in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Spanish-Style Scrambled Eggs

Braised Meat

"Once you learn how to do it right, it's the easiest way to blow away your party guests. You've got to get that good browning on the meat and get a nice fond in the bottom of the pan. Then you brown your aromatics slowly enough to build flavor. The last key is to use a rich stock and a best-quality wine or beer to deglaze." — Chef Kelly Liken

Steak

"It may not be a dish per se, but I think knowing how to cook a nice steak, preferably rib-eye and in a cast iron to a nice med-rare or medium at the most, is an important technique for your repertoire. If you don't eat red meat and are into fish, then know how to get crispy skin without overcooking the fish. If you can do that, anytime you want a steak or nice fish, you will save yourself a good amount of cash by making it at home or better yet put that money into buying better meat. You don't have to play the 'did they overcook it?' roulette." Antoni Szachowicz, Chef de Cuisine at NiHao in Baltimore, MD

Butter-Basted Rib Eye Steaks
Credit: © Con Poulos

French Omelet

"I think it's a skill that requires a lot of restraint and delicacy. The equipment needed is simple, but things happen very quickly when you're making an omelet. There's a level of patience required. A good one shows that you understand protein and how to choose great ingredients." — Chef Aimee Olexy

Spatchcocked Chicken

"This dish is one that comes off as beautifully elegant when presented properly but also can be done quickly, in about 30 minutes if you're in a pinch. Once the chicken is butchered and seasoned, it's pretty simple. Add some roasted vegetables and you can do a quick pan sauce when the chicken is readying and you'll look like a pro." Nick Elmi, Chef at The Landing Kitchen and Lark in Philadelphia

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Mayonnaise

"If you come to my kitchen to do a stage, there are three things you have to do: You have to brunoise carrot, celery, and onion; you have to chop chives; and you have to make mayo. I love mayo and think everyone should know how to make it. My favorite method is with the robot coup, but I also make a lot with an immersion blender." — Chef Tory Miller

Fresh Pasta

"I believe everyone should know how to make a nice pasta whether it's ravioli, agnolotti, or cavatelli. It's a dish where it shows so much passion, technique, and love in each piece of pasta made. Also, pasta is a great way to showcase each season such as butternut squash agnolotti in the winter, cavatelli with peas and fava beans in the spring, ravioli with corn purée filing during the summer, or zucchini and squash ravioli in the fall." Daniel Drexler, Executive Chef at Bouillon Marseille in New York City

Spinach and Prosciutto Ravioli
Credit: © Con Poulos

"You only need flour and eggs, and you can go in so many different directions, whether it's for a filled pasta, a ribbon or another shape, baked, with butter or another sauce, from this region or that. It's an everyday staple, but there's the alphabet of pasta dishes to learn. It's very therapeutic, too: making the well, putting the eggs in, the kneading, it's just very satisfying from start to finish." Chef Michael Tusk

A Good Breakfast

"The one thing everyone should know how to cook is breakfasteven a simple breakfast. Waking up to the smells of coffee, toast, and perfectly cooked eggs means those you're cooking for will have a great start to their day. Also, imagine if your partner or mom or dad or friend or kid is the one cooking for YOU while you're rubbing your eyes, stretching, and greeting a new dayhow great is that?!" Mark Ellman, Chef/Owner of Frida's Mexican Beach House and Honu Seafood & Pizza in Lahaina, Maui

Bacon, Tomato and Cheddar Breakfast Bake with Eggs
Credit: © Fredrika Stjärne

Sushi Rice

"With the right equipment (rice cooker and a large wooden bowl), it takes minimal time and effort. Sushi rice can certainly be used for rolls or nigiri, but it can also be the foundation for a satisfying rice-bowl dinner with cooked fish, meats, veggies, and more." Jeff Miller, Co-Owner and Chef of Rosella

Filetto di Pomodoro

"This classic Italian tomato pasta dish has very few ingredients and brings the freshness we all crave when having carbs. It consists of thinly sliced Roma tomatoes, tomato paste, garlic, chili flakes, olive oil and fresh basil. The sauce comes together in ten minutes, and believe me a little parmesan on top and you can't go wrong." Mario Monte, Executive Chef at Colada Shop

Sauce-Simmered Spaghetti al Pomodoro
Credit: © Christina Holmes

Duck

"I think everyone should master how to cook a duck. Most home cooks are afraid to cook this bird, but I promise is super easy.  If you buy a whole duck, you can easily make two dinners from it. First, you can make roasted duck breast—when cooked properly you will acquire a wonderful golden and crispy skin and juicy rich meat on the inside. It is truly a very flavorful meat. Second, you can make braised legs and thighs, which is a very simple yet luxurious dish. Pair it with some root vegetables and make the perfect weekday dinner." Ryan Ratino, Executive Chef at Bresca in Washington, D.C.

F&W Recipe: Duck à L'Orange

Black Bean Dip

"A favorite of mine is a black bean dip.  I love it because the flavor and consistency of the bean is always present but complemented by the flavors of other ingredients like cumin, sofrito, garlic powder and spices. My kids love to spread this over warm tortillas, tacos, quesadillas or plain chips. Everyone should have this mastered." Tatiana Mora, Executive Chef at Serenata