Burnt Toast Dinner Brigade

Marcus Samuelsson on Cooking—& Entertaining—at Home

August 12, 2014

We're sitting down with our favorite writers and cooks to talk about their upcoming cookbooks, their best food memories, and just about anything else.

Today: The home life of a chef is always a topic of fascination and mystery. As it turns out, Marcus Samuelsson's Harlem kitchen is more like yours than you might expect.

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The fact that Marcus Samuelsson regularly cooks at home is shockingly believable.

We know the old adage: Restaurant chefs don’t have time to cook for themselves. They live off of family meals or takeout or random foraged fridge goods. They spend their days cooking for others, and would rather spend their free time traveling or sleeping or judging reality TV shows. But Marcus Samuelsson, with his winning smile and jaunty scarves and legendary fried chicken, defies this stereoype.  

Despite everything (a memoir, TV appearances, three-star restaurants, a passport that rivals Carmen Sandiego's, etc.) on his rap sheet, we can still picture Marcus holding a glass of wine and listening to some cool music we’ve never heard of and cooking with his model wife in a Harlem kitchen on a weeknight, all while we’re trying not to burn mac and cheese somewhere downtown.

In his upcoming cookbook, Marcus Off Duty, Samuelsson gives us a glimpse of what goes on in his home kitchen, influenced by his own roots in Africa and Sweden, his training in France, and the years he has spent in New York. In anticipation the book’s publication -- it hits shelves October 21st -- we asked him a few questions about summer entertaining, fried chicken, and booze. Because those are our priorities.

Red Rooster is famous for its fried chicken -- what are the most common mistakes that home cooks make when they fry their own? 
Frying at home is intimidating, but it doesn't have to be. A lot of people forget that the best chicken is bone-in and has dark meat. There is so much more flavor there. If you don't have a lot of experience with a cast iron skillet, use a deep pot so you aren't so close to the oil. Also, remember that when you put too much chicken in the pan, the temperature of the oil can go down 30° F.

Read More: Deep fry anything, fearlessly.

What staples do you keep around -- in your pantry and your fridge -- in summer? 
I like to think of my pantry as a modern one. I give a little glimpse of it in Marcus Off Duty, but a few of the must-haves are coconut milk, miso, kimchi and berbere. These ingredients will always come in handy when I need to give dishes more depth. In the summertime, I do a lot of traveling and always bring back pickles and hot sauce from each place I visit. I love tasting a country through its hot sauce and pickles. 

More: Learn when to splurge and when to save when stocking your pantry.

What drinks do you like to make for a crowd?
There's a great sangria recipe that we use at Red Rooster that is always a crowd pleaser and I have at almost every party I throw. It is really the only recipe to appear in the book that has made its way from the restaurant menu into my home; the others are things that I originally cooked at home and have now made their way onto the menu.  

Read More: Bigger is better -- especially when it comes to serving cocktails to a crowd.

What's your strategy for summer entertaining? 
Cook and spend as much time outside as possible -- if you grill out, you can cook and hang with your guests at the same time. Also, you have to put on a great playlist. It sets the scene for a memorable party. 

Are you on team cake or team pie? 
Team Pie -- it's the perfect summertime dessert, but also a great way to highlight seasonal ingredients. 

Read More: Summer is the season of pie -- take advantage. 

Home cooking is clearly very important to you -- how do you maintain a "family" atmosphere in your restaurant kitchen?
I think of the staff as family. Happy staff equals happy guests, not the other way around. I encourage my staff to follow their goals and ambitions and try to find a way to infuse their story into our story. Whether it is through inviting the aspiring singer to perform, or having our budding fashion designer make special linens for events, they become a valuable part of Red Rooster's spirit.

What are your summertime entertaining tips? Tell us in the comments!

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Marian Bull

Written by: Marian Bull