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Today: What makes a recipe genius? The answer is simple.
The question I find myself answering most often (other than "What's the 52 in Food52?" Hint: It's because of the calendar, not the number of cards in a deck.) is "What makes a recipe genius?"
I've been writing the column Genius Recipes for close to four years, and the Genius Recipes cookbook is coming out in eight days (!!!), so by now I have my answer down. It's simple: A recipe is genius if it will change the way you cook. But that tends to manifest itself in a handful of different ways.
Below, I've explained the five most common ways a recipe can be genius, and partly for a selfish reason. Genius Recipes is powered by this community and our collective cooking knowledge, curiosity, and intuition. Most of the recipes I feature—and the most unexpectedly brilliant ones—come from tips from you. So I'm reminding you all of your mission: If you see a recipe that fits one or more of the following criteria, send it my way. Pretty soon I can start forwarding my emails about that pesky 52 to you too.
1. It simplifies a technique.
Everyone always said you had to do it one way. Boom—you don't! Gumbo where you don't have to stir the roux for an hour. Potato gratin that you don't have to layer. Tomato sauce you don't need to chop a thing for.
2. It solves a problem.
3. It uses an unexpected ingredient.
A salad whose secret ingredient is ice cubes. Fudge made of tofu. Salad dressing made with the dregs of the bottle of red wine. A cake made of parsley. They made these waffles made with cornstarch or fish dusted with Wondra sound pretty tame.
4. It uses the best technique after testing a whole lot of alternatives.
Sometimes I go on the hunt for the best roast chicken (or ratatouille, or pizza, or banana bread), and test every promising recipe I can find. Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl of the radio show Off the Menu told me she thought the book would save her from "decision fatigue," which is exactly what I wanted to do. I am more than happy to suffer the decisions and the just-good or great versions till I find something genius.
5. It sounds just a little insane.
Whipped cream on asparagus. Meatballs made with 2 cups of water. Broccoli—cooked—forever. A hunk of beef tenderloin, wrapped in a dishcloth, thrown in the coals. If it sounds crazy, it might be just crazy enough to work.
Photos by James Ransom