9 American Classics—Better Than Ever

July 23, 2015

Nine classic comfort foods, updated and better than ever before.

One of the most fun—and frustrating—parts about cooking is that just when you think you've perfected your favorite recipe, you try someone else's version and realize there's more that can be done: Your fried chicken could be crunchier; your cheeseburger could be more flavorful; your chicken salad could be more interesting.

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There's always more to learn, but luckily, we have Ashley Rodriguez—the writer and photographer behind Not Without Salt—to do some of this work for us. She's been cracking the code on our favorite comfort foods, figuring out what makes them lovable and then tweaking them so they're even better. 

You might already have go-to recipes for these 9 classics, but try Ashley's improvements at least once. They just might make you a convert.

Fried Chicken 

  • Start with a dry brine and add dried herbs and spices to saturate the meat with flavor.
  • Before the chicken pieces are fried, coat them in buttermilk and egg, then dredge them in flour that’s laced with baking powder and cornstarch for a crust with lift, lightness, and a crackling finish. 
  • Dip the chicken pieces into the buttermilk and flour mixture two times so that the ratio of meat to perfectly thick, crisp, and well-seasoned crust is practically 1:1. 



  • Add even more fat and flavor by grating cold butter into the patty—when the cold, thinly grated butter hits a screaming hot griddle, its steam creates pockets that tenderize and season the beef.
  • Use a blend sharp cheddar, Fontina, and mayonnaise to create a rich, tangy sauce that melts and softens the moment it hits the hot patty.


Chicken Salad with Pickled Grapes and Celery Leaves

  • Add something pickled—tart pickled grapes add the perfect subtle bite to this salad (and to cheese plates, other salads, snacks, and cocktail garnishes).
  • Toss out the mayonnaise and replace it with light, tangy crème fraîche and a vinaigrette made from a bit of the pickled grape brine, Dijon, and olive oil.


Chocolate Quick Puff Pastry

  • Add chocolate—the rich, bittersweet cocoa powder yields a dark pastry with a sweet, crackly crust and an earthy chocolate flavor.
  • Top the pastry with cream, fruit, cinnamon, and sugar, or simply serve it alongside ice cream or afternoon coffee.


Chocolate-Peanut Butter Pudding with Candied Pretzels

  • Cap layers of chocolate and peanut butter pudding with a cool whipped cream and caramel-coated, slightly-salty pretzel sticks.
  • Balance the sweetness with a little dusting of flaky salt.


Make-Your-Own Chopped Salad

  • Chop everything so that it's roughly the same size—all of it rather small—so that you can practically eat it with a spoon.
  • Use what you have on hand, but salami (specifically finocchiona), sharp cheddar, and a bright, shallot-laced vinaigrette are always welcome.


Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies


  • Add turbinado sugar, dark brown sugar, puddles of bittersweet chocolate, and a hit of flaky salt.
  • Use the dough, minus the chocolate, as a base for any number of cookies: dried cherry, white chocolate and cardamom; chopped dates and walnut; or oatmeal and rum raisin (just replace some of the flour with oatmeal).


Vanilla Bean Lemonade

  • Sweeten the lemonade with vanilla simple syrup: The vanilla rounds out the tartness and calms the tart lemon in a fragrant, almost floral way.


Muscovado Sugar Cookies

  • Swap out white sugar for muscovado to create a deep molasses flavor and pockets of caramelized sugar.
  • Eliminate the egg for a crumbly texture that's more like shortbread and less like cake.

What classic comfort foods do you think could use an update? Tell us in the comments below!

Photos by Ashley Rodriguez

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