Many of us associate Alton Brown, host of fourteen seasons of the Food Network series Good Eats and best-selling cookbook author, with the smartest, most scientifically-informed food around. Every step he takes, every piece of equipment he uses, is for a reason (and a particular television narrative).
But EveryDayCook, his first book in five years, is different. As Brown explains in his book trailer, "This time, it's personal." (And to hit that point home: Every photo was shot with an iPhone, by Brown's director of digital operations.)
The recipes are a motley assortment of the food he cooks and eats every day, and the recipes "were not created," as he writes in the introduction, "to illustrate scientific principles or flesh out story points for a TV show."
And so even though we fans attribute many "perfect" and "best" recipes to him, in this book, he shirks off these superlatives: "I have arrived at my final turkey. It may not be your final turkey, but after years of searching, this is where I get off." Or, of the Little Brown Biscuits, "Now I'm not about to crown this my definitive biscuit—that's still somewhere out beyond the horizon—but this is now my go-to, everyday biscuit."
And yet, even when Brown is not striving for best but rather trying to document his day-to-day, he still can't turn off his problem-solving, science-minded brain (and thank goodness for that). Almost every page offers a helpful method of some magnitude that might actually make your cooking easier, faster, and best-er.
1. Add mayonnaise to scrambled eggs—you'll be enhancing the foundational emulsion (the eggs) with another (the mayo), thereby resulting in something "creamier than egg, or even egg and dairy alone, can produce."
2. Use heavy-duty binder clips (yes, the kind you used in middle school) to keep a thermometer affixed to the side of the pot or to ensure that a foil packet stays shut in the oven.
3. Spritz a baking dish with water from a spray bottle before laying down parchment paper: Natural stick!
4. For extra grip at the end of tongs—let's say you need to remove ramekins from a hot water bath—wrap two food-grade rubber bands (the kind that hold together broccoli and asparagus) on the end of each tong-arm.
5. Box cutters can be used to slice garlic or to score duck or chicken breasts (for a crispier skin).
6. To get chickpeas, cooked-fresh or from a can, really dry before roasting, shake off the moisture in a salad spinner. (Then, Brown recommends sandwiching them between paper towels and rolling the whole thing up, burrito-style.)
7. The perfect vessel for soaking bamboo skewers pre-grill is a 12-ounce plastic water bottle: The skewers will rise up when you open the lid. (Brown keeps a bottle of soaking skewers in the fridge at all times.)
8. To clean steel or iron grill grates, put them in the oven and run the self-clean cycle.
9. For flavorful, more tender Saltines, coat the crackers in a mixture of clarified butter, hot sauce, and dried mustard (customize how you wish), then bake for 8 to 10 minutes at 350° F.
10. When a Bundt or tube cake recipe calls for the pan to be coated in flour or sugar, the most thorough way to accomplish the task is with a dome of plastic wrap: First, butter the pan's sides and add your flour or sugar (3 tablespoons of either); then use a food-grade rubber band to secure the plastic around the pan's center tube, stretch it around the circumference, and secure to the outside of the pan. "Now shake the heck out of it, turning it upside down several times to make sure the edges are coated." Remove the plastic wrap and discard any excess flour or sugar.
11. Brown's far-from-traditional pasta method saves time, water, and energy: Instead of adding pasta to boiling water, cover the dry noodles with about an inch of cold water, bring the water to a boil as you stir, then lower the heat and simmer for about 2 minutes. Use a spider or slotted spoon to remove the pasta, saving the starchy water for thickening sauces.
12. To seed a dried chile, snip off the stem and simply shake out the seeds.
13. Before adding nuts to a blondie or brownie, don't just toast them, fry them. Brown cooks walnuts and pecans in butter for 5 to 7 minutes, so that the nuts are golden and the butter nutty. Then, the nuts are strained out, chopped up, and folded into the batter, made with the butter they fried in! Full circle.
14. Take advantage of an electric kettle to eliminate the guesswork from cooking rice: Spread 1 1/2 cups medium-grain brown rice in an 8-inch square baking dish, stir in 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 teaspoon of salt, cover with 2 1/2 cups water brought to a boil in a kettle, then cover with foil and put onto a rack in a 375° oven for 1 hour.
15. For lemonade with "real depth of flavor," start with preserved lemons. You'll make a simple syrup with preserved lemons, add lemon juice, and top off with soda water. (Also, vodka.)
16. To add acidity and sweetness to a tomato soup cooked in a pressure cooker (where acidic flavors "tend to get the smack-down"), add orange juice—in Brown's recipe a full cup orange juice for two 28-ounce cans tomatoes—at the beginning.
17. Chicken wings don't need to be fried (they're already fatty enough), yet sending them straight into an oven hot enough to crisp their skin may result in plumes of smoke. Brown's solution is to steam the chicken wings for 10 minutes, then bake them—on a cooling rack nestled on a baking sheet—for 30 minutes at 425° F, tossing them with glaze two-thirds of the way through. Crisp skin, cooked meat, and no smoke.
What's your favorite episode of Good Eats? Or your favorite Alton Brown trick? Tell us in the comments!