The New Best Recipe, from the editors of Cook’s Illustrated, is a hefty tome weighing in at over 900 pages and collecting 1,000 of what are purportedly the best recipes developed by the magazine. If the collection has a theme, it is familiar favorites: comfort foods, American standards, frequently ordered items from restaurant menus and the like. Each recipe is preceded by a lengthy introduction, explaining exactly what and why the particular cooking methods, ingredients and equipment were used to turn out the best results. If you are interested in the hows and whys of cooking, this makes for entertaining reading; if you are not, skip it.
With some exceptions, these are multi-step recipes, and some of the steps seem quite bizarre. In most cases, the results are unexpected but impeccable. For instance, when making Chicken Stir-Fry, taking the time to marinate the chicken pieces, coat them in flour and cornstarch, and cook them before the stir-fry results in crispy browned chicken pieces that are, in my opinion, better than what you get in most Chinese restaurants. In a few cases, the extra steps required to get to a bowl of, say, Cream of Tomato Soup, just may not be worth all the bother.
The most useful chapters for me were:
- Salads: These are the salads and salad dressings I remember from my childhood, from potlucks, church dinners and picnics; this is a collection of all the standards in one place, with plenty of suggestions and room for playing around with the recipes
- Vegetables: If you are a novice cook, this chapter will arm you with all you need to know about cooking any vegetable and provides many ideas for jazzing up simple sides
- Poultry: Again, the basics for cooking chicken are well covered, from brining and roasting to breading and sauteing; plus, there are quite a few really good recipes (Chicken Fricassee, Chicken & Rice) that, once mastered, can be modified easily to suit your tastes
In addition, extensive attention is paid to desserts, from cookies to cakes to ice cream, if you have a sweet tooth. There are also chapters on baking bread, making pizza and grilling. And if you don’t even know how to fry an egg or boil pasta, you’ll learn how to do that, too. In fact, if you’re not a too adventurous eater, this may be the only cookbook you’ll need.
While I haven’t even approached trying all 1,000 recipes, here are a few of my favorites:
- Herbed Spinach Dip
- Classic American Potato Salad
- French Potato Salad
- Macaroni Salad
- Chicken Stir-Fry
- Pad Thai
- Oven-Baked Brown Rice
- Cheese Bread
Tagged: Cooks Illustrated