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Thai Grilled Chicken
Easy Method, Bold Taste
Crispy Corn Fritters
Southern Classic Perfected
Smoky Grilled Steak
Plus: Best Grill Tongs
Midpriced Blenders
One Stands Above the Pack
Italian Seafood Pasta
Translating the Flavors of Liguria
Turkey Meatloaf
Don’t Treat It Like Beef
Modern Fruit Tart
Not Just a Pretty Face
Chinese Smashed Cucumbers
Summer Tomato Gratin
Home-Roasted Bell Peppers
$7.95 CANADA
Display until August 7, 2017
2 Quick Tips
20 Modern Fresh Fruit Tart
Quick and easy ways to perform everyday tasks,
from removing can lids to portioning cookie
A showpiece when whole, a classic fresh fruit tart
rarely retains its good looks when sliced—a pity,
when it takes hours to make. A new approach
was in order. BY LAN LAM
4 Thai Grilled Chicken
22 Chinese Smashed
You don’t need a well-stocked Asian pantry or
specialty equipment to make this street-food
classic. Just a low fire, a bold marinade, and
Cornish hens. BY ANNIE PETITO
For a refreshing new take on cucumber salad,
put down your knife and pick up a skillet.
6 Really Good Turkey
23 The Best Midpriced
For a lighter, summery take on this comfort-food
favorite, our goal was to enhance the ground
turkey’s clean, mild flavor without obscuring it.
From burnt-out motors to cracked pitchers and
smoothies that aren’t smooth, most midpriced
blenders are a bust. Luckily, we found one you
can count on. BY HANNAH CROWLEY
8 Smoked Steak
Adding a packet of wood chips to the grill can
take an inexpensive steak to the next level. But
there’s a fine line between perfection and going
10 Linguine with Seafood
No matter how much shellfish you pack into the
pot, the pasta in dishes such as linguine allo scoglio
often doesn’t taste at all like the sea. We wanted
to change that. BY STEVE DUNN
12 Southern Corn Fritters
In our quest for fritters with fresh corn flavor,
crispy exteriors, and pillow-soft centers,
we learned that less is more. BY STEVE DUNN
26 Don’t Overlook White
Wine Vinegar
Versatility can seem boring, but it’s an asset for
this pantry staple. BY KATE SHANNON
14 How to Roast Bell Peppers
Once you experience the sweeter, smokier taste
of home-roasted bell peppers—not to mention
how quick and easy they are to make—you’ll
never go back to the jarred kind.
28 Ingredient Notes
16 Our Guide to Fresh Corn
Here’s how to make the most of summer’s best
crop, from shucking to storing to knowing when
boiled corn is perfectly cooked.
30 Kitchen Notes
32 Equipment Corner
18 Best Summer Tomato
Starting with the freshest tomatoes is only the
first step. Success also depends on the bread you
use and how you treat it. BY ANNIE PETITO
Cherry Tomatoes
The origin of the cherry tomato is unclear—Greece, Peru, Mexico,
and Israel all lay claim to it—but its worldwide popularity is undisputed, as more than 100 varieties are now grown. Among them,
the SUN GOLD tastes as vibrant as its color suggests, and its juice
is syrupy and tangy. Pea-size and perfectly spherical, the CURRANT
pops with sweetness that’s bright, nutty, and a touch smoky. The
skin of the lush, soft INDIGO CHERRY DROP fades from dark red to
purplish black, while the crisp, oblong INDIGO KUMQUAT is golden
with a purplish blush at the stem end. Streaky-looking and pointy at
the tip, the PINK TIGER resembles a small shallot and is loaded with
tart juice. Given the floral, lilac-like aroma of a PINK COCKTAIL, its
flavor is surprisingly watery. Streaked with peach-pink tones, the
SUNRISE BUMBLE BEE is plump, with supersweet juice and hints of
raspberry. The YELLOW PEAR teardrop is meaty-textured and has
tropical, low-acid juice.
America’s Test Kitchen, a 2,500-square-foot
kitchen located just outside Boston, is the home
of more than 60 test cooks, editors, and cookware specialists. Our mission is to test recipes
until we understand exactly how and why they
work and eventually arrive at the very best
version. We also test kitchen equipment and
supermarket ingredients in search of products
that offer the best value and performance. You
can watch us work by tuning in to America’s
Test Kitchen ( and
Cook’s Country from America’s Test Kitchen
( on public television and
listen to our weekly segments on The Splendid
Table on public radio. You can also follow us on
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Chief Executive Officer David Nussbaum
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Deputy Editor Rebecca Hays
Executive Managing Editor Todd Meier
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Senior Editors Andrea Geary, Andrew Janjigian, Lan Lam,
Senior Editors, Features Elizabeth Bomze, Louise Emerick
Associate Editor Annie Petito
Lead Cook, Photo Team Daniel Cellucci
Test Cook Steve Dunn
Assistant Test Cooks Mady Nichas, Jessica Rudolph
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Associate Editors Miye Bromberg, Lauren Savoie,
Kate Shannon
Assistant Editor Emily Phares
Editorial Assistant Carolyn Grillo
Test Kitchen Director Erin McMurrer
Assistant Test Kitchen Director Alexxa Benson
Test Kitchen Manager Meridith Lippard
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Lead Kitchen Assistant Ena Gudiel
Kitchen Assistants Gladis Campos, Blanca Castanza
Creative Director John Torres
Design Director Greg Galvan
Photography Director Julie Cote
Designer Maggie Edgar
Art Director, Marketing Melanie Gryboski
Deputy Art Director, Marketing Janet Taylor
Associate Art Director, Marketing Stephanie Cook
Senior Staff Photographer Daniel J. van Ackere
Staff Photographers Steve Klise, Kevin White
Photography Producer Mary Ball
Styling Catrine Kelty, Marie Piraino
Executive Editor, Web Christine Liu
Managing Editor, Web Mari Levine
Senior Editors, Web Roger Metcalf, Briana Palma
Associate Editors, Web Terrence Doyle
Senior Video Editor Nick Dakoulas
t the most basic level, we cook to
provide nourishment. But that’s only
the very beginning. We also cook to
express our love, our desire to care for
others. Some of us cook as an outlet for creative
instincts, to fashion out of a set of ingredients
something new that is much more than the sum
of its parts. Or we may cook to explore different
cultures, to better understand the way others experience the world. Many of us cook for solace and
a sense of familiar comfort, instinctively turning to
the kitchen in difficult times. And, of course, we
cook because it gives a satisfying sense of accomplishment; you can actually achieve something
worthwhile in a short period of time.
But even that list is just a start. Each of you could
probably add several more personal reasons that you
head to the kitchen. And truthfully, we cook for
different reasons on different days and in different
parts of our lives.
Here at Cook’s Illustrated we understand this,
and we try to provide cooking experiences to satisfy
every mood. Take this issue, for example. If you are
in the mood to explore other cuisines, take a look at
Chief Financial Officer Jackie McCauley Ford
Production Director Guy Rochford
Imaging Manager Lauren Robbins
Production & Imaging Specialists Heather Dube,
Dennis Noble, Jessica Voas
Senior Controller Theresa Peterson
Director, Business Partnerships Mehgan Conciatori
Chief Digital Officer Fran Middleton
Director, Sponsorship Marketing & Client
Services Christine Anagnostis
Client Services Manager Kate Zebrowski
Client Service & Marketing Representative Claire Gambee
Partnership Marketing Manager Pamela Putprush
Marketing Director, Social Media & Content
Strategy Claire Oliverson
Senior Social Media Coordinators Kelsey Hopper,
Morgan Mannino
Director, Customer Support Amy Bootier
Senior Customer Loyalty & Support Specialists
Rebecca Kowalski, Andrew Straaberg Finfrock
Senior VP, Human Resources & Organizational
Development Colleen Zelina
Human Resources Director Adele Shapiro
Director, Retail Book Program Beth Ineson
Retail Sales Manager Derek Meehan
Director, Public Relations & Communications
Rebecca Wisdom
Circulation Services ProCirc
our version of Thai grilled chicken, in which Cornish
hens stand in for the very small chickens grilled on
the streets of Bangkok. Or try Chinese Smashed
Cucumbers, an astonishingly easy and refreshing
summer side dish that originated in Sichuan. (And
if you’re wondering whether “smashed” really works
better than “sliced,” the answer is a very clear yes.)
For a brush with coastal Italian flavors, check out
Linguine with Seafood, our rendition of the classic
linguine allo scoglio.
If it’s a particularly keen sense of accomplishment
you’re after, try our Modern Fresh Fruit Tart. It not
only looks spectacular as a whole but also slices into
gorgeous portions without mashing or crumbling,
unlike most other versions we tried.
You’ll also find the comfort of familiarity in many
of the dishes in this issue, from Southern Corn
Fritters to Smoked Steak, Turkey Meatloaf, and an
old-timey Summer Tomato Gratin.
So go on—take a look. Whatever your reason for
wanting to cook today, it’s very likely that we’ve got
you covered.
–The Editors
Cook’s Illustrated magazine (ISSN 1068-2821), number 147,
is published bimonthly by America’s Test Kitchen Limited
Partnership, 17 Station St., Brookline, MA 02445. Copyright
2017 America’s Test Kitchen Limited Partnership. Periodicals
postage paid at Boston, MA, and additional mailing offices,
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For subscription inquiries, visit or call 800-526-8442.
Whenever a carafe, cruet, or syrup
dispenser that is too narrow to clean
with a sponge becomes cloudy,
Roma Heerhartz of Sacramento,
Calif., cleans it with cool water, a little
dish soap, and a small amount of dry
rice. After adding these ingredients
to the vessel, she covers the top
and rapidly swishes the rice kernels
around, which loosens any residue so
that it washes away.
Shower-Capping a Sifter
Ellen Fuss of Woodbury, N.Y.,
wraps an unused hotel shower
cap around the bottom of her
flour sifter when she’s storing it
or needs to put it down between
tasks. The elastic holds the cap in
place around the base, so no flour
falls into the bottom of her kitchen
drawers or onto the counter.
Fitting Bread to a Toaster
An Ice Bath That
Doesn’t Need a Refill
When blanching and shocking large
batches of vegetables, George
Stone of Colfax, Wis., finds that
his ice maker can’t keep up with
the demand for ice baths. His solution: freezing water in pint-size
plastic storage containers, which
produces larger ice cubes that melt
more gradually than those his ice
maker cranks out.
To fit oblong artisan-style breads into her pop-up toaster, Diane Delu of Pleasant
Hill, Calif., cuts the bread against a homemade cardboard pattern that mirrors the
dimensions of her toaster’s slot.
Nonstick Cookie
Stacking Bowls
of Soft Food
When scooping cookie dough,
Sharon Ito of Sunnyvale, Calif.,
lightly sprays her portion scoop
with vegetable oil spray. This
makes the scooping process
faster and the cookies tidier.
She reapplies the spray as
necessary and sprays the
scoop over the sink to
avoid dirtying her counter.
Creamy desserts, such as pudding or
crème brûlée, are often portioned
into small dishes and covered with
plastic wrap to chill before serving,
but they take up a lot of refrigerator space. Mary Veazey Clark of
Greensburg, Pa., makes them stackable by covering the dishes with stiff
plastic lids she saves from yogurt containers. (This also works for portioned
sauces, dips, and condiments.)
SEND US YOUR TIPS We will provide a complimentary one-year subscription for each tip we print. Send your tip, name, address, and
daytime telephone number to Quick Tips, Cook’s Illustrated, P.O. Box 470589, Brookline, MA 02447, or to
Cleaning Narrow Vessels
with Rice
Easily Removing Lids
from Cans
When you are using an old-fashioned
can opener, the lid sometimes drops
into the can and needs to be fished
out. Donnah Brnger of Buxton,
Maine, makes a “handle” with masking
tape: Take a 4-inch strip of masking
tape and fold one end over on itself
about halfway to form a handle.
Press the other end onto the lid
before opening the can and then pull
the handle to lift the lid from the can.
Storing Fragile Figs
Figs bruise and spoil quickly if kept in a bowl or dish where they are all
touching each other, so Emma Brinkmeyer of San Luis Obispo, Calif., keeps
them in an empty egg carton. Each fig gets its own space, and the spaces are
just big enough to allow the figs to sit upright.
Minimizing the Mess
of Stovetop Splatter
To keep stovetop grease
from splattering onto unused
burners, Drew Goodwin of
Maynard, Mass., puts a new
12 by 12-inch floor tile over
each one. The tiles are easy
to clean, and they act as
added counter space.
Trim Lemons to Get the Most Juice
Chill Sangria
with Frozen Fruit
While juicing lemons, Barbara Belknap of Oneonta, N.Y., found that the hard,
pointy end of the fruit kept her from squeezing out the maximum amount of juice.
By trimming off the end and creating a flat edge, she discovered she could press
out more juice.
When serving sangria, Stephanie La
Porta of West Vancouver, British
Columbia, freezes the fruit she would
use as a garnish (such as grapes,
melon, apples, and citrus) or opens
a bag of frozen berries and uses the
frozen pieces as ice cubes. They look
pretty in the glass and chill the wine
without diluting it.
Bag up Wood Chunks
for Soaking
To keep wood chunks submerged
while they soak, Donnie Young of
Vero Beach, Fla., places them in
a zipper-lock bag and fills it with
water. The water surrounds the
chunks, and it’s easy to transport
the bag out to the grill.
Thai Grilled Chicken
You don’t need a well-stocked Asian pantry or specialty equipment to make
this street-food classic. Just a low fire, a bold marinade, and Cornish hens.
the meat, seasoning it and helping it retain
can’t think of a cuisine that doesn’t
moisture during cooking. To bolster that
lay claim to a grilled chicken dish,
effect, I added a couple of teaspoons of
but the Thai version might be
salt. But many recipes further season the
my favorite. Called gai yang, it’s
marinade with soy sauce, ginger, lemon
street food that originated in Thailand’s
grass, ground coriander, or sugar (usually
northeastern Isan region but has become
Thai palm sugar or brown sugar). When I
ubiquitous throughout the country.
added some of these to the base ingredients
Countless variations exist, but the most
for evaluation, I liked the nutty, citrusy
popular features small whole chickens
flavor of ground coriander (made from the
that are butterflied, flattened, and mariseeds of the cilantro plant) and the malty
nated in a garlic-herb paste. To keep the
sweetness of brown sugar, so these were
hens flat, cooks position them between
in. I also thickened the marinade, which
bamboo clips that look like giant clothestended to slide off the meat, to a clingy,
pins; they then grill the hens over a low
pesto-like consistency by adding cilantro
charcoal fire so that their fat renders and
leaves along with the stems.
their skin crisps. What you get is the best
version of grilled chicken—juicy meat,
bronzed skin, and smoky char—made
Sweet and Hot
extraordinary by the flavor-packed mariOn to fixing the flavor and consistency
nade. The chicken is cut into pieces and
of the dipping sauces, which ranged from
served with a tangy-sweet-spicy dipping
sticky and cloyingly sweet to thin and fiery.
sauce and sticky rice, which soaks up the
I wanted a balance of sweetness and tang,
assertive flavors.
so I simmered white vinegar and sugar
As a bonus, this dish can be prepared
until the mixture thickened to a light syrup.
using mostly pantry staples. The only ingreMinced raw garlic and Thai chiles gave the
dient I’d have to work around was the bird
sauce a fruity burn that red pepper flakes
itself. Thai chickens typically weigh between Cornish hens are a good substitute for small Thai chickens. Plus, they’re
just couldn’t match.
1 and 3 pounds, so I’d have to find an alter- easy to portion when entertaining—one bird per person.
I set out the hens and sauce along with
native. After that, it would be a matter of
sticky rice, which I made by mimicking the
ironing out the marinade and the fire setup, as many caused the skin to pull away from the breast, leaving equipment used in Thailand (see “The Traditional
recipes are vague on the grill instructions.
the lean white meat exposed and at greater risk of Sticky Rice Setup”). As my colleagues tore into the
drying out. Butterflying by cutting out the back- burnished hens, sweet-tangy sauce dripping from
bones with kitchen shears and flattening the birds their fingers, they joked (sort of) that I should set
Flat Out
I discovered that the Thai chickens are often replaced was the better approach. The skin stayed intact on up a gai yang stand of my own.
with whole conventional chickens, while other recipes one side, so it browned evenly, and the hens were
call for parts or Cornish hens. Cornish hens offer a uniformly flat, so they cooked at the same rate. As for
few unique benefits that make them ideal for this the bamboo “clothespins,” they flatten the birds and
Stick ’em Up
recipe: They have a high ratio of skin to meat, so function as handles that make them easier to flip. But
Street vendors all over Thailand hawk grilled
both the dark and white portions cook up juicy; they as long as I handled the hens carefully with tongs,
chicken (called gai yang) from setups like this, with
weigh 1¼ pounds or so (about the same size as the I could move them on the grill without skewering.
the bird pinned between bamboo holders posiThai chickens) and cook in about 30 minutes when
tioned over a low fire. That way, the meat stays
butterflied; and they’re convenient and elegant for Cut and Paste
moist as the skin renders and browns.
portioning—one bird per person.
I marinated the hens overnight in a paste made from
Gai yang vendors typically butterfly chickens garlic, cilantro stems (a substitute for the traditional
along the breastbone, but I found that this method cilantro root), white pepper, and fish sauce—the four
marinade components I found in every recipe. Then
I grilled the hens skin side up over the cooler side
Annie Grills the Birds
of a half-grill fire. Just before the meat was done, I
A step-by-step video is available
placed them over the coals to crisp the skin.
They cooked up juicy and savory, thanks in large
part to the salty fish sauce, which essentially brined
Grill—and Serve—Chicken
the Thai Way
The traditional vessel
for steaming Thai sticky
rice is a bamboo basket
set over an hourglassshaped aluminum pot,
which allows the rice to
steam on all sides. We
mimicked that setup
with a saucepan and a
fine-mesh strainer.
Gai yang isn’t your garden-variety grilled
chicken. These Cornish hens are flavor-packed
and portion nicely, and the sticky rice and
chili dipping sauce served alongside
complete the package.
( Like the smaller chickens grilled in Thailand,
Cornish hens have a high ratio of flavorful skin
to meat.
( Butterflying the hens keeps the skin intact and
helps them cook evenly.
( Cilantro leaves and stems, garlic, fish sauce,
brown sugar, salt, and spices create a thick,
superflavorful marinade that seasons the birds.
( This sweet-spicy-tangy dipping sauce is viscous
enough that the garlic and chiles it contains stay
suspended rather than sink to the bottom.
( Densely packed sticky rice is ideal for soaking up the bold
flavors (steamed regular white rice is a fine substitute).
This recipe requires letting the rice soak in water
for at least 4 hours before cooking. When shopping, look for rice labeled “Thai glutinous rice”
or “Thai sweet rice”; do not substitute other
varieties. Thai glutinous rice can be found in Asian
markets and some supermarkets or online.
The hens need to marinate for at least 6 hours before
cooking (a longer marinating time is preferable). If
your hens weigh 1½ to 2 pounds, grill three hens
instead of four and extend the initial cooking time
in step 6 by 5 minutes. If you can’t find Thai chiles,
substitute Fresno or red jalapeño chiles. Serve with
Thai-Style Sticky Rice or steamed white rice.
Cornish game hens (1¼ to 1½ pounds each),
giblets discarded
cup fresh cilantro leaves and stems,
chopped coarse
garlic cloves, peeled
cup packed light brown sugar
teaspoons ground white pepper
teaspoons ground coriander
teaspoons salt
cup fish sauce
Dipping Sauce
cup distilled white vinegar
cup granulated sugar
tablespoon minced Thai chiles
garlic cloves, minced
teaspoon salt
1. FOR THE HENS: Working with 1 hen at a
time, place hens breast side down on cutting board
and use kitchen shears to cut through bones on either
side of backbones; discard backbones. Flip hens and
press on breastbones to flatten. Trim any excess fat
and skin.
2. Pulse cilantro leaves and stems, garlic, sugar,
pepper, coriander, and salt in food processor until
finely chopped, 10 to 15 pulses; transfer to small
bowl. Add fish sauce and stir until marinade has
consistency of loose paste.
3. Rub hens all over with marinade. Transfer hens
and any excess marinade to 1-gallon zipper-lock bag
and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or up to 24 hours,
flipping bag halfway through marinating.
4. FOR THE DIPPING SAUCE: Bring vinegar
to boil in small saucepan. Add sugar and stir to dissolve. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until
vinegar mixture is slightly thickened, 5 minutes.
Remove from heat and let vinegar mixture cool
completely. Add chiles, garlic, and salt and stir until
combined. Transfer sauce to airtight container and
refrigerate until ready to use. (Sauce can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks. Bring to room temperature
before serving.)
5A. FOR A CHARCOAL GRILL: Open bottom vent completely. Light large chimney starter
filled with charcoal briquettes (6 quarts). When
top coals are partially covered with ash, pour evenly
over half of grill. Set cooking grate in place, cover,
and open lid vent completely. Heat grill until hot,
about 5 minutes.
5B. FOR A GAS GRILL: Turn all burners
to high, cover, and heat grill until hot, about
15 minutes. Leave primary burner on high and turn
off other burner(s). Adjust primary burner (or, if
using three-burner grill, primary burner and second
burner) as needed to maintain grill temperature
between 400 and 450 degrees.
6. Clean and oil cooking grate. Remove hens
from bag, leaving any marinade that sticks to hens
in place. Tuck wingtips behind backs and turn legs
so drumsticks face inward toward breasts. Place hens,
skin side up, on cooler side of grill (if using charcoal,
arrange hens so that legs and thighs are facing coals).
Cover and cook until skin is browned and breasts
register 145 to 150 degrees, 30 to 35 minutes,
cups Thai glutinous rice
1. Place rice in medium bowl and pour enough
water over rice to cover by 2 inches. Let stand at
room temperature for at least 4 hours or up to
8 hours.
2. Cut 18-inch square of double-thickness
cheesecloth. Line large fine-mesh strainer with
cheesecloth, letting excess hang over sides. Drain
rice in prepared strainer, then rinse under running
water until water runs clear. Fold edges of cheesecloth over rice and pat surface of rice smooth.
3. Bring 1½ inches water to boil in large
saucepan. Set strainer in saucepan (water should
not touch bottom of strainer), cover with lid (it
will not form tight seal), reduce heat to mediumhigh, and steam rice for 15 minutes. Uncover
and, using tongs, flip cheesecloth bundle (rice
should form sticky mass) so side that was closer
to bottom of saucepan is now on top. Cover
and continue to steam until rice is just translucent
and texture is tender but with a little chew, 15 to
20 minutes longer, checking water level occasionally and adding more if necessary.
4. Remove saucepan from heat, drain excess
water from saucepan and return strainer to
saucepan. Cover and let rice stand for 10 to
15 minutes before serving.
rotating hens halfway through cooking.
7. Using tongs, carefully flip hens skin side down
and move to hotter side of grill. Cover and cook
until skin is crisp, deeply browned, and charred in
spots and breasts register 160 degrees, 3 to 5 minutes, being careful to avoid burning.
8. Transfer hens, skin side up, to cutting board;
tent with aluminum foil and let rest for 10 minutes.
Slice each hen in half or into 4 pieces and serve, passing dipping sauce separately.
Really Good Turkey Meatloaf
For a lighter, summery take on this comfort-food favorite, our goal was
to enhance the ground turkey’s clean, mild flavor without obscuring it.
juices were now much more noticeable. I’d
have to figure out a way to give them more
flavor and body.
The surest way to add more flavor would
be to add fat. But I wouldn’t want to add
much since I was aiming for a lighter dish.
Happily, just 3 tablespoons of melted butter mixed into the ground turkey made
a big difference. As a bonus, the melted
butter firmed up when mixed into the cold
ground turkey, giving the mixture some
structure that made it easier to shape. I
also added grated Parmesan, and instead
of using whole eggs as a binder, I used just
the less watery yolks. These changes made
the whole loaf taste richer, juices included.
Now what about bumping up the turkey
juices’ viscosity? I considered adding gelatin
but instead turned to cornstarch, an ingredient home cooks are more likely to keep
on hand. I settled on 2 teaspoons, which
I added to the oats, salt, and pepper in a
Time to Open Up
small bowl before combining the mixture
Here’s the main problem: Compared with
with the turkey.
beef or pork, turkey becomes very soft, with
I set my loaf on an aluminum foil–lined
a slightly pasty consistency, when ground
wire cooling rack set in a rimmed baking
(see “Firming up Ground Turkey”). This
sheet, our go-to setup for meatloaf (see “A
translates to a meatloaf that can’t hold its Quick oats help loosen the dense texture of the ground turkey while
Setup for Better Meatloaf”), and popped
shape and has a compact, mushy texture. Worcestershire sauce and Dijon mustard add dimension.
it into the oven. I now had an impressively
Grinding the turkey myself would help since
Tasters rejected ground nuts (too crunchy), bul- tender, juicy turkey meatloaf with a texture that
I could grind it more coarsely, but this was more trouble than I wanted. I’d need to find a way to improve gur and couscous (too wheaty), and pieces of turkey rivaled that of the classic beef and pork version.
the preground stuff. I knew that 99 percent lean sausage (too springy). There was just one ingredient
ground turkey was a nonstarter; the greater amount that they liked: quick oats. The flakes were the perfect Glazed Over
of fat in 85 percent lean turkey would provide more size to break up the meat without calling too much Next, I focused on adding some complementary
flavor and help keep the meatloaf from being too dry. attention to themselves, and they retained just the supporting flavors. To start, I sautéed onions
My first move was to drop the panade. It might right amount of bite (sturdier rolled oats also worked gently in the melted butter until soft. To save
often be the key to a moist and tender traditional if I chopped them finely).
time, I turned to a test kitchen trick to speed up
Oats were in, but now I had a new problem: The their breakdown: adding a pinch of baking soda.
meatloaf, but in this case the wet bits of bread
throughout were exacerbating the pasty, dense con- loaf seemed wet; some tasters described it as almost Onion cell walls will break down more readily in
sistency. Instead, I needed to add a more resilient watery. I realized I had stumbled upon another an alkaline environment, so rather than the onion
ingredient, something that would lend some texture difference between turkey and beef/pork meatloaf: taking 15 minutes to soften, it took just 5 minand break up the finely ground meat to make the loaf the meat’s juices. While the juices in a traditional utes. To further round out the flavor, I added garless dense. I baked up an assortment of meatloaves meatloaf have richness and viscosity from the fat and lic, thyme, and some tangy-savory Worcestershire
that contained just turkey, egg, salt, and pepper, along gelatin naturally found in ground beef and pork, sauce. Dijon mustard lent additional punch, and
turkey has less of both of these, and so its juices parsley contributed freshness. After letting this
with one of several possible texturizers.
are thin in flavor and consistency. This was not as mixture cool slightly, I added the oat mixture,
noticeable in a loaf made with a panade, as the bread Parmesan, egg yolks, and ground turkey; shaped
See the Loaf Happen
soaked up almost all the juices. But the oats didn’t the loaf; and baked as before.
A step-by-step video is available
soak up the juices as thoroughly; plus, they created a
The flavor was leagues better than any turkey
more open texture, with gaps where the juices could meatloaf I’d ever had. My only complaint was
pool. The result: The shortcomings in the turkey’s that it seemed a bit too plain. Though not always
wapping ground turkey for the
usual ground beef and pork mixture can give meatloaf a lighter
flavor profile that makes it more
summertime-friendly. But simply substituting turkey for the beef and pork in the
typical recipe, which calls for little more
than the ground meat, an egg binder,
and a tenderizer in the form of a panade
(a mixture of bread crumbs and milk),
results in a loaf that cooks up pasty and
bland. Rather than solve these issues,
most recipes try to merely distract from
the problems by adding a thick glaze or
folding in lots of vegetables or spices.
Surely I could do better. I hoped to turn
out a juicy, tender turkey meatloaf with
complementary additions that highlighted
the turkey’s mild, meaty flavor instead of
overshadowing it.
a must for traditional meatloaf, a glaze seemed in
order here—not only to bump up its looks but also
to add another layer of flavor. I whisked together
ketchup, brown sugar, cider vinegar, and hot sauce.
Cooking the mixture for 5 minutes reduced it to
the right consistency. To ensure that the glaze
stayed put, I turned to a two-step technique we’ve
used in the past. I applied half the glaze to the loaf
before popping it into the oven. After 40 minutes,
at which point the glaze had become firm and tacky,
I brushed on another coat.
By the time the meatloaf reached 160 degrees, the
glaze was starting to brown in spots and the meatloaf looked and smelled great. In fact, my tasters’
only request was that I come up with another glaze
option to give the dish some variety. For a lighter,
brighter flavor, I warmed some apricot preserves
until fluid, strained them, and combined them with
ketchup and Dijon mustard. The preserves helped
thicken the glaze, so I didn’t even have to reduce it
before applying it to the meatloaf. My turkey meatloaf might be perfect warmer-weather fare, but it’s
so good that I’ll be making it year-round.
Do not use 99 percent lean ground turkey in this
recipe; it will make a dry meatloaf. Three tablespoons
of rolled oats, chopped fine, can be substituted for
the quick oats; do not use steel-cut oats.
tablespoons unsalted butter
Pinch baking soda
onion, chopped fine
Salt and pepper
garlic clove, minced
teaspoon minced fresh thyme
tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
tablespoons quick oats
teaspoons cornstarch
large egg yolks
tablespoons Dijon mustard
pounds 85 or 93 percent lean ground
ounce Parmesan cheese, grated (½ cup)
cup chopped fresh parsley
cup ketchup
cup packed brown sugar
teaspoons cider vinegar
teaspoon hot sauce
1. FOR THE MEATLOAF: Adjust oven rack to
upper-middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees.
Line wire rack with aluminum foil and set in rimmed
baking sheet. Melt butter in 10-inch skillet over low
heat. Stir baking soda into melted butter. Add onion
and ¼ teaspoon salt, increase heat to medium, and
Glaze: Twice Is Nicer
We brush our meatloaf with glaze twice to get a
thick, uniform application. The first coat needs to
dry slightly before the second coat is applied so
that the second coat has something to stick to.
cook, stirring frequently, until onion is softened and
beginning to brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Add garlic and
thyme and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir
in Worcestershire and continue to cook until slightly
reduced, about 1 minute longer. Transfer onion
mixture to large bowl and set aside. Combine oats,
cornstarch, ¾ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper
in second bowl.
2. FOR THE GLAZE: Whisk all ingredients
in saucepan until sugar dissolves. Bring mixture to
simmer over medium heat and cook until slightly
thickened, about 5 minutes; set aside.
3. Stir egg yolks and mustard into cooled onion
mixture until well combined. Add turkey, Parmesan,
parsley, and oat mixture; using your hands, mix until
well combined. Transfer turkey mixture to center of
prepared rack. Using your wet hands, shape into 9 by
5-inch loaf. Using pastry brush, spread half of glaze
evenly over top and sides of meatloaf. Bake meatloaf
for 40 minutes.
4. Brush remaining glaze onto top and sides of
meatloaf and continue to bake until meatloaf registers
160 degrees, 35 to 40 minutes longer. Let meatloaf
cool for 20 minutes before slicing and serving.
Firming up Ground Turkey
Compared with ground beef and pork, ground
turkey can cook up pasty, even mushy, and its juices
are more watery and thin. Why the difference?
Poultry has less fat than most ground red meat,
of course, but it also has less connective tissue.
Connective tissue provides support and texture
to meat, so with less of it, meat becomes mushy
and compact when cooked. Also, less-fatty poultry
juices lack the unctuous viscosity of red meat juices.
To address these issues, we turned to three
pantry ingredients: oats, which we mixed into
the turkey to help give the loaf more structure
and make it less dense, and cornstarch and butter, which added appealing body to the juices.
Microwave ¼ cup apricot preserves until hot and
fluid, about 30 seconds. Strain preserves through
fine-mesh strainer into bowl; discard solids. Stir
in 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard, 2 tablespoons
ketchup, and pinch salt. Proceed with recipe, substituting apricot mixture for glaze.
A Setup for Better Meatloaf
Many recipes call for cooking meatloaf in a loaf pan, but we found that this method causes the meat to steam and
stew in its own juices. We take a different approach.
The aluminum foil keeps the
meatloaf from sticking to
We shape the meat mixture
the wire rack, making
into a free-form loaf so there’s
cleanup easier.
more surface
area available
for glazing.
Placing the loaf on a
foil-lined wire cooling
rack set inside a rimmed
baking sheet ensures that it
cooks evenly from all sides.
The large size of
a rimmed baking
sheet allows for easy
access to the meatloaf while glazing.
Smoked Steak
Adding a packet of wood chips to the grill can take an inexpensive steak to the
next level. But there’s a fine line between perfection and going up in smoke.
give them more complexity, steaks cooked
’ve always wondered why there isn’t
to medium-rare or even medium have a
a tradition of smoking more cuts
more nuanced flavor that is easily lost with
of beef. We smoke chicken, turkey,
too much smoke.
pork, and many kinds of fish, but
Over the next few tests, I dialed back
when it comes to beef, not so much. Sure,
the smoke, eventually cutting the amount
there are some notable exceptions, such
of wood chips to just 1 cup. Since we’ve
as Texas-style barbecued ribs and brisket.
found that wood chips can pack very differBut why don’t we smoke quicker-cooking
ently depending on their shape and size, I
cuts; for example, steak?
switched to using a set weight (2½ ounces)
It turns out I’m not the only one to
to better control the amount of smoke. I
have this thought, as I was able to rustle
also raised the grill’s temperature by adding
up a few recipes for smoked steaks. While
more coals so that the steaks would cook
most called for rib eye or porterhouse, I was
through more quickly, thus lessening their
more intrigued by those calling for flat-iron
exposure to the smoke; they cooked in about
steak, a cut we haven’t used much in the
12 minutes per side. And yet, even with
test kitchen. It’s a beefy-tasting steak from
these changes, they were too smoky.
the shoulder that’s decently marbled and
Suddenly, the answer seemed obvious. I
tender and also has the advantage of being
shouldn’t be following the lead of all those
relatively inexpensive. Its only drawback is
recipes by cooking the steaks over indirect
that it can have a slightly mineral flavor. To
heat like barbecue. I should be cooking
my mind, that made it a perfect candidate for
them how we normally cook steaks—
smoking, as the smoke would camouflage
quickly, over direct heat—but with smoke.
any overly metallic notes and give the steak
With that in mind, I dusted another
even more dimension. Since blade steaks
batch of steaks with salt and let them sit for
are cut from the same part of the cow (see
an hour to ensure that the seasoning pen“Two Great—and Inexpensive—Steaks to
etrated below the surface. In the meantime,
Try”), I’d make sure my recipe also worked A little smoke, an herb-spice rub, and lemons grilled and served alongside
I set up the grill. I used a full chimney of
with them for those who can’t find flat iron. add impressive flavor to these inexpensive steaks.
charcoal, spreading the coals evenly across
Most recipes I found for smoked steak,
no matter the cut, took a similar approach, essentially overwhelming. I realized that while collagen-rich half the grill as before. But this time, I topped them
treating the steaks like slow-cooked barbecue. They barbecue cuts (such as brisket) that are cooked far off with a packet of wood chips I hadn’t soaked.
called for setting up the grill with a hotter and a cooler beyond well-done benefit from lots of smoke flavor to Soaking the chips serves only to delay the onset of
side by arranging the coals over half the grill and putting an aluminum foil packet of soaked wood chips
on the coals. They cooked the steak covered (to trap
Two Great—and Inexpensive—Steaks to Try
smoke and direct its flow over the meat) on the cooler
Named for their anvil-like shape, flat-iron steaks are cut from the blade roast at the top of the cow’s shoulder.
side of the grill until it neared its target temperature
Once available mainly in restaurants, they have become more popular and thus more widely available in superand then moved it to the hotter side, directly over the
markets. Flat iron is an affordable cut with a beefy flavor and tenderness comparable to that of steaks cut from
coals, to give it a good char on the exterior.
the prime rib roast. If you can’t find flat iron, blade steak is a great alternative. It comes from the same larger cut,
I gave this approach a try and immediately hit two
the blade roast. Its only downside is a line of gristle down the middle, which flat iron is cut to avoid.
snags: First, cooked to the typical medium-rare, the
steak was still chewy. It turns out that flat-iron steak
needs to be cooked to medium for the muscle fibers
to shrink and loosen enough to be tender. Second,
tasters were unanimous that the smoke flavor was
Large pieces of
meat are cut from
See Andrew Smoke
either side of gristle line
Roast is cut crossA step-by-step video is available
that runs length of roast before
wise through gristle
being cut crosswise into individual steaks.
to create steaks.
Smoking with Gas?
Use More Chips
In this recipe, we call for more
wood chips if you
are using a gas grill.
Here’s why.
Charcoal Grill:
Because the single
lid vent can be positioned directly
over the food, the
smoke can be easily
directed so it envelops the food.
Gas Grill: Because the vent is positioned at the
back of the grill, smoke doesn’t fully surround the
food. Also, the cookboxes on most gas grills aren’t
tight-fitting, so drafts can interfere with smoke
flow. This makes a big difference since the
steaks’ cooking time is so brief. Adding
more chips to the packet ensures
that the steaks are exposed to
enough smoke.
Grill Tongs
Good grill tongs let you deftly grab, lift, and turn food without piercing it, and their long handles keep your
hands far from the heat. We tested six models, including our longtime favorite, the OXO Good Grips 16"
Locking Tongs, using each to turn asparagus spears, chicken parts, and full slabs of ribs. We also used them
to open and close hot hinged grill grates and vents and to arrange glowing coals into a banked fire.
Three models were less than impressive, including one with misaligned pincers that made precision work
a struggle. Another set was so heavy (almost 2 pounds!) that it took two hands to press it closed. Two performed moderately well once we’d adjusted to their slightly ungainly handles and pincers. But the final two
pairs felt so comfortable that they were like an extension of our fingers on every task.
What did these great grill tongs have in common? First, they were the lightest pairs we tested, at 8 and
9 ounces, which made them more agile and less fatiguing to use. Second, at 16 inches long, they were the
shortest in our lineup, providing better control than longer models while still keeping us safe from the heat.
And third, they boasted shallow, scalloped pincers with narrow tips that securely grasped both large and
small items. Finally, both had locking mechanisms that could be opened with one hand. Our winner, our prior
favorite from OXO, performed well in every task and was, simply, a dream to use. For the complete testing
results, go to –Lisa McManus
OXO Good Grips 16" Locking Tongs
39681V2 PRICE: $14.93
Our former winner took top marks again, with precise pincers that
could pluck the tiniest toothpick or hoist the heftiest slab of ribs and an easy
locking tab that opened and closed simply and smoothly. The tension of
the arms is well calibrated to be springy but not hand-straining.
smoking; now that I would be grilling for such a
short period, I needed the chips to begin smoking
right away. I dropped the steaks onto the grate and
cooked them directly over the coals, covered, until
they reached the 130-degree target for medium (our
preferred doneness for flat-iron steaks), which took
just 5 minutes per side.
These steaks were just what I wanted: juicy and
kissed with a hint of smoke that enhanced rather than
overwhelmed. To complement the smoke flavor, I
put together a dry rub featuring thyme, rosemary,
fennel seeds, black peppercorns, and red pepper
flakes to apply to the steaks just before grilling. For
some tempered brightness, I grilled lemon wedges
alongside the steaks to serve with them. When I tried
swapping in blade steaks, they worked perfectly (folks
just had to cut around the line of gristle that runs
down the middle).
Now my recipe was perfect on a charcoal grill, but
what about gas? Gas grills are less efficient at smoking
foods than charcoal grills since they aren’t as tightly
sealed and don’t have vents that can be positioned and
adjusted to help draw smoke over the meat. In order
to give the steaks comparable exposure to smoke
in such a short amount of time, I found that it was
necessary to increase the amount of chips to 1½ cups.
Whether I used flat-iron or blade steak, I knew I’d
deliver an impressive steak dinner.
This recipe requires rubbing the steaks with salt and
letting them sit at room temperature for 1 hour
before cooking. You can substitute blade steaks
for the flat-iron steaks, if desired. We like both cuts
cooked to medium (130 to 135 degrees). We like
hickory chips in this recipe, but other kinds of wood
chips will work. Gas grills are not as efficient at smoking meat as charcoal grills, so we recommend using
1½ cups of wood chips if using a gas grill.
teaspoons dried thyme
teaspoon dried rosemary
teaspoon fennel seeds
teaspoon black peppercorns
teaspoon red pepper flakes
(6- to 8-ounce) flat-iron steaks,
¾ to 1 inch thick, trimmed
tablespoon kosher salt
cups (2½–3¾ ounces) wood chips
Vegetable oil spray
lemons, quartered lengthwise
1. Grind thyme, rosemary, fennel seeds, peppercorns, and pepper flakes in spice grinder or with
mortar and pestle until coarsely ground. Transfer to
small bowl. Pat steaks dry with paper towels. Rub
steaks evenly on both sides with salt and place on
wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet. Let stand at
room temperature for 1 hour. (After 30 minutes,
prepare grill.)
2. Using large piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil,
wrap wood chips (1 cup if using charcoal; 1½ cups
if using gas) in 8 by 4½-inch foil packet. (Make sure
chips do not poke holes in sides or bottom of packet.)
Cut 2 evenly spaced 2-inch slits in top of packet.
3A. FOR A CHARCOAL GRILL: Open bottom vent completely. Light large chimney starter
filled with charcoal briquettes (6 quarts). When
top coals are partially covered with ash, pour evenly
over half of grill. Place wood chip packet on coals.
Set cooking grate in place, cover, and open lid vent
completely. Heat grill until hot and wood chips are
smoking, about 5 minutes.
3B. FOR A GAS GRILL: Remove cooking grate
and place wood chip packet directly on primary
burner. Set grate in place, turn all burners to high,
cover, and heat grill until hot and wood chips are
smoking, about 15 minutes. Leave primary burner
on high and turn other burner(s) to medium.
4. Clean and oil cooking grate. Sprinkle half of
herb rub evenly over 1 side of steaks and press to
adhere. Lightly spray herb-rubbed side of steaks with
oil spray, about 3 seconds. Flip steaks and repeat process of sprinkling and pressing steaks with remaining
herb rub and coating with oil spray on second side.
5. Place lemons and steaks on hotter side of grill,
cover (position lid vent over steaks if using charcoal),
and cook until lemons and steaks are well browned
on both sides and meat registers 130 to 135 degrees
(for medium), 4 to 6 minutes per side. (If steaks are
fully charred before reaching desired temperature,
move to cooler side of grill, cover, and continue to
cook.) Transfer lemons and steaks to clean wire rack
set in rimmed baking sheet, tent with foil, and let
rest for 10 minutes. Slice steaks thin against grain
and serve, passing lemons separately.
Linguine with Seafood
No matter how much shellfish you pack into the pot, the pasta in dishes such as
linguine allo scoglio often doesn’t taste at all like the sea. We wanted to change that.
other shrimp preparations and made a
talian seafood pastas such as frutti di
quick stock with the shells by browning
mare and pescatore promise noodles
them in a skillet and simmering them with
teeming with shellfish and saturated
wine. In this case, I finished building the
with clean, briny-sweet flavor. And
sauce by adding lots of chopped parsley, a
while many versions are chock-full of
dash of fresh thyme, and about ¾ pound
shrimp, clams, mussels, lobster, scallops,
of whole cherry tomatoes; as the sauce simsquid, or any combination thereof, I’ve
mered, the tomatoes collapsed into a pulp
yet to eat one in which the pasta actually
that added body to the sauce. Meanwhile,
tastes much like the sea. The shellfish
I boiled the linguine in a separate pot. I
flavor tends to be locked up in the pieces
then tossed the cooked seafood into the
of seafood themselves rather than awash
sauce and poured it over the drained pasta.
throughout the dish. Together with
The seafood was well cooked, but the
the typical tomato-based sauce, these
sauce was still thin in both body and seadishes resemble nothing more than pasta
food flavor. To kick it up another notch, I
drenched in marinara and punctuated by
skipped the shrimp broth and instead added
the occasional bite of seafood.
a bottle of clam juice and four minced
Most recently I came across this probanchovies. If that sounds like it would be
lem in a bowl of linguine allo scoglio,
unpleasantly fishy, trust me that it’s not; we
another mixed shellfish–and-pasta classic
often use an anchovy or two to add rich,
that’s named for the rocky Italian seashores
savory flavor in both seafood and nonseawhere seafood is abundant (scoglio means
food preparations, and mincing them to a
“rock”). Tangled in the noodles were shell-on
fine paste ensures that they meld seamlessly.
mussels and clams, shrimp, and squid, as well
Adding a spoonful of tomato paste
as cherry tomatoes, garlic, and fresh herbs.
along with the anchovies and simmering
The sauce was white wine–based, which
the liquid until it had reduced by about
gave me hope that the seafood flavor might
one-third yielded much richer, rounder
come through more clearly here than it does Fresh tomatoes, loads of garlic, and parsley keep the flavors in this classic
flavor—but only marginally better body.
in tomato-based preparations. But instead pasta dish clean and bright.
When I poured the sauce over the linthe pasta barely tasted like seafood and was
relatively dry, as the thin sauce had slipped right off
First I sautéed minced garlic and red pepper flakes guine, it still slipped right through to the bottom
the linguine and puddled at the bottom of the bowl. in a Dutch oven over moderately high heat, which of the bowl.
Worse, the mussels, shrimp, and squid were dense and would get the sauce base going. In went the clams,
rubbery, obviously having toughened while waiting which popped open after about 8 minutes, followed Marrying Early
for the longer-cooking clams to pop open.
midway through cooking by the mussels. With no That’s when I realized I hadn’t implemented one of
Overcooked seafood would be easy enough to fix hard, protective shells, shrimp and squid cook very the oldest Italian pasta-cooking tricks in the book:
with a strategic cooking method. But for this dish, I quickly, so I lowered the flame
parboiling the pasta until it’s
also had my sights set on a light-bodied sauce that and added them to the pot. They No More Spotty
just shy of al dente, draining it,
clung nicely to the noodles and infused them with plumped nicely in about 4 min- Seafood Flavor
and simmering it directly in the
the flavor of the sea.
utes and 2 minutes, respectively— Even when a bowl of pasta is teeming sauce to finish cooking. Doing
but would have toughened if with shellfish, the seafood flavor is
so not only allows the pasta to
I hadn’t kept a close watch on typically isolated rather than infused
soak up the flavor of the sauce
Shellfish Sequence
but the starches it sheds during
I ignored recipes that suggested sautéing or simmer- them. Down the road, I’d see if throughout the dish. To change that,
cooking also thicken the liquid.
ing the shrimp, clams, mussels, and squid together there was an even gentler way to we made a clam juice–based sauce
(I made sure to reserve some of
in a pot until every piece was cooked through, since cook them, but for now, I had at and added four minced anchovies
the starchy pasta cooking water
with the aromatics. We also finished
that would surely lead to the rubbery results I’d had least established a sequence.
cooking the pasta in the sauce to let it in case I needed to adjust the
before. But I didn’t want to tediously cook one type
consistency of the sauce before
soak up the seafood flavor.
of shellfish at a time, transferring each to a bowl as Clamming Up
serving.) At last, the sauce was
it finished cooking. I had to figure out how long it Left behind in the pot were the
would take each type of seafood to cook, add the aromatics and the liquor shed by the cooked shell- viscous enough to cling to the strands.
I was about to declare my recipe finished when I
longest-cooking item first, and stagger the additions fish, which would fortify my sauce. It wasn’t much,
of the others.
though, so I borrowed a technique we’ve used in got a forkful of squid that was a tad rubbery. So were
The Scoglio Sequence
Cook clams
Add mussels
Perfectly cooking pasta, sauce, and four kinds of shellfish at the same time was complicated—and often ended
badly. We got around this by precooking some of the components and adding other components near the end of
cooking. With the right order of operations, our version of linguine allo scoglio is much easier to prepare.
Set clams and
mussels aside
We give the clams and the mussels a head start by
cooking them first over medium-high heat. Their
liquor is the base for the sauce.
Continue to build
sauce in pot used
to cook clams
and mussels
Add parboiled
pasta to pot
Cook pasta for 7 minutes
We parboil the linguine and add it to the sauce when
it’s just shy of al dente. That way, it soaks up flavor
while giving up starch that lends body to the sauce.
zest, halved cherry tomatoes, and more parsley
along with the squid, plus a drizzle of olive oil and a
squeeze of lemon juice. Every bite was bright, fresh,
perfectly cooked, and—most important—packed
with seafood flavor from top to bottom.
the shrimp, I realized with another bite. Both had
overcooked as they’d sat in the warm bowl, which
got me thinking that I could add them to the sauce
along with the pasta rather than precook them with
the clams and mussels. After I’d let the pasta simmer
in the sauce for about 2 minutes, I lowered the heat
and added the shrimp and a lid. About 4 minutes
later, I followed with the squid.
Now plump and tender, the shrimp and squid
were perfect. To freshen up the flavors before serving, I tried one more batch in which I added lemon
Simplest Shellfish in the Pot
If you’ve never cooked with squid, you should
try it. It’s inexpensive, cooks in minutes, and is
typically sold precleaned. If you want rings, simply
slice the bodies crosswise. If tentacles are available, buy some and add them to your dish.
If you can’t find fresh squid, many supermarkets carry frozen squid packaged in a block of
whole bodies. To use part of a frozen block,
wrap the block in a kitchen towel and press it
against the edge of a counter or table
to break it.
For a simpler version of this dish, you can omit the
clams and squid and increase the amounts of mussels
and shrimp to 1½ pounds each; you’ll also need to
increase the amount of salt in step 2 to ¾ teaspoon.
If you can’t find fresh squid, it’s available frozen (thaw
it before cutting and cooking) at many supermarkets
and typically has the benefit of being precleaned. Bar
Harbor makes our favorite clam juice.
tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
garlic cloves, minced
teaspoon red pepper flakes
pound littleneck clams, scrubbed
pound mussels, scrubbed and debearded
pounds cherry tomatoes, half of tomatoes
halved, remaining tomatoes left whole
(8-ounce) bottle clam juice
cup dry white wine
cup minced fresh parsley
tablespoon tomato paste
anchovy fillets, rinsed, patted dry,
and minced
teaspoon minced fresh thyme
Salt and pepper
pound linguine
pound extra-large shrimp (21 to 25 per
pound), peeled and deveined
ounces squid, sliced crosswise into
½-inch-thick rings
teaspoons grated lemon zest, plus lemon
wedges for serving
Add squid
to pot
Adding the shrimp and squid
to the pot just before the pasta
turns al dente keeps them from
Boil water for pasta
Add shrimp
to pot
Return clams and
mussels to pot
Warm through
and serve
After returning the clams and mussels to the pot, we let the dish stand,
covered, for a couple of minutes to
warm through before serving.
1. Heat ¼ cup oil in large Dutch oven over
medium-high heat until shimmering. Add garlic
and pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about
1 minute. Add clams, cover, and cook, shaking pan
occasionally, for 4 minutes. Add mussels, cover, and
continue to cook, shaking pan occasionally, until
clams and mussels have opened, 3 to 4 minutes longer. Transfer clams and mussels to bowl, discarding
any that haven’t opened, and cover to keep warm;
leave any broth in pot.
2. Add whole tomatoes, clam juice, wine, ½ cup
parsley, tomato paste, anchovies, thyme, and
½ teaspoon salt to pot and bring to simmer over
medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and
cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes have started
to break down and sauce is reduced by one-third,
about 10 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts water to boil in large
pot. Add pasta and 1 tablespoon salt and cook, stirring often, for 7 minutes. Reserve ½ cup cooking
water, then drain pasta.
4. Add pasta to sauce in Dutch oven and cook
over medium heat, stirring gently, for 2 minutes.
Reduce heat to medium-low, stir in shrimp, cover,
and cook for 4 minutes. Stir in squid, lemon zest,
halved tomatoes, and remaining ½ cup parsley;
cover and continue to cook until shrimp and squid
are just cooked through, about 2 minutes longer.
Gently stir in clams and mussels. Remove pot from
heat, cover, and let stand until clams and mussels
are warmed through, about 2 minutes. Season with
salt and pepper to taste and adjust consistency with
reserved cooking water as needed. Transfer to large
serving dish, drizzle with remaining 2 tablespoons
oil, and serve, passing lemon wedges separately.
See the Sequence
A step-by-step video is available
Southern Corn Fritters
In our quest for fritters with fresh corn flavor, crispy exteriors,
and pillow-soft centers, we learned that less is more.
enough to support the kernels and keep
sk a Northerner about corn
them suspended. It worked, but the extra
fritters and you’re sure to
gluten made the fritters slightly tough. To
get, well, an earful: They’ll
the next batch I added cornmeal; alas, it
describe crispy-on-theonly made the fritters cornbread-esque.
outside, tender-on-the-inside dumplings
Then I got a better idea: How about credotted with fresh corn, deep-fried in a pot
ating a fresh corn puree that might thicken
of oil, drizzled with honey or maple syrup,
the batter without making the fritters cakey
and served as a sweet treat. Southerners,
or heavy? I stripped the kernels from two
on the other hand, will talk about fritcobs and blitzed them in the food procesters formed into patties and skillet-fried
sor into a chunky, starchy puree. I then
in a modest amount of oil. These constirred the puree together with just ¼ cup
tain cheese, herbs, and/or chiles and,
of flour, an egg, salt, and pepper. Finally,
accompanied by a dollop of creamy sauce,
I folded in the kernels from two more ears
are served as a side dish or appetizer.
of corn. Sure enough, this lightly thickened
As a Yankee, I have an affinity for the
batter fully enrobed the corn, keeping the
drenched-in-maple-syrup variety, but for
kernels suspended in the finished fritter.
this recipe I decided to focus my energies
What’s more, pureeing some of the kernels
on the southern type.
liberated their flavor, boosting the patties’
To start, I dove into the world of southoverall corniness. The downside was that
ern corn fritters, researching dozens of
processing the kernels had freed so much
recipes before settling on a handful to try
of their milky liquid that the fritters were
in the test kitchen. The results ranged from
somewhat wet and custardy. To correct
fragile, barely there patties made with only
that problem, I tried cutting back on the
whipped egg whites and fresh corn kernels
amount of corn puree I was adding, but
to thick, stodgy disks in which corn seemed
that resulted in less fresh corn flavor.
to be an afterthought. Versions with too
For my next attempt, I cooked the pulp
many extra ingredients lost their corn soul, Heating the oil until it is shimmering before cooking the fritters ensures
in a skillet to rid it of moisture and lightly
whereas those with too few were boring that they turn out crispy but not greasy.
brown it, which helped develop complexity.
and bland. I wanted just enough batter to
hold a patty shape and form a crispy exterior and of the fritter and leaving all the kernels exposed to With this concentrated puree, the fritters had soft
a tender interior popping with sweet and savory the heat when I flipped it. Without any insulating and tender—not gooey and wet—interiors.
Lightly browning the corn puree had worked so
corn flavor.
batter, the bare kernels overbrowned and turned
well that I wondered if I should briefly sauté the
tough and chewy.
For the next go-round, I ditched the leavener whole kernels I was adding as well. It would be easy
Mix Master
The first order of business was to order a bushel since it was contributing to the unwelcome cakey to do right before cooking the puree. Sure enough,
of corn and get to work on creating a batter that texture. I also bumped up the amount of flour to this simple step gave the kernels a less sweet, more
would give me a structurally sound fritter. I began ⅓ cup, hoping that more would thicken the batter roasty profile.
by whisking together an ultrasimple mixture of
just 2 tablespoons of flour, a beaten egg, baking
powder, the kernels from two ears of corn, and
Failed Fritters
some salt and pepper. The first thing I noticed was
Our initial tests taught us that a proper balance of corn, batter, and flavorings was key.
that the liquid-y batter just barely coated the corn
kernels. I forged ahead, gently frying 2-tablespoon
portions in ½ cup of vegetable oil—just enough
to cover the bottom of a 12-inch skillet—until all
the nooks and crannies of the fritters were evenly
golden brown.
The result? Bland, cakey disks featuring one
smooth side and a flip side pebbled with overcooked
An egg white batter has too
A thick, doughy batter
Bold mix-ins such as chiles and
kernels. The thin batter spread too much in the
much corn and no substance.
produces a stodgy, heavy fritter.
cheddar cheese mask corn flavor.
skillet, settling into a uniform crust on the bottom
For Crispier Fritters, Try a Little Cornstarch
When our flour-based fritters turned out limp, we solved the problem by adding cornstarch: Its microscopic
starch granules hydrate and swell into strand-like shapes in the batter and then swell up further when the
batter hits the hot oil. As moisture evaporates during frying, the swollen starch granules lock into place,
forming a brittle network with lots of holes. The upshot? Lacier, crispier fritters.
starch molecules
Cornstarch granules absorb water and swell,
transforming into strand-like starch molecules.
During cooking, the water evaporates and the
strands link up, forming a lacy, crispy network.
Fritter Finesse
I wondered if I could do even more to balance the
corn’s sweetness, so I evaluated potential seasonings.
I didn’t want to add much, as simple corn goodness
was my goal. I found that a couple of tablespoons of
grated Parmesan brought just the right salty-umami
counterpoint. I also settled on a pinch of cayenne
for depth and some minced chives for color and
earthy grassiness.
The only aspect of my fritters that I still wasn’t
crazy about was their exteriors, which tended toward
limp rather than crispy. I knew that adding more
flour would only toughen the fritters. Coating them
with panko bread crumbs crisped up their exteriors—so much that the coating distracted from the
tender kernels. Frying the fritters over higher heat
or for a longer period only burned them in spots. I
even played with taking the “fry” out of the fritters
(the word “fritter” is derived from the French word
for frying, friture) by cutting way back on the oil,
but that rendered them dry and unevenly cooked.
In wheat flour, proteins act like rubber bands
around the starch granules, restricting water absorption so that fewer starch strands develop. Fritters
made with only flour were limp, not crispy.
Finally, a colleague wondered if cornstarch might
help. After a series of tests, I settled on stirring
1 tablespoon into the batter. This delivered fritters
with a delicate crunch at their lacy edges. (For information on what the cornstarch did, see “For Crispier
Fritters, Try a Little Cornstarch.”)
My testing came to a close after I’d created a
couple of complementary sauces for my fritters, one
of which included a little maple syrup in a nod to
their northern cousins. While these tasty corn patties may not be my first fritter love, they’ve certainly
earned a prominent place in my heart.
Pressing each portion of batter into a thin disk as
soon as we drop it into the hot oil ensures that the
fritters are evenly cooked and not gummy inside.
For the fullest maple flavor, use maple syrup labeled
“Grade A, Dark Amber.”
cup mayonnaise
tablespoon maple syrup
tablespoon minced canned chipotle chile in
adobo sauce
teaspoon Dijon mustard
Combine all ingredients in small bowl.
Serve these fritters as a side dish with steaks, chops,
or poultry or as an appetizer with a dollop of sour
cream or our Maple-Chipotle Mayonnaise or Red
Pepper Mayonnaise (recipes follow). Our recipes
for Basil Mayonnaise and Sriracha-Lime Yogurt
Sauce are available for free for four months at
3. Return skillet to medium heat, add corn puree,
and cook, stirring frequently with heatproof spatula,
until puree is consistency of thick oatmeal (puree
clings to spatula rather than dripping off), about 5
minutes. Transfer puree to bowl with kernels and stir
to combine. Rinse skillet and dry with paper towels.
4. Stir flour, 3 tablespoons chives, Parmesan,
cornstarch, cayenne, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ⅛ teaspoon pepper into corn mixture until well combined.
Gently stir in egg until incorporated.
5. Line rimmed baking sheet with paper towels.
Heat remaining ½ cup oil in now-empty skillet over
medium heat until shimmering. Drop six 2-tablespoon portions batter into skillet. Press with spatula
to flatten into 2½- to 3-inch disks. Fry until deep
golden brown on both sides, 2 to 3 minutes per
side. Transfer fritters to prepared sheet. Repeat with
remaining batter.
6. Transfer fritters to large plate or platter,
sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon chives, and
serve immediately.
ears corn, kernels cut from cobs (3 cups)
teaspoon plus ½ cup vegetable oil
Salt and pepper
cup all-purpose flour
cup finely minced chives
tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
tablespoon cornstarch
Pinch cayenne pepper
large egg, lightly beaten
1. Process 1½ cups corn kernels in food processor
to uniformly coarse puree, 15 to 20 seconds, scraping down sides of bowl halfway through processing.
Set aside.
2. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add
remaining 1½ cups corn kernels and ⅛ teaspoon
salt and cook, stirring frequently, until light golden,
3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to medium bowl.
Letting the minced garlic sit in the lemon juice mellows the garlic’s flavor.
teaspoons lemon juice
garlic clove, minced
cup jarred roasted red peppers, rinsed and
patted dry
cup mayonnaise
teaspoons tomato paste
Combine lemon juice and garlic in small bowl and
let stand for 15 minutes. Process red peppers, mayonnaise, tomato paste, and lemon juice mixture in food
processor until smooth, about 15 seconds, scraping
down sides of bowl as needed. Season with salt to
taste. Refrigerate until thickened, about 2 hours.
Watch the Fritters Fry
A step-by-step video is available
How to Roast Bell Peppers
Once you experience the sweeter, smokier taste of home-roasted bell peppers—not to
mention how quick and easy they are to make—you’ll never go back to the jarred kind.
Clockwise from top left: With a batch of roasted bell peppers at the ready, you’re just minutes away from a
Middle Eastern dip; a colorful, smoky-sweet addition to salads; or a topping for fish or other proteins.
that broiling wasn’t the problem; it was the fact that
the bell peppers were whole. Cutting the bell peppers
before broiling would have a few benefits: I’d be able
to remove the cores, ribs, and seeds before cooking,
which is easier; I’d be able to place the pieces closer
to the element for quicker cooking; and the steam
wouldn’t cook the bell peppers from the inside out.
For even browning, I used a cutting technique
that produced one long, flat strip and two rounds
per bell pepper. I laid the pieces on a baking sheet
lined with greased aluminum foil to prevent sticking
and placed the sheet 5 inches from the broiler, where
the bell peppers charred in about 12 minutes. For
easy cleanup, I steamed the bell peppers in a pouch
fashioned from the foil on which they’d been cooked.
These bell peppers were perfectly browned, and
their skins peeled away easily after steaming. They
had just the lush, tender texture I wanted; they tasted
sweet, mellow, and smoky; and they had taken less
than 30 minutes to prepare.
To finish, I developed a few recipes to showcase
them—a walnut dip; a peperonata topping for bread,
fish, or chicken; and a salad with white beans and
arugula. But really, these bell peppers are great on
almost anything: sandwiches, scrambled eggs, pasta,
pizza. Or just a fork.
o-it-yourself kitchen projects might be
fun, but they can also be an extravagant use of money and time. I’ve tried
making things such as sausage and
cheese at home, but because my versions weren’t
objectively better than what I could have bought,
I considered most of these projects net losses. A
notable exception? Roasted bell peppers.
The roasted bell peppers you buy in a jar are
acceptable, but they have significantly less flavor than
bell peppers you roast yourself. The dusky, muted
color of the homemade kind is evidence that the skins
have been thoroughly charred before being peeled
away. That’s important because it’s the charring that
imbues the flesh with a rich, complex sweetness and a
subtle but pervasive smokiness. Their velvety texture
purees beautifully for soups and dips and makes a nice
addition to salads. And if superior quality isn’t enough
to convince you, how about this? Home-roasted bell
peppers cost less than jarred, and the process is so
quick that it’s a stretch to call it a “project.”
The basic method: Cook the bell peppers until
their skins char and start to lift away from the softening flesh. Enclose them in a bag or sealed bowl to
steam for a bit, and then peel away the skins and
discard them. Finally, remove the stems, cores, ribs,
and seeds.
But how do you cook a bell pepper? It turned out
that actually roasting it, by placing a whole bell pepper on a baking sheet in the oven, was the worst way.
It took about 45 minutes in a 450-degree oven for
the skin to char, by which time the moisture trapped
in the bell pepper had turned to steam, causing the
flesh to become not just soft but mushy. Finally, it was
hard to peel off the skin without tearing the delicate
flesh, and removing the slippery, wet ribs and seeds
was tedious.
I switched to an elemental approach and placed
whole bell peppers directly over the flames of both a
grill and a gas burner. It took only about 15 minutes
for the intense, targeted heat to char the skin, which
meant that the bell peppers were tender but still
meaty. They also tasted great. But dealing with the
cooked innards was just as annoying as before, and
not all cooks have a gas cooktop or a grill.
Next up: the broiler. To accommodate their
height, I had to place the bell peppers pretty far away
from the element, which meant that the heat wasn’t
very intense. The bell peppers required 30 minutes of
monitoring and turning to char, and by that time they
were too soft for anything but soup. But I could see
Roasted Bell Peppers
1. Line rimmed baking sheet with
2. Turn each bell pepper skin side down
aluminum foil and spray with vegetable
oil spray. Slice ½ inch from tops and
bottoms of 3 large bell peppers (about
1½ pounds). Gently remove stems from
tops. Twist and pull out each core, using
knife to loosen at edges if necessary. Cut
slit down 1 side of each bell pepper.
and gently press so it opens to create
long strip. Slide knife along insides of bell
peppers to remove remaining ribs and
This salad is most attractive when made with bell
peppers of various colors. We like to use small white
beans, such as Great Northern or navy, in this recipe.
Because green bell peppers contribute some bitterness, do not use more than one. Pair with crusty bread
for a light meal.
Cooking times will vary depending on the broiler and the thickness of the bell pepper walls, so watch the bell
peppers carefully as they cook. Green bell peppers retain some bitterness even when roasted and so are best
used as a complement to sweeter red, yellow, and orange bell peppers.
cup red wine vinegar
cup extra-virgin olive oil
cup chopped fresh parsley
tablespoons minced shallot
teaspoon salt
teaspoon pepper
cups roasted bell peppers, cut into
2 by ½-inch strips
(15-ounce) can small white beans,
cup pitted kalamata olives,
chopped coarse
ounces (5 cups) arugula
1. Whisk vinegar, oil, parsley, shallot, salt, and
pepper together in large bowl. Add bell peppers,
beans, and olives and stir gently until well coated.
Set aside for 15 minutes to allow flavors to meld.
2. Set aside 1½ cups bell pepper mixture. Add
3. Arrange bell pepper strips, tops, and
bottoms skin side up on prepared sheet
and flatten all pieces with your hand.
Adjust oven rack 3 to 4 inches from
broiler element and heat broiler. Broil
until skin is puffed and most of surface is
well charred, 10 to 13 minutes, rotating
sheet halfway through broiling.
arugula to remaining bell pepper mixture in large
bowl and toss to combine. Transfer to platter. Top
with reserved bell pepper mixture and serve.
ter of foil. Gather foil over bell peppers
and crimp to form pouch. Let steam for
10 minutes. Open foil packet and spread
out bell peppers. When cool enough to
handle, peel bell peppers and discard
skins. (Bell peppers can be refrigerated
for up to 3 days.)
stir in bell peppers, raisins, capers, parsley, vinegar,
cayenne, and remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Transfer
to bowl and serve. (Peperonata can be refrigerated
for up to 3 days.)
Because green bell peppers contribute some bitterness, do not use more than one. Serve warm or at
room temperature as a topping for chicken, fish,
polenta, or crusty bread.
cup extra-virgin olive oil
small onion, cut into ½-inch pieces
teaspoon salt
garlic cloves, minced to paste
cups roasted bell peppers, cut into ½-inch
cup golden raisins
cup capers, rinsed
cup chopped fresh parsley
tablespoons red wine vinegar
Pinch cayenne pepper
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in 10-inch skillet over
medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and salt
and cook, stirring frequently, until onion is softened,
about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant,
about 30 seconds. Remove skillet from heat and
Char Well and Don’t Rinse
Roasted bell peppers need to get nicely blackened,
since the charred skins transfer smoky flavor to the
flesh. To preserve that flavor, don’t rinse the bell
4. Using tongs, pile bell peppers in cen-
peppers after peeling them. We found that rinsed bell
peppers had a watery, washed-out taste. If tiny bits of
skin remain, it’s better to leave them on than to rinse.
We prefer red bell peppers in this dip. Any type of
lean cracker may be used for the crumbs. Crush the
crackers in a zipper-lock bag with a rolling pin. Serve
with pita bread or crudités or use as a sandwich spread.
cup roasted red bell peppers, chopped coarse
cup walnuts, toasted
cup cracker crumbs
scallions, chopped coarse
cup extra-virgin olive oil
teaspoons pomegranate molasses
teaspoons lemon juice
teaspoons paprika
teaspoon ground cumin
teaspoon salt
teaspoon cayenne pepper
Process all ingredients in food processor until uniform coarse puree forms, about 15 seconds, scraping
down sides of bowl halfway through processing.
Transfer to bowl and serve. (Dip can be refrigerated
for up to 3 days.)
Observe the Char
A step-by-step video is available
Best Summer Tomato Gratin
Starting with the freshest tomatoes is only the first step.
Success also depends on the bread you use and how you treat it.
a crusty baguette, and the tomatoes had
ome think it’s sacrilege to cook
just the right texture—softened but not
a perfect summer tomato, but I
turned to sauce. But overall, the consistency
disagree. Cooking intensifies the
was too thin and watery from the abundant
tomato’s natural flavor, and it’s
tomato juices, which also caused the bread
an excellent way to use great tomatoes at
to be softer than I wanted.
the time of year when there are plenty of
For my next test, after toasting the bread
them around. That’s why tomato gratin
cubes, I added the tomatoes and cooked
(sometimes called scalloped tomatoes), a
everything in the skillet for 10 minutes to
classic dish that serves this very purpose,
drive off some of the tomatoes’ juices. I
has always appealed to me. It combines
was about to spoon it all into a baking dish
fresh tomatoes with bread—typically
when it occurred to me that there was no
sandwich bread or bread crumbs—to
need—the skillet would serve just as well
soak up all the juices released as the
as a baking dish. I simply sprinkled on
tomatoes cook, and it’s topped off with
the cheese and slid the whole thing into
Parmesan for both flavor and contrasting
the oven.
texture. Sugar, garlic, and herbs are typically the only other additions, lending a
subtle flavor boost.
Less Mush, More Crunch
The problem is that most versions
This was another step in the right direction,
suffer from mushy, pasty bread as well as
but there were still some tomato juices
tomatoes that are undercooked, overly
pooling in the pan, the baguette chunks
sweet from too much added sugar, or overwere still a bit too squishy, and there wasn’t
cooked and broken down to a sauce-like
enough textural contrast. What if I set the
consistency. Others aren’t very cohesive,
bread aside before adding the tomatoes to
particularly those that simply layer slices of
the pan and folded it back in just before
tomatoes and top them with bread rather
transferring the skillet to the oven? This
than mixing chunks of tomatoes together Precooking the tomatoes on the stovetop concentrates their flavorful
would lessen the time it sat in the juices,
with the bread.
so it wouldn’t turn mushy. And for more
juices, and cooking our gratin start to finish in the skillet keeps it simple.
My ideal: a cohesive casserole featurcrunchy contrast, I toasted another cup of
ing concentrated tomato flavor and distinct pieces and chewy crumb were far better at soaking up juices bread, bringing the total to 4 cups, so that I’d have
of tomato and bread—not a mushy, saucy mess. I without falling apart, and any bits peeking above the enough to scatter over the surface before sprinkling
wanted it to have a soft and tender interior, much tomatoes offered contrast and crunch. I took two on the Parmesan.
like a bread pudding, but I also wanted to find a way more steps to prevent the bread from getting too
to lend it some textural contrast.
soggy: I cut it into large ¾-inch chunks, and then
I toasted them in a skillet with plenty of olive oil,
Bag up the Right Baguette
which would have the benefit of giving this otherJuice on the Loose
The first step was choosing the right bread. After a wise lean dish some richness as well as balancing the
few quick tests using first sandwich bread and then tomatoes’ acidity.
An artisan-style baguette,
Once the cubes of bread were nice and golden, I
bread crumbs, I discovered that these disintegrated
with its resilient open crumb
too quickly, causing that unappealing mushy texture. set them aside and prepared the tomatoes. I cored
and chewy texture, can soak
Next I tried an ordinary supermarket baguette, 3 pounds of ripe, juicy specimens from the farmers’
up the juices without falling
thinking its ample crust would help. This was better market and cut them into ¾-inch pieces, like the
apart, and its crisp crust
but still not great. It was only when I hunted down bread, to help them stay intact. I combined them
offers textural contrast.
a good-quality artisan-style baguette that things with the bread chunks in a baking dish along with
really improved. Its thicker, shatteringly crisp crust salt, pepper, and a modest 2 teaspoons of sugar—
just enough to bring out the tomatoes’ sweetness. I
Commercial baguettes from
then sprinkled Parmesan over the top and baked the
the supermarket have a fine,
The Gratin Takes Shape
gratin in a 350-degree oven until the topping was
even crumb and a soft crust
A step-by-step video is available
golden and the tomatoes bubbly.
that won’t hold up once
This first attempt left a fair bit to be desired. The
soaked with tomato juices.
bread was certainly much better now that I was using
The results were perfect: My gratin had a soft,
tender interior and a nicely crunchy, flavorful topping. For a boost of flavor, I browned some thinly
sliced garlic in the skillet before adding the tomatoes.
And with a sprinkle of chopped basil over the top
of the gratin once it came out of the oven, I had a
fresh take on tomato gratin that showcased the very
best of summer tomatoes.
For the best results, use the ripest in-season tomatoes
you can find. Supermarket vine-ripened tomatoes
will work, but the gratin won’t be as flavorful as
one made with locally grown tomatoes. Do not use
plum tomatoes, which contain less juice than regular
round tomatoes and will result in a dry gratin. For
the bread, we prefer a crusty baguette with a firm,
chewy crumb. You can serve the gratin hot, warm,
or at room temperature.
tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
ounces crusty baguette, cut into ¾-inch
cubes (4 cups)
garlic cloves, sliced thin
pounds tomatoes, cored and cut into
¾-inch pieces
teaspoons sugar
teaspoon salt
teaspoon pepper
ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (¾ cup)
tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat
oven to 350 degrees. Heat ¼ cup oil in 12-inch
ovensafe skillet over medium-low heat until shimmering. Add bread and stir to coat. Cook, stirring
constantly, until bread is browned and toasted,
about 5 minutes. Transfer bread to bowl.
2. Return now-empty skillet to low heat and add
remaining 2 tablespoons oil and garlic. Cook, stirring constantly, until garlic is golden at edges, 30 to
60 seconds. Add tomatoes, sugar, salt, and pepper
and stir to combine. Increase heat to medium-high
and cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes have
started to break down and have released enough
juice to be mostly submerged, 8 to 10 minutes.
3. Remove skillet from heat and gently stir in
3 cups bread until completely moistened and evenly
distributed. Using spatula, press down on bread
until completely submerged. Arrange remaining
1 cup bread evenly over surface, pressing to partially
submerge. Sprinkle evenly with Parmesan.
4. Bake until top of gratin is deeply browned,
tomatoes are bubbling, and juice has reduced,
40 to 45 minutes; after 30 minutes, run spatula
around edge of skillet to loosen crust and release any
juice underneath. (Gratin will appear loose and jiggle
around outer edges but will thicken as it cools.)
5. Remove skillet from oven and let stand for
15 minutes. Sprinkle gratin with basil and serve.
Buying the Best
Buying tomatoes at the height of summer is the first step toward getting
juicy, flavorful fruit. Here are a few other shopping guidelines.
The best way to ensure that you get a flavorful tomato is to buy a locally
grown one. Why? First, the shorter the distance the tomato has to
A locally grown tomato isn’t
travel, the riper it can be when it’s picked. Second, commercial high-yield
subjected to the rigors of travel
and is more flavorful because it’s
production can strain the tomato plant, resulting in tomatoes without
allowed to ripen on the vine.
enough sugars and other flavor compounds to make them tasty. Third,
to withstand the rigors of machine harvesting and long-distance transport, commercial varieties are bred to be
sturdier, with thicker walls and less of the jelly and seeds that give a tomato most of its flavor.
Grown for decades from naturally pollinated plants and seeds that haven’t been hybridized (unlike commercial varieties), heirlooms are some of the best local tomatoes you’ll find.
Oddly shaped tomatoes are fine (only commercial tomatoes have been bred to be perfectly symmetrical).
Even cracked skin is OK, but avoid tomatoes that are bruised, overly soft, or leaking juice. Choose tomatoes
that smell fruity and feel heavy.
Anatomy of a Flavorful Tomato
The best-tasting tomatoes tend to have thin walls, which leaves more
room for the most flavorful part of the tomato: the jelly that surrounds
the seeds, which is three
times richer in savory
glutamates than the flesh
is. Some sources recommend removing the
seeds to avoid their bitter taste, but we haven’t
found that they negaLots of jelly and seeds
Thin walls
tively affect flavor.
Go Ahead and Refrigerate Ripe Tomatoes
Tomato Tool
A knife works well to core a
tomato, but our favorite corer
is inexpensive ($2.99) and cuts
prep time in half—handy when
you’re making our gratin or
working with large quantities for
stuffing, canning, or sauce.
Standard wisdom dictates that ripe tomatoes shouldn’t be refrigerated. In theory, this is because cold kills
their flavor-producing enzymes and ruins their texture by causing cells to rupture. But recently, numerous
cooking blogs have challenged this thinking, so we decided to conduct our own tests.
Over two summers, we acquired heirloom and farmers’ market tomatoes that had never been refrigerated (most supermarket tomatoes are refrigerated during storage and/or transport). Once they were ripe,
we halved some tomatoes and left others whole. We then refrigerated one set and left the second set at room
temperature, storing them until they started to degrade. We stored the whole tomatoes loose and the cut
tomatoes either in airtight containers or wrapped in plastic
wrap. We then sampled the refrigerated and unrefrigerated
tomatoes plain at room temperature and in batches of gazpacho and cooked tomato sauce.
Some tasters noted that the cut tomatoes in the plain tasting had picked up off-flavors in the refrigerator, but once the
tomatoes had been cooked, tasters could not tell the difference
between the samples. The flavor of whole tomatoes was unaffected by refrigeration. Plus, refrigerating them prolonged their
shelf life by five days. Cut tomatoes didn’t last more than a day
at room temperature, but they held fine for up to two days in
the refrigerator.
In the future, we’ll move both cut and whole ripe tomatoes
to the refrigerator to prolong their shelf life. To keep them from
picking up off-flavors, we’ll put them in an airtight container,
which works better than plastic wrap at keeping out odors. –L.L.
Modern Fresh Fruit Tart
A showpiece when whole, a classic fresh fruit tart rarely retains its good looks
when sliced —a pity, when it takes hours to make. A new approach was in order.
and cornstarch required either cooking or
hydrating in liquid to be effective, as well
as several hours to set up. A colleague had
a better idea: white chocolate. I could
melt it in the microwave and stir it into the
mascarpone. Since white chocolate is solid
at room temperature, it would firm up the
filling as it cooled.
I melted white baking chips (they resulted
in a firmer texture than white chocolate,
which contains cocoa butter) in the microwave and quickly realized that the melted
mass was too thick to incorporate evenly
into the mascarpone. I started again, this
time adding ¼ cup of heavy cream, which
loosened up the baking chips just enough
for them to blend into the cheese. When
the filling was homogeneous, I smoothed
it into the cooled crust, gently pressed in
the fruit while the filling was still slightly
warm (once cooled completely it would be
too firm to hold the fruit neatly), brushed
on a jam glaze, and refrigerated the tart for
30 minutes so the filling would set. I then
allowed the tart to sit at room temperature
for 15 minutes before slicing it.
With browned butter in the crust and mascarpone and lime in the filling,
The filling was satiny and, thanks to the
Crust Ease
baking chips, nicely firm. But I wondered if
As it turned out, there were plenty of pub- our revamped fruit tart packs much more flavor than classic versions.
I could give it a little more oomph. In my
lished recipes touting innovative approaches
to the fresh fruit tart, starting with the crust. The most cooked off all its water (about 18 percent of butter’s next attempt I added bright, fruity lime juice, which—
promising one traded the traditional pâte sucrée—in weight). That meant there wasn’t enough moisture despite being a liquid—wouldn’t loosen the filling.
which cold butter is worked into flour and sugar, for the proteins in the flour to form the gluten neces- Instead, the acid would act on the cream’s proteins,
chilled, and rolled out—for a simpler pat-in-the-pan sary to hold the crust together. Hoping the fix was causing them to thicken; meanwhile, the cream’s fat
crust. This style of crust calls for nothing more than as simple as putting back some moisture, I added a would prevent any graininess.
Since heating the lime juice would drive off its
melting the butter and stirring it into the flour mix- couple of tablespoons of water to the browned butter
ture to create a pliable dough that is easily pressed into before mixing it with the dry ingredients. This worked
the pan (I was using a 9-inch tart pan with a remov- perfectly: The dough was more cohesive and, after
able bottom) and baked. I tried one such recipe: 30 minutes in a 350-degree oven, formed a crust that
When Things Fall Apart
While the result was crisp and cookie-like rather than held together.
Beautiful but fragile, most fresh fruit tarts crumble
On to the filling. I wasn’t keen on the traditional
flaky, it still made a nice contrast to the creamy filling.
as soon as they’re sliced.
I had one tweak in mind: Since I would be melt- pastry cream, since you have to cook it, strain it, and
ing the butter anyway, I’d try browning it to give the let it cool before it’s ready to use. Plus, it would be
pastry a richer, nuttier character. But when I did this, good to create a filling that wouldn’t ooze from the
the dough seemed dry and produced a sandy, cracked crust when sliced. What I needed was something that
crust. I realized that by browning the butter, I had was thick and creamy from the get-go. Mascarpone,
the creamy, tangy-sweet fresh cheese that’s the star
of tiramisù and many other Italian desserts, seemed
See How It’s Done
like a good option. Sweetened with a little sugar and
A step-by-step video is available
spread over the tart shell, it was a workable starting
point, but it still wasn’t dense enough to hold its
shape when sliced. Thickeners such as gelatin, pectin,
fresh fruit tart is the showpiece
of a bakery pastry case—and
for good reason. With its clean
crust edge and ornate arrangement of fruit glistening with glaze, this
dessert is beautiful and conveys a sense of
occasion. But anyone who has served one
knows that the pretty presentation literally
falls apart when the knife meets the tart.
Instead of neat wedges, you get shards
of pastry oozing messy fruit and juicestained filling. That’s a disappointing end
for a dessert that started out so impressive
and required several hours to make.
It seemed to me that the classic fresh
fruit tart needed to be reconceptualized
from crust to crown. I wanted the crust
and filling to be sturdy and stable enough
to retain their form when cut, and I wanted
to streamline the preparation of these two
components. That might mean departing from tradition, but as long as the tart
looked pretty and featured a buttery crust
complementing a satiny filling and bright,
sweet, juicy fruit, I was ready for new ideas.
bright flavor, I stirred it in with the mascarpone; it
paired beautifully with the rich cheese and white
chocolate. For even more lime flavor, I added a teaspoon of zest, heating it with the chocolate and cream
to draw out its flavor-packed oils.
Strategically arranging the fruit isn’t all about looks. It can make it easier to cut clean slices, too.
Edible Arrangements
Up to this point I’d been topping the tart with just
berries, since they’re easy to work with and colorful.
For even more appeal, I decided to add a couple of
ripe peaches, peeled and cut into thin slices. But
before I placed the fruit on the filling, I thought
carefully about how to arrange it. Many tarts feature
fruit organized in concentric circles. These look great
when whole, but since you have to cut through the
fruit when slicing, it winds up mangled, with the berries bleeding juice into the filling. Why not arrange
the fruit so that the knife could slip between pieces?
First, I spaced eight berries around the outer edge
of the tart. I then used these berries as guides to help
me evenly arrange eight sets of three slightly overlapping peach slices so that they radiated from the center
of the tart to its outer edge. The peach slices would
serve as cutting guides for eight wedges. Next, I artfully arranged a mix of berries on each wedge. The
final touch: I made a quick glaze using apricot preserves that I thinned with lime juice for easy dabbing.
The crisp, sturdy, rich crust; satiny yet stable filling; and bright-tasting fruit added up to a classic
showpiece with modern flavor. Best of all, it was
quick to make, and each slice looked just as polished
and professional as the whole tart.
This recipe calls for extra berries to account for any
bruising. Ripe, unpeeled nectarines can be substituted for the peaches, if desired. Use white baking
chips here and not white chocolate bars, which
contain cocoa butter and will result in a loose filling
(see “White Chocolate versus White Baking Chips”
on page 31). Use a light hand when dabbing on the
glaze; too much force will dislodge the fruit. If the
glaze begins to solidify while dabbing, microwave it
for 5 to 10 seconds.
cups (6⅔ ounces) all-purpose flour
cup (1¾ ounces) sugar
teaspoon salt
tablespoons unsalted butter
tablespoons water
cup (2 ounces) white baking chips
cup heavy cream
teaspoon grated lime zest plus
7 teaspoons juice (2 limes)
Pinch salt
ounces (¾ cup) mascarpone cheese,
room temperature
1. Evenly arrange 8 berries
2. Arrange 8 sets of 3 overlapping
3. Arrange remaining berries in
around outer edge of tart.
peach slices from center to edge
of tart on right side of each berry.
attractive pattern between peach
slices in even layer to cover filling.
ripe peaches, peeled
ounces (4 cups) raspberries, blackberries,
and blueberries
cup apricot preserves
1. FOR THE CRUST: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk
flour, sugar, and salt together in bowl. Melt butter
in small saucepan over medium-high heat, swirling saucepan occasionally, until foaming subsides.
Cook, stirring and scraping bottom of saucepan
with heatproof spatula, until milk solids are dark
golden brown and butter has nutty aroma, 1 to
3 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat and add
water. When bubbling subsides, transfer butter to bowl with flour mixture and stir until well
combined. Transfer dough to 9-inch tart pan with
removable bottom and let dough rest until just
warm, about 10 minutes.
2. Use your hands to evenly press and smooth
dough over bottom and up side of pan (using
two-thirds of dough for bottom crust and remaining
third for side). Place pan on wire rack set in rimmed
baking sheet and bake until crust is golden brown,
25 to 30 minutes, rotating pan halfway through
baking. Let crust cool completely, about 1 hour.
(Cooled crust can be wrapped loosely in plastic wrap
and stored at room temperature for up to 24 hours.)
3. FOR THE TART: Microwave baking chips,
cream, lime zest, and salt in medium bowl, stirring
every 10 seconds, until baking chips are melted,
30 to 60 seconds. Whisk in one-third of mascarpone,
then whisk in 6 teaspoons lime juice and remaining
mascarpone until smooth. Transfer filling to tart shell
and spread into even layer.
4. Place peach, stem side down, on cutting board.
Placing knife just to side of pit, cut down to remove
1 side of peach. Turn peach 180 degrees and cut off
opposite side. Cut off remaining 2 sides. Place pieces
cut side down and slice ¼ inch thick. Repeat with
second peach. Select best 24 slices.
5. Evenly space 8 berries around outer edge
of tart. Using berries as guide, arrange 8 sets of
3 peach slices in filling, slightly overlapping slices
with rounded sides up, starting at center and ending on right side of each berry. Arrange remaining
berries in attractive pattern between peach slices,
covering as much of filling as possible and keeping
fruit in even layer.
6. Microwave preserves and remaining 1 teaspoon
lime juice in small bowl until fluid, 20 to 30 seconds.
Strain mixture through fine-mesh strainer. Using
pastry brush, gently dab mixture over fruit, avoiding
crust. Refrigerate tart for 30 minutes.
7. Remove outer metal ring of tart pan. Slide thin
metal spatula between tart and pan bottom to loosen
tart, then carefully slide tart onto serving platter. Let
tart sit at room temperature for 15 minutes. Using
peaches as guide, cut tart into wedges and serve.
(Tart can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours. If
refrigerated for more than 1 hour, let tart sit at room
temperature for 1 hour before serving.)
Our Simpler,
More Flavorful
Fruit Tart
To produce a showstopping
tart in less time and with less
effort, we streamlined the
preparation of the crust and
the filling. Along the way, we
added richer, more complex
flavor, too.
The rich browned-butter dough comes
together in minutes—then you just
press it into the pan.
Melted white baking chips and lime
juice make our mascarpone filling
creamy, tangy, and sliceable.
Chinese Smashed Cucumbers
For a refreshing new take on cucumber salad, put down your knife and pick up a skillet.
Cut the cucumbers into thirds and place them in
a zipper-lock bag before gently pounding them
with a small skillet or rolling pin.
Keith Smashes Them
A step-by-step video is available
We recommend using Chinese Chinkiang (or
Zhenjiang) black vinegar in this dish for its complex flavor. If you can’t find it, you can substitute
2 teaspoons of rice vinegar and 1 teaspoon of
balsamic vinegar. A rasp-style grater makes quick
work of turning the garlic into a paste. We like to
drizzle the cucumbers with Sichuan Chili Oil when
serving them with milder dishes such as grilled fish
or chicken; our recipe is available for free for four
months at
Toasted sesame seeds add crunch and a touch of
richness to the otherwise lean dish.
(14-ounce) English cucumbers
teaspoons kosher salt
teaspoons Chinese black vinegar
teaspoon garlic, minced to paste
tablespoon soy sauce
teaspoons toasted sesame oil
teaspoon sugar
teaspoon sesame seeds, toasted
1. Trim and discard ends from cucumbers. Cut
each cucumber crosswise into three equal lengths.
Place pieces in large zipper-lock bag and seal bag.
Using small skillet or rolling pin, firmly but gently
smash cucumbers until flattened and split lengthwise into 3 to 4 spears each. Tear spears into rough
1- to 1½-inch pieces and transfer to colander set in
large bowl. Toss cucumbers with salt and let stand
for at least 15 minutes or up to 30 minutes.
2. While cucumbers sit, whisk vinegar and garlic
together in small bowl; let stand for at least 5 minutes or up to 15 minutes.
3. Whisk soy sauce, oil, and
sugar into vinegar mixture until
sugar has dissolved. Transfer
cucumbers to medium bowl and
discard any extracted liquid. Add
dressing and sesame seeds to
cucumbers and toss to combine.
Serve immediately.
The second benefit was textural. Smashing breaks
up the vegetable in a haphazard way that exposes
more surface area than chopping or slicing, so more
vinaigrette can adhere. A colleague compared dressing smooth cut cucumbers to spilling water on a
laminate floor—virtually nothing was absorbed. The
smashed cucumbers, on the other hand, acted like a
shag carpet, sucking up almost every drop.
As for the best type of cuke, I dismissed
American cucumbers, finding their thick, waxcoated skins too tough. That left nearly seedless
English cucumbers, pickling cucumbers, or small
Persian cucumbers. All had thin, crisp skins, but
the pickling type can have a lot of seeds and the
Persian type lacked a thick layer of flesh and was
therefore missing the refreshing crispness of the
English variety, my ultimate choice.
Regarding the dressing, soy sauce, garlic, and
toasted sesame oil provided a complex
base that I accented with sugar, but what
really made it special was Chinese black
Chinese Black Vinegar
vinegar, which is made by fermenting rice
Black vinegar is made primarily from rice and
(see “Chinese Black Vinegar”).
wheat bran and is aged in earthenware crocks
Finally, I whipped up a spicy chili oil
to develop complexity. Products labeled
for drizzling when serving the cucumbers
“black vinegar” range greatly in flavor. We prewith a mild entrée. And there I had it: an
fer vinegars labeled Chinkiang (or Zhenjiang),
all-new (and more interesting) take on
which are similar from brand to brand.
cucumber salad.
y longtime definition of cucumber salad—cool, crisp slices tossed
with a tangy vinaigrette or a sour
cream dressing—was recently
upended when, at a Sichuan restaurant, I was
presented with a plate of large, craggy, skin-on
cucumber pieces sparingly coated with dressing.
The cukes had a crunchy, almost pickle-like texture
and hinted at garlic and sesame, with mild acidity
and touches of sweetness and salinity. The simple
preparation proved to be an ideal accompaniment
to the rich, spicy food.
The dish, called pai huang gua, is drop-dead easy
to make. Smash the cukes with a skillet or rolling pin
(or, as is traditional, with the flat side of a Chinese
cleaver). Once they’re smashed, tear them into rough
pieces and briefly salt them to expel excess water.
Finally, dress the chunks with a quick vinaigrette of
soy sauce, vinegar, minced garlic, and sesame oil.
Why smash the cukes? I found a couple of reasons.
The first was speed. When I treated equal amounts
of smashed versus chopped cucumbers with salt and
measured the amount of liquid each batch exuded,
the smashed cucumbers were crisp and had lost
about 5 percent of their water weight after only
15 minutes. It took the chopped cucumbers four
times as long to shed the same amount of water.
The Best Midpriced Blender
From burnt-out motors to cracked pitchers and smoothies that aren’t smooth,
most midpriced blenders are a bust. Luckily, we found one you can count on.
ive years ago we set out to find a reasonably priced blender that could stand
up to the constant, heavy-duty use that
many of us demand of this appliance.
Of course we wanted it to be able to carry out
routine tasks such as pureeing soups and sauces
to a smooth consistency, but we also wanted it
to reliably handle jobs such as blitzing ice into
snow for frozen cocktails or pulverizing fibrous
ingredients into smoothies—not just occasionally
but daily. We’ve seen such regular, strenuous use
cause many blender malfunctions over the years,
from cracked jars to burnt-out motors, so once we
found a midpriced winner, we didn’t stop there.
We subjected it to a long-term durability test,
making more than 400 smoothies in a single copy
of our favorite, The Hemisphere Control from
Breville ($199.95), using a challenging combo of
raw kale and frozen fruit. The Breville passed this
test with flying colors. Furthermore, the six copies
we purchased to use in the test kitchen have held
up well over the years.
As satisfied as we are with this machine, it’s our
job to periodically scour the marketplace to make
sure nothing new has come along that might topple
the current champ. With that in mind, we went
shopping for midpriced blenders, capping the price
at $300.00. We passed over models costing less
than $100.00, since we’ve learned that these don’t
blend as well or last as long with regular use, so you
actually end up spending more money over time on
replacements. We found six contenders to pit against
the Breville and put them through a range of tests:
pureeing kale, orange juice, and frozen pineapple
into smoothies; crushing ice; emulsifying eggs and
oil into mayonnaise; and grinding almonds into
almond butter. Though we normally reserve this
last task for a food processor, the almond butter test
would highlight a machine’s ability to take on thick,
viscous mixtures. We also evaluated each blender on
how easy it was to operate, fill, pour from, and clean.
In addition, we assessed how noisy these appliances
were and examined each for wear and tear.
Blade Business
Given that in our last testing five out of 10 models
performed so miserably that we couldn’t recommend them at all, we weren’t surprised to find stark
differences among the models in the new lineup.
Four utterly failed at emulsifying the mayonnaise,
and only one was successful in turning almonds
produced the finest blend. One four-pronged,
mostly horizontal design and a six-pronged, mostly
vertical design both made completely homogeneous
smoothies, while a different four-pronged blade
turned out the smoothie with the largest pieces of
kale. Another six-pronged model also did a poor job
at smoothie blending. At a dead end on the blade
theory, we turned to the component that makes the
blades spin: the motor.
Speed Demons
Deputy editor Hannah Crowley blitzed a mixture of
kale, pineapple, and orange juice in each blender to
see which one produced the smoothest results.
into a completely smooth butter. Others managed
to make a passably smooth almond butter, but most
also required us to repeatedly stop and start the
machine for scrape-downs (the best required only
three scrape-downs).
Our smoothie evaluation was particularly telling.
For this test, we first weighed out precise amounts of
kale, frozen pineapple, and orange juice and blended
the three for exactly 60 seconds in each machine.
Next, we painted a stripe of each smoothie side
by side on a piece of white paper to examine their
textures. Though all the blenders were able to get
the ingredients to a drinkable consistency, we could
see very clearly that some produced a homogeneous,
consistently bright green mixture while others left
dark green flecks of kale speckled throughout their
smoothies. Some smoothies were also overly aerated, which detracts from the dense, creamy texture
we want in a smoothie. What made the difference?
To answer that question, we began by looking at
each blender’s blades. We noticed right away that
they were all markedly different. Some were serrated,
others straight. Some had four prongs, others six.
And the prongs pointed in all different directions:
up, to the sides, down, and at all angles. But when
we matched each blade to the smoothie it made, our
results were inconclusive—no single blade design
Manufacturers quantify motor power in watts.
Our seven blenders ranged in power from 550 to
1,600 watts. We expected more power to correlate
directly to a fine-textured smoothie, but we discovered that while power matters, it alone doesn’t
guarantee success. It was also important for a blender
to have a good range of speeds.
A slower low speed, between 1,000 and
4,000 rotations per minute (rpm), was one key for
allowing ingredients to thoroughly combine without excessive splattering, especially when working
with small amounts of food, as with our mayonnaise
recipe. A slower low speed also helped ensure that the
blender wasn’t overworked, making the motor less
prone to burning out and temporarily stopping. The
low speed of one high-wattage blender that offered
A Blender Is Built to Puree
A blender’s ability to handle large volumes of
liquid is one reason it’s a better choice than a food
processor for pureeing soups and sauces and
making smoothies. A more important reason: Its
jar makes it ideally suited to the task. In the narrow confines of a blender jar (as opposed to the
wide bowl of a food processor), the food forms a
vortex that keeps it in
near-constant contact
with the blades. As the
blades spin, the food
is drawn down into
the blades and back
up again before being
drawn back down into
the blades at a high rate
of speed. The result:
more uniformly smooth
results than a food proA CONTAINED
cessor can achieve.
Jar Points
The design of the jar also proved to be an important
feature. When blender blades spin, they move the
blender contents into a vortex, which looks like a
small tornado. In a good blender, food in the vortex
is drawn down into the spinning blades, pushed back
up the vortex, and then pulled back down, making
contact with the blades at a high rate of speed. Jars
with rounded interiors and smooth, seamless bottoms didn’t trap food like those with crevices did
and created the best vortices.
The diameter of the jar was key, too. Wider jars
were easier to scrape out, but ingredients were more
likely to spatter up against the walls at the outset of
blending and thus not thoroughly combine without
lots of scrape-downs. They also tended to incorporate too much air because the ingredients had
more room to bash about. Jars that measured about
Mind the Button
Our winner, The Hemisphere Control from
Breville, features a tiny rectangular safety button
set into the machine’s base. For the motor to
engage, one of the three plastic fins inside the
jar’s base must make direct contact with the button. For this reason, it’s important to keep the
button clean.
4.5 inches across at the middle, like those of our top
and second-place blenders, were narrow enough to
keep the food contained and required much less stopping and starting to scrape down the sides.
When we tallied the scores, we weren’t surprised
to find that our previous winner, Breville’s The
Hemisphere Control, once again bested all competitors. It wasn’t as high-powered as some of the other
models in the lineup, but thanks to a rounded, narrow
jar; a powerful-enough motor; and five well-calibrated
speed buttons offering a good range of speed between
the low and high settings, it worked efficiently
without requiring us to frequently stop and scrape
down the jar. It produced nicely blended smoothies, creamy dips, perfect mayo, and snowy crushed
ice, and it even did well in our almond butter abuse
test. And at $199.95, its moderate price is one we
can get behind.
We made kale, pineapple, and orange
juice smoothies in each model. The best
made smooth smoothies while incorporating minimal air.
The best models quickly turned ice into
fluffy white snow with minimal scraping.
We evaluated each model’s ability to
blend small amounts of eggs and oil into
mayonnaise, measuring the efficiency of
its lowest speed and the functionality and
usefulness of the hole in the top of its lid,
through which we poured the oil while
the blender was running; the best models
produced a smooth, creamy sauce on
the first try.
Models that produced extremely smooth
butter from whole almonds with minimal
scraping or overheating rated highest.
What Can Make or Break a Blender?
Contrary to our expectations, we found that the number and design of the blades and the motor’s power
weren’t factors in determining a blender’s performance. Instead, a good range of speeds and the design of its jar
proved critical.
We tested seven blenders, priced from
$159.99 to $285.00, rating them on
their ability to perform various tasks,
as well as on how easy they were to
operate and clean. We measured the
diameter of each jar at its midpoint. We
used a tachometer to measure how fast
their blades turned and a noise meter
to measure how loud they were. Prices
listed were paid online. The blenders
appear in order of preference.
The rounded interior of our winning
blender’s jar allows for
proper circulation, its
vortex ably directing
food into the blades. Its
narrow diameter contains food and keeps
it in near-constant
contact with the blades
for reliable, efficient
blending that requires
few scrape-downs.
Food in the wide Oster
blender’s jar has too
much room to move;
in our tests, it spattered
up against the walls
and lid and required
frequent scrape-downs.
This design flaw also
resulted in too much air
being incorporated into
foods during blending.
We rated each blender on how logical
and intuitive its controls were and on its
maneuverability. We also evaluated how
easy it was to clean.
We noted how loud the blenders were
throughout testing and measured their
noise levels with a decibel meter. Those
that stayed under 100 decibels rated
To read the full results
of our blender testing, go to
two speeds clocked in at a whopping 14,190 rpm. It
splattered mayonnaise ingredients so chaotically in
the blender jar that the sauce never emulsified, and
we had to scrape down the sides of the jar 15 times
before our chopped almond mixture maintained
enough movement to transform into almond butter.
Though we couldn’t measure the rpm of the
blenders’ high speeds for safety reasons, our testing
results made it clear that having a fast enough high
speed correlated with smooth, fine-textured results.
Our top blender was moderately powerful, with a
750-watt motor and a starting speed of 3,812 rpm.
While it didn’t blend things quite as finely as some
of the more powerful blenders, it worked efficiently,
requiring only a few scrape-downs of the jar. It was
adept at making smaller-volume recipes such as
mayonnaise, and all the food it produced was sufficiently smooth. That said, the starting speed of our
second-place model clocked in at 11,000 rpm, but
the blender still performed admirably. Clearly another
factor was at play.
BREVILLE The Hemisphere Control
KITCHENAID 5-Speed Diamond Blender
BBL605XL PRICE: $199.95
1 year
WATTS: 750
JAR WIDTH: 4.8 in
DECIBELS : 87.3 (low), 91.4 (high)
KSB1575ER PRICE: $159.99
5-year limited
WATTS: 550 LOWEST RPM: 11,008
JAR WIDTH: 4.5 in DECIBELS: 83.1
(low), 97.3 (high)
The least-expensive model in our
lineup, this blender had a narrow jar that combined
food well, but it was relatively low-powered, so its
smoothies had large flecks of kale scattered throughout. While this blender had a smaller footprint and
was easy to move and store, its jar was sometimes
hard to twist off, and its partially downturned blade
was hard to clean.
Our previous winner once again beat out the competition. It
couldn’t get foods quite as smooth as more high-powered models, but it reliably
produced acceptable results in every test when the others couldn’t. Its jar was
comparatively narrow, so it required relatively few scrape-downs and combined foods more efficiently than the other blenders in our lineup. Its lid loop
made the lid easy to remove. One slight downside: Its built-in timer stopped
the blender every minute, so we had to restart it during longer projects. Most
important: It’s durable and has stood the test of time in the test kitchen.
OSTER Versa Pro Performance Blender
with Tamper 1400 Watts
WARRANTY: 7-year limited
WATTS: 1,400
LOWEST RPM: 10,210
JAR WIDTH: 5.8 in
DECIBELS: 87.4 (low), 94.8 (high)
WARRANTY: 2 years
WATTS: 670
JAR WIDTH: 4.75 in
DECIBELS: 85.6 (low), 89.4 (high)
This blender made smoothies that were slightly aerated
but impressively fine-textured, and we liked its intuitive controls. The
downside: It had a wide jar and a very fast low speed, so it produced
a lot of splatter, couldn’t make mayonnaise, and required many midblend scrape-downs.
This smaller, low-powered blender made reasonably fine
smoothies, but it couldn’t dependably make mayonnaise. Its buttons
were slightly hard to press, and its heavy, 4-pound glass jar was taxing
to pour from. The blade can be detached from the jar for cleaning, but
we found this more frustrating than helpful since food got stuck in the
seam where the blade attached.
CUISINART Hurricane Pro
CUISINART Hurricane 2.25
3.5 Peak HP Blender
Peak HP Blender
CBT-2000 PRICE: $285.00
10-year limited motor (commercial quality),
3-year limited
WATTS: 1,500
JAR WIDTH: 5.75 in
DECIBELS: 80.9 (low), 103 (high)
This blender created a raucous vortex, so its
smoothies were extremely aerated albeit smooth. Its lid
opens via a spout on the side, so when we drizzled in oil to
make mayonnaise, the oil ran down the side of the jar. This
required some scraping down and, even then, resulted in a
mayo that didn’t emulsify. Its lid and jar had lots of chambers that collected water and food particles. We had to be
very careful when removing its six-pronged blade for cleaning. Suction cups on its base made it a bear to move.
This blender made coarser almond butter and,
despite its large motor, didn’t get smoothies as smooth as
other blenders did. Its vortex was too chaotic to properly
emulsify mayonnaise, and it required an excessive amount
of scraping down—we had to stop it 15 times while making
almond butter. It was also extremely loud.
WARRANTY: 5-year VIP limited and lifetime limited
WATTS: 1,600
JAR WIDTH: 6.8 in
DECIBELS: 92.2 (low), 96 (high)
WARRANTY: 3-year limited
WATTS: 1,125
LOWEST RPM: 14,190
DECIBELS: 97.9 (low), 101.6 (high)
This blender has only two speeds:
low and high. At 14,190 rpm, its low speed was
more than seven times faster than some of the
other blenders’ lowest speeds, and food moved
chaotically inside its jar, so it required lots of
scrape-downs. It couldn’t make mayonnaise, and
it was quite loud. Its smoothies were smooth but
overly aerated.
Don’t Overlook White Wine Vinegar
Versatility can seem boring, but it’s an asset for this pantry staple.
j BY K AT E S H A N N O N k
s vinegars go, the red and white wine
varieties are utility players: Neither is
as distinct as sherry, balsamic, or cider
vinegar; nor is either a go-to condiment for a particular dish as sherry is for gazpacho
or balsamic is for strawberries. But that’s exactly
what makes them valuable as pantry staples; a good
version of either can deliver a jolt of clean acidity
and balanced fruity sweetness to just about any
dish. However, the white wine kind has a small
but significant advantage: It doesn’t impart color,
which can make it the better choice for seasoning
pan sauces and soups or for pickling vegetables.
Since we last tasted white wine vinegars, several
products have been discontinued or become hard
to find. So we rounded up eight widely available
vinegars, priced from $0.21 to $0.58 per ounce, and
tasted them, first in a simple vinaigrette served with
mild salad greens and then simmered with sugar, salt,
and herbs to make a flavorful brine for giardiniera,
the classic Italian pickled vegetable medley.
From Vine to Vinegar
Most of the vinegars were well balanced, combining
punchy acidity with a touch of sweetness. Tasters
made note of samples that were on the “mellow”
side or, conversely, were too bracing. Ultimately,
we liked them all enough to recommend them (even
the last-place vinegar seemed like a fine choice for
vinegar lovers). However, one stood out from the
pack; in addition to being well balanced, it boasted
complex flavor that was “fruity,” “floral,” “aromatic,” and particularly “vibrant.”
One explanation for this vinegar’s exceptional
flavor might be the wine itself. All white wine
vinegar is made from white wine, which is typically
Sour and Sweet
We whisked each vinegar into a simple vinaigrette
that we served with mild salad greens.
processed in giant stainless-steel vats called acetators that expose the alcohol to oxygen and quickly
convert it to acid. Manufacturers usually then dilute
the vinegar with water to a specific acidity, between
5 and 7 percent (the acidity of all vinegars must be
at least 4 percent). The particular wine that’s used
to make vinegar is often hard to trace, since many
manufacturers use a mix of wines or “wine stock,” a
blend of lower-quality wines. But in the case of our
winning vinegar, the manufacturer told us it uses
wine made from Trebbiano grapes, a varietal known
for being crisp and fruity. (Our runner-up wasn’t
made from wine stock either but from a blend of
four specific varietals that are also known for their
vibrant, fruity flavors.)
Different Color, Same Flavor
During testing, we noticed color variation among
bottles of one particular white wine vinegar. Most
were pale, while some were a rich amber. It turned
out that the darker bottles were older (but still well
within their use-by dates) and had oxidized due to
light or heat exposure. But oxidized vinegar isn’t
harmful, and we couldn’t taste
a difference between the
oxidized and nonoxidized samples.
Even if your vinegar changes
color, it will taste fine.
Our winning vinegar also stood out for its balance
of strong acidity and subtle but distinct sweetness.
In fact, this vinegar, Napa Valley Naturals Organic
White Wine Vinegar, was among the most acidic
vinegars we tasted. We gleaned this information from
the product’s label, which listed 6 percent acidity,
and confirmed this number with results from an
independent laboratory, which tested the titratable
acidity (a measure of how strong an acid tastes).
That explains why it tasted “robust” compared with
less acidic (about 5 percent acidity) vinegars, which
tasted “mild” and “mellow.”
That much acid would surely have tasted bracingly tart if not for a hint of sweetness. Again, the
labels offered a clue. The bottom four products all
contained zero calories per a 1-tablespoon serving.
Meanwhile, most of our favorites contained a few,
between two and five. Our winner contained the
most. But this sweetness isn’t from added sugar; it’s
an indication that the wine used to make the vinegar
was sweeter than in the other products.
With bright, balanced flavor, Napa Valley
Naturals Organic White Wine Vinegar ($4.19 for
12.7 ounces) deserves a place in your pantry. If you
can’t find it, the best way to know that you’re getting
a good vinegar is to check the label. The acidity percentage will be listed; look for at least 6 percent for
the most vibrant flavor. As for the sugar content, the
most balanced vinegars we tasted, particularly Napa
Valley Naturals, had a few calories per serving, which
indicates that it was made with a sweeter wine. That,
along with its aromatic and floral flavor, makes our
winner ideal for use in everything from vinaigrettes
and brine to soups and pan sauces. We’ll keep this
versatile vinegar in easy reach.
Single-Varietal White Wine Vinegars
Some markets carry wine vinegars made from a specific variety of wine. These
products cost more than bottles labeled simply “white wine vinegar,” and we
wondered if they were worth the splurge. We tasted three nationally available
single-varietal vinegars—made from champagne, prosecco, and Pinot Grigio—
plain and in vinaigrette and compared them with our new favorite from Napa
Valley Naturals. Besides being “well balanced,” these vinegars offered nuances such
as “honeyed” sweetness and “fruity” flavors reminiscent of apples and citrus and
made vinaigrettes that were exceptionally “smooth” and “refined.” That said, the
Napa Valley Naturals vinegar held its own among these high-end products, perhaps
because it, too, is made from a single variety of wine grape (Trebbiano). Bottom
line: We think the important point is not so much the particular variety of wine
used but that single-varietal vinegars are likely made with higher-quality wine, not
randomly blended wine stock like generic vinegar is, and thus make a better-tasting
vinegar. To see the full results of our tasting, go to
Buying single-varietal
vinegars can land you a
higher-quality product.
We evaluated eight nationally available white wine vinegars, selected from sales data gathered by Chicago-based market research firm IRI, in a simple vinaigrette and in
giardiniera, a classic Italian pickled vegetable medley where the vinegar is heated. In both applications, tasters evaluated the flavor, sweetness, acidity, and overall appeal
of each sample. Results from the two tastings were averaged, and products appear below in order of preference. An independent laboratory analyzed titratable acidity (a measure of how strong an acid tastes). Ingredient information, acidity levels, and calorie amounts were taken from product labels. Calorie amounts are based on
a 1-tablespoon serving. All products were purchased at Boston-area supermarkets or online.
TA S T E R S ’ C O M M E N T S
Our favorite vinegar
boasted high levels of
both acidity and sweetness and was made
from a wine based on
crisp-tasting Trebbiano
grapes, all of which likely
accounted for the “fruity”
and “vibrant” vinaigrette
it produced. The notable
sweetness might have
brought out the “floral”
and “aromatic” flavors
tasters noted in the
pickled vegetables.
Organic White Wine Vinegar
$4.19 for 12.7 oz
($0.33 per oz)
INGREDIENTS: Organic white
wine vinegar
TYPE OF WINE: White wine made
from Trebbiano grapes
SOURCE: Produced in Italy,
packaged in California
STAR White Wine Vinegar
$2.99 for 12 oz
($0.25 per oz)
INGREDIENTS: White wine vinegar,
water, potassium metabisulfite (as a
TYPE OF WINE: White wine
made from Chardonnay, Xarel-lo,
Macabeo, and Parellada grapes
Wine Vinegar
$3.49 for 17 oz
($0.21 per oz)
wine vinegar
TYPE OF WINE: Unspecified
white wines
$2.49 for 16 oz
($0.16 per oz)
INGREDIENTS: White wine vinegar
reduced with water to 5% acidity
TYPE OF WINE: Blend of
unspecified varieties
SOURCE: California
Fans of bright, acidic flavors, this vinegar’s for you.
The particularly strong
acid in this pricey product
was “potent,” with “very
citrusy,” “lemony” flavor.
In the pickles, those
sharper flavors mellowed
to a “straightforward,”
“balanced” brine that all
tasters liked.
$6.99 for 12 oz
($0.58 per oz)
INGREDIENTS: Organically grown
and processed white wine vinegar
TYPE OF WINE: Unspecified
white wines
REGINA White Wine
$2.79 for 12 oz
($0.23 per oz)
INGREDIENTS: White wine vinegar,
potassium metabisulfite (to preserve
TYPE OF WINE: Champagne
wine stock
SOURCE: Predominantly USA
The acidity of this
“punchy,” “assertive”
vinegar was on par with
that of our favorite. The
product also had a good
bit of sweetness that
brought out similarly
“fruity,” “floral” notes in
the pickled vegetables.
White Wine Vinegar
$2.99 for 12 oz ($0.25 per oz)
White wine vinegar,
water, potassium metabisulfite (as a
TYPE OF WINE: Unspecified
white wine
SOURCE: California
The combination of low
acid and moderate sweetness produced a “mellow” and “mild” vinegar.
Consequently, the vinaigrette and pickles lacked
the “punch” of other
batches, though they were
praised for tasting “clean”
and “balanced.”
TA S T E R S ’ C O M M E N T S
White Wine Vinegar
The particular wine
grapes (Chardonnay, as
well as a trio of varieties
often used to make the
Spanish sparkling wine
cava) in this vinegar might
have accounted for the
“fruity,” even “apple”
flavors tasters picked
up on in the vinaigrette.
But its relatively low acid
content had some tasters
wishing that the pickled
vegetables tasted sharper.
White Wine Vinegar
$3.99 for 16.9 oz
($0.24 per oz)
INGREDIENTS: White wine vinegar
TYPE OF WINE: Unspecified
Relatively low in acid and
sweetness, this vinegar
didn’t “wow” or “challenge” anyone, but it also
didn’t offend. Fans of
mellower flavors might
consider this product if
what you want is a simple,
“clean” source of acid.
“Rather soft vinegar presence” is a good way to
describe this low-acid
product. Tasters found
they could better taste the
oil in the vinaigrette and
the carrots in the pickle
mix while the vinegar
“played second fiddle.”
But in both applications it
tasted acceptably “clean”
and “smooth.”
The most acidic vinegar we
tasted also contained less
sugar than the others, so
it packed a little too much
punch for some members
of our panel. But tasters
who preferred a vinaigrette with “bold” acidity
liked the intensity of this
“bright,” “lively” vinegar.
j B Y A N D R E A G E A R Y, A N D R E W J A N J I G I A N , E R I N M c M U R R E R & A N N I E P E T I T O k
For a Touch of Tang,
Try Sumac
Tasting Mascarpone
Mascarpone is a soft, creamy cow’s-milk cheese from Italy that’s both slightly
sweet and slightly tangy, so it’s versatile enough to be used in sweet applications (in tiramisù or tarts, dolloped on berries, drizzled with honey) and
savory dishes (stirred into pasta or risotto or served alongside baked or
roasted potatoes). It’s an acid-set cheese, which means that the cream and/
or milk is coagulated using acids such as citric or acetic acid instead of rennet.
It’s then cooked until it reaches a thick and spreadable consistency similar to
that of crème fraîche or sour cream.
Mascarpone used to be available only in Italian markets and specialty
shops, so when we started seeing it in our regular supermarkets, we took
notice. We found four nationally available products and sampled each plain,
in tiramisù, and in our recipe for Fresh Fruit Tart (page 21). In the plain tasting,
the differences were subtle. Some tasters found one sample slightly “sour”
and another too “mild.” Those we ranked highest, which are made with more
cream than milk, contained a small amount of natural sugar, about 1 gram
for every 2 tablespoons. It was enough to make the cheese taste pleasantly
sweet without overwhelming its tangy flavor.
Textural differences were more pronounced. Straight from the containers,
the cheeses ranged from as loose as yogurt to as firm as cream cheese. These
differences were less dramatic—but still noticeable—in the tiramisù and tart,
with tasters preferring fillings that were firm enough to slice cleanly but not so
thick as to be “dense” and “chalky.”
Although we recommend all these products, the sole Italian import
emerged as our new winner. Polenghi Mascarpone ($5.99 for 8.8 ounces)
boasted an especially “luscious” texture and yielded ultrasmooth desserts
that sliced neatly without being too heavy. It contains a relatively high amount
of naturally occurring sugar, so it strikes the perfect balance between “slight
sweetness” and “bright,” tangy flavor. It’s a mascarpone that we’ll use for
tiramisù, fruit tarts, and much more. To see the full tasting results, go to
–Kate Shannon
POLENGHI Mascarpone
PRICE: $5.99 for 8.8-oz container ($10.89 per
In the test kitchen, we most
often reach for a lemon when
we want to brighten a dish’s
flavor, but there’s another
way: Simply add some of
the lemony spice known as
sumac. The dried berries harvested from a shrub grown
in southern Europe and in
the Middle East ground into a
Seasoning a dish with sumac right before
serving preserves the spice’s bright flavor.
purplish-red powder, sumac
is an essential seasoning in
Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines. It is an essential component in the
Middle Eastern spice blend za’atar, but it can be also be used as an ingredient
in spice rubs or sprinkled over foods as a finishing touch. Our tasters described
sumac as “bright, with a clean, citrusy flavor” and a “slight raisiny sweetness”—
both more balanced and more complex-tasting than lemon juice.
While ground sumac will liven up everything from dry rubs to dressings, we
like it best sprinkled over vegetables, grilled meats, stews, eggs, hummus, and
even popcorn, so as not to mute its bright flavor. You can find ground sumac
and sumac berries, which you can grind yourself, at some supermarkets, Middle
Eastern markets, and online sources such as Penzeys Spices. –A.P.
Figuring out Dried Figs
When shopping for dried figs, you will most often find the following three options:
Black Mission, Calimyrna, and Turkish (often labeled Smyrna). The latter two are
actually the same variety of fig. Calimyrna figs originated near the city of Smyrna in
Turkey. Smyrna figs, which have been grown in Turkey for centuries, were brought to
California and cultivated as cuttings in the late 19th century (hence the hybrid name
“Calimyrna”). Here’s a rundown on both types of figs. Note that these are generalizations; growing conditions, processing, and age can all cause variations in texture and
flavor, even within a variety. –A.G.
1 g per 30-gram serving
Neither too thick nor too thin, our new winner was the only
product in our lineup made with all cream and no milk. It was soft and “creamy”
but still able to hold its shape in desserts. A small amount of sugar per serving,
which is present naturally in milk and cream, ensured that the “tangy and bright”
flavor was “balanced.”
$4.99 for 8-oz container ($9.98 per lb)
SUGAR: 1.1 g per 30-gram serving
COMMENTS: This mascarpone was sweet, with a tangy,
it Ehigh
I Tearned
I OinNfruit
tart and tiramisù. The softest, loosest product in our lineup, it was similar in
consistency to yogurt. The texture may be due to the use of glucono delta lactone, an acid-forming substance that is slower-acting than the citric acid used by
other manufacturers. A few tasters preferred a firmer texture, but many liked
this cheese’s supersmooth, “lush” consistency.
Black Mission
Taste and texture: small, with a thin,
moist, dark skin; a robust fruitiness with a
pleasant touch of bitterness; and a slightly
dry interior full of delicate seeds.
Best for: tossing into salads, baking into
breads, and eating out of hand.
Calimyrna (Smyrna)
Taste and texture: larger than Black
Mission figs, with a thick, dry, beige skin
that can be slightly crystalline on its exterior. Its sweetness is complemented by
subtle notes of vanilla, nuts, and bourbon.
Its interior is almost spreadably moist, and
the assertive crunch of seeds dominates.
Best for: tart fillings and other cooked
applications, such as jam.
Boozy Peach Jam
Peaches and bourbon are a classic pairing, but when developing this jam recipe, we found we couldn’t taste just a couple of tablespoons of bourbon when we added
it toward the end of cooking (when most jam recipes involving alcohol call for adding it). Upping the amount made more of an impact, but it also tasted too harsh.
Adding a full cup of bourbon at the beginning of cooking eliminated the harshness and left sweet bourbon notes. A shredded apple lent enough pectin to avoid the
need for the commercial product, and leaving the skins on the peaches intensified the peach flavor and imparted color to the jam. –Amanda Rumore
2. Bring mixture to boil over medium-high heat, stirring often. Once sugar is
completely dissolved, reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer, stirring
occasionally, until peaches are softened, about 10 minutes.
3. Off heat, crush fruit with potato masher until mostly smooth. Return mixture to boil over medium-high heat and cook, stirring frequently, for 6 minutes.
Remove saucepan from heat and discard vanilla bean.
4. To test consistency, place 1 teaspoon jam on chilled plate and freeze for
2 minutes. Drag your finger through jam on plate; jam has correct consistency
when your finger leaves distinct trail. If jam is
runny, return saucepan to heat and continue to
simmer 1 to 3 minutes longer before retesting.
Skim any foam from surface of jam using spoon.
5. Meanwhile, place two 1-cup jars in bowl
and place under hot running water until heated
through, 1 to 2 minutes; shake dry.
6. Using funnel and ladle, portion hot jam into
hot jars and let cool completely. Cover and refrigIf your finger leaves a trail
erate until jam is set, 12 to 24 hours. (Jam can be
in jam dolloped onto a
refrigerated for up to 2 months.)
chilled plate, it’s done.
Do not use white peaches here; they are not acidic enough. Also, be sure to use bottled lemon juice here, not fresh-squeezed juice, for food-safety reasons. McCormick
Gourmet Madagascar Vanilla Beans are our favorite.
vanilla bean
pound ripe but firm yellow peaches, halved, pitted,
and cut into ½-inch pieces (3 cups)
cup sugar
cup bourbon
Granny Smith apple, peeled and grated (½ cup)
tablespoon bottled lemon juice
1. Place 2 small plates in freezer. Using paring knife, cut vanilla bean in half
lengthwise. Using tip of paring knife, scrape out seeds. Stir vanilla bean and seeds,
peaches, sugar, bourbon, apple, and lemon juice together in large saucepan. Cover
and let sit for 20 minutes.
Not All Bell Peppers Are the Same
While developing our recipe for Roasted Bell Peppers (page 15), we worked with two types: boxy,
uniform, thick-walled hothouse bell peppers and longer, more irregularly shaped, thinner-walled
field bell peppers, which are also less expensive. They won’t be labeled as hothouse or field, but
they are distinguishable on sight (see photos below). We initially thought the field bell peppers’
irregular shape would make them difficult to cut neatly and that their thin walls would turn to mush
before their exteriors were charred, but we were wrong. In fact, we preferred the field variety.
Because field bell peppers have thinner walls, they have more surface area per ounce, and
because the surface is where the sweet, smoky compounds develop, the roasted field bell peppers
were more flavorful than their
hothouse counterparts. They
work well in applications where
they are chopped or pureed.
Thicker-walled hothouse bell
peppers are worth the extra
money when making crudités
or stuffed peppers or in applicaFIELD-GROWN
tions where consistent shape
More surface area per ounce
Thicker walls make these
makes these best for roasting.
ideal for stuffing or crudités.
and size are important. –A.G.
Red or White Wine Vinegar: Does It
Matter in Dressing?
Though most of us like to keep a well-stocked pantry at home,
there are definitely occasions when we have red wine vinegar or
white wine vinegar but not both. We wondered if we could distinguish between the two in a salad dressing once it was tossed with
the greens. To find out, we made batches of vinaigrette using our
favorite red wine and white wine vinegars (see our testing on page
26). We dressed mild Bibb lettuce with each and asked tasters
whether they could determine which was which and if either was
Some could tell the two dressings apart, but most could not.
Those who did notice a difference found the dressing made with
white wine vinegar to be brighter in flavor. But none considered
either vinegar to be unacceptable, despite the difference.
The takeaway? If a dressing calls for red wine vinegar and you
have only white (or vice versa), just use what you have. –A.J.
Cutting the flesh from a mango can be tricky. We don’t like holding the mango to remove the skin since the fruit becomes slippery. We also don’t like cutting the flesh
from either side of the pit and then using a spoon to scoop it from the skin; it won’t work if the mango is even slightly underripe. Here’s the method we prefer. –E.M.
1. Cut thin slice from end of mango so
2. Rest mango on 1 trimmed end and
3. Cut down along each side of flat pit
4. Trim around pit to remove any
that it sits flat on counter.
cut off skin in thin strips, top to bottom.
to remove flesh.
remaining flesh. Cut flesh as desired.
j B Y S T E V E D U N N , A N D R E A G E A R Y, A N D R E W J A N J I G I A N & L A N L A M k
Three Tips for Roasting Chile Peppers
It looks more like a complicated mousetrap than a kitchen tool,
but this gadget is actually a 1930s butter cutter. This contraption
was widely used in the days when butter was sold almost
exclusively in 1-pound blocks. Its purpose was to evenly and
quickly portion those blocks into four ¼-pound sticks and then
into smaller pats. To see how it works, we placed a 1-pound
block of butter on the base and then pulled the cutter—with
two wires set in a crosshair formation—to divide the block into
four sticks. Then we pushed down on the piece with 17 wires to
cut the sticks into 72 pats. You
can also use the cutter to
portion already-cut
sticks into pats.
with cold
butter, we
found that the
two-wire cutter
moved smoothly
through it but the 17-wire
cutter took a fair amount of
muscle to maneuver. Working
with room-temperature butter
was much easier. –S.D.
After developing our method for roasting and peeling bell peppers (page 15), we were eager to try
it on other pepper varieties. We found that roasting very thin-walled varieties, such as Cubanelle
peppers and serrano chiles, turned out to be more trouble than it was worth because their flesh
diminished so much that the roasted peppers were difficult to peel. Plus, the yield was puny. We
recommend sticking to varieties such as poblano, Anaheim, Fresno, and jalapeño. These roasted
chiles make great additions to salsas, chilis, scrambled eggs, salads, and sandwiches. Since the
shapes of all these peppers are tapered rather than boxy like that of bell peppers, we recommend
a slightly different method for cutting and roasting them. –A.G.
1. The tops of large chiles
2. Do not remove the pointed
3. Smaller chiles such as jala-
may be roasted in the same
way as bell pepper tops, but
the tops of smaller chiles don’t
hold up to roasting and should
be discarded.
bottom of the pepper. Instead
halve the pepper lengthwise,
remove the seeds and ribs, and
flatten the pepper skin side up on
a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet.
peños may roast more quickly
than larger chiles such as
poblanos, so be sure to keep an
eye on them.
How to Store Fresh Shellfish
( CLAMS AND MUSSELS Place in bowl, cover
( SCALLOPS Keep sealed in zipper-lock bag or
with layer of wet paper towels or newspaper to keep
them moist, and set bowl in second bowl filled with ice;
replenish ice as necessary.
Shelf life: Up to one week for clams; up to three days
for mussels.
other airtight container and place on bed of ice.
Shelf life: Up to five days for dry scallops or up to one
week for chemically treated (wet) scallops.
( LOBSTERS AND CRABS Refrigerate in breathable seafood bag supplied by fishmonger or in bowl,
covered with wet paper towels or newspaper to keep
them moist.
Shelf life: Cook crabs and hard-shell lobsters within
24 hours; cook more-perishable soft-shell lobsters the
same day you buy them.
Our recipe for Linguine with Seafood (page 11) calls for a variety of seafood, including clams and mussels. If you’re not cooking them right away, these and other fresh shellfish need
to be stored in as cold an environment as possible. Note that clams and mussels should not come in contact with melted ice since submersion in fresh water can kill them. Because
we recommend eating lobsters and crabs within 24 hours of purchase, we don’t bother putting them on ice, but they should not sit in fresh water, either. –S.D.
Knife Tune-Up: How to Use a Honing Steel
How Much Oil for Cast Iron Upkeep?
A honing steel (also referred to as a sharpening steel, though that’s a
misnomer), the handled metal rod sold with most knife sets, doesn’t
really sharpen a knife. Instead, it “trues” the edge of a slightly dulled
blade. Over time, the sharp cutting edge of a knife blade can turn to
the side, making the blade seem dull. A knife that feels dull may need
only a few light strokes across a honing steel to correct its edge and
restore its sharpness without the need to run it through a sharpener.
The honing process is also faster than sharpening a knife (about
1 minute to hone versus 5 minutes to sharpen) and doesn’t remove metal from the blade.
To know if you need to hone or sharpen your knife, perform a paper test: Simply hold
a single sheet of newspaper, place the blade against the top edge at an angle, and slice
outward. If the knife catches at the paper, try honing the knife (see steps below) before
testing again. If the knife still fails, sharpen it. To watch a knife-honing demonstration, go to –L.L.
1. Place tip of honing steel
2. Maintaining light, consis-
3. Repeat this motion on
on counter and place heel
of blade against
15° top of steel, pointing knife tip slightly
upward. Hold
blade at 15-degree
angle away from
tent pressure and 15-degree
angle between knife blade
and honing steel, slide blade
down length of steel in
sweeping motion, pulling
knife toward your body so
that entire edge of blade
makes contact with steel.
other side of blade. Four or
five strokes on each side of
blade (total of eight to 10
alternating passes) should
realign edge.
To maintain a cast-iron skillet’s seasoning—the key to its nonstick quality—we
recommend coating the cleaned skillet with oil and then heating it briefly after
every use. But how much oil is needed? Is it like skin moisturizer, where a little
is good but more is better? We set up an experiment to find out.
( EXPERIMENT: We heated two cast-iron skillets and added 1 tablespoon
of oil to each skillet. We used a wad of paper towels to wipe the oil from one
skillet, leaving behind a thin but visible layer of oil (we used our kitchen scale to
confirm that 3 grams of oil remained). We then used a wad of paper towels
to thoroughly wipe the other skillet until we could see no trace of oil (just 1
gram of oil remained). We heated both skillets until they smoked, a sign that
the oil was breaking down and bonding to the pan to create a nonstick coating.
To evaluate the level of seasoning achieved, we let the skillets cool and then
scrambled eggs in each, noting how much egg stuck to each pan.
( RESULTS: The oil remaining in the first skillet beaded up when heated.
Once cooled, this pan was shiny and its surface felt tacky. The oil remaining
in the second skillet did not bead up when heated. Once cooled, this pan
had the semimatte appearance of a well-seasoned pan and felt slick. Large
patches of eggs stuck to the first pan’s surface, while only a few small bits of
egg remained in the second pan.
( EXPLANATION: When oil is applied with a too-generous hand,
the excess oil (as evidenced by beading) can’t break down completely and
therefore doesn’t completely bond to the pan. Plus, the byproducts of this
partially polymerized oil make the surface of the pan feel tacky.
( TAKEAWAY: Apply only a thin, uniform layer of oil to cast-iron cookware to ensure the proper seasoning. We recommend using a wad of paper
towels to smooth the oil over the surface of the pan. Then, use a clean wad
of towels to wipe away as much oil as possible. If you notice oil beading up
when the pan is heating, stop and wipe out this excess before continuing. Too
much oil will only gum up the pan. –L.L.
White Chocolate versus White Baking Chips
While developing the filling for our Fresh Fruit Tart (page 21), we found that fillings made
with bars of white chocolate were too loose to slice neatly and couldn’t hold the fruit in
place. Conversely, fillings made with so-called white baking chips set up nicely. We also
used both chips and bars to make white chocolate bark. The bark made with bar white
chocolate had a soft, truffle-like consistency, while the bark made with white chips had the
proper firm snap.
The explanation for the difference can be found on the ingredient label. True white
chocolate, almost always sold in bar form,
contains cocoa butter. White baking chips
contain no cocoa butter and thus can’t be
labeled “chocolate,” but they do contain
partially hydrogenated oil (usually palm kernel
oil). Melting white chocolate changes the crystal structure of its cocoa butter, and unless
you take steps to reestablish that particular
structure, it sets up soft instead of firm. The
refined fat added to white baking chips, as
well as their lack of cocoa butter, make them
much more forgiving; when melted, the chips
recrystallize into a firm, snappy form—no
extra work or ingredients required.
The takeaway? It might be tempting to
swap in bars of white chocolate when a
recipe (such as our tart) calls for white baking chips, but doing so will affect the results.
It’s best to stick with the type called for in
the recipe. –L.L.
Why Bread Doughs Need Oil
Our Deli Rye Bread (March/April 2017) and Thin-Crust Pizza (January/
February 2011) recipes call for such small amounts of oil (1 tablespoon of oil
and 4 cups of flour for the bread; 1 tablespoon of oil and 3 cups of flour for
the pizza) that you might wonder if it’s necessary. When we made batches of
these recipes both with and without the oil, the differences were subtle but
important. The pizza crust without oil was less tender on the inside and less
crisp on the outside. The rye bread without oil had a slightly tough, chewy crust.
Fats work as tenderizers in breads by coating some of the proteins that
form gluten, preventing them from hydrating and linking up to form large
networks that would lead to toughness. When it’s present in high percentages
(think of ultratender breads such as brioche and fluffy dinner rolls), fat’s effect
is obvious, but it’s still important in smaller amounts, reducing toughness for a
more tender interior and a more delicate, crispier exterior. –A.J.
Watermelon Slicer and
Server by IPAC
Asian-Style Knife Sharpener
Stainless Steel Wine Cooler
with Freezer Inserts
Automatic Coffee Machine
Classic Pop Molds
PRICE: $690.06
PRICE: $15.96
PRICE: $25.99
PRICE: $20.39
Angurello Watermelon Slicer and Server
Espresso Machines
As American coffee culture continues to expand and evolve, more java junkies are
opting to buy espresso machines to make their lattes, cappuccinos, and espressos
at home. In search of the best model, we gathered six automatic machines priced
from $374.99 to $999.95—five with built-in grinders and one that uses pods. All the
models had milk frothers. We wanted a machine that was relatively easy to use and
maintain and that made great espresso and coffee drinks we could customize for
size and strength.
After weeks of testing and lots of caffeine jitters, one winner emerged. It consistently made great espresso at the touch of a button and was easy and intuitive to
use, even first thing in the morning. The Gaggia Anima Automatic Coffee Machine
isn’t cheap—it costs almost $700—but it was by far the best fully automatic machine
we tested. –L.M.
Knife Sharpeners
Recently, Accusharp, the manufacturer of our winning 20-degree manual knife
sharpener, released the Accusharp Asian-Style Knife Sharpener ($25.99), a new
manual knife sharpener designed to sharpen 15-degree knives. Curious to see
how it performed with our favorite chef ’s knife, which has a 15-degree blade, we
put it head to head with our current favorite 15-degree manual knife sharpener,
the Chef ’sChoice Pronto Manual Diamond Hone Asian Knife Sharpener ($39.95),
repeatedly dulling two knives and sharpening one with each model. The Accusharp
did a decent job of restoring and honing the dull blade, but it didn’t sharpen blades
quite as keenly as the Chef ’sChoice model did, and it took longer. Its ceramic and
diamond rods were less abrasive than the Chef ’sChoice’s diamond plates, and lacking the Chef ’sChoice’s guides, it was harder to direct and center the knives. The
Chef ’sChoice remains our favorite 15-degree manual knife sharpener. –M.B.
Ice Pop Molds
When you buy ice pops, you’re often paying for ingredients such as high-fructose
corn syrup, artificial flavors, and food dyes. Better to make your own with an ice
pop mold, of which there are two basic types. The simpler type is a rectangular
frame with the pop molds fixed in place and a separate lid (these molds usually
require disposable wooden sticks). Another style has individual molds that detach
separately from the base or frame; these commonly come with reusable plastic
sticks, each attached to a base that serves as a lid in the freezer and a drip guard
when eating. We tested seven models priced from $11.96 to $34.88, including
some of each style, by making lemonade, blueberry, coconut, and layered strawberry-yogurt frozen pops in each.
Our top finishers were the four detachable mold–style models in our lineup. Why?
This style makes it easier to release just a pop or two at a time; they were a breeze to
fill and clean; and the reusable sticks/lids made perfectly centered pops every time.
The only downside—a minor one—is that it’s hard to make layered pops in this style
of mold. Our winner was the Zoku Classic Pop Molds. It was the easiest model to use
and making the pops with it was almost as much fun as eating them. –M.B.
Wine Coolers
Wine coolers are small buckets designed to keep a bottle of wine cold for a period
of hours. Because you don’t fill them with ice, they’re smaller and less messy than
ice buckets and (unlike ice buckets) should never overchill your wine. Some coolers
have reusable cooling inserts that must be placed in the freezer overnight, others
can be placed directly in the freezer, and the simplest models claim to need no
freezer time at all. To find the best cooler, we bought six models priced from $14.19
to $54.95, chilled 24 bottles of wine, and put them to the test.
If you chill wine to 40 degrees and leave it on the counter at room temperature,
it will warm up 10 degrees in just 50 minutes. All the wine coolers we tested kept the
wine colder for longer than that, but our winner kept chilled wine within 10 degrees
of its starting temperature for more than 7 hours. For $20.39, the Oggi Stainless
Steel Wine Cooler with Freezer Inserts is a solid investment for wine lovers, although
you do need to remember to freeze the inserts before use. –M.B.
Is slicing and cubing watermelon with a knife so challenging a task? The makers of
the Angurello Watermelon Slicer and Server by IPAC seem to think so, as they
sell a tool that promises to make both jobs easier. The tool is essentially a set of
tongs with two parallel blades at the end. To use the tool, you insert it into a halved
watermelon and drag it through the flesh in rows, creating mostly rind-less slices
of consistent width, before using the pincers to remove the pieces. When we tried
it in the test kitchen, we were less than impressed. The watermelon released just
as much juice when we used this tool as when we cut it with a knife, and while the
tool’s blades were sharp, it wasn’t faster or easier to use. Because it’s hard to gauge
just how deeply to cut, we often left too much fruit behind. The big, scythe-like
blades lacked precise control when serving the melon, sometimes mashing it in the
process. And of course, if you buy a whole watermelon, you’ll still need a knife to
cut it open. We’ll stick with a knife as our watermelon prep tool of choice. –M.B.
For complete testing results, go to
July & August 2017
More recipes, reviews, and videos are available
Arugula, Roasted Bell Pepper, and White
Bean Salad 15
Grill-Smoked Herb-Rubbed Flat-Iron
Steaks 9
Linguine with Seafood (Linguine allo
Scoglio) 11
Thai Grilled Cornish Hens with
Chili Dipping Sauce (Gai Yang) 5
Turkey Meatloaf with Ketchup–Brown Sugar
Glaze 7
with Apricot-Mustard Glaze 7
Best Summer Tomato Gratin 19
Corn Fritters 13
Foolproof Boiled Corn 17
Grilled Corn with Basil-Lemon Butter 17
Smashed Cucumbers (Pai Huang Gua) 22
Thai-Style Sticky Rice (Khao Niaw) 5
Basil Mayonnaise
Sichuan Chili Oil
Sriracha-Lime Yogurt Sauce
Glazed Turkey Meatloaf, 7
Tasting Mascarpone
Tasting Single-Varietal White Wine Vinegars
Testing Espresso Machines
Testing Grill Tongs
Testing Ice Pop Molds
Testing Midpriced Blenders
Testing Watermelon Slicer
Testing Wine Coolers
Want to see how to make any of the recipes
in this issue? There’s a free video for that.
Roasted Red Bell Pepper and Walnut Dip
(Muhammara) 15
Fresh Fruit Tart 21
Smashed Cucumbers (Pai Huang Gua), 22
Grill-Smoked Herb-Rubbed Flat-Iron Steaks, 9
Chili-Lime Salt 17
Maple-Chipotle Mayonnaise 13
Peach-Bourbon Jam 29
Peperonata with Roasted Bell Peppers 15
Red Pepper Mayonnaise 13
Roasted Bell Peppers 15
Thai Grilled Cornish Hens, 5
Corn Fritters, 13
Arugula, Roasted Bell Pepper, and Bean Salad, 15
Fresh Fruit Tart, 21
Linguine with Seafood, 11
Best Summer Tomato Gratin, 19
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