How to Find the Magic in Garlic and Ginger—And How To Make Every Meal Feel Special—With Eric Adjepong
But first, a sappy note from me on The State of Cooking in Quarantine.
I feel like Siri when she first heard Alexa’s voice; like Jake Shuttlesworth when he first lost a game of one-on-one to Jesus; like Hillary Duff when Hannah Montana first showed up on Disney Channel. Cooking in Quarantine, in its original conception, is obsolete.
When I started this newsletter, NBA games were being played, Bill de Blasio was promising to keep schools open, and it was hard to distinguish between the CDC’s recommendations and the chorus of Future’s biggest song of 2017, both of which went something like: “Mask off / Fuck it / Mask off.”
Newspapers were still publishing reviews of restaurants. Magazines were still running recipes that required mountains of All Purpose Flour fit for Tony Montana’s desk. And sourdough starter hadn’t yet become a status symbol. I was worried millions of Americans wouldn’t have anywhere to go to figure out what to buy and what to cook if they were suddenly quarantined, let alone where to donate if they wanted to feed those who needed food most. So I started Cooking in Quarantine.
Well, if you’ve been on the internet over the past few weeks, you know all of that has changed. Now, you can find pantry lists in basically every food publication. You can find guides on where to donate. And if you want advice from the world’s best chefs, you don’t need to read this newsletter. Instead, you can go directly to the Instagram pages of my heroes, like David Chang, who are posting video tutorials almost every single day.
Where, reader, does that leave us? To be honest, I’m not sure. I know I will keep writing Cooking in Quarantine, but I also know I won’t be including interviews with famous chefs in every issue; needless to say, they have more important shit to do than talk to me right now. (Though later in this issue, you CAN find my interview with Eric Adjepong, who is awesome.)
I’m also going to be writing more about what I’ve been up to in my kitchen—yes, in part, because millennials are narcissists, but also because, even with all the cooking content out there, I think there’s not enough written by shitty home cooks for shitty home cooks. And I want to do my part to help those of you who have been known to overcook rice, undercook chicken, and bungle poached eggs avoid making the mistakes I’ve made.
I’m really proud of Cooking in Quarantine’s first month and a half. We’ve been read by hundreds of thousands across more than 70 countries. We’ve featured everyone from Bobby Flay to Beto O’Rourke, Christina Tosi to Caroline Calloway, Melissa Clark to Kwame Onwuachi. And all of you have donated so much money to the organizations doing the most good.
Thank you to everyone who’s been here since day one and to the thousands of you who have joined since. The letters you’ve written me, and the messages you’ve sent me on Twitter, are the reason this newsletter is what it is. So I hope you stick around.
I can’t tell you what’s next, but I can tell you there’s no one I’d rather be writing it for than all of you. Well, maybe except for David Chang. Subscribe already, man.
On that note, here’s Eric Adjepong.
On Thursday night, you could have seen Eric Adjepong roaming through a fully stocked Whole Foods, cooking in a bustling kitchen, and serving a meal to diners—all without gloves. No, Eric wasn’t violating quarantine. Like the stars of Too Hot To Handle, he has transcended the space-time continuum by living in the world of reality television, which, for once, feels more normal than our everyday existence, because episodes airing today were filmed Before Corona (BC).
Of course, while Eric is still alive in this season of Top Chef, he isn’t actually spending his days cooking meals for Tom Colicchio on Bravo. Like all of us, he’s stuck at home right now, trying his best to make every breakfast, lunch, and dinner as joyous as it can be with the ingredients he has on hand. And while he’s been supporting local restaurants when he can, he’s been preparing close to every meal at home. “It’s the most cost-effective thing to do,” he explained.
That’s where the similarities between Eric and most home chefs end. The dishes he’s been cooking with for his wife and baby are fit for a James Beard Award winning restaurant. But, he insists, you, too, can make them at home. In our interview, he explains how.
What Eric has been cooking
Eric: I’m changing it up day-to-day, so we’re not necessarily getting too bored in the house. I’ve done a pork belly dish with a fried rice, and I’m gonna do that again tonight. I made some pasta with fra diavolo sauce, some seafood. Steak and salad is a really nice, simple go-to, and it’s really cheap as well. We also made burgers in-house.
Read: Eric’s recipe for grilled steak.
Eric’s go-to home-cooking ingredients
Eric: When it comes to pastas and things like that, I love anchovy paste. I think it goes a long way. It adds a really nice umami flavor profile to a lot of dishes.
Classically, though, ginger and garlic—either blended up or small-diced—that’s perfect, man. If it’s small-diced, you can throw that into a bunch of sautés, but if it’s blended up, it goes perfect with different stews and sauces that I try to make. An equal mix of ginger, garlic, and olive oil, you blend it up, and that’s a great base, honestly, for a lot of the cooking that I do.
What pitfalls home cooks should avoid—and what rules they should follow
Eric: I remember when I was younger, I would always put everything on the hottest temperature, just because I thought it’d get done faster. I think that’s one thing a lot of home cooks probably do as well. But when you want a certain protein—I’m thinking more specifically when it comes to, like, cooking eggs—you don’t want to put it on high. You want to have a medium-low or medium-high heat. The same goes if you’re doing crispy chicken thighs or making pork belly—you really want that skin to render out slowly.
Salt is probably the second if not the most important thing when it comes to cooking. Just using a good amount of salt in everything that you’re cooking and working with.
And take your time. This is definitely the time to experiment. If there are any dishes that you’ve had at one of your favorite restaurants, or something that you love ordering, I think this is a great time to try mimicking that dish as much as possible, so you can try to find ways to save a little bit of money, but also make yourself more self-sufficient.
You don’t necessarily need to start cooking right around dinner time. If you can, maybe start a little bit earlier, since you’re gonna be home, to kind of break the whole prep list up in pieces. And it just makes everything a little bit easier once it’s time to eat dinner.
In more practical terms, in the kitchen, utilizing the entire piece of the product as much as possible. So if you’re going out and buying a whole chicken, using the bones for stock, and using that stock later on to make a noodle soup, or using that as a base for something really tasty, I think, is really smart and a great way to stretch the product as possible.
Dishes of Eric’s anyone could cook at home
Eric: There’s a really nice dish that I’m actually going to be offering in my restaurant once it opens up. It’s a coconut-curry shrimp dish, and I use a little bit of that ginger-garlic mixture. It’s fairly simple: you start off with that purée, add a little bit of tomato paste, and then you start building layers by sautéing some onions and bell peppers, and then throw in some coconut milk and a little bit of chicken stock.
You can toss in your shrimp from there. And honestly, that works really well with baked potatoes—and rice is perfect for it as well—so you can just kind of diversify that whole thing.
I also have a Jollof rice recipe that’s pretty straightforward, once you have the basics to it.
And I have a peri-peri grilled shrimp, or broiled shrimp, which is nice. That’s super easy to assemble, and it’s really flavorful as well.
Why so many people are trying to improve their cooking during quarantine
Eric: I think it’s primitive. It’s primal. We come from hunters and gatherers. We make our own food, especially in times of need and uncertainty—when you want to be more self-sufficient, and you want to be able to think about the long run. Because no one really knows when all of this is going to be over—so really settling down and honing in on cooking is a life necessity.
So I think it’s really cool that a lot of people are really interested in either learning something new, or brushing back up on some old skills. That’s awesome. It’s the Year of the Yeast, everybody’s baking bread, which is awesome as well.
It really is going back to bare necessities, and wanting to save money, being self-sufficient and wanting to be able to feed your family and yourself.
What organizations Eric hopes you support
Eric: James Beard has been doing an amazing job with galvanizing a bunch of chefs and restaurateurs, and everybody in the industry, honestly, to bring some awareness and support to chefs in need, and different chefs that are trying to make things happen in such a crazy time.
World Central Kitchen is a really awesome initiative that’s been helpful. One of my good friends started a company during the Puerto Rican crisis. It’s called Chefs de Borinquen. He’s helping people out in Puerto Rico, but it’s actually switched gears to helping out folks in his local community. His name is Chef Samuel Diaz. There’s definitely a lot of people who are putting themselves on the front lines to make sure that their brothers and sisters are being taken care of, and no one’s really going a night without a meal to have.
Also—simply—if you can’t find something like that, just supporting somewhere local. If you do have some money to spend during the week, if you’re not cooking, buying from a local restaurant or your favorite restaurant. Even if they’re closed, buying some sort of merchandise that they may have on their website is really helpful as well.
What you can do to make your meals at home feel special
Eric: One thing about food: It’s really all-encompassing. It doesn’t necessarily need to be what you’re doing in front of the stove that can make it feel special. It can be who you’re serving it to, and who you’re eating it with. Putting on a nice shirt, instead of the sweatpants you’ve probably been wearing. Sitting down with a loved one and really trying to make the meal as formal as possible, really trying to make a moment out of it, as if you were going to a restaurant or something like that. I think that’s a really nice way to add a little bit of novelty to this entire situation.
It's all-encompassing, man. I think there’s different ways to really look at it, but trying to keep that communal aspect around the food, which I think next to nourishment is the second-biggest attraction to why we eat. We’re social creatures, so humans just want to be around each other. And food is just a great avenue for that.
Editor’s Note: Since my call with Eric, I’ve shared some dinner with friends over Zoom. I was skeptical, but those meals really did feel special. Thanks, Eric.
If you haven’t read Gabrielle Hamilton’s essay in New York Times Magazine, you’ve messed up. Fix that.
Also: Remember the issue I did on Taste of Persia’s Saeed Pourkay? Great news: He’s serving food again, delivering across New York City. Read about what he’s up to in The New Yorker and order from him on Instagram.
GOOD THINGS I’VE COOKED
Second straight issue with a Lucas Sin tip, but these eggs are legitimately awe inspiring.
I’ve made them every day since he posted this. I’ve found that leaving them in for 14 minutes has worked better than doing it for 12. But if they’re undercooked, don’t worry; as Lucas says, you can just scramble them.
I tried this onsen egg recipe, too, from Just One Cookbook, per Tom Kretchmar, and it also produced great eggs.
I also made Helen Rosner’s roast chicken over cabbage, via Smitten Kitchen’s recipe, and it was a 10/10. The recipe was so basic, even I couldn’t find a way to mess it up.
I then turned the bones into chicken stock, using Samin Nosrat’s recipe.
The next day, I used the chicken stock, instead of water, to cook my rice, a la David Chang.
Guess what I put on top of the rice?
That’s right: A Lucas Sin onsen egg.
P.S. I also cooked steak using Beto’s interpretation of Mark Bittman’s marinade and it was fantastic. As Beto would say, no me importa if you’re a good chef or a bad chef, you should try to make this.
MISTAKES I’VE MADE IN THE KITCHEN
Tried making Melissa Clark’s mayo, but I used olive oil, which messed it all up. Lesson: If you’re making homemade mayo, use neutral oil.
I also made Alison Roman’s cauliflower pasta but over-salted the pasta water, and then put even more salt in at the end, which made it inedible. I texted Pasta God Hallie Meyer and even she didn’t have a strategy for fixing it. Lesson: Taste your food every step of the way.
This morning, as I’m writing this, I’m fucking up scallion pancake dough. Lesson: Don’t replace All Purpose Flour with Pastry Flour in a recipe. Bonus Lesson: Cooking isn’t as easy as it looks in Bon Appetit’s Instagram stories.
Until next time, friends…