The genre of the restaurant cookbook is both large and varied, but the common denominator that underlies the majority of its titles is the implicit promise that you, too, can reproduce a chef’s work in the confines of your home kitchen. Most of the time, this promise is patently false. But there are a number of notable exceptions, signature dishes that really can be made by home cooks with a command of basic kitchen techniques, as well as access to both adequate time and fairly common pantry staples. Given that these are two things many folks have in abundance right now, there has arguably never been a better moment to start making facsimiles of famous — and yet frequently accessible! — restaurant dishes at home. Here are 13 to get you started.
1. Roast chicken and bread salad, from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook
This dish helped to cement the Zuni Cafe’s place in the annals of California restaurant legend - and also happens to be ideal for any home cook armed with both pantry staples and time. The latter is particularly important here, as the recipe requires salting the chicken for 24 hours in order to promote flavor and tenderness. The most complicated thing you need to do here is insert sprigs of thyme under the chicken’s skin — but if you don’t have any, no big deal. It is more or less impossible to go wrong with a roast chicken and a salad made from bread mingled with the drippings of said chicken. Just budget plenty of time, which it’s likely you have a lot of these days.
2. Bo ssam, from Momofuku: A Cookbook
As with Zuni’s chicken, the main requirement for reproducing Momofuku’s bo ssam is time: To make the slow-roasted pork shoulder, you need to cure it in a sugar-salt rub for at least six hours before depositing it in an oven to roast for another six. Online specialty grocers have made it easier than ever to find ingredients like ssämjang and kochujang, but even if you can’t find, say, the oysters suggested as an accompaniment, you can still turn this into a banner family meal with some rice, lettuce, and any number of condiments.
3. Sunday sauce, from The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual
Canned tomatoes, olive oil, salt, a pinch of red chile flakes, and 13 cloves of garlic are all you need to make the red sauce that has anointed untold plates of pasta and meatballs at Frankies 457 Spuntino in Brooklyn. Once again, time is of the essence here: To bring the sauce to its rich, thick Platonic ideal, you need to simmer it for four hours on the stovetop, which leaves you plenty of time to binge almost five episodes of Grey’s Anatomy or decoupage your living room floor or whatever else you’re doing these days to prevent the creeping onset of quarantine-induced psychosis.
4. Obama’s short ribs, from The Red Rooster Cookbook: The Story of Food and Hustle in Harlem
So long as you have access to a few basic staples, including onions, carrots, celery, soy sauce, ginger, and garlic — and two hours to spare — you, too, can eat the short ribs that Marcus Samuelsson served to the 44th President of the United States. The key here is a long, slow braise; even if you’re lacking one of the recipe’s ingredients, you’ll still end up with fall-off-the-bone-tender meat, as well as a rich sauce that yields enough for leftovers that work well with any number of dishes. Serve the ribs on rice, or noodles, or really, anything that’s good for soaking up sauce.
5. Baked goat cheese with spring lettuce salad, from the Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook
The secret ingredient here? Surprise! It’s time. Alice Waters wants you to use 12 whole hours to marinate the goat cheese in herbs and oil, and why argue? But once this is done, there’s not a lot else to do, aside from rolling the cheese in panko and baking it, washing some salad mix, whisking together a very simple vinaigrette, and slicing up a baguette, if you’re lucky enough to have one. Make sure to save the oil left over from marinating the cheese — it is supremely flavorful and its uses are manifold.
6. Khao phat muu (Thai-style fried rice with pork), from Pok Pok: Food and Stories from the Streets, Homes, and Roadside Restaurants of Northern Thailand
Andy Ricker’s fried rice is something of a godsend to the quarantined (and impatient) home cook: it is a deeply flavorful assemblage day-old rice, shallots, garlic, and other common pantry staples (sugar, soy sauce, vegetable oil), and also happens to take five minutes to cook. What’s more, it is versatile: If you don’t have the pork that the recipe calls for, you can substitute any protein you have on hand, such as chicken or tofu. And if you don’t have cilantro or green onions (scallions), that’s fine, too — though now is a perfect time to start growing scallions on your windowsill.
7. Miso-marinated black cod, from Nobu: The Cookbook
This is one of those rollercoaster recipes, in the sense that the amount of time you’ll spend anticipating it exists in inverse proportion to the amount of time you’ll spend experiencing it. Because, like a number of other recipes here, this one calls for advanced prep: Two to three days before you eat this glorious fish, you slather it with a sake-mirin-miso-sugar marinade, cover it up, and stick it in the fridge. Cooking the fish takes less than 20 minutes and requires no additional ingredients save for a bit of oil. If you can’t find black cod, try another firm, white-fleshed fish like striped bass or mahi mahi.
8. Gumbo z’herbes, from The Dooky Chase Cookbook
The onset of summer is a perfect time to make Leah Chase’s iconic gumbo, a veritable vegetable cornucopia that calls for mustard, collard, and turnip greens, along with cabbage, romaine lettuce, watercress, spinach, and the tops of both beets and carrots. There’s also an abundance of meat (sausage, ham, brisket, and chorizo), but despite its long list of ingredients, this gumbo is a straightforward endeavor. All it requires is chopping vegetables, bringing a pot to boil, sizzling some chorizo in oil, and making a roux (and if you don’t know how, the recipe has instructions). And perhaps best of all, it will feed you for a week.
9. Hummus tehina, from Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking
There are few better uses of dried chickpeas than Zahav’s hummus tehina (or tahini). This is hummus that is as much for hedonists as pragmatists: its bodacious creaminess is matched only by the number of foods you can pair it with. Its ease of assembly is also remarkable; after soaking the chickpeas overnight (see: Time, Part 125c), you cook them until they’re falling apart, then throw them into a food processor with some tahini, garlic, salt, and lemon juice. If you manage to transfer the hummus to a storage container before eating it all, pause for a second to applaud your willpower.
10. Canned sardines with Triscuits, from Prune
This is more of a shopping list than a recipe — one that, moreover, is basically engineered for quarantine living. If you have a tin of sardines, a box of Triscuits, a spoonful of Dijon mustard, and a few sprigs of parsley, the dish that helped put Prune on the map of the popular imagination can be yours in the amount of time it takes to open that tin of sardines.
11. Cornbread, from Heritage
Sean Brock’s cornbread is a necessary accompaniment to pretty much every meal served at Husk. It’s also easy enough to make at home that it can accompany all of your meals, too. The list of ingredients is short and savory — Brock eschews sugar in his cornbread, along with flour, so what you’re left with is an all-cornmeal concoction, greased and flavored with melted bacon fat and made tender with buttermilk. Don’t have (or eat) bacon? Use melted butter. No buttermilk? Add a bit of vinegar to regular milk (there are many guides out there to assist you with this). So long as you have a smoking hot cast iron skillet (or baking pan), you’re good to go.
12. Ricotta toast, from Everything I Want to Eat: Sqirl and the New California Cooking
There are two approaches to recreating Sqirl’s legendary and deceptively simple ricotta toast at home. You can make the jam, the ricotta, and even the brioche yourself, or you can go to a store and buy the jam, the ricotta, and the brioche (or really, almost any kind of bread, so long as you slice it thick and remember to butter and toast it before piling everything on top of it). There is no right or wrong here, just the promise of cheese and jam ferried to your mouth on a warm carbohydrate.
13. Coconut cake, from Highlands Bar & Grill
This iconic cake helped longtime Highlands Bar & Grill pastry chef Dolester Miles to win a 2018 James Beard Award. While its recipe is not available in a cookbook, you can fortunately find it online. Like many layer cakes, it initially appears daunting. But look closer and you’ll see that making it is primarily a question of taking enough time to make the cake’s components — as well as having access to four kinds of coconut (shredded, extract, cream, and milk). The finished product has numerous virtues, but between its sheer quantity and the general ability of cake to stay fresh (or fresh enough) for days on end, perhaps its most relevant attribute is that it’s essentially a pantry staple in and of itself. Why worry about making breakfast, lunch, or dinner when you could just eat cake instead?