5@5 - Essential recipes for the home cook
October 19th, 2012
05:00 PM ET
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5@5 is a daily, food-related list from chefs, writers, political pundits, musicians, actors, and all manner of opinionated people from around the globe.

Editor's Note: James Oseland is the editor-in-chief of Saveur Magazine. The October issue is their 150th issue.

When we were putting together the list of 150 recipes that comprise our October issue, we were faced with a deceptively straightforward question: What is an essential recipe? What I've always said - and what was reaffirmed over and over again in the production of this issue - is that a classic recipe is one that that can completely withstand the test of time.

Classic recipes are also intensely representative of the place that they come from, something that these five recipes all particularly embody. But despite their strong sense of place, they're also versatile, dishes that would work on virtually any table. Plus, and this is perhaps the most important part, they're just friggin' delicious.

Five Essential Recipes for the Home Cook

1. Cream of Tomato Soup
As North Americans, canned tomato soup is so much a part of our lives that it's almost background noise: we've cooked it, we've eaten it, we've seen the Warhol painting. But what's special about this recipe is that while making it, you as a cook start to understand how it is that this humble food has come to hold such a lofty cultural position: simple ingredients come together to make a flavor we all know deep in our souls.

2. Dry-Fried Green Beans
To really broaden your fluency as a cook, it's imperative to understand some of the basic tenets of Chinese cooking. What's interesting about this particular dish is that it operates on two levels: on one hand, it's a straightforward stir-fry, but then with the addition of a little extra oil, the entire texture of the green beans changes. They pop and blister, which creates an experience that's lightly soft and tooth-yielding on the exterior, while the inside stays crunchy. For me, that quality of contrast sums up the singular intrigue of all Chinese cooking.

3. Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic
I first came to know this dish when I was 13 years old, leafing through a James Beard cookbook, and immediately it took on this connotation of extreme cooking: back in the 1970s, one clove of garlic was a lot, let alone 40. But the real revelation of this dish is that the garlic, which can be so brutally sharp when raw, becomes something else entirely as it stews and braises. It's perhaps the most important lesson a cook can learn: heat, applied properly, is almost magically transformative; even the most pungent, in-your-face ingredient can become sweet and subtle.

4. Spaghetti Carbonara
If there's one pasta dish to master beyond spaghetti and red sauce, this is the one. Garlic, pancetta, eggs, and cheese: the luscious ingredients are so simple, yet together they function as a fantastically complex and comforting whole. It's a great example of the magic that Italians do with flavor, creating foods that are robust and casual and refined all at once.

5. Chocolate Mousse
If I had to pick one dessert to eat for the rest of my life, my desert-island dessert, it would be chocolate mousse. This is another shockingly simple recipe that produces a beautifully complex result. And once you've mastered the technique (which doesn't take much work, honestly) you've got what is probably one of the two or three best things you can ever put in your mouth. It's the Ur-dessert. It's quite simply the best.

Let us know in the comments what classic recipes you think every home cook should know.

Is there someone you'd like to see in the hot seat? Let us know in the comments below and if we agree, we'll do our best to chase 'em down.

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Filed under: 5@5 • Magazines • Make • Recipes • Staples • Think

soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. Mary Thomas

    I'm excited to find this site. I wanted to thank you for ones time for this wonderful read!! I definitely really liked every bit of it and I have you book-marked to see new things on your blog.I was surprised that you are not more popular given that you most certainly possess the gift.


    June 21, 2014 at 11:54 pm |
  2. whenwewere25


    October 31, 2012 at 2:36 pm |
  3. Michael House

    I think home cooks should be taught how to avoid food stereotypes say spaghetti sauce. It seems that when cooking is brought up every one wants to brag about there gravy and yet have no idea what that really is. I can make a bright fresh gravy in less than thirty minutes. The long cooked sauces require meats which should not be served with the pasta. A little more understanding is required. Another example is chilli in it essence it's nothing more than water, meat, and chilli peppers. The lengths cooks go to make this simple dish is absurd. Learn the basics first. As of course you have already pointed out.

    October 25, 2012 at 9:45 pm |
  4. dpishik

    I would say that something as simple as a roasted whole chicken is something that every home cook needs to know. It takes so little prep and attention, it's wonderful for those of us who're constantly strapped for time. Everyone should know how to roast a chicken.

    On top of that, may as well learn to make pan gravy from the drippings! Another quick, easy recipe that everyone should have in their tool kit.

    October 22, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
    • MashaSobaka

      Roasted chicken in a crock pot. Just throw it in, turn it on, go to work, come home, throw it under the broiler to crisp up the skin, and BOOM. Deliciousness.

      October 26, 2012 at 12:10 am |
  5. Jean at DelightfulRepast.blogspot.com

    My Five Essential Recipes list would certainly have to include a pie! Maybe FIVE pies.

    October 19, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
    • food mom

      Thank-you. Pie crust is essential.
      My kids grew up in what I call "food heaven" (our family has had a market Stand in Europe for 20+ years). The Germans bake wonderful bread, but pie is beyond their grasp. So far.
      My son had me laughing once – I was having trouble negotiating my computer, so I asked for his help. He helped me, laughed, and said "Oh, old people cannot do this. They amuse me."
      I looked him dead in the eye, and asked, "Can you make a pie crust? No? Oh, the young kids, they really amuse me". He & his sister grew up with freshly baked pastries every school morning. Yes, I made them.
      Point taken, he said. Pie crust is a must.
      Biscuits are second. A good vegetable stock may come in third, depending on how much storage space one has.
      All recipes here, except for the chocolate mousse, contain meat. Learning how to cook without meat would be helpful to many.

      October 21, 2012 at 7:28 pm |
  6. Liz

    All of these are awesome - and I just want to say how much fun we have been having cooking our way through the 150 recipes!

    October 19, 2012 at 6:23 pm |
  7. ™©JbJiNg!eŚ®™

    I've been wanting to try the 40 clove garlic chicken, so now I have a reason to!

    October 19, 2012 at 6:18 pm |
  8. Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫


    October 19, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
  9. Truth™


    October 19, 2012 at 5:23 pm |
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