The challenge: Take 1000 of the best recipes from the past decade and winnow them down to the 150 most essential. The team: Molly Stevens and Fran McCullough, a pair of experienced cookbook authors and editors. The result: The 150 Best American Recipes: Indispensable Dishes from Legendary Chefs and Undiscovered Cooks, which hit the shelves last week.
The book will surprise anyone who thinks the "best" dishes have foot-long lists of ingredients and are tortuous to prepare. Instead, the chosen recipes often tend toward the simply sublime. While contenders were not eliminated solely because of complexity, Williston-based Stevens says, "When you're doing something that takes four minutes of your time and has only four ingredients and then it's brilliant, it's hard to argue with that." The "amazing" 5-hour roast duck, green-bean salad with cream, and lemon posset are convincing examples, with each boasting five ingredients or fewer. The book's more complex recipes are equally enticing - who could pass up something called brown sugar sour cream cheesecake?
They say three good recipes make for a keeper cookbook. But culling the collection was no easy task. One key, Stevens suggests, was finding "recipes that have a freshness to them." This could mean ingredients are combined in a surprising way - such as spears of asparagus coated with mayonnaise and rolled in panko crumbs. Alternately, a common technique gets an unusual application, as in a recipe that asks you to fry capers.
After years of recipe-testing experience, Stevens knows "the best way to judge the success of a recipe is to put out a tray and see how fast it disappears."