We’ve spent more than a decade being entertained and enlightened by Alton Brown. But until now, we’ve only been privy to his geeky, cheeky side. Finally, as the host of Food Network’s Cutthroat Kitchen and even more so in his latest cookbook, EveryDayCook, he’s sharing a less familiar side of himself, the “real” one—which is sarcastic, opinionated, and, dare we say it, a little grouchy. Yet what hasn’t changed is his unwavering devotion to helping people cook.
That principle is on full display in EveryDayCook. Instead of a slick tome neatly organized into a single cuisine, he offers up an enthusiastic hodgepodge of what he enjoys most, whatever that may be—from kimchi crab cakes to grape cobbler—with each recipe shot moodily from above on his iPhone. The book is also chock-full of factoids and know-how for ingredients, gadgets, and recipes, a throwback to his old kitchen science-y self. Below, some of our favorites:
- Add Whole Nutmeg to Your Spice Rack
While sumac is his secret weapon, nutmeg wins the spot on his culinary coat of arms. Though you probably associate it with holiday baking, Brown urges us to use it widely: Add a pinch to liven up a béchamel sauce, sprinkle it on roasted mushrooms and carrots, or even grate it directly into bourbon.
- Stop Using Yellow Cornmeal
Born and raised in Georgia, Brown’s got strong opinions when it comes to corn bread. He blames all those “Southern” restaurants for serving yellow corn bread, causing our country to be overrun with yellow cornmeal. “Southern corn bread is not quite as lily white as a biscuit, but it’s dang close,” he writes. Why does he care so much? “Fine white cornmeal is absolutely superior to the yellow when it comes to creating a fine, crisp, fried exterior on fried foods.”
- Cook Pasta Faster in Cold Water
Huh? Despite what you’ve been taught—and what many TV chefs may have told you—Brown is adamant that you only need enough cold water to cover the noodles (say an inch). Then bring the water to a boil, stirring often, drop the heat and simmer for two minutes. He points out that it’s not only faster but wastes less water and energy. Plus, he thinks the pasta might actually taste better.
- Keep Your Salts Separate
Not all salt is created equal. Much like olive oil, Brown believes there is salt you should cook with and salt you should use to top off a dish. For finishing sweet and savory recipes, it’s all about English Maldon sea salt, which is hand-harvested from evaporating pools of sea water. This results in “large, gorgeous, light, and fluffy flakes [that] melt in the mouth or crunch pleasantly on the tooth.”
- Embrace Crystallized Ginger
Unlike pungent raw ginger, this candied version plays nicely in desserts and is often chopped and used for cookies, cakes, and breads. Brown takes it a step further by boiling the ginger with sugar and water to create a syrup, and uses it in glazes, barbecue sauces, smoothies, and even iced tea. “As long as you store it in an airtight container it will keep exactly forever,” he writes.
- Don’t Buy Into the Portobello Hype
You know those gigantic portobello mushrooms people love to slap on the grill along with a big steak? Well, according to Brown, there’s some marketing mojo going around the name of them. They are, in fact, simply an overgrown cremini mushroom. That’s why the cremini is sometimes sold in stores as “baby bella” or “baby portobello,” he tells us. Same mushroom, different size, sometimes big price difference—buy accordingly.
Try a Recipe: Alton Brown’s Mushroom Stroganoff