Eat Like a Chef: Home Cooking in Los Angeles

Chef Los Angeles

Seasonal chef Michael McCarty toasts protegee Mikey Stern at Michael's in Santa Monica.

I recently asked 10 top L.A. chefs, “What’s a go-to dish when you’re cooking at home?” and “What’s the key to making a great version of that dish?” Their responses might surprise you and could even help to guide you in the kitchen.

Neal Fraser (BLD), (GRACE)

I mainly cook for my daughter at home. We have probably 10 things we make. They are all real basic. I rarely make something crazy at home. I roast a lot of chickens, meatball with tomato sauce, chicken soup, pasta with butter.

What’s the key to a great chicken soup?

Starting off with chicken stock, not water. I cook it for my daughter so it’s not the way i would for myself. she is not into the stringy leg meat. So what I do. Sweat out carrots, celery and onions in olive oil till translucent. Add Chicken stock (home made), bay leaf and some time. Bring to a simmer and simmer for 20 minutes. Add 2 Seasoned bone in chicken breast with the skin pulled off. Slowly simmer for 30 minutes. Allow to cool. Remove the chicken breast and bring soup back up to a simmer. Remove the thyme and bay leaf. Season the soup. Add linguini broken in 1/2 and cook till tender. De bone the breasts and dice. Add back to soup. Check Seasoning. Put in a bowl with 2 pieces of ice so she does not burn her mouth. Serve with a spoon and a straw to slurp up the broth. And 2 napkins. What makes good chicken soup? Love.

Steve Samson (Sotto)

I made a really good spaghetti with ricotta, capers, anchovy, sweet onions and mollica (toasted seasoned bread crumbs). The key is to use a great pasta, like La Fabbrica della Pasta di Gragnano. They sell it at Guidi Marcello. I’m actually going to visit the pastificio tomorrow.

Keep the pasta very al dente, of course. I make a base with anchovies, onions, capers, parsley, Sicilian oregano and lots of good olive oil. I use some of that base to toast the bread crumbs and the rest to toss the cooked pasta. While I’m tossing, I add the ricotta which has been passed through a fine sieve, adding some pasta cooking water to get it to the right consistency. I then plate and top with the mollica. It’s super easy, fast and yummy. I guess the most important keys would be the quality of pasta and passing the ricotta. This keeps it from clumping up. Oh, and add the ricotta off the heat so it doesn’t break.

Megan Logan (Nick + Stef’s)

Usually when I am at home, my easy go to dish is just to roast a whole chicken. I just put it in the oven and add whole garlic, vegetables (carrots, pearl onions, Brussels sprouts, turnips) and thyme. By the time the chicken is cooked, the vegetables are ready and I use the drippings in the pan to make a sauce. I will usually buy a baguette and brush with butter and garlic and throw it on the oven and make a quick green salad with tomatoes from my garden and a vinaigrette with any vinegar.

Mark Gold (Eva)

My go to dish at home is aglio olio. The secret is to use good olive oil, but the real secret is to cook the sliced garlic just enough until it starts to turn a light brown. a touch of the pasta water fresh parsley and Maldon salt….yummy.

David LeFevre (Upcoming Unnamed Restaurant)

When I cook at home I really like cooking soulful food. Food that evokes a feeling of nostalgia or comfort. Simple dishes that have tradition and place in history. Also because of space in my home kitchen I prepare what we call “one pan” plate ups. This refers to how many pans you use to cook the dish. In restaurants usually there are 3 to 5 pots or pans that we use do cook a dish. One for the sauce, protein, vegetables etc. So at home finding dishes that you can prepare in one vehicle makes things simple.

Probably one of my favorites go to dishes is risotto. If you know how to make a basic risotto, you can play with loads of ingredients and combinations. I am always moved by a killer Shellfish Risotto. Unctuous shellfish, with its natural sweet flavor bode well with the traditional rice porridge from Italy.

A few key ingredients:

1. RICE – Use a quality rice that has uniform kernels. Before cooking, I always check the rice for foreign objects and broken or crushed kernels to remove. Aquarello is an excellent brand that I use at my place.

2. BROTH – A flavorful broth to use for cooking the rice is paramount. The rice is flavored by its cooking liquid so in order to have a flavorful risotto you need a flavorful broth. I always use a shellfish stock that has a little tomato base to it. You can achieve this at home making a stock by using the shells of shrimp, lobster, crab or the juices from clams/mussels. If you were to want a saffron flavor in your risotto, you would steep it in your stock before hand.

3. SHELLFISH – Great fresh shellfish inspires poets and folksongs, mediocre shellfish creates visceral memories of bad dining experiences. So make sure you find great fresh shellfish!!! Know what stores have quality seafood and mongers that care about the product. Seafood should smell like the ocean, not the beach!

Equally importantly, make sure to NOT over cook the excellent shellfish you get! You can do this by adding it to the risotto just before the risotto is finished cooking. For example if the your using raw shrimp (approx.4 minutes to cook in hot risotto) and cleaned clams in the shell (approx. 8 minutes in hot risotto until opened), You would want to fold the clams into the risotto 8 minutes before the rice is cooked and the Shrimp 4 minutes later. This way you have a bright fresh flavor of just cooked seafood. If the seafood is added too early the flavors tends to get muddled and the seafood gets tough.

4. Time – Risotto takes at least 30 minutes to cook. If your anything like me you will want to spend time with the lucky girl you’re cooking it for! You buy yourself some time by par cooking the rice until it is cooked halfway, cool it in a thin layer on a tray in the fridge, and finish the cooking process just before you want to eat. That way you can socialize with a glass of wine or cocktail instead of stirring the rice for 30 minutes and not pay attention to your company!

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Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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