The Food Lab, a Belated Review

[September 3, 2023]

I finally bought The Food Lab by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt.  I made a few recipes, and they turned out well.  Mostly.  But before I get into those, I want to talk about the philosophy of the book.

Kenji is a professional chef, doing professional chef things.  While the recipes are generally better than a “standard” home cooking recipe, they are also more involved.  Everything is written in a homey way that makes you think Kenji just cooks this way at home every day, and you could too, but you’re not a professional chef.  You don’t have the years of practice to put all this stuff together efficiently.

The book itself is clearly the passion project of one person, organized as a collection of blog posts interspersed with recipes.  This leaves coverage somewhat spotty compared to a “regular” cookbook.  The only rice recipe is risotto, for instance.

It’s a hardcover on glossy paper, weighing somewhere around 8 pounds, so it’s affectionately known as “the brick” in this house.

So, how about those recipes?  (Full disclosure: much of this text has been shamelessly self-plagiarized from my tumblr, but this is probably the only one that search will be able to find.  You’re welcome.)


Fluffy Scrambled Eggs
Worked perfectly, but my wife disapproves of the amount of effort.  She has since perfected making fluffy eggs in a Corningware in the microwave.
Hard-boiled Eggs
Just what I had been looking for.  With the ice-shock technique, the secret to peeling the eggs nicely has been… cracked.
Oven-fried Bacon for a Crowd
We already did our bacon in the oven, but having specific temperature and timing has made it a lot more consistent.
Ultra-Gooey Stovetop Mac and Cheese
Finally, a souce that matched the texture of the boxes, while being made with real cheddar cheese.  We still haven’t tried the baked variant.
Perfect Easy Red Sauce
I mashed up Kenji’s and my own recipe.  One particular issue is that I put the basil in late, because it is a delicate flavor that shouldn’t be overcooked.
Super-Crisp Roasted Potatoes
These were twice the effort of our normal approach, but came out delightful.  Like the mac and cheese, it is nice for the long-standing puzzle to be solved.
The puffy center has been banished.  I had been developing the exact technique of making the center of the raw meat thinner, but apparently not aggressively enough to really achieve anything.


Spatchcocked (Butterflied) Chicken
It was fine, but difficult to clean up all the splattering.  I am also the lazy kind of person, who might prefer to break down the bird entirely.  This would also have been a lot easier with proper poultry shears, but that part is really on me.


Fast French Onion Soup
This is only “faster;” dinner ended up an hour later than initially expected.  There is no time estimate for any recipe, and this one is bottlenecked on cutting so. many. onions.  Because speeds vary, it’s not clear that a good time estimate can be created.  Furthermore, Kenji advises against the use of beef stock for quality reasons, but the problem with that is: using chicken stock makes the result delicious, but wrong.


(Nothing yet)

Micro-steamed Corn on the Cob
The first run went fine, but future runs never cooked properly.  The tassel end was done, but the stem end was starchy.  We soon went back to our original method.  That is, we put the corn (husk removed) in a covered dish with a splash of water for 2:30 per ear, turning once.  Whatever the problem with Kenji’s method is (freshness? size? getting a husk to actually turn partway through?), it lacks reliability.


Pot Roast
I ended up using my wife’s favorite recipe instead of Kenji’s.  However, partially covering it instead of leaving it uncovered made it better.  The thing about The Food Lab is that there is often background information, which is helpful to any recipe.
Penne Alla Vodka with Chicken
I messed this one up, and I haven’t revisited it.