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How to Roast a Perfect Chicken

The techniques and gear you need to know for perfect roast chicken, including a recipe for a picture-perfect bird with juicy meat and golden, crispy skin.

Side view of a roast chicken
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Just how many ways are there to roast a chicken? I can think of a lot of skinned cats that might have a good guess. So while it may not be possible to go over every conceivable way to roast a chicken, this article and recipe will review the essential steps that apply to all roasting techniques as well as my three favorite methods: the absolute easiest "no-recipe" way, spatchcocking, and, finally, what I can only describe as the platonic ideal of roast chicken. That last method, which produces a bird as perfectly cooked, evenly browned, and magazine-cover-worthy as could ever be imagined, is the recipe I'm sharing below.

Overhead view of a golden roasted chicken
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Our goals for a roast chicken are simple, but achieving those results isn't quite as easy. We want both the white and dark meat to be juicy, even though they cook at different rates and reach their respective stages of perfection at different temperatures. We want skin that's well browned all over, even though the three-dimensional geometry of a bird makes that difficult. And we want it evenly and deeply seasoned, despite it being a whole bird with a lot of meat that's hard to access prior to carving.

Let's start by looking at all the techniques we can and should use to help deliver those results no matter the cooking method, then we can move on to a breakdown of my three preferred ways.

A Matter of Temperature: Knowing When The Bird Is Done

The most common question food writers like me receive about any large roast is, "How long does it take to cook?" It's an understandable question, but also the wrong one. Sure, there are ballpark ranges one can offer to give the cook a general sense of timing—no, your roast chicken will not be done in 15 minutes, nor will it take 3 hours—but cooking by time is far more likely to lead to bad results, not good ones.

This is because there are too many variables to make answering the time question accurate enough. Chickens come in different sizes, different weights, and different body shapes. An industrially-bred, six-pound "oven stuffer" with a massive amount of breast meat will not cook in the same time as a three-and-a-half pound bird from the farmers' market. And that doesn't even taken into account how hot the oven is, both in terms of the actual setting chosen by the cook as well as whatever temperature the oven is actually running at (because lord knows, many are poorly calibrated and not cooking at the selected temp).

None of this should be news to even the most casual Serious Eats reader—it's why we've prioritized internal temperature over time for years. If you want to know when your bird is properly cooked, the question isn't how long, but how hot.

While the USDA recommends cooking chicken to an internal temperature of 165°F, which pretty much instantly eliminates any risk of foodborne pathogens like salmonella, we advise most home cooks to not go that high, at least not for the breast meat. The white meat is most juicy and tender when it reaches 150°F, a good 15 degrees lower than the USDA recommendation. It's also a good 15 degrees lower than the ideal doneness on the legs, which is around 165°F. The dark meat has more fat and connective tissue, which means it not only remains juicier at higher temps, but also develops a better, more tender, less chewy and slimy texture.

Let's start with the first part: Why do we recommend cooking the breast to a lower temperature than the official guidance? Well, as Kenji explained to Serious Eats readers long ago, 165°F is the temperature at which unwanted bacteria die almost instantly. But you can safely cook your meat to a lower temperature and still achieve the same bacteria-killing effect as long as you hold it at that temperature long enough. Chicken cooked to 150°F, for example, is safe to eat after the meat has remained at that temperature for just under three minutes, which is more or less guaranteed given the size of the bird—pull a chicken out of the oven when the breast meat is 150°F in the center of its thickest part, and it will actually get hotter as it rests, a phenomenon known as carry-over cooking. By the time you carve and eat it, the bird will be safe.*

* That said, your health is your responsibility so if you have any concerns, or are feeding a person who may have specific health risks, please err on the side of caution. Remaining healthy is more important than perfect chicken breast.

The one lingering issue is how to cook the bird such that the breast reaches its desired internal temperature of 150°F while the legs have had a chance to get even hotter for their ideal doneness. There's no one way to deal with this, though, as each method I describe below approaches it from a different angle. So more on that later.

How Hot Should You Set Your Oven?

When it comes to cooking a roast so that the meat is tender and juicy throughout, we often turn to techniques like the reverse-sear, where a longer period of low-and-slow cooking gets the meat to its ideal internal temperature as gently as possible before a final high-heat cooking step slaps a roasty browned exterior on the whole thing. This can be done with chicken, but experience has taught me that with chicken you're best off just going with a fairly hot oven, somewhere between 400 and 425°F.

Placing a chicken in the oven
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

A roast chicken is a bit of an outlier compared to, say, a prime rib or even a larger bird like a turkey. It's a small enough roast that it really doesn't take long at all for the meat to cook through. At the same time, the skin takes time to brown properly, which is inhibited at lower temperatures. Spend too much time cooking the chicken in a lower oven, and you risk overcooking it in an attempt to rapidly brown the skin at the very end. While some recipes flip this sequence, calling for a high-heat stage to kick off the skin browning and then a longer cook at a lower temperature to finish it off, I've found that all this really accomplishes is extending the cooking time without much reward in terms of texture, juiciness, or browning.

A roast chicken comes out great simply by letting it ride in that higher temperature zone from start to finish. And it happens quickly too: You can have your bird on the table in under an hour, including the time it takes to rest it.

The Secrets to Crisp, Brown Roast Chicken Skin

I'll start with an acknowledgment: "Crisp" is a relative term. Roast chicken skin, even the best roast chicken skin, is not crisp in the way the golden batter on fried chicken is, or even as crisp as the skin on pan-roasted chicken can be. Pan-roasted and fried chicken both take advantage of the much higher heat possible via convection and conduction when in contact with hot oil and/or hot metal, and the result is something one could describe as truly crisp. Roast chicken skin is a little different. Crisp, yes, in a way, and to a point, but it won't shatter and crunch quite so dramatically. That's okay, it's still one of the most delicious things on this planet.

The key to perfect chicken skin? Well, the main one is heat, as I described above. Even if you do nothing else, simply cooking the chicken in a nice hot oven will yield a beautifully browned bird.

Side view of salting a chicken
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

But we can do things to help further improve browning, if we have the time. One of the most effective techniques is to "dry-brine" the bird, which describes a process in which the chicken is salted all over and then left to sit, in the refrigerator and exposed to the air, until the salt penetrates into the meat and the skin dries out. This does two important things. First, it ensures more juicy, well-seasoned results, thanks to a little magic the salt works on the chicken's muscle proteins (it lessens the degree to which the meat contracts during cooking, ensuring more juice retention). Second, it gives the skin time to dry out, and water, as we all know, is the enemy of browning any food.

Another trick you can throw at the chicken skin is to add a little baking powder to the dry brine. Baking powder helps create micro-bubbles in the chicken skin as it roasts, which further enhance browning and crisping. Plus, it's alkaline, which speeds up the browning process known as the Maillard reaction.

Should You Baste the Bird?

No...and yes. Well, kinda. It depends.

Here's what you should not baste the bird with: Any drippings that contain water, whether liquid exuded by the chicken as it cooks, or any other water-based fluids that have found their way into your roasting pan. Wetting the skin will only serve to slow down browning and lead to a less golden, more flabby result.

Fat, though, is another story. You can brush the chicken with oil or clarified butter (remember: regular butter contains water, so you don't want to use that), or rendered chicken fat, or any other fat you have available. But actual basting throughout cooking isn't necessary and it may actually impede the roasting process. Every time you open the oven to baste your bird, the oven is rapidly loosing heat, which will slow down to cooking process. The chicken will end up roasting at a lower temperature than intended, and have a greater risk of drying or overcooking before it browns evenly.

Giving the skin a good rubdown with oil or another fat before or shortly after popping it in the oven will help the skin to glisten and will improve how evenly it browns, since fat conducts high heat so well, without needing to open the oven during cooking to baste the bird.

This is also why mayonnaise can be an effective ingredient to lightly rub all over a bird before roasting, since it's almost entirely oil with just a touch of egg, vinegar, and seasonings.

So, to review: Oiling the skin (which is partially a thing basting does) is good, but actually basting during cooking is potentially bad both due to the risk of unwanted water on the skin and also dropping the oven temperature too much.

Adding Flavor: Ideas and Variations That Go Beyond the Basic

I have long contended that a roast chicken, like so many other roasts, needs no more than salt to be dazzlingly delicious (as long as you make sure to salt it generously all over, inside and out). I stand by that claim, but that doesn't mean it isn't nice to do just a little more, if you're so inclined. Here are some good options:

  • Stuff the Cavity: I don't mean with stuffing, as one might with a turkey, though that is an option (as with turkey, it just complicates things from a food safety perspective, since the meat will overcook by the time the stuffing is properly heated through, unless you take certain precautions). What I'm really referring to here are aromatics that can shoved into the chicken cavity before cooking to delicately season the meat, especially the parts closest to the cavity itself. I love jamming a bird full of fresh tarragon springs, for example, but rosemary, sage, and thyme are all great in their own way. Cloves of garlic never hurt a roast chicken, nor has sliced or quartered lemon.
  • Spice it Up: While salt is all you really need, spices won't hurt. Black pepper is the most obvious of all, but you could reach for funkier white pepper, or rub the chicken down in any number of ground spices or spice mixes. Smoked paprika, ground coriander, cumin, and a slew of other possibilities, alone or in combination, are great. The only thing to watch out for is that you don't scorch the dry spices; this is easily avoided by giving the bird a good rub with oil in addition to the spices, which will help protect them from the dry heat of the oven.
  • Rub With Herbs (Under the Skin): Rubbing the chicken down with a rough or smooth paste of herbs (which can also include oil, spices, and other flavorings) is another great direction for roast chicken. In this case, I recommend taking the slightly fiddlier road of pushing the minces herbs under the chicken skin and not just rubbing them on the exterior, since I've too often seen an herb rub burn when applied to the exterior of the bird. Some may wonder why you can't just rub an herb paste on later in the cooking process, but I'd warn against that as well, as the cool, water-rich mixture of herbs risks to impede browning at a critical moment in the chicken's path to perfect.

Roasting Method 1: The Easiest

This method is so basic, it doesn't even warrant a recipe, and yet I want to include it because the truth is that even if you do nothing special at all—no dry-brining, no trussing, no spatchcocking—you can still make a delicious roast chicken. All this method requires is seasoning the bird with salt inside and out and tossing it in the oven until done.

There have been plenty of nights in my life when I've done exactly this because I've been tight on time, or just not in the mood to do anything more than the bare minimum, and I've never regretted it. I want you to know that there's no shame in doing this at home too.

Overhead view of a simple roast chicken
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

The biggest downside to this method is it does nothing to address the classic roast chicken dilemma, leaving you trying to split the difference between lightly overcooked breast meat or slightly undercooked leg meat (I mean, it'd still be safe to eat, just not quite as well done as most of us like it). That doesn't make this a method unwelcome, since I think you can absolutely hit a sweet spot that's really not bad—between 155 and 160°F for both the breast and legs gets you to a place that is not overly dried out for the white meat nor overly pinkish for the dark meat.

The other downside of this method is that it will likely leave you with under-browned skin on the thighs, due to their lower position on the bird, where steam tends to build and juices run down.

It's not perfect, but it can certainly be good enough.

Roasting Method 2: Spatchcocking

Spatchcocking the bird has long been Serious Eats' preferred method, and I continue to recommend it wholeheartedly. By cutting out the backbone and pressing the chicken into a flat shape with the legs splayed out and the breast in the center, a spatchcocked bird cooks quickly and browns evenly all over. Since the legs are positioned on the outer sides, they get exposed to more heat compared to the breast in the center, which helps even out cooking.

Another huge benefit to this method is that you can then use the cut-out spine, along with wing tips and any other trimmings to make a quick jus while the chicken roasts.

Overhead view of a spatcocked turkey after being roasted
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

All in all, it's a wonderful way to cook a bird.

As for downsides, the main one I can think of is presentation. A spatchcocked bird can be a beautiful sight, but it doesn't quite hit that textbook image of a roast-bird. I also find a spatchcocked chicken to be marginally more difficult to carve, since the flattened position means you have to work at more acute angles when slicing the breast meat off the breastbone and rib cage. It's not difficult, just a little more awkward.There's also a bit more labor involved with the spatchcocking process than the other cooking methods. Cutting through the spine does take a bit more arm strength and effort.

For a more in-depth look at why spatchcocking is such a great method, read Kenji's article and recipe here.

Roasting Method 3: The Picture-Perfect Classic Bird

This method is the main reason I wanted to write this article and recipe, because until today, we didn't have a rock-solid way to cook a chicken that wasn't spatchcocked. I get it folks, sometimes you just want a classic roast bird, the kind of thing French chefs spend careers trying to perfect. I know I do. And the truth is that while spatchcocking is one great way to address the challenges of roasting chicken, it's not the only way.

Side view of roasted chicken
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Just look at the bird in the picture above and tell me it's not the most beautiful thing you've ever seen. Some of you are probably thinking your newborn child was the most beautiful thing you ever saw, but let's be real, only parents can't see how funny looking their kids are at first (I'm proud to say my dad's first words upon seeing me were, "Not too pretty, is he?" I appreciate the honesty).

This method is the most time-consuming of the three, with the added step taking place on the stovetop to drive heat into the legs ahead of roasting in the oven. Earlier, I had written that a whole roast chicken doesn't develop skin as crisp as, say, a pan-roasted piece of chicken, since the latter has the advantage of more extreme browning and crisping thanks to direct contact with the hot pan. Well that's exactly what we're going to take advantage of here.

The first step, though, is to truss the bird. Trussing does a couple things: First, it turns the chicken into a tidy little package that's easier to handle, which is useful when you're trying to pan-roast it before putting it in the oven. That tidy little package is also a key to the bird's aesthetic appeal: It looks a lot nicer than the easiest-version bird above with its legs hanging out to the sides.

Tussing the bird
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Trussing also helps compress and plump up the breast, which some claim slows down the time it takes the breast meat to cook and thus helps even out the cooking. I don't know if I buy that, I've seen plenty of other equally compelling arguments that by pressing the legs tightly into the body of the bird, they cook more slowly, and honestly, that aligns more with my own experience. But it doesn't matter, because we're going to counteract that anyway.

As you can see in these photos, the cool trick with this method is to set the bird on its side in the pan so that a leg is in contact with the metal (the wing will be too). This drives heat into the legs without significantly warming the breast, getting a jump start on their cooking so that they'll hit their ideal final temperature more or less at the same time as the breast. Once you brown one side, you simply flip the bird and cook the other side the same way, then position the chicken upright and pop it in the oven to fully roast.

Overhead view of browning chicken in a pan
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

This searing step also browns and crisps the skin on the chicken legs enough that when the finished bird comes out of the oven, it will be perfect all around, even in the spots that typically don't brown well in a more basic roasted bird.

The Setup: The Gear for the Best Roast Chicken

You don't need much to roast a chicken, but the following equipment is all essential for some or all of the methods described here:

  • Rimmed baking sheet: A basic rimmed half-sheet pan is our go-to piece of gear for roasting most things, including chicken. Its low walls ensure steam isn't trapped, which leads to better browning all over the roast, plus it's an affordable and durable piece of gear. If you want to upgrade, don't buy a classic roasting pan. Instead, I specifically recommend the roasting pan made by Misen, which addresses most of the complaints we've ever had about traditional roasting pans. You can read more about that in my article here.
  • Wire Rack: Air circulation is key when roasting a chicken, whether during the dry-brining stage, or in the oven. A wire rack that fits a half-sheet pan is therefore a must-have.
  • Stainless-steel skillet: When I'm cooking chicken following my "most perfect" method, I usually just do the whole thing in a skillet, since I start by browning the chicken in a skillet on the stovetop. At that point, there's no harm in just tossing the chicken into the oven in the same skillet, as long as the skillet is oven-safe. If you switch to a baking sheet and wire rack before going into the oven, you'll just have more washing up to do later, with little to no benefit (the skillet is so hot that even the underside of the bird will brown and crisp in the oven, negating the need for a wire rack, though it's still useful to have that rack and baking sheet for the dry-brining step).
  • Instant-read thermometer: This is the tool you need to spot-check doneness on anything you're cooking. Just stick the thermometer probe into the middle of the thickest part of your roast, making sure not to let it touch bone, which will throw off your reading, and see what it says.
  • Probe thermometer: While you can do just fine with an instant-read thermometer alone, a leave-in probe thermometer is a real pleasure to use when roasting a chicken. Stick the probe into the bird, making sure to position it near the middle of the thickest part and then monitor the chicken's internal temperature as it slowly climbs to your ideal doneness. Some probe thermometers come with additional ambient probes that can be used to simultaneously track the oven temperature, which is very useful for determining whether your oven is running properly on temp or not.

In a small bowl, thoroughly mix the salt with black pepper and baking powder (if using). Season chicken all over, inside and out, with salt mixture (or just plain salt if not using pepper and baking powder).

Salting chicken
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Set chicken, breast side up, on work surface and tuck wings behind back. Using butcher's twine, run the center of the twine under the tip of the tail end and truss chicken by tying drumsticks together at their bony ends, securing the legs and the tip of the tail together in a bundle. Criss-cross the twine and pass along the crevasse where the legs meet the breast; pass twine over wings to hold them into place, then tie securely around the stump of the neck. Place chicken, back side down, on a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate, uncovered, at least 1 hour and up to 2 days.

Four image collage of tussing a chicken
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 425°F (220°C). In a 10- or 12-inch stainless steel skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Rub chicken lightly with oil, set set it on its side in the skillet so that the full thigh and drumstick are in contact with the pan; the wing will also be touching, but the breast should have little to no contact with the skillet. Cook until leg is well browned, 8 to 10 minutes, then flip bird so other leg is touching pan and repeat; lower heat at any point if chicken skin begins to burn.

Two images of browning skin of chicken in a pan
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Using hands and spatula if needed, rotate chicken so it is breast side up in the skillet and transfer to oven. Roast until breast registers 150°F (65°C) in the center of its thickest part and thighs register 165°F (75°C) near (but not touching) the bone, about 40 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer chicken to a carving board. Let rest 10 to 20 minutes, then carve and serve.

Two image collage of putting a chicken into the oven and it on a cutting board after being roasted
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

The Key Techniques for Perfect Risotto

All about the ingredients, the equipment, and the techniques required to make perfect risotto every time.

Overhead view of plate of risotto
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

There is a common trope about making risotto that goes something like this: Mamma mia! It's such an awful pain, standing and stirring forever and ever and ever. Well, folks, that's a bunch of nonsense. I'm not sure when the idea that risotto is such a laborious process started, but we have to put it to rest.

Here's the truth: Risotto is relatively easy, and it's relatively quick, and while it does require some time spent stirring by the stove, it is neither excessive nor difficult. I can think of a million kitchen tasks I dislike way more than making risotto. Peeling cloves of garlic is right at the top, but all anyone says about that is, "you can never have too much garlic." Oh yes you can, just ask the person who has to peel it.

Side view of spoon full of risotto
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

I'm going to walk you through the essential techniques of making perfect risotto, we will go over the proper doneness and consistency of the rice, and I will show you a restaurant shortcut for preparing it in advance so that it's easy to serve it to guests without getting stuck in the kitchen for more than a few minutes. Hopefully once we're done, word will spread, and one day no one will gripe about risotto again because we will all understand that it's one of the easiest things to make.

I'm going to use the classic risotto al parmigiano as my example. It's the perfect recipe for focusing more generally on risotto technique because of its simplicity, calling for what are essentially risotto's most basic ingredients: fat, onion, rice, broth, and cheese. The result is a very simple, yet very delicious risotto rich with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

What Are the Defining Elements of Great Risotto?

In classic French cuisine, the test of a good cook is how well they can prepare a French omelette. If I want to know how skilled a cook is at Italian food, risotto is one easy benchmark by which to measure. The strange thing about risotto is despite its fundamental ease, very few know how to do it well—not most professional cooks, not many food stylists, and not the majority of food writers and bloggers who seem to think they have recipes worth sharing for it. Want proof? Just Google "risotto" and review the image results. Count how many show the rice in a sloping pile that's thick and lumpy, not fluid. Those are all examples of subpar risotto technique. And they abound.

While personal preference plays an important role in assessing what "good" means—there's not one universal standard that all will agree to—risotto should, generally speaking, feature grains of rice in a thickened and creamy sauce that readily flows, settling into a shallow, flattened pool with little more than a shake of the plate. We're talking something a bit thicker than most cream of mushroom soups but thinner than most bowls of oatmeal.

Overhead view of someone taking a spoon of risotto
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

The secret to nailing this consistency almost entirely comes down to managing heat, moisture, and time.

  • Heat, because the natural starches in risotto thicken the sauce as it cools; this is why you want to serve risotto on warmed plates and also why you want to plate it when it's even thinner than seems right—because it will thicken up, and quickly.
  • Moisture, because risotto requires constant adjustment in its final phases, allowing excess liquid to cook off or be absorbed, or possibly adding liquid at any point if the risotto suddenly seems too thick and dry, especially after cheese has been worked in.
  • Time, because the rice will continue to drink up the liquid, so once you have your risotto at its moment of perfection just before serving, you must not wait.

The other thing a well-made risotto requires are al dente grains of rice, and my experience is that many cooks don't quite understand what that means. There isn't one correct opinion on just how firm the grains of rice should be, but at the very least, each grain of rice should have a discernible bite in its center, a remnant firmness that will strike some as being extremely undercooked compared to almost any other rice dish they've ever eaten. For many risotto lovers, a truly raw core of crunchy rice is an absolute requirement—I don't personally like it quite that underdone, but many Italian food experts I respect do.

If I had to guess, I'd say overcooking the rice may be one of the things that has led so many people to believe risotto takes forever to cook. It sure does take long if you're standing there waiting for the rice to fully soften! But don't wait that long. It shouldn't take more than 15 or 20 minutes or so to cook the rice in the liquid. Hardly a slog.

Getting that perfect al dente texture is largely a question of technique, but it's also influenced by the type of rice. The most common varieties of rice for risotto are arborio, carnaroli, and vialone nano, but of the three, arborio is by far the most common. That's too bad, because arborio is the most prone to turning mushy and producing an overly thick result.

Side view of risotto
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

This has to do with each variety's relative amounts of the starches amylose and amylopectin. All three are types of short- to medium-grain rice, but arborio has almost no amylose, which has a more linear molecular structure that provides structure and stability. Amylopectin, which is basically the only starch arborio has to offer, is a more twisting and branched starch molecule, giving it enhanced thickening power along with a tendency towards excessive softness. If you can find them, you're better off with carnaroli or vialone nano, which have higher levels of amylose.

Risotto Technique: A Closer Look

We've long relied on a no-stir technique developed by Kenji for almost all risotto recipes on Serious Eats, including some of mine. It's a cool and unorthodox method that starts by rinsing the rice with stock to wash off its surface starches. The rice is then sautéed in oil, and after that most of the starchy stock used for rinsing the rice is added to the pan all at once. The pan is covered and left to simmer until the rice is nearly done. The final steps involve finishing the risotto with additional stock, cheese, and whatever else the recipe might call for.

The logic of rinsing the rice has to do with the fact that starches lose their thickening power when exposed to high heat. In the case of risotto, that means the surface starches on rice don't thicken as well after the obligatory toasting step, which is important for developing the rice's flavor. This is the same phenomenon we see with roux: The more deeply you toast the flour, the less well it acts as a thickener. So, by rinsing the rice of its surface starches before toasting, you allow those starches to retain their maximum thickening ability once they're added back to the pan.

But here's where I admit something: Despite writing some of my own risotto recipes using this technique, I never actually use the method at home. Not because it doesn't work, I just don't find it solves any problems I have with risotto. For one thing, while I know it's technically true that the starches thicken less well when toasted—you can see as much in side-by-side tests—I don't think it matters in practice. With all the agitation of the rice during cooking, and with the additions of cheese and other ingredients that further thicken the liquid, excessive thinness is not something I have ever found in a classically prepared risotto.

I also don't mind the brief period of stirring the classic method requires. I honestly like it. It's meditative, and it allows me to pay attention to the food as it's cooking. Risotto is all about managing moisture, heat, and time, and so I like to watch it transform and develop. Since it only takes about 15 minutes, it's not much of a time investment, and it saves me having to do the no-stirring method's additional steps of rinsing and draining the rice at the beginning of the process. There's gonna be time spent doing something extra no matter what—you're either washing and draining the rice first, or you're stirring a little more. Not a big deal either way.

Over time, I've come to re-embrace the classic technique. Both methods have their value, but I'd encourage home cooks reading this to at least sometimes follow the classic method, because it is the best way to develop a sense of how the rice cooks, how it continuously dries out and thickens during that time, and to assess just how far along the road to doneness it is. In light of how poorly so many people cook risotto, any method that encourages paying more attention and adjusting as you go is a good method in my book.

Step 1: Sauté the Onion

Risotto starts with sweating a minced onion (or a shallot, or maybe even a leek if you want to change the allium up) in fat until translucent and tender, but generally not browned. I like to mince my onion finely enough that the pieces are roughly the size of the rice grains, just to avoid big chunks in the finished dish. As for the fat, oil, whether olive oil or a neutral oil, is a good choice since it's less likely to scorch, but butter is an option too.

Step 2: Toast the Rice

As soon as the onion has softened sufficiently, it's time to stir in the rice and toast it in the oil. This toasting step develops a nuttier flavor in the rice, for a more complex risotto. As I mentioned above, while it does technically lessen the ability of surface starches to thicken the risotto, in practice the effect is negligible—there is no difficulty getting toasted rice to produce a beautifully creamy final dish.

The visual indicator of doneness I've always used when toasting the rice is to stop when each grain becomes translucent around its exterior; the best way I've ever seen it described is that the rice grains should look like tiny ice cubes with a cloudy center. Other indicators you've toasted it enough: The rice smells toasty and you begin to see signs that browning is imminent.

Step 3: Add the Liquids in Increments

Adding liquid is how we stop the toasting rice and onion from browning and get on with actually hydrating and cooking the rice. In most cases, I like the first addition to be wine, usually white though it depends on the recipe, which I cook while stirring until the pan has gone almost totally dry and the wine's raw alcohol aroma has mostly cooked off. Otherwise you risk risotto that tastes boozy.

After adding wine, I switch to stock. What kind of stock has to do with two things: the specific risotto recipe and also what you happen to have available. Some risotto is best with a deeper, meatier flavor, which could mean using chicken stock or beef stock. Others, especially seafood risotto, benefit from a fish or shellfish stock. And others still work best when the stock is kept as mild as possible, such as a very basic vegetable stock.

Keep in mind that the flavor of your stock or broth will concentrate as you add it to the rice. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but there could be a point where you'll want to switch from a more full-flavored stock to plain water.

There are two common details in most risotto recipes that are worth addressing: One is to heat your stock before adding it to the rice, and the other is to add it in a series of small additions, cooking the liquid down each time between additions. You don't really need to do either of these things. You could add your stock cold, it'll just take a little longer since each addition will drop the temperature in the pan, requiting longer to heat back up. Some claim that it's therefore not necessary since pre-heating the stock adds time. But that forgets an important point: You're already spending time doing other things before the stock is called for in the recipe, like mincing the onion and sautéing it and the rice. That's the perfect time to have the stock sitting on a flame in a pot, and it will shave off time later in the process.

As for adding the stock in multiple small increments, it's true that you don't have to, you could dump a large volume in and let the risotto cook and thicken in more or less one go, with just a few finishing steps at the end. But once again, I fail to see what the harm is of smaller additions: They're useful in that they make it much easier to dial in the rice's final al dente texture and to nail the proper consistency of the sauce at the same time, which, based on all available evidence, most people are pretty bad at. Why disadvantage them further? Better to add the stock bit by bit so you have total control over coordinating the risotto's final stages.

Step 4: Finish and Serve

The final step in the risotto process is critically important. This is what will determine whether the risotto has reached its ideal form or not. It involves making final adjustments to the seasonings and consistency of the risotto, and then working in fat and flavor in the form of grated cheese and/or cold fat like butter to form the creamiest, silkiest, glossiest sauce. As always, the finished risotto should be spooned onto warmed plates to prevent it from cooling down rapidly and thickening prematurely.

This is such an important step that I'm going to talk about it more in the next section, dedicated entirely to the art of finishing risotto.

All'Onda and Mantecatura: The Art of Finishing Risotto

Italians speak of cooking risotto "all'onda," which means like a wave. It describes the finishing process of a great risotto, in which the rice is rapidly tossed in the pan. It should be loose enough to flip over itself in a dramatic wave-like motion, which enhances creaminess by making the rice grains rub against each other over and over while, some claim, incorporating air for a lighter result. I used to rely on a restaurant trick of folding whipped cream into a risotto to finish, but cooking risotto all'onda is the truer way to make a risotto that's silky and creamy, with a deeper and more concentrated flavor of both the rice and its flavorings that isn't diluted and overshadowed by excessive amounts of dairy.

Side view of risotto in wave form
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

This gets us to the second thing that's happening when you're finishing risotto all'onda: a process called mantecatura. This describes the emulsification of additional fat into the risotto at the end, adding a final glaze of richness and creaminess (without drowning the risotto in whipped cream). Grated cheese, usually Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano and cold butter are the fats I turn to the most for the mantecatura, but they aren't the only options. To perform the mantecatura, you simply add the cheese and cubed butter to the risotto and work it completely in while flipping the risotto on itself all'onda. This should all be done off the heat, but you should be prepared to add another small ladleful or two of hot broth if the risotto becomes too thick after this process. Remember: You're making tiny adjustments to texture and consistency right up until the risotto hits the warmed plates.

If you want to toss your risotto all'onda, you will need the right kind of pan. It should be broad and wide, with sloping sides. The "pasta pan" I have written about before is perfect; a 5-quart saucier will work very well; a 3-quart saucier will also work but be a bit less spacious and therefore more difficult to use without making a mess.

If you don't have any of those pieces of cookware, don't fret: You can still approximate cooking risotto all'onda with some vigorous stirring with a spoon while using something larger and heavier like a Dutch oven; its heaviness and vertical sides will make tossing inadvisable, but just stir, stir, stir. The effect will be similar enough. You could also use a large sauté pan, but its lower sides will run a higher risk of a slosh-over unless you stir very carefully and delicately, which isn't ideal.

Restaurant Trick: How to Make Risotto in Advance

Okay, so I've gone on at length about how risotto is both easy and quick. I stand by that. But there's no doubt that if you have guests over, the roughly 30 minutes from start to finish that it does require can be inconvenient. Luckily, there's a solution and it's one restaurants have been using for ages, because guess what—they don't have time to cook risotto from start to finish every time an order comes in either.

It's this simple: Cook your risotto, starting with the onion cooking step, followed by the rice toasting step, and on the the wine and broth steps. Just stop when the rice as about half to three-quarters of the way cooked. Then scrape the rice out onto a rimmed baking sheet or two and spread it in a thin, even layer. This is important because if you pile it up too high, the rice trapped underneath will stay hot and continue to cook for longer than the rice on top, and we don't want that. Let it cool completely, then transfer the rice to an airtight container and refrigerate it.

When it's time to eat, simple scoop the par-cooked risotto back into the pan and continue on with the process of adding broth in small increments until the risotto has reached its proper al dente stage and is ready to be finished all'onda.

Set serving plates in a very low over or other warm location to keep warm until serving time. In a 3- or 5-quart saucier or medium Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion, season lightly with salt, and cook, stirring frequently, until onion is translucent and soft but not browned, about 5 minutes.

Overhead view of cooking onions in pan
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Increase heat to medium-high, add rice, and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until rice is evenly coated in oil and toasted but not browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Rice should smell nutty and grains should start to look like tiny ice cubes: translucent around the edges and cloudy in the center.

Overhead view of adding rice to onions and toasting
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Add white wine and cook until wine is almost completely evaporated, about 30 seconds. Add 1/2 cup of stock and season lightly with salt. Cook, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, until liquid is mostly absorbed, 1 to 2 minutes. Continue to cook, adding stock in 1/2-cup increments while stirring constantly, until rice is almost fully softened but still retains a noticeable al dente bite in the center, 15 to 20 minutes. Add enough stock so that there is enough liquid in the pot for the rice flow like lava when you stir it. Remove from heat.

Overhead view of stirring risotto with stock
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Add cheese and butter and stir or toss vigorously until cheese and butter are fully melted and emulsified and a creamy, satiny glaze coats each grain of rice. Keep in mind that the risotto will tighten up in the time it takes to plate and serve it, so adjust with more stock as needed to achieve a free-flowing consistency, leaving it looser than you think it should be. Season with additional salt, if needed.

Two image collage of adding cheese and flipping risotto
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Spoon risotto onto warmed plates (plates are more traditional than bowls), shaking gently to spread risotto out over each plate in an even layer. Serve right away.

Side view of risotto
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Special Equipment

3- or 5-quart saucier or medium Dutch oven

Make-Ahead and Storage

See section above on the restaurant trick for making risotto in advance. Once finished, risotto is best eaten right away, though leftovers can be fried into a pancake in a preparation called risotto al salto.

Lavender Syrup

Quickly infused with the fragrance of lavender, this versatile syrup is perfect for cocktails and desserts.

Side view of lavender syrup
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Simple syrup tells you everything you need to know right in its name: It's simple. Just combine equal volumes of sugar and water, mix or heat to dissolve the sugar, and boom, you're done. Perhaps to some ears "lavender syrup" sounds slightly more complicated, but I assure you it's not. It is the exact same process as making simple syrup, just with some dried lavender flowers tossed in. It couldn't be easier.

Since the goal of an infused syrup like this is to transfer the flavor of the lavender into the syrup before straining the flowers out, we need to use heat—simply stirring without heat until the sugar dissolves makes perfect simple syrup, but not one that has picked up enough of the lavender flavor. It only takes about ten minutes of simmering to pull that flavor-transfer off, and then it's time to strain and store the syrup until ready to use.

And how might you use it? Well, lavender syrup works great in cocktails like this Lavender French 75, and any other cocktail or nonalcoholic drink where you might desire adding a floral twist. The syrup would also be a welcome addition to some desserts—you could use it to moisten cake, candy fruits, drizzle over ice cream, or add a dash to your favorite cookie batter for a subtle lavender essence.

This recipe offers a range of 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of lavender relative to the batch of syrup, with the lower amount producing a more subtle (though still very noticeable) lavender flavor while the 1 teaspoon punches it up to something a little more assertive, but still pleasant. Feel free to go in whichever direction appeals more, though do keep in mind that even a stronger syrup can be diluted with plain simple syrup or other sweeteners to allow for exactly the amount of lavender flavor you want; there's no need to go all-in if the result is too potpourri-like for your taste.

In a small saucepan, combine sugar and water. Add lavender, using 1/2 teaspoon for a more mild lavender flavor or 1 teaspoon for a stronger one. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat as needed to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes.

Two image collage of adding lavendar
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Strain lavender syrup through a fine-mesh strainer set over a small heatproof bowl or container; discard lavender flowers. Let cool, then use as desired.

Overhead view of straining lavendar syrup
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Special Equipment

Small saucepan, fine-mesh strainer

Make-Ahead and Storage

Lavender syrup can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Churrasco Steak

Churrasco takes different forms around South and Central America. This one channels the Argentine approach, cooked on a plancha or grill and bathed in herbal and garlicky chimichurri sauce.

Overhead view of churrasco steak
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Churrasco is a word that can describe a variety of cooked meat dishes throughout Latin America, Brazil, Spain, and Portugal. Some of those dishes are not practical to make at home—I eat at Brazilian churrascarias fairly regularly, and as much as I love it, it'd be hard to imagine setting up the multiple spits of meat required for the proper Brazilian experience. In other instances, though, it doesn't have to be quite so elaborate.

Take this simple recipe for churrasco steak, which is quickly grilled or seared, then bathed with some chimichurri sauce, as one might see it done in Argentina or Uruguay. This style of churrasco recipe often calls for skirt steak, but not always. You can use other thin, quick-cooking steaks as well. For instance, while developing this recipe, I butterflied a boneless short rib to turn it into something roughly the same thickness as a skirt steak (you'll see it in some of the photos in this recipe), just as an example of how to make this work for other varieties of steak. You can see the butterflying technique in the photo below.

A raw boneless beef short rib being sliced horizontally through the middle to butterfly it.
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

There's honestly relatively little to say about this recipe given its ease and simplicity. We start with the steak, which should be cut into sections for easier handling and serving. We then salt it all over and let it sit, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes. This minimum half-hour dry-brine is important, as it gives the salt enough time to draw out moisture from the meat, dissolve into it, and then be absorbed. Once inside the meat, the salt dissolves some muscle proteins, which—long story short—leads to juicier, more flavorful results.

You can let the meat dry-brine even longer, which gives even more time for moisture on the surface of the meat to dry out. The drier it gets, the more deep of a sear you'll achieve once the steak goes on the heat.

Flaming steak
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

As for the heat, you want it high. Skirt steak is a thin steak and it runs the risk of overcooking in the time it takes to get a good sear on it, so don't be afraid to really crank it. Flipping the meat often will minimize the development of an inner gradient of overcooked grey meat, and on a steak this thin, that can really make a meaningful difference in the results. That way, you'll get a good sear on the outside and not too severe of a grey band within.

Side angle of chimichurri being spooned onto steak
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

I wouldn't go as far as to say that chimichurri sauce is synonymous with churrasco—that really depends on where you are and who's cooking—but it's certainly a common condiment. You can read more about chimichurri at the linked recipe, but in short, it delivers punchy herbal and garlicky flavor to everything it touches, with a bright pop of vinegar to really light things up. I like to brush a little on the steak shortly before it's done cooking (don't do it too early or you'll just burn the sauce onto the meat), then serve the rest alongside the thinly sliced steak to be spooned on top at the table.

Season steak all over with salt and pepper. Set steak on a wire rack set in a rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes and up to 8 hours before cooking.

Overhead view of steak on a cutting board
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

To Grill the Steak: Open bottom vent of a charcoal grill completely. Light chimney starter filled with charcoal briquettes (6 quarts). Once top coals are partially covered with ash, pour into a steeply banked pile against 1 side of the grill; set cooking grate in place, cover grill, and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Alternatively, turn all burners of a gas grill to high, cover, and heat grill until hot (500°F; 260°C), about 15 minutes. Clean and oil grill grate.

Transfer steaks to hot side of grill. Cover and cook for 1 minute. Flip steaks, cover, and cook for another minute. Continue cooking in this manner, flipping and covering, until steaks are well charred and an instant-read thermometer inserted into their center registers 110 to 115°F for medium-rare or 115 to 120°F for medium, 6 to 8 minutes; brush steaks all over with a small amount of chichurri for the last minute of cooking. Transfer steaks to a large plate and allow to rest in a warm place for 10 minutes.

20110610-155998-skirt-steak-on-grill.jpg

To Cook on a Plancha or in a Skillet: In a large cast iron skillet or on a large plancha or cast iron griddle, heat 2 tablespoons oil (30ml) over high heat until lightly smoking. Add steaks in a single layer and cook, turning frequently, until well browned on both sides and center of steak registers 110 to 115°F for medium-rare or 115 to 120°F for medium, 6 to 8 minutes; brush steaks all over with a small amount of chichurri for the last minute of cooking. (If you own a cooking or grilling weight, you can use it to press down on the meat and improve the sear.) Transfer steaks to a large plate and allow to rest in a warm place for 10 minutes.

Four image collage of adding oil, cooking steaks, and adding chimichurri.
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Cut steaks crosswise into 5- or 6-inch sections, then slice thinly against the grain and serve with chimichurri sauce spoon on top.

Side view of cutting steak
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Notes

A cut like boneless beef short rib is usually thicker than we want for this style of rapid grilling or searing. The solution is to butterfly it, which you can see being demonstrated in a photo above in the recipe headnote.

How to Cut Cauliflower

A step-by-step guide to cutting cauliflower into florets and steaks.

Overhead view of cauliflower cut in half
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Fun fact: Cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, kale, and kohlrabi are all the exact same plant—Brassica oleracea. That's right, they're not just closely related members of the same botanical family or genus, they are literally all the same species, each a variant cultivated for one specific trait. In the case of cauliflower (and broccoli), the plant was bred to have pronounced flower buds, which is what make up the florets we enjoy so much.

Cutting up cauliflower into florets is easy, especially if you can visualize the branching structure of the buds that all grow off one central stalk; that stalk is often referred to as the "core" when discussing cauliflower.

Here is how to easily break cauliflower down into florets, as well as tips on making cauliflower "steaks."

To Cut Cauliflower Into Florets

Using a paring knife, trim away any leaves from around the base of the cauliflower. Then cut the head into quarters.

Overhead view of cutting a cauliflower in half
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Cut out the central "core" from each quarter. Note: The core can be cut up and used in many recipes, do not discard it unless you're certain you don't need or want it.

Overhead view of removing the core from cauliflower
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Once the core is removed, using your hands and/or a knife, break off large florets following their natural divisions. In some recipes, you may want to stop there and use the large florets as-is.

Overhead view of breaking cauliflower into florets
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

For smaller florets, use a knife to cut each floret into smaller portions. If you want a more natural division without a perfectly flat cut side on each floret, you can use a knife to split the branch that holds the flower buds together, then use your hands to pull the flower buds apart; they will break apart more naturally and unevenly this way, which is sometimes desirable. Use as desired.

Overhead view of cutting cauliflower florets into smaller pieces
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

To Cut Cauliflower Steaks

The key to cauliflower "steaks" is to keep the core intact and attached to each steak: It is needed to hold the steak together. Begin by trimming away any green leaves growing from the base of the cauliflower head, then cut it vertically into slabs about 1/2 to 1 inch thick. You will inevitably create some trimmings with this, since the outer florets will not be attached to the core once cut (this, in all honesty, makes cauliflower steaks a much better idea for restaurants and a less good one for homes, since restaurants can collect enough of the trimmings to turn them into another menu item, while home cooks can't as easily).

A head of spiced and grilled cauliflower, cut in half lengthwise and overlapping on a green ceramic plate. At the top left edge of the image is a small ceramic bowl holding chopped herbs, which are also sprinkled across the surface of the cauliflower.
Serious Eats / Eric Kleinberg

How to Cut Carrots

These step-by-step guides show how to cut up carrots every way you might need to, from batons to matchsticks, dice, and brunoise.

Side view of dicing carrots
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

There's only one thing slightly difficult about cutting carrots: Some cuts, like julienne and brunoise, can be tricky with small- to medium-size carrots. So before you even begin, consider how you will need to cut your carrots and shop accordingly. Seek the largest carrots you can for (counterintuitively) the smallest cuts. Otherwise, just about any carrot aside from snack packs of baby carrots will work.

Overhead view of cutting carrots
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

To Trim and Peel

Using a vegetable peeler (preferably Y-peeler, which we find works best), peel carrots all around.

Overhead view of peeling carrots
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Using a knife, trim off the top and bottom ends.

Overhead view of trimming ends off of a carrot
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

To Cut Rounds

Using a sharp knife, simply crosscut each carrot into rounds of whatever thickness is desired. This is a good option for salads and simple carrots side dishes (for side dishes, it's best to cut the rounds thicker so the carrots don't snap in half easily once cooked).

Side view of cutting rounds for carrots
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

To Cut Sticks/Batons

For carrot sticks/batons, which are great for dips and crudités platters, cut the peeled carrot into roughly 3- or 4-inch lengthwise segments, then halve the carrots. The carrot halves can then be cut lengthwise into whatever size sticks you want. If using very large, thick carrots, instead of halving and then cutting into sticks, cut them into thick lengthwise planks first, then cut those planks lengthwise into sticks.

Carrots cut into batons
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

To Rough-Cut or Dice

For rough-cut carrots to be used in stocks and to flavor soups and stews, smaller carrots can simply be left whole and cut crosswise into large chunks. Large carrots should be split in half or quartered lengthwise first, then crosscut into large chunks.

Side view of cutting carrots into small chunks
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

For smaller dice, cut the carrot lengthwise into roughly 1/4-inch sticks, then crosscut those sticks into 1/4-inch dice.

Overhead view of cutting carrots into smaller pieces
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

To Cut Matchsticks/Julienne

Carrot matchsticks, or julienne, can be cut by first dividing each peeled whole carrot into 3- to 5-inch lengths. Then cut off one thin slice of each carrot segment lengthwise; this will create a flat side that can then be used as a stable base for the subsequent cuts without the carrot rolling around on you.

Side view of cutting a carrot
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

With the carrot sitting on its new flat side, cut it lengthwise into thin, even planks; the thinness of the planks will determine the thinness of your matchsticks.

Cutting a plank off a carrot
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Cut each plank lengthwise into matchsticks of your desired thickness.

Side view of cutting matchsticks
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

To Cut Brunoise

Follow the instructions above for creating matchsticks/julienne. Then line up a small pile of matchsticks and crosscut them to form a very tiny, uniform dice (brunoise).

Side angle view of cutting carrots into bernoise
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

How to Cut a Peach

Whether freestone or clingstone, sliced or diced, this explainer shows you how to cut up your juicy summer peaches.

Side view of peaches on a cutting board
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

How do I cut a peach? Mostly, I don't. When peaches reach their incomparable glory at the height of summer, I have one main way of eating them: over a sink, the juices cascading down my arm as all but the pit disappears into my mouth. But every once in a while there is justifiable cause to cut up a peach, say, for a fruit salad, galette, or cobbler.

This guide will show you how to slice and dice your peaches into whatever shape you desire. It should go without saying, these methods also work for nectarines, apricots, and plums; you will have to choose the cutting method depending on whether those fruits are freestone or clingstone, just as would a peach.

Freestone Versus Clingstone Peaches

Before I walk you through the steps for cutting up a peach, it's worth taking a moment to point out that there are two basic categories of peach that can impact how you cut it up: freestone and clingstone peaches. Most of the peaches I come across nowadays are freestone, which is the easier kind to deal with, but clingstones still exist, so it's good to be aware of them.

The difference between the two is exactly as the names suggest. Freestone peaches have pits that separate easily from the flesh, while clingstones will fight you every step of the way. This means that the method of cleaving the flesh off a peach changes depending on what kind of peaches you have. In the following guide, I'll walk you through the more common method with freestones. At the end, I'll show you how to tackle a clingstone peach.

If Working With Freestone Peaches:

Halve the Peach: All peaches have a seam that runs from top to bottom, it's what makes them look like cute little butts. This seam is your guide to where to cut: You can either slice along the seam all the way down to the pit, spinning the peach as you go until you've fully circled the pit, or you can rotate the peach 90 degrees so that you're still cutting in the same pole-to-pole direction as the seam but perpendicular to it.

Overhead view showing the seam of the peach
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez



The disadvantage of cutting along the seam is that once opened, peaches halved along the seam will have the pits lying flat in one of the halves, and they will be slightly harder to grab and pop out, but the resultant halves will have wider, more shallow depressions left by the pit, which are better for stuffing. They will also yield more symmetrical peach halves. If, on the other hand, you slice from pole to pole 90 degrees off from the seam, the pit will be easier to grasp, as its edge will be sticking out, but you'll have two asymmetrical halves, one with the seam on it and one without. You choose which appeals to you more. I like symmetry.

Overhead view of cutting a peach in half
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Now twist the two halves you've cut. They should pop apart, with one side still holding the pit and the other not. If you're unlucky, you'll get one of those peaches where the pit itself splits in half, but it's not that big of a deal.

Remove Pit: Carefully pop the pit out of the whichever half it's embedded in. Be careful not to damage the flesh too much as you pry it out.

Removing the pit from a peach
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Trim Out Any Tough Bits: The pit will sometimes leave behind some tough bits, so if you see any, cut them out with a paring knife.

Removing tough part from the peach
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Slice or Dice: If slicing, set each peach half cut side down on a work surface. If you want slices of even thickness, make a series of vertical cuts straight down to the cutting board of whatever width you need. If you want wedges, you can make radial cuts.

Side view of slices peaches in half
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

If dicing, slice each peach half into planks of whatever size dice you need, then stack the planks and make perpendicular cuts, first one way, then the other, to create the dice.

Side view of dicing peaches
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

If Working With Clingstone Peaches:

Since clingstone pits don't come free from the flesh, you can end up crushing ripe peach flesh while attempting to twist apart the peach halves as described above. Instead, you can simply cut off the flesh in lobes around the pit.

Overhead view of how to cut a peach
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

It helps to visualize the shape of the pit inside the a peach for this: The pit is almond-shaped (this is not a coincidence, almonds come from the pits of a very close peach relative), which means it's oblong. To cut around the pit as closely as possible, you want to angle your knife almost as if you're cutting a diamond pattern into it from the top down.

Four image collage of cutting peach via the diamond way
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

This will yield two large lobes of flesh from either side, plus two smaller lobes that are left behind.

Trim away any extra flesh that's still clinging to the pit.

Overhead view of trimming peaches
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

How to Open a Coconut

Opening a coconut is easier than it looks: You just need a screwdriver and a hammer to puncture a couple of the “eyes,” then drain and crack fully open.

Overhead view of coconut pieces on a black plate
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

As a parent of two young kids, I spend an unreasonable amount of time trying to prevent them from poking each other's eyes out (and hitting each other, and kicking each other, and biting each other, and...). But when it comes to coconuts, poke away, I say! That is, if your goal is to open a coconut and get out the meat.

Here are the essential steps for an easy, stress-relieving, coconut-opening time. These instructions apply for any brown, hard-shell coconut, which is the mature form. If you have a young green coconut, you'll need a big knife and the courage to engage in a much riskier procedure.

Step 1: Poke Out the Eyes

A coconut has three eyes, so the first step is to create a stable base by setting the coconut on a kitchen towel and punch out two of them with a screwdriver and a hammer. I think a Phillips-head works best, as a flat-head screwdriver has a broader head that can more easily get stuck inside the coconut.

Side view of hitting a screw driver in the eye of a coconut with a hammer
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Simply put the tip of the screwdriver against one of the eyes and carefully but confidently tap it with a hammer to punch out one eye. Then repeat for the second eye. Opening two eyes allows for one to drain out the coconut water within while the other takes in air, just as you need to do with a big plastic water jug to help it dispense.

Step 2: Drain the Coconut

Pour out the coconut water into a vessel. You may need to strain it of any debris or dirt, which you can do by draining the coconut through a fine-mesh strainer, or straining it later.

Overhead view of draining milk out of coconut
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Step 3: Crack the Coconut

Set the coconut back on the kitchen towel and, using the hammer, whack it all over, rotating the coconut as you go. You will begin to form stress fractures all over the coconut and they will eventually widen to the point where you can fully break it open, either with the hammer or using the screwdriver to pry it open (or even with your hands if it the cracks are big enough). This can make a small mess, so be prepared to wipe up after.

Overhead view of cracked opened coconut
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Step 4: Pry Out the Meat

Using a spoon or paring knife, pry the meat from the shell pieces. Try not to let too much of the thick brown skin come with it, but if it does you can use a paring knife to trim it off. Depending on your use and preference, it's okay if some thinner brown skin remains attached.

Overhead view of peeling skin off coconute
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

That's it, you now have coconut water and fresh white coconut meat to use as desired.

Pumpkin Spice Latte (With Real Squash)

Rich with butternut squash and fall spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and ginger, this frothy, creamy drink is like drinking pumpkin pie in your mug.

Side view of a pumpkin spice latte
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

For years I lived with the mistaken assumption that Starbucks' original pumpkin spice latte was made with actual pumpkin. I had never tasted the stuff, but it just seemed logical it would. So I was scandalized when a friend eventually corrected me. "You mean they call it pumpkin spice latte and there's not a drop of pumpkin?" I demanded. "Yeah," the friend said. "It's just the spice."

Apparently, I wasn't the only one this didn't sit well with, since Starbucks changed their recipe several years ago to include some pumpkin puree—number three in their "pumpkin spice sauce" ingredient list after sugar and condensed skim milk...not the ratios I personally would want to see. But by then I'd started making my own. Not often, maybe once a year, I'd simmer real pumpkin in the form of butternut or red kuri squash with milk and spices, blend it into a thickened, frothy cream, and drink that for a treat. The combination of roasty coffee with earthy-sweet squash and warm fall spices is so good, it's almost comical Starbucks managed to invent this drink and miss the best part.

Overhead view of pumpkin spice latte
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

About the Starbucks version, though: It's not fair for me to malign their drink without ever actually trying it, so I very recently did, and I have to cut them some slack. It's pretty tasty, and I can see why it has become so popular. It's sweeter than I would prefer, but it's not aggressively so, and the spices are dialed in to taste exactly like they should for a product like this, which is basically the edible version of the scented candle version of the edible version.

I'm not likely to become a regular drinker of either Starbucks or my own recipe—they're both a once-in-a-while kind of thing—but I think there's space in the world for both. Theirs is exactly what most of you already know it to be, mine is more like a not-too-sweet, not-too-thick pumpkin pie in a cup (with coffee). Mine also has some distinct advantages I want to point out.

The Key to My Creamy, Frothy PSL

One of the advantages of having never tried the real Starbucks PSL until after I'd developed my own recipe is that I was uninfluenced by any preexisting idea of what it was supposed to be. I didn't realize that Starbucks makes something that's more like a pumpkin-tinged, spiced syrup to add to a cup of milky coffee and then top with whipped cream.

So when I set out to make my own, I took a completely different path that solves a lot of technical issues while getting you much closer to a real steamed-milk, espresso-based drink. To make mine, instead of a syrup, I simmer cubes of butternut or red kuri squash (butternut squash is usually the "pumpkin" in a can of pumpkin puree) in milk with a little sweetener (either maple syrup or sugar) and the warm, autumnal spices that go into pumpkin pie recipes.

Overhead view of spices used
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Once tender, I blend this mixture up until smooth and frothy; a high-speed blender does this best, creating the smoothest, frothiest pumpkin-spice cream, but an immersion blender works too. The beauty of it is that the fiber from the squash, once blended, lightly thickens the milk, making it seem richer and creamer. At the same time, that added fiber helps the milk trap and retain more air bubbles from the blending, giving it a frothy texture that is remarkably similar to milk that's been steamed to a dense foam—expensive espresso equipment not required.

Poured on top of a dose of coffee, which honestly can be anything from a shot of espresso to some strongly brewed coffee or even regular brewed coffee for a lighter coffee flavor, the effect says "latte" a lot more than the Starbucks version I've tasted does. It's also much easier than making a pumpkin-spice syrup, which seems to be the move many other recipes make in an attempt to create their own homemade versions of a PSL. Plus, it achieves more of the goals of this type of drink with less work.

The result? A PSL that puts the P first.

In a large saucepan, stir together squash, milk, cinnamon, star anise, ground ginger, cloves, cardamom, nutmeg, maple syrup (or sugar), and salt; if desired, prepare a spice sachet of cheesecloth or in a tea strainer to make removal of whole spices easier. Set over medium heat and bring to a simmer, then lower heat to maintain a bare simmer and cook, stirring and scraping frequently, until squash is very soft, abou 30 minutes.

Four image collage of making squash infused milk mixture
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Remove and discard whole spices. Transfer to a blender jar, or use an immersion blender to blend directly in the saucepan, and blend, starting and low speed and increasing to high speed, until squash is fully pureed and a thick, frothy liquid has formed.

Overhead view into the blender after squash milk mixture has been blended
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

For each serving of coffee, pour a shot of espresso or strong coffee (roughly 1 fluid ounce; 30ml) into a mug. Add 6 to 8 fluid ounces (175-235ml) hot spiced pumpkin cream on top and serve. Garnish with a pinch of ground spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, etc.), if desired.

Side view of ladling pumpkin spice foam into a cup with coffee
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Make Ahead and Storage

The pumpkin cream can be refrigerated for up to 5 days. Reheat in a small saucepan, frothing in a blender again if needed before serving.

Beurre Blanc

A thick and creamy sauce that holds together without breaking, with the fatty richness of butter balanced by a bright note of acidity.

Overhead view of fish plated on top of Beurre Blanc sauce
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

What do you get when you take the yolk out of a hollandaise?

Oh, sorry, but this isn't the setup to a joke. No, it's much drier than that, I'm afraid—it's how I'm introducing beurre blanc, which is the answer I was looking for. If you want to understand beurre blanc, it can be helpful to think of it as a yolk-less hollandaise, the mother of emulsified butter sauces. Both sauces create a thick and creamy sauce that holds together without breaking, with the fatty richness of butter balanced by a bright note of acidity. In the case of hollandaise, we take advantage of the emulsifying powers of an egg yolk to do it. With beurre blanc, we just whisk like hell (and also rely on some more minor emulsifiers to help us out).

What is Beurre Blanc?

Beurre blanc is a butter-based sauce that originally comes from Brittany, France. This is why the sauce is also sometimes called beurre nantais, after the city of Nantes in Brittany. While beurre blanc is not one of French cuisine's classic group of "mother sauces" or their derivatives, it does, as I mentioned above, have a lot in common with hollandaise.

Beurre blanc has a history that goes back at least a few centuries, but it wasn't too long ago that it was relatively unknown outside of the regions where it was prepared. My 1961 copy of Larousse Gastronomique, for example, has no recipe for it, though it does have an entry for beurre fondu, which is an incredibly similar (and even simpler) sauce based on the same basic principle: Melt butter into a small amount of water while whisking to maintain the butter's emulsion and prevent it from breaking.

According to James Peterson in his magnum opus on sauces (it's called Sauces), beurre blanc's breakout moment came in the late 1960s, when a handful of Parisian chefs embraced and popularized the sauce among their more cosmopolitan and global audience, raising it from regional specialty to international sauce of mystery (mystery because there's a lot of unnecessary superstition around how it's made...it's really not that hard).

Let's get to a cleaner definition of beurre blanc and how it's made: It is a sauce made by simmering dry white wine with white wine vinegar and finely minced shallots until almost all of the liquid has evaporated. Then cubed cold butter is whisked in such that it melts while remaining emulsified, resulting in a thickened, creamy sauce. While it sounds like a risky endeavor, the truth is that beurre blanc is pretty easy to do successfully, all you have to do is keep whisking and make sure the sauce doesn't get too hot, which is the surest way it will break. The sauce's name, which translates as "white butter" is most likely a reference to the opaque and creamy white color of the finished sauce, which is dramatically different from the foamy, golden, and translucent appearance of butter that has melted and broken.

There are a few particularly lovely things about beurre blanc. One, it's a very quick sauce to whip up, yet is undeniably elegant, making it an appealing choice as far as effort-to-fanciness ratios go. Two, it's versatile because...what isn't better with butter? Fish is the most obvious pairing, with the beurre blanc offering a richness as well as a bright note of acidity, but it's also great with chicken, pork, and vegetables. Frankly, I don't think a piece of beef would be unhappy to see it. And third, it lends itself well to variation within its small ingredient list: You can use red wine instead of white wine, lemon juice instead of the wine and vinegar, and flavor it a million different ways. It is truly a blank slate just asking to be played with.

Beurre Blanc Key Ingredients and Ratios

Overhead view of adding white vingear
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Basic beurre blanc requires very few ingredients. Here they are, in order of appearance:

  • Dry white wine: Wine is one of the two acid-offering flavorings in a beurre blanc. You can use any dry (not sweet) white wine. Classic recipes tend to recommend more crisp and tart wines, not oaky buttery ones, though honestly any dry white wine will do.
  • White wine vinegar: White wine vinegar is required to punch up the comparatively softer acidity of the white wine—we need an effect more along the lines of "squeeze of lemon," and the vinegar helps get us there. Many recipes call for equal parts vinegar to white wine, though I use half as much vinegar to start, and then adjust the flavor at the end by whisking an extra teaspoon or two (or more) into the sauce if I think it needs it.
  • Shallot: Finely minced shallots are simmered in the wine and vinegar, which both softens the shallots and pulls their complex allium flavor into the wine-vinegar base.
  • Butter: This is the main ingredient in the sauce, and without a doubt you can taste it. Any butter will make a great sauce, but a quality butter with more flavor will shine. While melted butter typically breaks into its constituent components of butterfat, milk solids, and water, it does contain some natural emulsifiers that make it possible to maintain the emulsion even as butter heats if you keep whisking.
  • Salt: Salt needs little introduction, it's here to season the sauce. Add it to taste, and of course if you use salted butter, you may not need additional salt at all.
  • Pepper (optional): Only if you want it, but if you do add it, remember that it will speckle the creamy white sauce with little black specks. That doesn't need to be considered a problem, but if it is, you can turn to white pepper instead.

The Importance of Controlling Heat

Making beurre blanc involves melting the butter, but the difficulty is that when butter heats, it breaks, and it doesn't have to get too hot for that to happen. The most important thing when making beurre blanc, then, is controlling the temperature. We need to get the butter it hot enough to melt and create a warm sauce, but we do not want any part of it to overheat and break.

There are a few important techniques for this:

  • Use a good saucepan, or, better, a saucier. A fully clad stainless-steel saucepan with an aluminum or copper core will spread the heat evenly across the pot and minimize the development of hot spots. Thinner, lower-quality pans and pans clad only on the bottom are both more prone to hot spots that could ruin the emulsion in a sauce like this.
  • Whisk constantly. Just as an evenly heated pan is helpful for success, so is an evenly heated sauce. By rapidly and constantly whisking all over the pan, a fairly stable temperature is maintained as the butter melts. Stop for just a few moments and areas of the sauce can overheat and break the sauce. Plus, whisking has the obvious role of mechanically beating the fat and water phases together, which is essential for an emulsion like this to form and hold.
  • Manage the heat. This of course means raising or lowering the burner heat as needed so the butter melts and the sauce forms, but in practice, once I start whisking, I do a lot less burner adjustment and a lot more moving the pan on and off the heat as I constantly whisk to regulate the temperature; it's just easier to maintain constant whisking if you're holding the whisk in one hand and the saucepan's handle in the other, lifting and lowering the saucepan as needed to and from the heat.

Do You Really Need to Add the Butter in Increments?

Most recipes for beurre blanc say to add the cubed butter in increments, adding the next only once the prior addition has almost entirely melted into the sauce. The truth is you can add the butter all it once, it won't change anything—the sauce is no more likely to break if all the butter is in the pan or not. In practice, though, I usually do add it in at least a few additions, just because I find it harder to whisk if the saucepan is loaded with cubes of butter. But if you want to chuck more in at once, know you can, it won't harm anything.

How to Keep Beurre Blanc Warm Without Breaking

Finished beaurre blanc topped with fish
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

The risk of beurre blanc breaking continues after it's made, which is why it's generally best to prepare it right before serving. Sometimes, though, we need to hold it for a little while, and there are a few ways to do that.

The first thing to know is beurre blanc is not a sauce that is served hot—it's too prone to breaking for that. Warm is more or less what one should expect with a sauce like this. So one way to hold beurre blanc is to just stick it in a warm place. If you want to have more control over it, though, you can submerge a metal container of beurre blanc into a larger pot or container filled with warm, but not hot, water—say around 110°F (45°C) or so.

If you want an even more temperature-controlled setup, you could run a sous-vide immersion circulator set to 110°F and hold the vessel of beurre blanc in that. This will keep the sauce at a proper serving temperature for a long time.

One thing to note, though, is beurre blanc can thicken over time as it sits, the result of water evaporating out of the sauce. Be sure to whisk in a tablespoon or two of water if you notice it thickening.

Just as important as keeping the sauce warm before serving is keeping it warm upon serving: A cold plate will chill the sauce immediately. This is a case where you absolutely should warm your plates before serving.

To Strain or Not to Strain?

If you want a smooth beurre blanc without the little bits of minced shallot, you can pass it through a fine-mesh strainer (you'll likely want to rewarm if after that, as straining alone is enough to cool the sauce). I personally love the texture of the shallot in the sauce, so I've never opted to strain my beurre blanc, but you can if you want.

How to Save a Broken Beurre Blanc

If your beurre blanc begins to break, saving it is often as easy as whisking in some a splash or two of cool water. This may not work if it fully separates, but if you see the butterfat starting to bead on the sauce, you have a window of opportunity where a splash of water and some rapid whisking can bring the sauce back (just like a pan sauce).

If not, well then, you'll be serving a broken butter sauce, which is its own completely legitimate category of butter sauces, so all is not lost. Just tell your guests that was the plan all along and you'll be fine—marketing my friends, it's all marketing.

Beurre Blanc Variations

A classic beurre blanc with white wine and white wine vinegar is just the start. From there, you can use the same basic method to create all sorts of variantes. Here are some ideas:

  • Use red wine instead of white to make a sauce called beurre rouge.
  • Use beer instead of wine to make "beer blanc."
  • Use different vinegars in place of the white wine vinegar: cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, etc.
  • Get rid of the vinegar complete and use lemon juice to make a sauce called beurre citron.
  • Drop the shallot and try a different allium: garlic, leek, onion will each create a new spin on the sauce.
  • Add flavorings: Spices, ground chile peppers, herbs, soy sauce, miso, and so many other ingredients can add a different twist to the sauce and open it up to new pairing ideas.

In a small saucepan or saucier, heat wine, vinegar, and shallot over medium heat until simmering. Cook at a simmer, swirling and stirring occasionally, until liquid is almost fully evaporated and only 1 or 2 tablespoons remain.

Two image collage of cooking shallots and the water left
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Working with a few pats of butter at a time, whisk butter into reduced wine base, whisking constantly, until just melted and a milky emulsion forms (the sauce should not look broken). Immediately add 2 or 3 more pats of butter and continue to whisk until just melted. Repeat this process until all the remaining butter has been melted into the sauce and a stable emulsion has formed; remove the pan from heat and/or lower the heat at any point if it seems to be getting too hot and at risk of breaking. Season with salt.

Two image collage of stirring butter
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Note that after the last piece of butter has melted into the sauce, the sauce may be tepid; if it is, carefully continue to heat it while whisking constantly until warmed through, but be careful not to overheat, which will cause it to break. Serve beurre blanc right away or keep warm until ready to serve (see make ahead below); it is best served on warmed plates in order to maintain a proper serving temperature for the sauce.

Two image collage of plating sauce
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Make-Ahead and Storage

Beurre blanc is best made right before serving, but can be held in a warm place or warm-water bath for up to a few hours (see section above on making the sauce ahead for more instruction). Be sure to re-whisk occasionally and add a tablespoon or two of water over time to prevent the sauce from over-thickening and breaking.