In a way, Mark Bittman’s new cookbook Dinner for Everyone is as Bittmanian (bit-MAIN-ee-un) as any of the dozens of wildly popular books he’s written over the last 20 years or so, including How to Cook Everything, which transformed how people thought about cooking because it made them think about cooking as fundamentally simple process. Like that book, Dinner for Everyone celebrates minimalism and versatility as much as flavor. And it’s organized in a way that seems both groundbreaking and obvious: in this case, by sub-meal types that reflect how people actually categorize meals, such as “chili,” “sushi,” “stir-fry,” or “steak.”
But it’s different than all the rest of his books because it acknowledges an underrated but crucial truth about cooking: The most important part of cooking is not an ingredient or even the meal itself, it’s the people you’re cooking for.
Which is tricky because the people you’re cooking for–yourself included–can be a huge pain in the ass. This book solves for that. Each of the meal types in the book involve three different recipes: one rich enough and impressive enough for company, one that’s vegan, and one that’s simply “easy.”
Trouble is, the people you’re cooking for can be a huge pain in the ass.
In the Southern Fried category, there’s Crisp and Tangy Chicken Tenders (easy), Nashville Hot Okra Cakes (vegan), and Fried Chicken with Waffles and Peach Butter (company). In the Burgers category, there’s the easy Secret Ingredient Stovetop Burgers (the rare time a secret ingredient, anchovies, should indeed stay secret. Make them with the recipe below), Beet and Lentil Burgers (vegan), and Ultimate Cheeseburger with Tomato Chutney (… partly because you went to the trouble of actually making your own sort of ketchup).
I’m a little biased, admittedly. As a magazine editor, I’ve worked with Bittman a little, but I can objectively say this is the only cookbook I’ve used that addressed the question I want answered the most when I begin the often-super-long process of making a meal (committing to meal, shopping, making, serving, eating): Can you just tell me what to make for these people?! This glossier-than-usual Bittman book (his publisher seems to be going all-in right now–three major Bittman cookbooks in the last three years), answers that question in exactly 300 different ways.
So, if you want to solve for human nature during cooking, do the following:
- Buy this book. Start with our favorite recipe so far, below.
- Until then, have some homemade pizza dough in the fridge. Everyone loves pizza. And everyone is impressed by it. Your friends. Your kids. Grandma. Italian grandma. Everyone. It’s easy. Also, it’s vegan. And if you throw a handful of arugula on top, it’ll work for company.
- When all hope (and time) is lost: rotisserie chicken.
Mark Bittman’s Secret-Ingredient Stovetop Burgers
There are three important and counterintuitive tips hidden in this recipe. The first: Barely handle the ground beef when you’re forming it into patties. It will get tough otherwise. The second: The stovetop beats the grill for burgers. It’s true! More surface area means more char, which means more flavor. Three: Anchovies do the same thing for a burger as they do for Caesar salad dressing. Loads of umami flavor. –R.M.
Makes: 4 servingsTime: 20 minutes
- 4 oil-packed anchovies, or to taste
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 1/2 pounds good-quality, not-too-lean ground beef (no more than 90%)
- Salt and pepper
- 4 kaiser rolls or other large rolls, split
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Turn on the broiler and the rack 4 inches below it. Put the anchovies and Worcestershire sauce in a large bowl and mash with a fork until well blended. Add the beef to the bowl and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Use your hands to mix until To taste and adjust the seasoning, cook a small pinch of the meat in a pan or microwave.
- With a light touch, shape the mixture into 4 burgers, about 1 inch thick. (You can make then ahead and refrigerate them, tightly covered up to a few hours, bring back to room temperature before cooking.)
- Put the hamburger buns cut side up on a baking sheet and, watching closely, broil until they are lightly toasted, just a few minutes.
- Put a large skillet over medium-high heat until smoking hot. Add the burgers and drizzle with the olive oil. Cook the burgers until they release easily, about 4 minutes per side for medium-rare, and a minute more per side for each increasing stage of doneness, 5 for medium, and 6 for well done. Turn and repeat on the other side, checking frequently by peeking inside so you can remove them the second they’re ready. Immediately transfer them to the buns to capture the juices. Serve with condiments you like.
Reprinted from Dinner For Everyone. Copyright (c) 2019 by Mark Bittman. Photographs copyright (c) 2019 by Aya Brackett. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.