Hi and welcome to Five Weeknight Dishes, where the theme today is easy upgrades: Recipes with a genius little twist that pays big dividends, or inspired ideas that struck me like lightning. I love this category of home cooking, as strapped for time as I currently am, but still in want of something good to eat, and as few dishes to do as possible. There’s also the satisfaction that comes from making an easy meal with a brilliant, unexpected maneuver.
Before we dive in, I just want to be sure you saw NYT Cooking’s 50 Most Popular Recipes of 2019, a list that is absolutely packed with weeknight meals, starting with Alison Roman’s vinegar chicken with crushed olive dressing. That is a great recipe: Highly recommend. Tell me what you think about the list, life or recipes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Here are five dishes for the week:
This recipe, one of my favorites, is what inspired this week’s upgrade theme: As I made it the other night I was thinking of how brilliant Melissa Clark was to make anchovy-garlic compound butter and use it to douse plush salmon fillets. The butter needs to be softened first, so cut it into small bits to hasten that process, or jump-start it in the microwave for about 5 seconds (but don’t melt it). You can skip the capers; you cannot skip the anchovies, which add mysterious, salty depth.
Making breaded cutlets is fun and relatively tidy in theory, and like papier-mâché gone haywire in reality: so much eggy, bready business everywhere, especially caked on your fingers. Alison Roman has solved this problem and I think she should be considered for a Nobel Prize. In this recipe, you press pork chops into panko and then sear them in an oiled skillet. That’s it. It’s delicious. You should try it, preferably with a squeeze of lemon.
Coincidentally, when Melissa and I both got our hands on copies of the terrific cookbook “Vietnamese Food Any Day,” by Andrea Nguyen, this was the recipe we were both drawn to first, though it was not the most prominent or eye-catching. But it has a truly excellent twist: the addition of both European-style (which is to say, high-fat) cultured butter and either monosodium glutamate (MSG), chicken stock base (such as Better Than Bouillon) or nutritional yeast. The final dish is salty, creamy and deep, and also easy to play around with, if you add or change up vegetables or protein.
I’ve been working with recipes for about a dozen years now, and while I’ve seen all manner of Caprese salads and boneless chicken breast recipes, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone stuff a breast with fresh mozzarella and tomatoes. This is undoubtedly an upgrade for the chicken, but it also elevates out-of-season tomatoes, which can use a little heat, a little seasoning, a little zhushing in order to make them delicious.