America's Test Kitchen's Jack Bishop on the Essential Recipes

People love lists. They help us get things done and make mastering a skill easy. With that in mind, the mad scientists at America’s Test Kitchen are out with a new book for cooks looking to sharpen their skills or neophytes looking to get their foot in the kitchen door.

“If your mother, grandmother, or great-grandmother was an accomplished cook, she likely had a very limited repertoire,” write the editors of America’s Test Kitchen in the introduction to “100 Recipes: The Absolute Best Ways to Make the True Essentials.”

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Before you get up in arms defending Gramma’s memory, you should know that the fine folks at ATK don’t mean that as insult. In fact, they argue that creating and perfecting a manageable list of recipes is the path to kitchen mastery. Their new cookbook, aimed at experienced cooks and newcomers alike, is broken down into the “Absolute Essentials," the “Surprising Essentials” and the “Global Essentials."

The editors write that the 100 recipes they’ve chosen are not only open to debate, but that they encourage it. The list isn’t meant to be set in stone, but to be a useful way to get you in the kitchen and get cooking. The book also has mini-lists, such as “Top 5 Recipes That Will Change Your Mind," “Top 5 Recipes You Can Make Without a Trip to the Supermarket” and “Top 5 Recipes to Make with Kids."

From left: ATK 'essential' recipes include Catalan-Style Beef Stew, left, Perfect Poached Chicken Breast, center, and Spicy Mexican Shredded Pork Tinga. (Carl Tremblay)From left: ATK 'essential' recipes include Catalan-Style Beef Stew, left, Perfect Poached Chicken Breast, center, and Spicy Mexican Shredded Pork Tinga. (Carl Tremblay)

Jack Bishop, editorial director of America’s Test Kitchen, joins "Chicago Tonight" to discuss the book. You can meet him at Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville on Thursday, Oct. 22 at 7 p.m.

Below, three of Bishop's favorite recipes from the book: Catalan-Style Beef Stew with Mushrooms, Perfect Poached Chicken Breasts and Grown-Up Grilled Cheese Sandwiches.

Catalan-Style Beef Stew with Mushrooms from 100 Recipes: The Absolute Best Ways to Make the True Essentials

Serves 4 to 6

(Carl Tremblay)(Carl Tremblay)

Remove the woody base of the oyster mushroom stems before cooking. Serve the stew with boiled or mashed potatoes or rice.


2 tablespoons olive oil

2 large onions, chopped fine

1/2 teaspoon sugar

 Kosher salt and pepper

2 plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise, pulp grated on large holes of box grater, and skins discarded

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 bay leaf

1 1/2 cups dry white wine

1 1/2 cups water

1 large sprig fresh thyme

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 1/2 pounds boneless beef short ribs, trimmed and cut into 2-inch cubes


1/4 cup whole blanched almonds

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 slice hearty white sandwich bread, crust removed, torn into 1-inch pieces

2 garlic cloves, peeled

3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

8 ounces oyster mushrooms, trimmed

1 teaspoon sherry vinegar

1. For the Stew: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium-low heat until shimmering. Add onions, sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring often, until onions are deeply caramelized, 30 to 40 minutes. Add tomato pulp, paprika, and bay leaf; cook, stirring often, until darkened and thick, 5 to 10 minutes.

2. Add wine, water, thyme sprig, and cinnamon to pot, scraping up any browned bits. Season short ribs with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and add to pot. Increase heat to high and bring to simmer. Transfer to oven and cook, uncovered. After 1 hour stir stew to redistribute meat, return to oven, and continue to cook until meat is tender, 1 1/2 to 2 hours longer.

3. For the Picada: While stew is in oven, heat almonds and 1 tablespoon oil in 10‑inch skillet over medium heat; cook, stirring often, until almonds are golden brown, 3 to 6 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer almonds to food processor. Return now-empty skillet to medium heat, add bread, and cook, stirring often, until toasted, 2 to 4 minutes; transfer to food processor with almonds. Add garlic to almonds and bread and process until mixture is finely ground, about 20 seconds, scraping down bowl as needed. Transfer mixture to separate bowl, stir in parsley, and set aside.

4. Return now-empty skillet to medium heat. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil until shimmering. Add mushrooms and 1/2 teaspoon salt; cook, stirring often, until tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to bowl and set aside.

5. Discard bay leaf. Stir picada, mushrooms, and vinegar into stew. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve.

Recipe Details


50 minutes to prepare onion-tomato base (mostly hands-off)

2 1/2 hours to 3 hours to simmer beef in oven (make picada and prepare mushroom garnish while stew simmers)

5 minutes to finish and season stew

Essential Tools

Dutch oven

10-inch skillet for frying almonds and bread and sautéing mushrooms

Food processor for grinding picada ingredients

Substitutions & Variations

An equal amount of quartered white mushrooms may be substituted for the oyster mushrooms.

To make the stew ahead, follow the recipe through step 2 and refrigerate for up to three days. To serve, add 1 cup water and reheat over medium heat. Proceed with step 3.

Perfect Poached Chicken Breasts from 100 Recipes: The Absolute Best Ways to Make the True Essentials

(Carl Tremblay)(Carl Tremblay)

Serves 4

Serve with a vinaigrette or sauce (recipes follow).

4 (6- to 8-ounce) boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed

1/2 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup salt

2 tablespoons sugar

6 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled

1. Cover chicken breasts with plastic wrap and pound thick ends gently with meat pounder until 3/4 inch thick. Whisk 4 quarts water, soy sauce, salt, sugar, and garlic in Dutch oven until salt and sugar are dissolved. Arrange breasts, skinned side up, in steamer basket, making sure not to overlap them. Submerge steamer basket in brine and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.

2. Heat pot over medium heat, stirring liquid occasionally to even out hot spots, until water registers 175 degrees, 15 to 20 minutes. Turn off heat, cover pot, remove from burner, and let stand until meat registers 160 degrees, 17 to 22 minutes.

3. Transfer breasts to cutting board, cover tightly with aluminum foil, and let rest for 5 minutes. Slice each breast on bias into ¼-inch-thick slices, transfer to serving platter or individual plates, and serve.

Warm Tomato-Ginger Vinaigrette Makes about 2 cups

Parsley may be substituted for the cilantro.

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 shallot, minced

1 1/2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

1/8 teaspoon ground cumin

1/8 teaspoon ground fennel

12 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved

 Salt and pepper

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon packed light brown sugar

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add shallot, ginger, cumin, and fennel and cook until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Stir in tomatoes and 1/4 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring frequently, until tomatoes have softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Off heat, stir in vinegar and sugar and season with salt and pepper to taste; cover to keep warm. Stir in cilantro and remaining 2 tablespoons oil just before serving.

Parsley Sauce with Cornichons and Capers
Makes about 1 1/4 cups

6 tablespoons minced cornichons plus 1 teaspoon brine

3/4 cup minced fresh parsley

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 scallions, minced

1/4 cup capers, rinsed and chopped coarse

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Pinch salt

Mix all ingredients together in bowl.

Recipe Details


5 minutes to prep chicken and brine

30 minutes to brine chicken (completely hands-off)

35 minutes to poach chicken (make sauce while chicken cooks)

7 minutes to rest and slice chicken

Essential Tools

Meat pounder (You can use a heavy small skillet in a pinch.)

Dutch oven (or other large pot)

Steamer basket

Instant-read thermometer

Substitutions & Variations

The cooking times in this recipe are designed to work with standard size chicken breasts that weigh 6 to 8 ounces. Don’t use this method with thin cutlets (they usually weigh just 3 or 4 ounces) or breasts that weigh more than 8 ounces (they might not cook through in the allotted time).

You can use this method to cook chicken for any salad, dressing the chicken as the salad recipe directs.

If you like, serve the chicken with another potent sauce. Good choices include pureed sauces (like pesto), warm vinaigrettes, juicy salsas (with fruit or tomatoes), or creamy yogurt-based sauces.

To cook just two chicken breasts, use 2 quarts of water and cut brine ingredients in half. Use medium-low heat (not medium) and reduce off-heat cooking time to 12 to 17 minutes.

Grown-Up Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with Cheddar and Shallot from 100 Recipes: The Absolute Best Ways to Make the True Essentials

(Carl Tremblay)(Carl Tremblay)

Serves 4

To quickly bring the cheddar to room temperature, microwave the pieces until warm, about 30 seconds. The first two sandwiches can be held in a 200-degree oven on a wire rack set in a baking sheet.

7 ounces aged cheddar cheese, cut into 24 equal pieces, room temperature

2 ounces Brie cheese, rind removed

2 tablespoons dry white wine or vermouth

4 teaspoons minced shallot

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

8 slices hearty white sandwich bread

1. Process cheddar, Brie, and wine in food processor until smooth paste is formed, 20 to 30 seconds. Add shallot and pulse to combine, 3 to 5 pulses. Combine butter and mustard in small bowl.

2. Working on parchment paper–lined counter, spread mustard butter evenly over 1 side of slices of bread. Flip 4 slices of bread over and spread cheese mixture evenly over slices. Top with remaining 4 slices of bread, buttered sides up.

3. Preheat 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat for 2 minutes. (Droplets of water should just sizzle when flicked onto pan.) Place 2 sandwiches in skillet; reduce heat to medium-low; and cook until both sides are crispy and golden brown, 6 to 9 minutes per side, moving sandwiches to ensure even browning. Remove ­sandwiches from skillet and let stand for 2 minutes before serving. Repeat with remaining 2 sandwiches.

Grown-Up Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with Asiago and Dates

Substitute Asiago for cheddar, finely chopped pitted dates for shallot, and oatmeal sandwich bread for white sandwich bread.

Grown-Up Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with Comté and Cornichon

Substitute Comté for cheddar, minced cornichon for shallot, and rye sandwich bread for white sandwich bread.

Grown-Up Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with Gruyère and Chives

Substitute Gruyère for cheddar, chives for shallot, and rye sandwich bread for white sandwich bread.

Grown-Up Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with Robiola and Chipotle

Substitute Robiola for cheddar, ¼ teaspoon minced chipotle chile in adobo sauce for shallot, and oatmeal sandwich bread for white sandwich bread.

Recipe Details


10 minutes to assemble sandwiches (preheat pan during final minutes)

15 minutes to toast sandwiches (per batch)

2 minutes to let cheese set up

Essential Tools

Food processor to prepare cheese mixture

12-inch nonstick skillet

Substitutions & Variations

Look for a cheddar aged for about one year (avoid cheddar aged for longer; it won’t melt well). The same thing holds true for other cheeses used in the variations. Feel free to use your favorite flavorful cheese, making sure to avoid anything aged for more than a year.

A little Brie is the key to using a more potent aged cheese. If you prefer, an equal amount of Monterey Jack can serve the same purpose. Like Brie, this young cheese melts very well.

Hearty sandwich bread (with large thick slices) is a must. We like Arnold Country Classics. Other sliced breads (rye, oatmeal) work well, too. Avoid rustic loaves—all those air pockets provide exit routes for the filling. When making grilled cheese, you want bread with a uniform crumb.

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