The kitchen I use at work is also the office break room. In addition, it is the main thoroughfare between the newsroom and the restrooms. As a result, there is a constant stream of people trudging past — waves upon waves of people — and they all ask me the same thing:
It’s a lot of fun. It’s like I’m putting on a show while I work.
But when I was cooking for this story, they did not ask what I was cooking and instead said something different.
“That smells amazing,” said one.
“That smells amazing,” said another.
“That smells amazing,” said roughly 30 others.
I thought I must be on to something. Food that smells good while it is cooking generally tastes good, too. This was a promising development.
What I was cooking was pan roasts, and they smelled amazing. Not only that, but this was one of the rare times that the food tasted even better than it smelled, or at least it nearly did.
First, a definition: A pan roast is meat or vegetables that you sear briefly on top of the stove before putting the same pan in the oven to cook the food more gently until it is done.
That simple, undisputed fact, however, appears to be news to the internet. If you look up pan roasts online, you get recipe after recipe for shrimp pan roasts, scallop pan roasts and even shrimp-scallop-lobster-oyster pan roasts.
But seafood cannot be pan roasted. A true pan roast would overcook seafood at best, and at worst turn it into rubber.
So I set out to make four real, non-seafood pan roasts.
They each combined the best of both worlds — high direct heat and lower ambient heat — while leaving just a single pan to clean.
The simplest was pan-roasted pork chops.
All this requires is an easy rub. Yes, the rub has seven ingredients, but it only takes a few seconds to whip up, and you probably have them already in your pantry: garlic powder, paprika, onion powder, dry mustard, brown sugar, salt and pepper.
You just rub this mixture on both sides of the pork chops, sear them in a little hot oil for two minutes and then cook them in a hot oven for a few minutes more. The result is a delightfully flavorful chop that, because of the cooking method, is particularly tender and juicy.
One-Skillet Roasted Ses-ame Chicken Thighs was a little more complicated, but the flavor was richer and more complex, too.
This time, much of the goodness came from a spicy, Asian-inflected sauce that turns the thighs a lovely shade of mahogany. The sauce is made of soy sauce, honey, sriracha, sesame oil, rice vinegar and ginger, and it bakes onto the chicken as it roasts.
The final two pan roasts come courtesy of Thomas Keller, who is widely considered one of the best chefs in America. Keller’s nationally renowned rest-aurants include French Laundry, Per Se and Bouchon Bakery, and if Thomas Keller is going to present recipes for pan roasts, then by gosh I am going to try them — even if the recipes turn out to be a little sloppy and, um, inaccurate. But they were easy to fix.
For meat lovers, I cannot recommend enough his pan-roasted cote de boeuf. Cote de boeuf is a rib steak, that is, a prime rib with the bone still attached. If you can’t find a rib steak — you’ll have to go to a butcher — a very thick prime rib will do.
Begin with a particularly large rib steak, about two pounds. If it isn’t that thick, the time in the oven will overcook the meat rather than make it tender. You sear the steak on the stove and then baste it in a lot of butter, garlic, thyme and a lot more butter.
Into the oven it goes, where you baste it in the buttery juices one more time. Then, for the finishing touch that makes it extra special and that gives Keller his reputation, you add a dab of maître d’hotel butter.
Keller’s oven-roasted zucchini is even easier, and it, too, relies heavily on a sauce. This sauce is added after the vegetables are cooked, and it brings a wonderfully fresh taste to the dish.
The zucchini part of the dish could not be easier. You just cut zucchini or yellow squash in half, salt it to draw out the moisture and help keep its shape while cooking, sear it in hot oil and then finish it in the oven.
The vierge sauce, which can be made a day in advance, is not much more difficult.
All you do is mix together diced tomatoes, vinegar, shallots, olive oil, parsley and salt. The flavors meld while the zucchini cooks; it is a charming addition to many dishes.
And the smell? It smells amazing.
PAN-ROASTED PORK CHOPS
Yield: 4 servings
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon dry mustard
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon brown sugar (packed)
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1½ pounds pork rib chops
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
In a small bowl, mix together garlic powder, paprika, onion powder, dry mustard, brown sugar, salt and pepper. Rub chops generously with seasoning mixture.
Heat skillet over medium-high heat until very hot. Add oil and swirl to cover bottom of pan. Add seasoned pork chops and cook until brown on the bottom, about 2 minutes. Turn chops and place skillet in oven. Roast until chops are no longer pink in the middle, about 6 to 8 minutes. Remember, the pan handle will be very hot when you take it out of the oven.
Per serving: 264 calories; 11g fat; 5g saturated fat; 107mg cholesterol; 39g protein; 2g carbohydrate; 1g sugar; 1g fiber; 400mg sodium; 20mg calcium
— Recipe from Food.com
PAN-ROASTED COTE DE BOEUF
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
1 double-cut rib steak, about 2 to 2 pounds, or a very thick ribeye steak
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into ½-inch dice
6 thyme sprigs
2 crushed garlic cloves
3 tablespoons maître d’hotel butter (recipe follows)
Tie a piece of kitchen twine around the circumference of the steak to hold its shape during cooking. Place meat on a rack over a baking sheet so that air can circulate around both sides. Generously salt the steak on both sides and let dry uncovered in the refrigerator for 1 day, so that the salt has time to penetrate into the flesh and draw out moisture.
One hour before cooking, remove the meat from the refrigerator and bring to room temperature. If there is any moisture on the meat, pat it dry with a paper towel. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Heat a cast-iron skillet over high heat. If bone is exposed, wrap it in aluminum foil to prevent it from burning, and season the meat with salt a second time. Add ¾ inch of canola oil to the pan. When the oil is wafting smoke, add the steak and sear for 4 to 5 minutes, or until dark brown and crusty on the bottom. Flip the steak and brown the second side for 2 to 3 minutes.
Pour off most of the oil, leaving about 1 tablespoon in the pan. Add the cold-cubed butter, thyme and garlic. Baste the meat with the butter and pan juices for a few minutes, then place in the hot oven.
After 5 minutes, carefully remove the pan from the oven, place it on your cooktop and baste the meat again with the foaming butter and pan juices for 1 minute. Return to the oven for about 10 to 15 minutes, or until a meat thermometer reads 130 degrees for medium rare. (The cooking time depends on the thickness of the meat and its temperature going into the oven). Transfer the meat to a rack to rest for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.
Remove the kitchen twine from the steak. If desired, slice meat off the bone and then slice against the grain in ¼-inch slices to serve. Sprinkle with crunchy finishing salt, if you have it, and place 3 discs of maître d’hotel butter on top of the warm sliced beef.
Per serving (based on 6): 587 calories; 50g fat; 23g saturated fat; 156mg cholesterol; 35g protein; 1g carbohydrate; no sugar; no fiber; 159mg sodium; 37mg calcium
— Recipe by Thomas Keller via Masterclass.com
MAITRE D’HOTEL BUTTER
Yield: 16 servings
1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
½ teaspoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
Black pepper to taste
Thoroughly mix butter, parsley, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Place on parchment or waxed paper and roll into a log. Chill until firm, 1 hour. Can be kept in the refrigerator for 1 week.
Per serving: 51 calories; 6g fat; 4g saturated fat; 15mg cholesterol; 1g protein; no carbohydrate; no sugar; no fiber; 74mg sodium; 3mg calcium
— Recipe by bonappetit.com
THOMAS KELLER’S OVEN-ROASTED ZUCCHINI
Yield: 6 servings
3 zucchini or yellow squash
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon champagne vinegar or vinegar of your choice
½ cup diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon minced shallots
3 tablespoons olive oil
Pinch of parsley, minced
Note: The vierge sauce can be made up to 1 day in advance and stored in the refrigerator. If you refrigerate, allow the sauce to come to room temperature before serving so the flavors unfold and olive oil is not congealed.
Halve the zucchini lengthwise and score the flesh in a crosshatch pattern so that the salt can penetrate it.
“Rain” or “snow” salt onto the scored side of the zucchini from a height that allows it to evenly distribute. Leave the zucchini for 10 to 15 minutes so the salt has time to draw out moisture.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Pat the zucchini dry with paper towels.
Pour just enough canola oil to coat the bottom of a 12-inch fry pan and heat until it’s shimmering and just beginning to smoke. Add the zucchini, flesh-side down, in the oil and adjust the heat to allow the zucchini to sear and caramelize without burning.
Cook about 5 minutes, flip zucchini and place in oven to cook 25 to 30 minutes or until zucchini are completely soft. Blot excess oil with paper towels and arrange on a platter.
While the zucchini are roasting, gently combine the chopped tomatoes, vinegar, shallots, oil, parsley and salt to taste in a mixing bowl, and allow the flavors to come together. Spoon this sauce over the zucchini before serving.
Per serving: 133 calories; 12g fat; 2g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 2g protein; 6g carbohydrate; 5g sugar; 2g fiber; 402mg sodium; 29mg calcium
— Adapted from a recipe by Thomas Keller via Masterclass.com
ONE-SKILLET ROASTED SESAME CHICKEN THIGHS
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
6 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs, about 2 pounds
2 tablespoons sesame oil, preferably toasted, divided
1 pound medium carrots, peeled
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sriracha
2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 (1-inch) piece ginger
3 green onions
Toasted sesame seeds, for serving
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Heat a large dry skillet, preferably cast iron, over medium-low heat. Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season all over with salt. Rub skin-side only of thighs with 1 tablespoon of the oil.
Transfer thighs, skin-side down, to skillet and cook until enough fat is rendered to cover bottom of skillet, about 5 minutes. Once skin starts to brown, increase heat to medium. Rotate skillet to encourage even browning. Carefully lift up thighs to allow hot fat to run underneath. If thighs are stubborn and don’t want to release, let them go a bit longer.
While thighs are cooking, cut carrots into 4-inch segments.
Cook thighs until meat is opaque all around the edges and skin is deep golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes total. Transfer, skin-side up, to a plate.
Pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat from skillet (you want just enough fat to form a thin layer on the bottom). Add carrots side by side in a single layer, if possible.
Cook undisturbed, until lightly charred on bottom, about 5 minutes. Turn carrots so charred side faces up, then season lightly with salt.
Cook carrots on opposite side until lightly charred, about 2 minutes. Transfer skillet to oven. Roast until tender and and a toothpick or skewer easily pierces surface of carrot but meets resistance in the center, 8 to 10 minutes.
While carrots are roasting, stir soy sauce, sriracha, rice vinegar, honey and the remaining 1 tablespoon of sesame oil in a small bowl. Scrape peel off of ginger root with a spoon; discard peel. Grate ginger into bowl with microplane, then stir to combine.
Carefully remove skillet from oven (don’t forget, the handle will be hot) and place on stove.
Arrange thighs over carrots and drizzle sauce over. Return to oven and roast until thighs are cooked through, 165 degrees in the thickest part, juices run clear, sauce is caramelized on chicken skin and carrots are tender all the way through, 12 to 18 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest 10 minutes.
While chicken is resting, thinly slice the green onions. Transfer chicken and carrots to a platter and drizzle with the pan juices. Top with green onions and sesame seeds.
Per serving (based on 6): 435 calories; 31g fat; 7g saturated fat; 148mg cholesterol; 27g protein; 13g carbohydrate; 7g sugar; 3g fiber; 952mg sodium; 57mg calcium
— Recipe from bonappetit.com