Chef John's Top-Rated Takes on Classic Comfort Food Recipes
If you're like us, you crave the classic comfort food dishes -- pot roasts, fried chicken, meatloaf, and chicken noodle soup. We don't just love to devour them, we love to discuss them, arguing about what is and isn't comfort food. Naturally, there's no one recipe that defines each of these dishes as "a classic." But when push comes to shove, we'll always turn to Chef John for his inspired takes on the comfort food classics, including regional favorites. These recipes are the best of the best! As the Chef himself might say, ENJOY.
Chef John's Buttermilk Fried Chicken
In this classic buttermilk fried chicken recipe, you'll toss the chicken pieces with 11 spices and then marinate it in buttermilk. Give the chicken a quick dredge in seasoned flour, and it's fry time! "I love the tangy tenderization that the buttermilk provides," says Chef John. "After the buttermilk soak, dredge the chicken pieces in seasoned flour, and fry them in hot oil until crisp and cooked." Serve with Chef John's Classic Macaroni Salad and his Perfect Potato Salad.
"The secrets to this meatloaf are fresh, very finely diced vegetables that give it moisture and flavor--and a light touch in mixing together the ingredients," says Chef John. "This hearty meatloaf is the perfect meal for cool fall and winter evenings, served with Chef John's Perfect Mashed Potatoes and simple Mushroom Gravy."
Chef John's Italian Meatballs
Now let's get into Chef John's trio of Italian-American comfort food dishes, starting with his homemade meatballs! "They're very easy to make," says Chef John. "And since we skip the very messy step of pan-frying these before they hit the sauce, it becomes downright simple. Here I use a standard half-beef/half-pork mixture. You can substitute water or beef broth for the milk, if preferred." You'll bake these meatballs until beautifully browned. Pile them on top of Chef John's Tomato Sauce and enjoy them in meatball sandwiches!
Chef John's Lasagna
Part two of the Italian-American trio features cheesy, meaty lasagna. The double shot of meat -- ground beef and Italian sausage -- gives this preparation extra heft. "There are only two things you need for great lasagna," says Chef John: "a thick, rich, super-meaty meat sauce and lots of it, and a ricotta filling where only the finest cheeses are welcomed. For the sauce, I love a combination of half Italian sausage and half lean ground beef. I also like lots of sauce." Pair it with Chef John's Panzanella Salad.
Chef John's Macaroni and Cheese
Here's Chef John's famous old-school mac and cheese. He starts with a simple roux, adding herbs, spices, and cold milk. Then it's time for grated nutmeg, Worcestershire sauce, and three kinds of cheeses -- along with a smidge of Dijon at the end for big flavor. "This easy-to-make old-school macaroni and cheese has a perfectly crispy crust," says Chef John. Match your mac and cheese with Chef John's Barbecue Chicken.
Slow Cooker Beef Pot Roast
Pot roast is a Sunday dinner classic. This slow-cooked pot roast develops super-tender meat and deep, delicious flavors. "The real secret here is making sure you sear the meat before the long, slow braising," says Chef John. Compare this recipe with his Simple Beef Pot Roast recipes, a one-pot stovetop pot roast. Serve with mashed potatoes."
Next, here's a staple of Italian-American restaurants. Chef John prefers a lighter touch than most: "My version of chicken Parmesan is a little different than what they do in the restaurants, with less sauce and a crispier crust." Compare this recipe to Chef John's New & Improved Chicken Parmesan. Pair your chicken parm with The Brutus Salad and Chef John's Garlic and Parmesan Dinner Rolls.
Here's a recipe for classic diner-style pancakes. These hotcakes are remarkably simple to make. Just sift a few common ingredients together and work the whisk. "Anybody can add water to a boxed pancake mix, but you're better than that," says Chef John. "These pancakes are not too thick, not too thin, but tender, light, buttery, and delicious." Pair your pancakes with Chef John's Breakfast Sausage Patties.
Chef John's Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup
Chef John's soul-satisfying chicken noodle soup is made with his homemade roasted chicken broth. "This soul-warming soup is deliciously simple -- just chicken and noodles," says Chef John. "What makes it so good is the homemade roasted chicken stock." Serve your soup with Inside-Out Grilled Cheese Sandwich.
Chef John's Juicy Lucy
Here's Chef John's take on a regional American classic. "This isn't just any old cheeseburger. Depending on whom you talk to, this cheese-stuffed burger is either called a 'Juicy Lucy,' or a 'Jucy Lucy,'" says Chef John. "That's because two restaurants in Minneapolis claim to have invented it, and they spell it differently. Make sure you thoroughly and thoughtfully press the edges of the two patties together to seal in the cheese stuffing, which keeps the meat juicier. Spread your favorite burger sauce over the bun." And pair your juicy burgers with Chef John's French Fries or Crispy Onion Rings.
Chef John's Tuna Noodle Casserole
"I consider this the king of comfort food casseroles," says Chef John. "What I love about this recipe, other than that it is simple and easy, is that it doesn't require the traditional can of cream of mushroom soup--but it still has the same amount of creamy, decadent goodness that every casserole should. Serve this with a green salad on the side."
Chef John's Pumpkin Pie
Chef John's pumpkin pie is rich and custardy, with an ideal texture. "After many years of experimentation, I've finally perfected what I think is the ideal formula for a rich pumpkin pie that's also much less likely to crack on top," says Chef John. "Serve garnished with whipped cream and freshly grated nutmeg." And pair your pie with Chef John's Roast Turkey and Gravy.
Baked BBQ Baby Back Ribs
Here's an easy baked version of classic baby-back ribs. The simple glaze-and-bake technique builds and builds flavor. "If you're in the mood for a little virtual trip into summer, give this technique a try," says Chef John. "This works with literally any dry rub and barbecue sauce combo." Pair it with Chef John's Classic Macaroni Salad and/or his Perfect Potato Salad.
Chef John's Shrimp and Grits
"Shrimp and grits is a very simple recipe, but make sure you have everything ready before you start cooking the shrimp," says Chef John. "They only take a few minutes to sauté, so you don't have time to run and chop scallions or juice a lemon. Once everything is assembled, this recipe is a snap. To make things even easier, you can make the grits a bit ahead since they stay hot a very long time." Serve with Chef John's Fried Green Tomatoes on the side,
Chef John's Chicken and Dumplings
"This classic is also one of the most comforting things you'll ever eat," says Chef John. "And the great thing about this dumpling recipe is that it will work on just about any soup or stew!" The dumpling dough steams on top of a light chicken stew, emerging light, fluffy, and biscuit-like. And the best part? Chef John's dumplings aren't exclusive to this recipe. Make these dumplings for any kind of soup or stew. Serve with something fresh and green like Chef John's Easy Broccoli Salad or Raw Kale Salad.
Ham and Split Pea Soup
"With the slightly sweet, somewhat salty, and subtly smoky flavor of the ham, this hearty soup is the ideal fall or winter soup," says Chef John. "A great one for lunches, or as a starter for dinner."
King Ranch Chicken Casserole
Essentially a chicken enchilada pie, this Southwest-inspired casserole features cream soups, sour cream, diced chilies and tomatoes, bell peppers, spices, and Cheddar. "From what I hear, it's impossible to go to any sort of potluck in Texas and not see one of these," says Chef John.
Chef John's Sloppy Joes
This classic Sloppy Joe recipe calls for extra-lean ground beef. You just don't need the fat in this recipe. "The secret to a great 'Sloppy Joe' is a thick, rich, almost dry consistency, which allows it to be eaten two-fisted, sans fork," says Chef John. Serve your Joes with Chef John's Cottage Fries and, if you're feeling it, his Homemade Ketchup.
Chef John's Buttermilk Biscuits
"This deceptively simple recipe can come out a million different ways with some very minor variations on the ingredients and amounts. This one's my favorite -- flaky, but not dry; chewy, but not tough; crisp in just the right spots." Watch the video to see Chef John's trick for getting the biscuits to rise up straight in the oven. They’ll come out beautiful golden brown, flaky but tender.
Chef John's Perfect Mashed Potatoes
Velvety smooth, with just the right touch of creaminess, these smashed spuds are always light, fluffy, and lump-free. Christina gushes: "PERFECT! This is the proper way to make classic mashed potatoes...timeless. YUM, YUM, YUM!"
Chef John's Caramel Apple Pie
"To me, this is the purest and most intensely flavored apple pie recipe there is," says Chef John. "The interesting thing about this recipe is the way the caramel sauce is poured over the apples and the lattice crust. You know how with a traditional apple pie some of the apple juices will caramelize as it bakes and bubble out of the pie and bake into and onto the flaky crust? That's how this whole pie is."
Chef John's Classic Beef Stroganoff
Turning tough, yet incredibly flavorful chuck roast into fork-tender, deeply satisfying supper is no easy feat, but this version of the traditional dish does just that. Karen raves: "My husband absolutely LOVES this recipe. He would be very happy having it once a week. It is quick, easy and absolutely delicious!"
Chef John's Shrimp Etouffee
This beloved Creole comfort food classic from Louisiana feeds the need for seafood lovers who want to savor spoonfuls of rich, slightly spicy sauce. "We have made this several times and it is always delicious," says ZippyMomof4 . "My son even requested it for his 14th birthday dinner last year. When a growing boy chooses this over steak or lamb chops that is real."
Chicken a la King
Does this soothing stew remind you of the filling of the best pot pie on the planet? Mmmmm, yes. "Chicken à la King is one of my favorite classic comfort foods," says Chef John. "This recipe is easy to adapt--you can make it thicker or thinner by changing the amount of roux and having a little extra stock on hand. Usually I make this with leftovers from a large roasted chicken. Serve over pasta, toast, rice, or mashed potatoes."
Chef John's French Fries
Golden, crispy, begging to be dipped in secret sauce or smothered, poutine-style, can we take a moment to contemplate the world's most perfect salty snack? Sure, they require some extra attention on the prep side, but it's so worth it. "These are fantastic and well worthy the extra effort, they are lightly crisp on the outside and soft on the inside," according to Charlies Mom
Chef John's Chocolate Chip Cookies
Chocolate chip's the ultimate comfort cookie! "Crispy around the edges, chewy and chocolaty in the middle, and thin, oh so thin," says Chef John. "My 'secret' formula has been adapted from Alton Brown's famous, 'The Thin' recipe, and is fairly foolproof. The only real variable is the baking time, since we all scoop slightly different amounts. And yes, of course you can add nuts to yours!" Don't have a mixer? No problem! These perfectly balanced cookies are whipped up by hand in just a few minutes.