Alton Brown hasn’t spent the past few years redoing old “Good Eats” recipes because they were bad. Well, at least not all of them. There is that slow cooker lasagna recipe – which is among “the most hated” in his repertoire, he says – but more on that later.
Brown decided to revisit his cache to reflect on how the food world has changed since his signature Food Network show launched more than 20 years ago. Back then, sous vide was done by only an anointed few in the fine-dining world. Now, anyone can get a decent immersion circulator shipped overnight to their doorstep for about $100. Accessibility to ingredients has exploded. These days, even mainstream grocers stock spices like sumac and Aleppo pepper.
And, most important, people’s attitudes about cooking have changed. They are more adventurous, more willing to spend time learning-by-trying in the kitchen.
“If I had published a recipe 10 years ago that called for gochujang, people would have thought I was nuts,” Brown, 59, tells USA TODAY.
He feels no apprehension about including the Korean fermented red chili paste in his latest cookbook, “Good Eats: The Final Years” (Abrams, 432 pp., out now). In true Alton Brown fashion, he explains what the condiment is and how it’s made, and he uses it in a recipe (the dolsot bibimbap looks amazing).
“Understanding equals power,” he says. “You have power over your fears, so you have confidence if you know what’s going on.”
“Good Eats: The Final Years” is organized chronologically by seasons of “Good Eats: Reloaded” and “Good Eats: The Return” because “I couldn’t think of a better way to arrange them,” Brown writes.
Containing about 150 recipes, the pages are jampacked with the history and science of food and sprinkled with Brown’s wit and sardonic humor. In a breakout section about simple roasted chicken, Brown laments countertop glass spice racks (“I would eradicate those from planet Earth if I could,” he tells us. “I would go out into the world and bulldoze those into a landfill.”) While improving his chicken parmesan recipe, Brown writes about learning the hard way that older Pyrex baking dishes were made with borosilicate glass, which stood up to rapid temperature changes under a broiler, whereas the newer formula uses soda-lime glass, which doesn’t .
In the “Lost Season” section, which focuses on the never-aired “Reloaded” Season 3, Brown offers his response to his much-maligned slow cooker lasagna recipe. For those who aren’t familiar, the slow cooker recipe uses layers of noodles, vegetables and meat along with goat’s milk powder and calls for a propane torch to brown the cheese topping.
“It’s not a good dish,” Brown says. “Clever isn’t always smart.”
His new version, which spans several pages and ends with “The Final Lasagna,” is the most lasagna lasagna out there, he says. He recommends taking a vacation between making the ragù alla bolognese and assembling the final dish because it’s “quite a bit of work.”
“I’m done with lasagna,” Brown says. “(This) is the way to do it. I can walk away. I have atoned.”
Brown is doing a book tour, hitting about a dozen cities including Seattle; Washington; New York; and Dallas, and ending May 11 in Atlanta. If you go, you might hear someone ask about his famous tips – like adding mayonnaise to get creamy scrambled eggs or starting pasta off in cold water. But what’s his greatest tip, the one he says is the single biggest thing you can do improve your cooking?
“Read the recipe,” he says. “Sit down and read it. Don’t cook. Don’t start gathering pots and pans. Make notes if you have to. … That’s not very exciting, but it’s absolutely true.”
“Good Eats: The Final Years” isn’t just the fourth installment in the franchise’s cookbook series: It’s the last. Brown says he’s done with the iconic show – at least for now – and won’t be shooting Season 3 of “Good Eats: Reloaded.”
But before fans melt down faster than Gruyère in fondue, that doesn’t mean he’s done with entertainment. Brown has a big announcement coming soon. He has teased a project slated to launch this summer with a streaming service. When asked if he can share more details, he gives a kind but-firm no.
“If I were to tell you, a helicopter full of lawyers would descend on my building,” he says. “I’m currently in a state of flux, but in a good way. I’m not done yet.”