For New York Times food editor Sam Sifton, not every dinner has to be perfect. While he provides plenty of recipes for memorable meals in his book, “See You on Sunday,” he admits that failure in the kitchen is part of the journey. For him, the occasional misstep (like a severely undercooked pot of beans) makes for a great story and doesn’t take away from the joys of a Sunday supper.
Christopher Kimball chatted with Sifton about his favorite cooking rituals on Milk Street Radio last week. Find out why Sunday is Sifton’s favorite day to spend in the kitchen and at the dinner table in the excerpts below, and listen to the full interview here on our websiteor via Apple Podcasts.
On the weekends of his childhood
Weekends were spent perambulating all over the city picking up different foodstuffs for amazing lunches and Sunday suppers. We traveled to Little Italy for bread, to the Upper East Side for ham and cold cuts, to Flatbush Brooklyn for special ginger beers and my dad drove around in our rattletrap old station wagon, picking up all this amazing food. It was a great childhood for food.
On his favorite Sunday dinner memory
I think one of the greatest Sunday suppers I've cooked in the last couple of years involved me taking receipt of some dried beans from a tiny farm in central Maine. I made what I thought would be this perfect dish of Boston baked beans. I cook these beans and I cook these beans and I kept cooking them, and then my friends eventually came and we had to get into them. To this day, my friend says, “maybe we should have those pebblers again.” So, here was a meal that I served with intention and love to my family and friends, and the beans tasted like little pebbles from the bottom of a stream. That's okay! I love that one of the joyous memories we can have is of that time that the beans just wouldn't soften.
On his secret fried chicken ingredient
I use a little bacon to flavor the cooking oil. If you tell people you’re going to cook fried chicken in lard, they flip out. They don't like the lard they get in their supermarket because it's commodity pork. But I do like a whisper of a porky-ness in my frying oil. When I'm heating the oil, I just slip two pieces of bacon in there and let them get crisp. I can use that bacon for anything from a BLT tomorrow, to a snack while I'm cooking all afternoon.
One of the more underrated condiments in American cooking is mayonnaise because that fat melts so beautifully onto meat. In the case of beer can chicken, it provides this sort of gloss on the exterior. With salmon, I make a mixture of mayonnaise and mustard and just spread that on the exterior of the fish, put it in a hot oven, and it melts beautifully. A little mayonnaise in coleslaw is obviously a great thing. Mayonnaise on a piece of bread is a good thing!
On making duck confit the easy way
If we’re going to make confit the traditional way, we’ve let the duck legs dry for a day and covered them with spices. We cook them in an incredibly low oven for a very, very, very long time, rendering the fat carefully and allowing the duck legs to sit beneath our workshop bench in the cool air until we're ready to eat them. It's an easy way to preserve duck in a complicated, super beautiful environment that none of us happen to live in. What I need is delicious duck right now. So I'm going to use a lot of olive oil. I'm going to slide my duck into that olive oil. I'm gonna let it just bubble away on the stove until it's really well done and has rendered all its fat. Then I can use it right away.
Quotes have been edited for clarity.