Stories / Guides and Tips

How to Get Your Cooking in Balance for 2017

Alison Tozzi Liu

January 03, 2017


“Sometimes I know just what I want a dish to be like when I eat it, and then I work backwards to get there.”

When 2016 JBF Outstanding Chef award winner Suzanne Goin creates a dish, this is how it starts—with her thinking about what it will be like when she eats it. From there, she formulates the components of what will end up being a plate of flawless bites: layers of flavor, balanced acidity, and lots of texture.

The award-winning chef of Los Angeles’s acclaimed Lucques, which celebrates its 18th birthday this year, knows what she’s talking about; she has won every accolade under the sun for her representations of modern American and Californian cuisine. We caught up with Goin during the L.A. stop of our JBF Taste America tour, where she walked us through a dish that exemplifies her cooking: juicy, mustard-marinated chicken with Pecorino pudding and a spinach salad with a bright vinaigrette, silky poached egg, shaved Pecorino, pine nuts, and crunchy bread crumbs. It’s a classic Lucques dish that has all of Goin’s signatures: layers, acidity, and texture. The beauty of this lesson is that the same concepts can be applied to any recipe for perfect balance every time.

Armed with her tips, we can all improve our cooking in the New Year. 

1.  Keep Aromatics on Hand 
Goin chalks this up to what she describes as her “old-school Frenchiness” as a chef, but she starts a lot of her dishes with shallots and thyme. “It’s a joke in the restaurant that when I’d quiz the staff on what was in a particular dish, they’d always know to say shallots and thyme and they’d have at least two things right.”

2.  Layer Flavors
This is something we hear over and over again when chefs talk about what they try to achieve with each dish: building layers of flavor. But seeing and tasting it in action with Suzanne Goin gave us that light bulb moment. The name of the dish refers to mustard only in the chicken marinade, but as we watched her, we saw her add mustard not just to the marinade but to the vinaigrette and the bread crumb coating, so the flavor permeates the whole dish.

3.  Up Your Acid 
“I have a little bit of a salad component in almost every plate,” said Goin. “I love rich flavors, but I always want that little break of a green or an herb or even a little pickled something.” She usually uses more vinegar than a recipe calls for, and almost always adds a squeeze of lemon at the end when making any vinaigrette for brightness and, you got it, more acid. 

4.  Use Your Senses
“It’s all about really feeling what you’re doing, rather than following a rule book.” When Goin said this, she was referring to the consistency of the roux she was making, the base of the Pecorino pudding that would add just the right amount of richness to the finished dish. You want to hear the chicken sizzle when it hits the pan so you know it’s hot enough, smell the pine nut garnish toasting, and see the color of the bread crumbs sautéing. 

5.  Embrace Texture
“I love the texture and the unevenness,” Goin said as she pulsed bread crumbs in the food processor. Other textural elements in this dish are the silkiness of the pudding and the poached egg, the crunch of the nuts, and then there’s the chicken. We’re not talking about the skin here (although Goin’s chicken is browned to a beautiful crisp, of course). While she loves a grilled chicken breast, for this dish Goin uses chicken legs and thighs, deboned and pounded together, so what you get is essentially a paillard, but with the juicy unevenness of different parts of the leg and thigh. 

When plating the dish, Goin goes back to a familiar theme: “Layering is so important in plating, too,” she said, adding some of the salad to the plate, and spooning some of the Pecorino pudding off to the side. Next she crisscrossed the chicken pieces so they slightly overlapped and formed a nest for the poached egg, topping off the dish with more salad, Pecorino, bread crumbs, and pine nuts. “I worry that diners don’t always know what components to eat together, so I build the dish the way I want people to eat it.”
It’s all about finding that perfect bite.  

Want to make Suzanne Goin’s mustard-marinated chicken at home? Grab the recipe here.