PHOTO: Instead of the traditional chicken breast, Graham Elliot uses drumsticks for kung pao chicken in his first cookbook.  |  Copyright Anthony Tallier

It’s no secret that celebrity chef Graham Elliot wants everyone to cook.

And if they can do it with pizzazz, all the better!

The co-host of “MasterChef,” “MasterChef Junior” and the new “Craziest Restaurants in America” has just written his first cookbook. It’s very much like Elliot himself: bubbling with energy, creativity and that encouragement necessary to convince all of us that yes, we can cook. And not only that can we cook, but he makes us realize we’re going to have fun while we’re doing it.

“Cooking Like A Master Chef” (Atria Books, $14.99) features 100 recipes, with dishes for each of the seasons, since the Chicago-based chef is a proponent of eating what’s fresh — and as local as possible — at the moment.

BTW, Elliot will be doing book signings in Chicago on Nov. 19 and Nov. 29 at two different Mariano’s. Now back to what’s inside this dandy cookbook.

CookingLikeaMasterChef_Final cover

To those familiar with Elliot, “Cooking” includes the recipes for those dishes most associated with him, including his GrahamBurger, Graham’s Signature Caesar Salad, and of course the lobster corn dogs he created for Lollapalooza. (You think people come to Lolla for the music; I’ve always thought just as many are there looking for Elliot’s lobster corn dogs. And “Cooking Life A Master Chef” proves — well to me, anyway — I am right. He says 15,000 lobster corn dogs are sold during the three-day festival.)

These aren’t necessarily short recipes, but don’t be discouraged. Elliot’s instructions are clear and easy to follow. I’m betting you can easily master them.  

And while there are recipes featuring ingredients we all might not cook regularly (quail, for example,  in a dish he also lets readers know can be done with chicken), the majority feature those foods we not only know well, but enjoy so much, such as New York Strip Steak with Mushrooms and Blue Cheese or Pork Chops with Sweet Potato Latkes and Cinnamon-Spiced Apples.

Foods also are treated in ways we might not have considered before. For instance, Refried Cannellini Beans with Saffron and Garlic. Boy, does that sound good. And it looks marvelous too, as do all the mouth-watering photographs by Anthony Tahlier that fill the book.

Peppered throughout are mini lessons in technique, where Elliot explains not only how to do different culinary tasks but why we are doing them. Take something that seems as simple as seasoning with salt. Sure you can use the fancy stuff, but Elliot clarifies why regular table salt is OK, but that it’s more important as to when you salt. You’ll never again shake randomly after reading what Elliot has written.

Here’s a recipe — for Kung Pao Drumsticks — from “Cooking Like A Master Chef” that while it may look lengthy it’s really a simple dish. Give it a try.





Prep time: 5 to 10 minutes

Cooking: 23 to 30 minutes

½ cup honey

2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger, divided

4 cups canola oil, plus 1 to 2 tablespoons, divided

1 tablespoon minced shallot

1 garlic clove, minced

1½ teaspoons rice wine vinegar

1 teaspoon mirin

1½ teaspoons dark soy sauce

1 teaspoon hoisin

½ teaspoon sambal chili sauce

3 scallions, minced

½ cup chopped toasted salted peanuts (see Note)

4 trimmed chicken drumsticks (legs)

Put the honey and t tablespoon of ginger in a saucepan and bring to a simmer over low heat. Cook gently for about 5 minutes to infuse the honey with the ginger. Strain the sauce through a chinois or fish-mesh sieve into a bowl. Cover and set aside.

In another saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat. Saute the shallot, garlic and remaining 1 tablespoon ginger for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the shallot is translucent. Add the vinegar and mirin and bring to a rapid simmer. Cook for 30 seconds or until reduced by half. Add soy sauce, hoisin and chili sauce and simmer for 5 minutes longer, or until the sauce begins to thicken. Strain sauce into a shallow bowl.

In another bowl, toss scallions with the peanus

In a heavy pot, heat the 4 cups of oil until it registers 350 degrees on a deep-fry thermometer.

Using tongs, submerge the chicken legs in the hot oil. Do not crowd the pot (you may have to fry the chicken in two batches if the pot is not large.) Fry for 5 to 8 minutes, or until the juices run clear when you remove a leg from the oil and pierce its meatiest section with a small, sharp knife. If not done, return the leg to the oil and cook for 2 to 3 minutes longer. When done, use tongs to remove the legs and set aside on a paper towel-lined plate.

Put hot drumsticks in the bowl with the shallot-mirin sauce and toss to coat. Transfer to the bowl with the peanuts and scallions and roll to coat. Drizzle with the ginger sauce.

NOTE: To toast the peanuts, spread them in a dry skillet and cook over medium-high heat for about 1 minute, shaking the pan a few times, until lightly browned. Cool on a plate.

From Graham Elliot; copyright © 2015 by Team Alliot from COOKING LIKE A MASTER CHEF by Graham Elliot published by Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.