From sunsets to focaccia gardens, Instagram has provided many of us much-needed relief from the constant doom-scrolling that’s been happening these past few (seven? eight?) weeks. Maybe you aren’t regrowing scallions in a jar on your kitchen windowsill or documenting your seemingly endless batches of crackers made from sourdough discard, but chances are you’ve seen all those things on the internet — and more! — and wondered if these projects are actually worth it.
We can’t speak to sourdough. And as for pancake cereal (you can thank Seattle-based Tik Tok user Melanie Locke for popularizing this one), we decided to explore things that require an actual recipe instead of just miniaturization. (It’s a slippery slope. What’s next, mixing Oreos with milk and microwaving it for a Franken-cake? Actually, that exists.)
So we picked five recipes that have been trending on Instagram, including frothy Dalgona coffee and perfectly bronzed Persian rice. Here’s the skinny on some of the foods that have filled our COVID-era Instagram feeds.
Listed in (my own personal America’s sweetheart) Samin Nosrat’s cookbook “Salt Fat Acid Heat” as “Persian-ish” rice, tahdig is seemingly simple. As Nosrat notes in her recipe, this “traditional Persian rice can take years to perfect and hours to make.” So she’s done us all a favor by devising an easy adaptation. All you do is par-cook a couple of cups of basmati rice in intensely salted water, then transfer it to a nonstick pan with oil and butter to finish steaming. The rice at the bottom (which will later become the top) eventually transforms into this crispy, crunchy, golden-brown layer, the butter infusing the fluffy rice that steams above it. At the end you flip it onto a platter, revealing your (fingers crossed) perfectly crisp layer. It takes about an hour from start to finish and is really an exercise in patience and trust, as you’ll never really know if it’s perfect until you’ve flipped it onto the platter.
Worth the hype?: A resounding “hell yes.” Even though I made this with jasmine rice, the end result was literally finger-licking good. I cut through that beautifully crisp layer like I was slicing cake, and ate it right out of my hand. Plus, all you need is rice, yogurt, butter, oil and salt. Totally perfect pantry recipe.
— Jackie Varriano, food writer
This caramelized shallot pasta started hitting Instagram in mid-January, courtesy of New York Times columnist and two-time cookbook author Alison Roman. It combines everything Roman is becoming famous for; a recipe so famous it gets distilled to the most generic of terms (see “the cookies,” “the chicken” or “the stew”), anchovies and an aggressive amount of fresh herbs. The accompanying article is titled “The tomato-y, shallot-y pasta you didn’t know you wanted” and it combines a veritable mound of shallots with a tin of anchovies and a can of tomato paste. It’s finished with a shower of garlic-spiked parsley and comes together in under an hour. Honestly, most of your time is spent peeling and chopping shallots.
Worth the hype?: Not quite sure. Maybe I undersalted my dish, erring on the side of caution because of the tin of anchovies, but I was kind of underwhelmed by this. I am well versed in the magic of a pan sauce, brought together with starchy pasta water, so this didn’t seem as much like sorcery to me as it did to my friends. I will say the leftover shallot-tomato mixture you set aside is quite good, and I’m looking forward to it slathered on toast, possibly with a little ricotta. But not sure how many times I’ll make this again.
— Jackie Varriano, food writer
Like most people, I first heard about this Korean coffee concoction on TikTok. Dalgona coffee took the app by storm, with hundreds of people posting short recipe tutorials: whisk 2 tablespoons of water, 2 tablespoons of sugar and 2 tablespoons of instant coffee until it forms stiff peaks, and then pour over 1 cup of milk. The result is an almost-peanut-butter-looking fluff that makes for a sweet, frothy coffee drink. I made this recipe twice and have two quick notes: You must use instant coffee; regularly brewed coffee is not strong enough, and will not whip correctly. If you like your coffee less sweet, you can use just 1 tablespoon of sugar.
Worth the hype?: No!!!!!! By no means do I consider myself a coffee purist; I add cream and sugar to my morning cup, and I’ll enjoy an occasional Starbucks Frappuccino, but I did not enjoy the Dalgona coffee. Even halving the sugar, it was crazy sweet, and the frothy texture made it hard to mix with milk, leaving a really uneven flavor. The light and airy texture made for a really weird drinking experience — like drinking a tall glass of foam. For all the hype and effort, it’s definitely not something I would recommend.
— Amy Wong, features producer
Bon Appétit focaccia
Bon Appétit’s focaccia recipe claims to be “shockingly easy,” but I’d never baked bread before and was still apprehensive about trying it. The recipe blessedly lived up to the claim, though, and the most challenging part was finding active dry yeast. (I bought it from a neighborhood cafe selling grocery staples.) The dough came together easily, rose beautifully overnight in the fridge, then rose even more sitting on my dining room table as I worked. Just as the recipe instructed, I dimpled it with my fingers “like you’re aggressively playing the piano” before adding rosemary and popping it in the oven. Don’t skip the delicious homemade garlic butter.
Worth the hype?: Absolutely. The first batch was such a hit with my roommates, I made another round just a few days later for Easter dinner. This recipe is perfect for home chefs who want to try their hand at breadmaking without dealing with a sourdough starter. (Maybe that’s my next lockdown cooking venture?)
— Taylor Blatchford, news producer
Helen Rosner’s roast chicken over cabbage
New Yorker food writer Helen Rosner was the madwoman (I say this 100% affectionately!) who, a couple of years back, popularized the “hair dryer chicken” movement by using her hair dryer to dry out chicken skin for an ubercrispy roast chicken. She ignited another chicken-related food trend during the coronavirus quarantine when, on March 27, she tweeted “Usually I roast a chicken on a bed of root vegetables but I don’t have any so I’m gonna roast the bird on a bed of cabbage wedges, pray 4 me.” Three hours and more than 2,000 “likes” later, the Twitterverse got a photo of some very delicious looking chicken-over-cabbage in a cast-iron pan, plus the chicken trendsetter’s verdict: “Yeah this was a VERY good idea.”
I, lover of cabbage and chicken, decided to try it too. Verdict? This falls into the, “Why haven’t we all done this forever?” category of cooking conventions. For one, it was stupidly easy and fuss-free. Chop a head of cabbage into 1-inch chunks, use the chunks to make a resting platform in your cast iron and plop the chicken onto it. (Pro tip: Wipe a teeny bit of oil on pan’s surface before assembling the cabbage bed! Helps to prevent sticking before the chicken fat gloriously trickles down to your cabbage.) Brush some butter, salt and pepper all over the chicken. Shove a lemon and some rosemary into its cavity. Roast at 450 degrees F for about 15 minutes per pound of chicken. My 5-pound bird took about 75 minutes at 450 degrees. Then, I turned the heat down to 425 degrees for an extra 10 minutes. Oh, and the best part? During the 75 minutes cooking time, I was in my garage working out while dinner was essentially cooking itself on my stove.
Worth the hype?: 150%!! I returned to the kitchen after my workout to pull a perfectly cooked chicken out of the oven. It was crispy and moist in all the right places. And that cabbage. Oh my goodness. Bathed in chicken fat, so tender, so tasty. What’s not to like? As my wife generously supplied, “The only thing I would have done differently is tried to squeeze more yummy vegetables into the pan to cook underneath that bird!” This social media trend recipe is definitely one for the books — hair dryer optional!
— Stefanie Loh, features editor