Ad Hoc at Home


By Thomas Keller

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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around November 6, 2009. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

New York Times bestseller

IACP and James Beard Award Winner

“Spectacular is the word for Keller’s latest . . . don’t miss it.”
“A book of approachable dishes made really, really well.”
—The New York Times

Thomas Keller shares family-style recipes that you can make any or every day. In the book every home cook has been waiting for, the revered Thomas Keller turns his imagination to the American comfort foods closest to his heart—flaky biscuits, chicken pot pies, New England clam bakes, and cherry pies so delicious and redolent of childhood that they give Proust's madeleines a run for their money. Keller, whose restaurants The French Laundry in Yountville, California, and Per Se in New York have revolutionized American haute cuisine, is equally adept at turning out simpler fare.

In Ad Hoc at Home—a cookbook inspired by the menu of his casual restaurant Ad Hoc in Yountville—he showcases more than 200 recipes for family-style meals. This is Keller at his most playful, serving up such truck-stop classics as Potato Hash with Bacon and Melted Onions and grilled-cheese sandwiches, and heartier fare including beef Stroganoff and roasted spring leg of lamb. In fun, full-color photographs, the great chef gives step-by-step lessons in kitchen basics— here is Keller teaching how to perfectly shape a basic hamburger, truss a chicken, or dress a salad. Best of all, where Keller’s previous best-selling cookbooks were for the ambitious advanced cook, Ad Hoc at Home is filled with quicker and easier recipes that will be embraced by both kitchen novices and more experienced cooks who want the ultimate recipes for American comfort-food classics.



It delights me to offer here a big collection of family meals and everyday staples, delicious approachable food, recipes that are doable at home. No immersion circulator required. No complicated garnishes. I promise!

Here is food meant to be served from big bowls and platters passed hand to hand at the table—hearty soups and vegetable salads, potato hash with bacon and onions, braised short ribs, chicken potpie, peaches and cream, and pineapple upside-down cake. This is the food I love to sit down to with my family and friends. It’s food that makes you feel good.

The pace of life today is so quick, and we often feel so rushed and disconnected from one another, as well as from the sources of our food, that it’s easy to forget how powerful the ritual of eating together can be. To be able to sit around the table, passing food, sharing stories of the day, with the sense that for an hour or so, the outside world can be set aside, is a gift to embrace. Some days life is sweet, other days life can be hard, but the one thing we can always strive to do, is to partake of the comfort and pleasure of sharing a meal with those we hold dear.

Shortly after we set out to write this book, my father died. I was very lucky to have had him just next door to me during the last years of his life and to be able to cook for him. I cooked his last meal, and we shared it together. I remember it happily: his favorite, barbecued chicken with mashed potatoes and braised collard greens. I remember the collard greens especially because I hadn’t originally intended to serve them. But when I saw them in the grocery store, they were so big and vivid, I felt compelled to choose them. It was spring, and the first strawberries were in season, so I made strawberry shortcake. It was a good dinner. And now I am unspeakably grateful to have made it—that dinner remains important to me. And so does the food we—friends and family—would have in the following days, brought together in grief, comforted by food.

When we eat together, when we set out to do so deliberately, life is better, no matter your circumstances. Whether it’s a sad or difficult time, whether it’s an ordinary-seeming day, or whether it’s a time of celebration, our lives are enriched when we share meals together.

And that’s what the food in this book is all about.

dinner for dad

barbecued chicken with mashed potatoes and collard greens, followed by strawberry shortcake

Bacon (about 4 ounces slab bacon, or lardons, or strips)

About 2 pounds collard greens

Unsalted butter (you’ll need at least a stick), at room temperature

Kosher salt

1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes

1 pound strawberries


1 to 2 teaspoons Grand Marnier (optional)

One 3- to 4-pound chicken

¾ cup half-and-half

1 cup heavy cream

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

¾ cup barbecue sauce (try to find a sauce with some integrity, preferably from a small producer)

4 shortcake rounds

An hour before you want to eat, preheat the oven to 325°F. If you’re grilling over coals, start the fire then too; if you’re grilling over propane, know that you’ll begin the chicken about a half hour after you start cooking, and preheat the grill (Grilling Basics) so it is hot when you’re ready to put your chicken on.

Put the bacon in a heavy Dutch oven and set it over medium heat to begin rendering the fat. If you want to serve the bacon with the greens, cut it into lardons; I just wanted the bacon flavor, so I left it whole.

Remove the stems from the collards and discard them. Tear the leaves into large pieces. Wash them in cold water and dry them (use a salad spinner).

Add a couple of tablespoons of butter to the Dutch oven. Add the greens and turn them over in the fat to wilt them. (You may need to do this in batches if they don’t all fit in at once, and you might want to turn the heat up a little to speed up the process.) Add a “two-finger pinch” of salt (see On Salt), and when the greens are wilted, cover the pot and put it in the oven.

Put your potatoes in a big pot, one that allows them plenty of room, cover them with cold water, add a three-finger pinch of salt, and set over high heat. When the water comes to a simmer, reduce the heat slightly to maintain a gentle simmer, and cook the potatoes until they’re tender, meaning they give no resistance to a knife.

Meanwhile, hull the strawberries, cut them into small pieces, and put them in a bowl. Add two three-finger pinches of sugar and, if you like, the Grand Marnier (my dad liked the alcohol in a dessert, but it’s optional).

Cut the chicken into 8 pieces (see 8 piece cut)—wings (wing tips removed), breast (keep it on the bone, and split it in half down the breastbone), drumsticks, and thighs (discard the back or save it for stock). Season the chicken liberally with salt.

Put the drumsticks and thighs on the grill and cook them for 5 minutes. Add the breasts to the grill, and then the wings. Many variables determine how long the pieces will take to cook. You want a medium-high fire, but you don’t want them to burn or have flare-ups from dripping fat. I cooked mine for about 25 minutes that day. The thighs and drumsticks should be cooked through and tender.

Pour the half-and-half into a small pan and add a tablespoon of butter. Just before the potatoes are done, warm the half-and-half over low heat until the butter melts.

After the collards have cooked for 45 minutes or so, you can turn off the oven to finish them gently.

When the potatoes are done, drain them and put them in a bowl, where they will steam. Wash and dry the pot.

When the potatoes have cooled just enough to handle—hold them with a kitchen towel if they’re too hot for you—peel them. Press them through a ricer back into the pot. Stir in the warm butter and half-and-half until the consistency is to your liking. Season with salt to taste and partially cover to keep warm.

Put some ice in a large bowl and set a smaller bowl on top of the ice for the whipped cream. Add the cream, two three-finger pinches of sugar, and vanilla to the bowl and whip to soft peaks.

Remove the collards from the oven and keep them warm on the back of the stovetop.

Just before removing the chicken from the grill, baste it all over with the barbecue sauce. Cook it just a little longer to heat the sauce, then transfer to a serving platter.

Open a bottle of Pinot Noir. If you have a back porch and it’s a perfect spring evening, serve your meal there.

Finish the potatoes by rewarming them over medium heat and stirring in some more butter (I like butter, so I use a lot—they should be moist and delicious). Taste them and add more salt if they need it.

Toss the collards so that they’re evenly coated in the bacon fat and butter. Bring the collards, potatoes, and chicken, with serving utensils, to the table.

When you’re ready for dessert, toss the strawberries in the juices they’ve released, spoon over the shortcakes, and top with the whipped cream.


While developing and testing recipes for this book, we came up with a number of small bright ideas. Some were old kitchen tips that might be new to some home cooks. Others were ingrained habits from years of restaurant cooking that apply equally well at home. We call these bits of wisdom “lightbulb moments” and have designated them here with a hanging lightbulb.

The first lightbulb moment I want to offer is one I was lucky to realize in time, and hope that others will too. It may seem obvious but it’s worth repeating: Take care of your parents.

becoming a better cook

I take pleasure in precision—making my knife cuts uniform, in peeling asparagus cleanly, taking off just enough of its outer layer to make it tender while keeping its shape. Naturally, I bring those habits with me into my kitchen at home. But must a home cook strive for the precision we do in restaurant kitchens?

No. When we’re cooking at home, we can be and should be more relaxed. Does every piece of diced potato need to be identical? Of course not. Should you throw away half of a carrot in order to achieve six perfect batons? That’s probably not the best use of your time or your carrot.

But I’m not saying that you should throw precision out the window. We still need to be precise about time and temperature. When you’re sautéing a piece of meat, the pan has got to be hot, and you need to cook the meat for the correct amount of time to bring it to the right temperature. And then you need to let it rest. (For more on these subjects, see How Much Oil? and Tempering & Resting.)

You must be precise about time and temperature when cooking vegetables too, whether you’re roasting them in a hot oven or blanching them in boiling salted water. And sometimes cutting vegetables precisely does matter. If your sliced carrots are different sizes, the small pieces will be overcooked before the big pieces are tender. But if you’re making a one-pot meal such as a roast chicken with roasted root vegetables, you don’t need to worry about the tips, which will get overcooked—you may even want that caramelized flavor.

The bottom line is this: in order to be a good cook, you have to be aware of everything around you. It’s an ongoing process, one you should take pleasure in. The more pleasure you take from cooking, the more fun you have in the kitchen, the better your food will be!

One of the great things about cooking is that no single task is particularly difficult. But cooking can seem difficult when you try to do too much at once, when you attempt several unfamiliar techniques at the same time. Instead, try one new technique in combination with ones you’re familiar with. If you’ve never cooked a duck before, for example, don’t also try to make glazed turnips for the first time.

Another way to make cooking more satisfying is to cook the same meal over and over, because practice makes you better and more efficient in your actions. Many home cooks try a new recipe once and then move on to the next, but the fact is, you really only begin to learn the second time you prepare a dish.

Yet another way to improve your kitchen skills is to cook the same kind of fish or cut of meat in different ways. If you like salmon, for example, learn all the various ways you can prepare it, and discover how it’s different when it’s grilled, sautéed, or poached. The same techniques can be used with any thick cut of fish, from halibut to snapper to bass.

Learn to judge by touch when a piece of meat or fish is done. Pay attention to how it feels when it’s rare and when it’s cooked through. No one can tell you how to do this. This is something you can learn only by cooking, by touching and remembering. Pay attention to each cooking experience.

If you’re a novice or if you simply want to become a better cook, I recommend learning the handful of tasks professional cooks do over and over and naturally get better at over time through simple repetition. Following are a few of those important basics as well as a few particulars helpful to the home cook.

learn to use salt properly Seasoning food is one of the first things we train new cooks to do at the restaurants, and it may be the single most important skill a home cook can develop. Learning both when to salt your food and how much of it to use are critical in achieving maximum flavor in virtually any form of cooking.

Think about what you’re salting and what will happen when you salt it. Is it a thick steak or a thin fillet of fish? Is it a sliced raw vegetable or onions in a frying pan? Each responds differently.

Salt used for seasoning (as opposed to a finishing salt) needs time to dissolve. Salt meat well before cooking it; if you don’t salt it until just before cooking it, you’ll leave a lot of salt in your sauté pan. Salt steaks, chops, and other smaller cuts 15 to 20 minutes before cooking them, and larger cuts (chicken and roasts, for instance) 40 to 45 minutes before cooking.

I’d like to mention pepper here because it’s so often grouped with salt. It’s important to recognize that salt and pepper are almost opposites, pepper being used for a completely different reason than salt. We use pepper to introduce a new flavor to a dish. You should be able to taste it. By contrast, salt only enhances flavors that are already there—if you can taste the salt in a dish, it’s too salty.

See also On Salt.

learn to use vinegar as a seasoning device Recipes often tell you to season with salt or salt and pepper, but you almost never see the instruction “season with vinegar.” In fact, vinegar (or citrus, or any acidic liquid, such as verjus) can be an important way to markedly enhance the impact of a dish. It’s always worth considering whether a few drops of vinegar could be added to a soup, sauce, or braising liquid to make the flavors really jump out. You don’t necessarily want to taste the vinegar, only to feel its effects. It’s an important seasoning tool.

learn how to roast a chicken Knowing how to roast a chicken perfectly is one of those great basic skills (Whole Roasted Chicken on a Bed of Root Vegetables) because it gives you an infinite number of dishes. In the spring, you can serve the chicken with peas and morels. In the height of summer, you can serve the meat cold on a salad; in late summer, with Summer Vegetable Gratin. In winter, you can roast the chicken with root vegetables. You can season it in any number of ways, or make a great sauce to go with it, or simply top it with some butter and serve it with some mustard on the side. There’s a huge amount of variety with just this one technique.

learn how to sauté Recognizing the level of heat you need is the critical part of sautéing food. A duck breast, for example, should be cooked over low heat to render the fat in the skin and make it crisp (Pan-Roasted Duck Breasts). A piece of veal or fish that is naturally tender is usually sautéed over high heat to develop flavor on the exterior through browning before the interior is overcooked. (The recipe for Caramelized Sea Scallops is an example of high-heat sautéing.) for more on sautéing see here.

learn how to pan-roast Pan-roasting combines two techniques, sautéing and roasting. It’s one of the most versatile in the restaurant kitchen, and it’s a good technique to use at home. The food is started in a hot sauté pan on the stovetop, then turned and put in a hot oven to finish cooking (Pan-Roasted Chicken with Sweet Sausage and Peppers). The initial sauté helps create a tasty seared exterior, and the ambient heat of the oven cooks the food more uniformly than the heat on the stovetop could. Finishing the food in the oven also frees up the stovetop and allows you to concentrate on other dishes you may be preparing. Pan-roasting requires a frying pan or sauté pan with an ovenproof handle.

learn how to braise Braising is one of my favorite techniques, because of its great transformative ability to develop deep flavor and tenderness in inexpensive, tough cuts of meat. The braising technique is fairly straightforward. The meat is seasoned and browned on the stovetop, then liquid is added and the meat is cooked in the oven at 275° to 300°F for hours, until it is tender. It is then allowed to cool in the liquid and simply reheated to serve (Braised Beef Short Ribs). One of the finer points of braising is to cover the pot with a parchment lid rather than a pot lid, to allow some reduction of the cooking liquid, which fortifies the flavors.

learn how to roast There are two types of roasting: high-heat roasting and low-and-slow roasting. High-heat roasting is used for foods that are naturally tender, chicken or a rack of lamb, for instance (Herb-Crusted Rack of Lamb with Honey Mustard Glaze). Low-and-slow roasting is used for either of two reasons. We rely on it for meat that needs to be cooked for a long time before it becomes tender, such as a pork shoulder or veal shanks (Slow-Roasted Veal Shanks). Slow-roasting these cuts may require some sort of liquid or a covered pot, because collagen, the connective tissue that makes meat tough, needs moisture in order to melt into gelatin. But there are other cuts, especially big ones, that we roast at a very low temperature, not to tenderize them, but rather to ensure that they cook evenly. You can’t cook prime rib in a very hot oven without overcooking the outside or undercooking the inside—or both (Blowtorch Prime Rib Roast).

learn how to poach Poaching is a gentle form of cooking—the temperature never goes above 200°F. It’s usually used for fish, but meats can be poached as well. Poaching allows you to flavor the cooking medium and thereby enhance the flavor of what you’re cooking. To poach salmon, we use a court bouillon, water with aromatics, and often an acidic element such as wine (see Poached Salmon, 93). Other stocks can be used as poaching liquids, and fat is an extraordinary poaching medium (Oil-Poached Sturgeon and Duck Confit).

learn the big-pot blanching technique Most green vegetables and some other vegetables benefit from this simple technique, which results in vividly colored, perfectly seasoned vegetables. Big-pot blanching involves boiling vegetables in what is in effect brine-strength salted water until they are cooked through (Broccolini Salad with Burrata Cheese). I use about 1 cup of Diamond Crystal kosher salt per gallon of water. I call it “big-pot blanching” because you need to have enough water so that it doesn’t lose the boil when you add the vegetables. That’s all there is to it, that and tasting the vegetables to know when they are cooked. If you want to cook the vegetables in advance, you need to stop the cooking as quickly as possible by plunging them into an ice bath until they are thoroughly chilled. Then drain them and store them refrigerated on paper towels, so that they don’t soak in water, until you are ready to serve or reheat them.

learn to make one really good soup There’s enormous value in making a good soup. If you’re going to make chicken soup (Chicken Soup with Dumplings), you need a good chicken stock—and it’s important to feel comfortable making a simple stock too. But you don’t always need a homemade stock to make soup. A good vegetable soup can be made simply with water seasoned with aromatics. A good bean soup can be made with just a thick slice of bacon, tomatoes, carrots, white beans, and water. A vegetable soup, a protein-based soup, and a pureed soup are all an invaluable part of a cook’s repertoire.

learn to cook eggs Eggs may be my favorite food to cook and to eat. They can be prepared in so many different ways, can be served at any meal, and can be used in both sweet and savory dishes. Eggs can be featured in a dish or used as a garnish. They can be an ingredient or a tool. They are delicious, inexpensive, and nutritious. Learning to soft-cook, hard-cook, scramble, and poach eggs; prepare an omelet; or use eggs in a custard or a sauce makes you a better, more versatile cook. (Cooking Eggs and Grilled Asparagus with Prosciutto, Fried Bread, Poached Egg, and Aged Balsamic Vinegar.)

learn to make a pie crust Making a good pie crust gives you the framework for a range of savory and sweet pies and tarts and other pastries from Chicken Potpie to Cherry Pie to quiche. Baking your own pie crust allows you to choose the type of fat you want to use as your shortening. Butter adds a wonderful richness to pie crusts. Lard is also terrific, especially for savory dishes, where it adds a depth of flavor.

For those who want to improve their skills, my advice is, after learning all the above, to challenge yourself. That is the way anyone—an athlete, a doctor, a musician—improves his or her skills. Set increasingly difficult tasks for yourself. Maybe it’s as simple as focusing on slicing an onion thinner, or dicing vegetables more uniformly, or braising short ribs correctly, taking the time to understand the different ways that short ribs look and smell and feel throughout cooking. Or make your own sausage, then a pâté en terrine, then a pâté en croûte. One of the great things about cooking is that there is no end to the learning.

The second thing I always advise is practice. Do things over and over, every time just a little bit better than the last. Repetition improves the quality of your craft and broadens your capabilities as a cook. The first time you make gnocchi, if it comes out right, it’s probably because you got lucky. But if you continue to make it again and again and it comes out right, it’s because you’ve picked up the nuances of the process—how hot the potato is when you mix it with the flour, how moist the potato is, how sticky the dough is when you mix it—all those minute variations that are impossible to articulate precisely and are therefore knowable only through experience, touch, sight, and smell, through repetition and paying attention every step of the way.


We call ingredients “product” in the restaurant kitchen. If you have a better product than I do, you can be a better chef than I am. Perhaps the quickest way you can become a better cook is to buy better ingredients. And there’s never been a time in history when such excellent ingredients have been available to so many people. (Remember, too, that the tools of the kitchen are “product” as well.)

For years, chefs have been asking their suppliers for specific ingredients. Do the same thing. This is how we got shiitake mushrooms and cilantro into our grocery stores and supermarkets in the 1980s, and it’s how we’re going to get humanely raised veal and pork into them in the near future. Develop relationships with the people you buy ingredients from, show them that you care about your ingredients, and ask them for help in finding the best ingredients possible. Ask more questions, work harder to know the source of your food, and understand how it is produced and what the ramifications or results of that production are. If we continue to raise our voices, more products will become available and the products will be better.

Frequent farmers’ markets as often as you can. They can be the best source of good food, and we all want to support small-farm agriculture, an important and growing segment of our food production system. We also recommend shopping on the internet, looking for growers and producers creating or harvesting extraordinary products, no matter where they are.

But also let the market tell you what to buy. Be inspired by what you see. I wrote the recipe for what would become one of my signature dishes, “Oysters and Pearls,” after a purple box of pearl tapioca caught my eye. Be open to inspiration rather than simply picking up ingredients on a list.


Cooking is a craft, and a craft requires tools. If you don’t have good kitchen tools, you have to be a more skilled cook to compensate for that. If all you have is a flimsy aluminum pan, it’s going to be very difficult to sauté a piece of meat well. But the bottom line is that you need only a dozen or so tools for most of the cooking you will do—so buying those few high-quality items should not be prohibitively expensive.

Buy equipment and tools that you find aesthetically pleasing. Your kitchen, your tools, and your equipment can and should express your personality. They should inspire you as much as the food. Here are a few of my essentials.


I like to have a variety of tools on hand for turning food. Perforated spoons, spiders, and skimmers allow you to work the food gently; so do palette knives. Too often, tongs crush or tear food. Lifting food from below, rather than clamping onto it, is the way to go.

knives Knives are the cook’s fundamental tool, but you need only four of them, and if they’re good ones, they’ll last your entire lifetime: a 10-inch chef’s knife, a 12-inch slicing knife, a paring knife, and a serrated knife, used almost exclusively for cutting bread. The style or specific type of knife is up to you—there are many good brands, and the particular sizes and shapes should be chosen according to your own preferences. Whether you choose a Japanese santoku or a traditional chef’s knife is less important than that the quality is excellent and that it feels comfortable in your hand. I use my slicing knife for 50 percent of the cutting I do at the restaurant, though you will likely use a chef’s knife more often.

I can do anything I need to in the kitchen with these four knives and a steel. The steel is important to keep your knives sharp, to hone them. Learn how to use it, and steel your knives frequently. You should also buy and learn to use a sharpening stone to keep your knives sharp or find a quality knife-sharpening service. Sharp knives make your work both easier and better, and they’re safer to use than dull knives.

cutting board The surface you cut on should be forgiving to the knife: wood or a soft synthetic material that won’t hurt your blade. Avoid flimsy cutting boards or, worse, flexible sheets, which are cheap and unstable. Choose a thick surface to work on, and a large one. Small boards are restrictive. If you have the space, buy a large board, at least 12 by 18 inches. It’s helpful to put a damp cloth or damp paper towel underneath your cutting board when you work, to prevent it from slipping.

pots and pans


  • New York Times bestseller

    “Accessible and dazzlingly beautiful. . . . This collection is what legions of Keller fans have been waiting for, a book that allows them to replicate the merest glimmer of his culinary genius in their own homes.”
    Publishers Weekly, starred review
    “Spectacular is the word for Keller’s latest . . . don’t miss it.”
    “Fun and approachable.”
    Chicago Tribune
    “A book of approachable dishes made really, really well.”
    The New York Times
    “High-class down-home cooking.”
    New York Post
    “This is real, uncomplicated home cooking. [Keller] offers everything your could want . . . and lots of bright ideas that will make you a much smarter cook.”
    Fine Cooking

On Sale
Nov 6, 2009
Page Count
368 pages

Thomas Keller

Thomas Keller

About the Author

Thomas Keller is the author of The French Laundry Cookbook, Bouchon, Under Pressure, Ad Hoc at Home, and Bouchon Bakery. He is the first and only American chef to have two Michelin Guide three-star-rated restaurants, The French Laundry and per se, both of which continue to rank among the best restaurants in America and the world. In 2011 he was designated a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor, the first American male chef to be so honored. In 2017, as part of the Ment’or Foundation—established with chefs Jérôme Bocuse and Daniel Boulud—Keller led Team USA to win gold at the Bocuse d’Or competition in Lyon, France, for the first time ever.

Learn more about this author