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Chef JJ Johnson’s Favorite Kitchen Tools and Ingredients

Rising-star chef Joseph “JJ” Johnson has garnered acclaim behind the stove of Harlem’s beloved  African-Asian fusion restaurant the Cecil and its sister supper club Minton’s. Last summer, he left the restaurants to strike out on his own with a restaurant group in the works focused on rice and other grains. With the publication of his new cookbook (below) featuring some of the Cecil’s most popular dishes, we asked JJ to share with us some of his favorite ingredients and kitchen tools.

  • Between Harlem and Heaven
    Product

    The Cookbook: Between Harlem and Heaven

    Last summer Harlem mourned when Johnson left the restaurant owned by his mentor, chef Alexander Smalls. But now, home cooks across the nation can rejoice, because the Afro-Asian-American comfort food that earned Minton’s near-constant praise and glowing reviews is once again on offer in this one-of-a-kind book, featuring such dishes as Udon Noodles with Edamame and West African Peanut Sauce, BBQ Brisket Egg Roll, and Collard Green Salad with Coconut Dressing. All you’ve got to do, writes Johnson, is “dive in with an open heart and a hungry belly.”

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  • Ingredient

    Pink Peppercorns

    Pink peppercorns are a flavor deeply ingrained in Johnson's sense memory: "I used to cook in the kitchen with my Puerto Rican grandmother, and her kitchen would smell like cumin, coriander seeds, and pink peppercorns. She made cooking fun."

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  • Ingredient

    Turmeric

    "I use my Yuzu Turmeric Dressing to make ordinary meals feel like a treat," says Johnson. The dried, ground rhizome (a cousin of ginger) lends a slightly bitter flavor and bright orange hue to curries, dressings, and more.

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  • Product

    Benriner Mandoline

    This inexpensive but reliable mandoline is essential for cutting vegetables into thin, even slices. "The pickled red onions in my grilled tuna noodle salad, for example, should be thinly and delicately sliced into half moons to the perfect pop of flavor." The Benriner makes quick and easy work of the task.

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  • Zukti Tamarind Sauce
    Product

    Zukti Tamarind Sauce

    “Tamarind is a tangy, West African fruit that can be a great building block for a barbecue-like sauce, like the one I use in my Tamarind Glazed Oxtails,” says Johnson. This tamarind sauce has a simple ingredient list: sugar to balance the potent sour of the fruit, seasoned with a little cumin and black salt.

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  • Product

    Chefs’ Must-Have Tools: Breville Mini Smart Oven

    “To get the perfectly tender braised oxtails in my cookbook, I love to use the smart oven from Breville,” says Johnson. “Once the oxtails are marinated, it’s just a matter of placing them in the oven, setting the temperature right and letting the oven work its magic. The oven has a great air flow, braising and roasting the meat evenly.” The oven is also an energy-efficient alternative to heating up your kitchen with a full-size oven (so yes, you can enjoy those oxtails in the summer).

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