How To!

Sam Sifton’s Recipe for the Perfect Meal

The New York Times food editor guides a bachelor through cooking for a dinner date.

Photo collage of Sam Sifton with a slice of brie and a chicken thigh.
Sam Sifton Photo illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker. Photos by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for New York Times, Getty Images.

On this week’s episode of How To! with Charles Duhigg, a listener named Jonny wants to win back his ex-girlfriend with a home-cooked meal. The catch? He can’t cook. He describes his cooking as “kind of like a nuclear explosion” and says he once made his ex a smoothie that made her violently ill.

To save Jonny from himself, Charles calls on New York Times food editor Sam Sifton to share his recipe for one perfect meal. It’s simple, elegant, and designed to impress. Sifton’s recipe is below. Listen to the episode to hear Sam walk through it—and find out how Jonny did.


• 4–6 chicken thighs
• Rice
• Olive oil
• Red pepper flakes
• Rosemary
• Green beans
• Lemon
• Almond slivers
• Brie
• Baguette
• Mallomars
• Organic milk
• Prosecco and/or red wine for dinner


1. Set out the brie in advance so it starts to soften.


2. Use a rice cooker to start cooking 1–2 cups of rice (approx. 30 minutes).

3. Boil green beans for 3 minutes in salted water, then rinse them under cold water in a colander (until they are cool) and set aside.

4. Take a heavy bottom pan and fill it with approximately 10 glugs of olive oil (more than you think you’ll need).

5. Heavily season the chicken thighs with salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and rosemary (more than you’d think of everything).

6. Put the pan with olive oil over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers.

7. Place the thighs in the pan, skin side down, and watch for the oil to bubble. Not out of control, but let it bubble a bit. Don’t be scared. You’re doing great.

Jonny smiling, sitting next to two dinner plates on a table.
Jonny and the perfect meal. Photo by Charles Duhigg

8. After 15–20 minutes—when the chicken skin is a nice brown mahogany—turn the thighs over. Cook for another 10–15 until they have a nice mahogany color all over. (You can cut into one to make sure it’s cooked through. Look for clear juices and white meat.)


9. Toss the green beans in a skillet over low-medium heat for a few minutes with butter. Add salt and almond slivers. Finish with fresh squeezed lemon juice.


10. Plate the chicken and rice and green beans (make sure the beans are all pointing in the same direction). Wipe the edges of the plate because that’s really classy.

11. After you eat the meal, bring out the baguette with the soft brie. Point out how gooey it is because that’s also classy (at least, it is in France, which is a pretty classy place).

12. For dessert, bring out the Mallomars with a small glass of organic milk.

13. Whatever happens, don’t apologize. Be confident and focus on bringing joy to your dinner date. You’re both gonna love it.

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