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Monday, October 22, 2012

Imagination flies on the wings of basics. Part 1

"Oh no", you are saying to yourself. "Nick is getting on his soapbox again." Well yes, and no.
 The real secret to knowing how to cook is simple. Learn the basic cooking methods and what to apply them to. That's what we learn in Chef School and yes we pick-up a lot of recipes too.
 Let me ask you this.  What's easier, memorizing a book of recipes or learning some basic cooking methods and some simple facts about ingredients and applying them. Right.

Now then, there are two groups of cooking methods. MOIST and DRY. There's a quiz later so pay attention.

 The factor in deciding which to use is the consistency of our main ingredient. High fat and connective tissue? Or delicate, low in fat? Is it a fibrous vegetable? Is it a starch? Is it a protein? Fish? Beef? Whatever, there is a cooking method appropriate for it.

There are only a few cultures in the world that have codified this and they are often referred to as the "super-cuisines" what are they? 

To demonstrate, I'm going to be posting some photos from past articles, we've used just about all methods in the last three years. See? You were learning stuff and you didn't even know it.
 You're welcome.

Poaching: MOIST
 Done in hot but not boiling liquid. It's used for things like flakey white fish, eggs out of the shell or meats to remove any unwanted flavors or to par-cook it for finishing later. Sure, water is fine but think of the possibilities when you use fish, chicken or vegetable stock. Use white wine for shellfish or chicken. Add herbs, aromatics and spices to make your own mark.
Poaching the chicken for Mariam's Assyrian Chicken
Simmer: MOIST
 Bring to a boil and let simmer. Standard instruction on countless recipes but what exactly does that mean? Simmering is still kinda boiling but is JUST under a rolling boil. Boiling is a violent agitation of liquid and while useful in some recipes is absolute death to most proteins. Simmering is much gentler and gets you a better finished product. Keeping a lid on once you reach boiling and turning the heat down drastically gets you there. Check it often. Related to Braise which we'll talk about next.
bring chicken stock up to a boil, remove scum and lower to simmer
Braise: MOIST
 Braising is done by cooking in a smallish amount of liquid, usually stock, wine or whatever. It's great for large pieces of protein with lots of connective tissue. Meats are usually browned first and the liquid added after. Pot-Roast is a great example of this. It's also useful for fibrous vegetables like cabbage. Braising breaks down tough parts and slowly infuses the finished product with any flavoring agents incorporated in the liquid. If you've been following this blog you'll see it a lot. It can make even the cheapest cuts world-class.
wine makes a terrific Braising medium

Blanch: MOIST
Simply, used to par-cook or partially cook an item. If you've ever cooked professionally you know what this is. Blanch your green-beans and finish later. Great if you're in a position where you want to get as much cooking out of the way now. It's done quickly in full on boiling liquid, the item is put in, cooked partially and either held warm or chilled in ice-water. I use this method to remove peels from fruits or vegetables. The other useful trick is to Blanch pasta and set aside in ice-water, then remove and hold dry until added to a pan-sauce. The method that uses Blanching to remove peels is called "concasse

part deaux
Blanching part one

Steam: MOIST
 Used like poaching for delicate foods or in cooking foods where you want to feature the natural flavors. Great for vegetables, chicken breast and fish. Adds moisture but leaves foods fresh tasting without adding any fat.

 Here's the answer to the question "what are the "super-cuisines?" They are of course The Italians, The French and The Chinese. Although there is a friendly argument that The Moroccans belong on the list. What they did instead of just handing down recipes is to examine and scientifically record WHAT method worked with WHAT ingredient. While there are some truly remarkable cultural cuisines out there, it is generally thought that the "supers" and their cooking methods are the basis for all of it.

OK the QUIZ.
 There's only one question. What did YOU cook this week and what cooking methods did you use?

I did Classic Chicken and Dumplings which uses Simmer, Braise and Steam. 


For now this is cooking poor, eating rich
get your grub on

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