Amanda Gold, a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, recently came out with 10 techniques every cook should know:
Dicing an onion
Making pan sauce
Rolling out pie crust
Making a roux
Making a vinaigrette
She said, “Mastering these will ease everyday kitchen chores and help you tackle more advanced recipes.” It is a good article, including video techniques and accompanying recipes. The bad – when was the last time you made a roux at home or the last time you tempered cream or milk – like for a crème brûlée? Do you make it often enough for it to be called “everyday kitchen chores”?
There is nothing fundamentally wrong with Ms. Gold’s list but you know what’s coming. My Top 10 Techniques Every Cook Should Know about Continental Cuisine, à la David Letterman.
Number 10, Spatchcock
When asked my favorite meal to cook at home, I have to admit that it is a simple roasted chicken. “Spatchcock” or split roasting is my favorite way to cook a bird. The first references to “spatchcocking” appear in 18th-century Irish cookbooks. It’s been said that “spatchcock” is an abbreviation of “dispatch the cock.” In other words, to kill the chicken.
Spatchcock allows the bird to lie flat and cook evenly – no more overcooked breast and undercooked thigh – the bird is more or less uniformly dense and no part of the bird is closer to the eat source than any other part. You will need a strong kitchen scissors or shears to cut though the bird’s backbone. Place the chicken, breast-side-down, on a cutting board. Using the shears, cut away the backbone, flip over the bird and press down to flatten it. I then remove the breastbone and tuck the wing tips under the shoulder. See pictures of “spatchcock” at the Naked Whiz.
Number 9, Sautéing
According to The New Food Lover’s Companion, by Sharon Tyler Herbst, sauté “is to cook food quickly in a small amount of oil in a skillet or sauté pan over direct heat.” There are several keys to this technique. Heat a pan to a relatively high temperature, add a small amount of fat that should just cover the bottom of the pan and make sure the food to be cooked should be as dry as possible. Additionally, don’t over crowd the pan – the food should be in a single layer – to prevent the pan from cooling so the product will cook evenly.
Number 8, Dicing
The goal of dicing is to produce a cube shape so that the food will cook uniformly and of course look “nice”. The basic technique is the cut the product into slices, cut the slices into strips and then cut across the stack of strips to produce dice. Because onions come in layers, the basic technique takes a bit of a change. See a slideshow of chopping a onion from Jacques Pépin Celebrates!
Number 7, Blanching Vegetables
The best instruction I know for blanching vegetables is Thomas Keller’s “Big Pot Blanching” from The French Laundry Cookbook. Basically, he said when blanching any green vegetable, not only is a large amount of boiling water necessary (so when food is added to the pot, the temperature of the water is not drastically lowered), but the water should “taste like the sea.” In other words, if you can drink it, it’s not salty enough. Vegetables cooked in heavily salted water, require little if any seasoning when served. It’s true. They taste so good, it’s almost like cheating.
Plunge the vegetables into the pot of boiling, salted water just until just cooked. After the vegetables are cooked put them into an ice bath (combination of water and ice). Leave them in the bath till they are cold and then drain well.
Number 6, Cooking Pasta
Yes, cooking pasta.
Just like “Big Pot Blanching”, start with a very large pot half filled with salted water. I don’t believe in adding oil or anything else to the water. Place the pot on high heat and allow it to come to a boil. When the water is boiling vigorously, add the pasta. Stir the pasta from time to time to make sure it doesn’t stick together. Each shape and type of pasta will take a different time to cook.
Check the pasta after about 5 to 6 minutes and test the pasta. Even though most poo poo me, I still enjoy the “throwing pasta against the wall” test but a more accurate method is to remove a single piece and bite it – if it is soft on the outside with a firm (but not crunchy) center, it is ready (al dente ). Reserve one cup of the cooking water to add to the sauce, the butter or oil. Strain the pasta but do not rinse it if you want the sauce to stick.
In Redux Part Two – #5 – #1, I’ll count down the remaining techniques. Watch out for a few twists and a few surprises.
Image credit: Tony Secker, www loriant.com.