10 Techniques Every Cook Should Know Redux, #10 – #6

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
Segmenting citrus
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.

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3 thoughts on “10 Techniques Every Cook Should Know Redux, #10 – #6”

  1. Hello Stuart,

    I’m enjoying your posts at eatdrinkbetter.com, and therefore would enjoy having you as our featured guest for a podcast interview at GreenBlogosphere.com.

    I’d like to talk about the issues of eating and drinking better, particularly from a green, sustainable perspective.

    We could do the interview over the phone, and once finished, I could provide you with code that would allow you to embed the interview segment in your sidebar or blog post.

    It would be great to visit with you.


    Tom Tucker
    Managing Editor

  2. An intriguing question that caused a small stir at the office was: What is the difference between a cook and chef? Are they used interchangeably?

    By the way,I like this blog. I was immediately drawn to the 10 things every cook should know (outstanding). I would like to link to yours and add this to my blogroll. I am still in the learning curve on my blog about urban gardening and would like to add a recipe sharing section.

    Please let me know.

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