10 Techniques Every Cook Should Know Redux, #5 – #1

Here is the continuing countdown of My Top 10 Techniques Every Cook Should Know about Continental Cuisine. Lets first review #10- #6:

Number 10, Spatchcock
Number 9, SautΓ©ing
Number 8, Dicing
Number 7, Blanching Vegetables
Number 6, Cooking Pasta

And now, Number 5, French Style Scrambled Eggs

Everyone thinks they know how to cook breakfast, especially scrambling an egg. They best way is “French Style”. Originally, “French Style” involved a chef using a double-boiler to cook the eggs so that the result was custard-like. I’ve done this in my younger days as a line cook in a classic French bistro – tasty but time consuming. Fortunately, I have a simpler and faster technique that produces superb, fluffy almost sauce like eggs.

Start with the best local, farm eggs you can find. Place a small amount of butter in a medium sautΓ© pan over low heat. In a small bowl, mix eggs, salt and pepper until just combined (don’t over mix the eggs). Once the butter has melted, but not bubbling, pour the eggs into the pan and stir constantly. Keep mixing until almost all of the eggs have just changed to curds. There should still be a small amount of runny egg left. Take it off the heat immediately, taste for salt and pepper and add an additional small amount of butter to finish.

Number 4, Roasting

One of my favorite culinary writers is Barbara Kafka, author of Vegetable Love, Soup: A Way of Life and Roasting – A Simple Art. She wrote, “Roasting offers more flavor on its own than any other cooking technique.” Additionally, we all know what the end results of a perfect roast are a golden brown, glistening exterior and a moist and succulent interior.

Roasting is the process of surrounding food with dry, heated air in a closed environment. It involves convection, conduction and caramelization. The key to a good roast is a tender cut of protein or evenly cut vegetables, cooked with a fairly high temperature. The product should be appropriately seasoned so that it can penetrate the roast while cooking and eventually develop a flavorful crust.

A chef’s trick is to season the roasted food just before it goes into the oven and season it again after it comes out while it is resting. This final seasoning will allow the salt and pepper to be absorbed by the skin, giving the product a more “finished” flavor.

See It’s a Parsnip, it’s a Carrot – No, it’s Parsley Root for a recipe for Caramelized Assorted Root Vegetables.

Number 3, Making Stock

Stock making is NOT a difficult endeavor nor does it have to be akin to fighting a ground offensive in Afghanistan. Home-made stock gives you depth of flavor with a myriad of uses. On top of all that it’s frugal, sustainable and deceptively easy. You need to remember a few don’ts – “Stock is not your compost bin,” says Annie Somerville, chef of Greens Restaurant; “Good stock doesn’t develop from concentrating a large volume of liquid but from using as little water as necessary to draw out the goodness,” says Amaryll Schwertner of Boulettes Larder. As the San Francisco Chronicle said, “Slow extraction, not evaporation, is the key to flavor.”

Here is Michael Ruhlman’s recipe for basic brown veal stock from The Splendid Table and an article and recipes for various stocks from the San Francisco Chronicle.

Number 2, Kitchen Safety and Sanitation

I’ve read that over 70% of all reported cases of food poisoning and food borne illnesses are not from restaurants, but from our own home kitchens – well maybe yours, but never from mine. Some of the reason may be that food is already tainted before it gets to your refrigerator but a majority of the problem is from mishandling. Here are some basic precautions to help safeguard your family:

  • Wash your hands! Use warm water and soap, scrubbing between fingers and under fingernails. You should wash your hands for twenty seconds (sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice).
  • Wash all fruits and vegetables – even packaged greens that are labeled “pre-washed”.
  • Don’t rely on shelf-life dates: smell and check your food for offensive odors or colors before cooking or serving. If in doubt, throw it out.
  • Check refrigeration temperature every 3 months for accuracy with an external thermometer.
  • Never taste contents of a can that is bloated, dented or rusted: discard it immediately! Many bacteria produce toxins that are not killed by cooking and can cause severe illness.
  • Avoid cross-contamination: raw meats should never be cut on the same cutting boards as vegetables that will be consumed raw. Clean produce shouldn’t share workspace with unwashed fruits and vegetables – wash melon rinds, potatoes and onions before slicing or trimming them. Never use marinades or sauces that have been used for raw meats unless you’ve cooked them first.
  • Don’t consume food that has been left out longer than two hours: cool hot foods to about 40ΒΊF and refrigerate immediately.
  • From Cory Vicens, Allrecipes.com.

and the Number 1 Technique Every Cook Should Know, Shopping

Chef, author, culinary teacher and friend John Ash once said, “Shopping is one of the simplest techniques imaginable for making great food.” The key for me is that farmers, ranchers, fisherman, and artisans in general, are people who should be driving our diets and what’s on the dinner table. The traditional Italian cook understands this philosophy. You don’t go to the market or the store looking for red snapper or cod. You go looking for which fish looks best. That is the spirit of discovery and playfulness that belongs in the kitchen. Visit “What is Sustainable Cuisine” to learn more about shopping sustainably.

For more information on the basics of Continental cooking, I recommend The Elements of Cooking: Translating the Chef’s Craft for Every Kitchen by Michael Ruhlman and On Cooking: A Textbook of Culinary Fundamentals by Sarah R. Labensky.

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