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Ten key cooking techniques, 1 of 10.

March 15, 2010

What a month it has been! I am so grateful. From restaurant consulting in San Francisco to Incredible Egg events in Arizona, to The Charleston Wine and Food Festival and shooting cooking videos on the East Coast I am living my dream. I miss my family dearly but we are having a blast when I am home and working together to make this next chapter a great one. I am so grateful for all of your support as well. This blog has been an incredible vehicle to share my passion as well as stay in touch with you. Thank you.

I was recently chatting with a passionate home cook. We agreed that the must have books in your kitchen are The Flavor Bible (to develop your mental database of what flavors taste great together), Ratio (to understand how to bake without recipes), and How to Cook Everything (as a general reference guide). What she told me she felt was missing was a book focused solely on cooking techniques. I totally agree. I have always felt that the reason recipes don’t always turn out for the home cook is for that very reason. If a recipe says “sauté” or “reduce” etc. is that one word really enough to convey what the desired result should be? I don’t think so. In an effort to fill the potential gap the home cook and I were discussing I am going to do ten blogs to try to capture what I feel are the most important cooking techniques that can be applied to almost any cuisine. These techniques are the difference between a good dish and a great dish. Having the right ingredients and a good recipe are not enough if you don’t have a good handle on the proper cooking techniques. Here we go.

The first one is “color equals flavor”. This is probably the biggest opportunity I see for the home cook. When you have color you have flavor. In addition to color cook your ingredients separately or in stages and then combine them. This is how you achieve great texture and depth of flavor.

Example one – Peppers, onions and mushrooms. Three common ingredients that change drastically with the right color.

How? –

Cut the ingredients small/thin. This way you increase the surface area to inside ratio thus creating more flavor. I.e. a thin slice of bell pepper sautéed golden will have more flavor if there is only a small amount of “uncooked” interior than if it is thicker.

Use a wide skillet so that the ingredients can be in one even layer and not piled up.

Use medium high heat and regular olive oil (x virgin for sautéing is a waste, you lose the flavor) or your preferred cooking oil.  Get the pan and the oil hot before adding anything. This way the outside of the food gets seared, a crust, instead of the oil soaking into the food and boiling.

Once there is a nice crust/good color you can add liquid (wine or stock) to create a great sauce and still preserve the great texture of the ingredient. I.e. a good mushroom sauce -the golden seared mushrooms are coated with sauce but still show their flavor and texture) vs. spongy mushrooms that have no distinction from the sauce and have little color).

Be aware of the heat level. If the ingredient is getting black turn the heat down. If you are not hearing a nice sizzle and seeing good color develop turn the heat up.

Cook until you see the peppers, onions or mushrooms softening and coloring. You should see a nice golden brown color developing on the bottom of the pan as well (more flavor!).

Once golden brown you can 1. Take the ingredients out and reserve for another use or 2. Add an alcohol or liquid to the ingredient and simmer until the liquid is half gone. Now you have a great sauce you can add your pasta to or drape over a piece of meat.

Now you can add the ingredient to a quesadilla, a pressed sandwich, a salad or pasta and the dish will have more complex flavor and texture.

Be aware of moisture levels of your ingredients. Onions and mushrooms will first give off their liquid, which then evaporates before they start to color. Peppers and shallots have much less moisture thus they will start browning more quickly.

Steaks, chops, roasts, fish filets:

By using the same “hot pan, hot oil” technique you can sear your roast, steak, chicken breast, fish, etc first and then finish it in the oven. This initial stove top sear will create a great crust (color), which will then continue to develop in the oven. If you do not sear your meat first it will often times be overcooked in the center before it develops a crust (color) in the oven.

If you have a steak, boneless chicken breast, pork chop or fish filet that is not too thick you will be able to cook it completely on the stove top and get a great crust (color) by cooking the first side 60% of the way and then flipping it over to finish cooking. I love doing this with scallops in particular.

2 of 10 will be coming shortly…

Happy cooking and I hope that if you have not already you discover the magic of “color equals flavor”.

Eat Well, Enjoy life, Be happy

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 16, 2010 12:47 am

    What an fantastic idea for a series! I agree that there are much less availability of books focused solely on technique – Such great cooking tips and I am really looking forward to your future ones!

    • Jeffrey Saad permalink
      March 20, 2010 9:08 am

      Thank you Jenn, I will keep them coming. Take care and thanks for reading. Have a great weekend and eat something great 🙂
      Best, jeffrey

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