Kitchen Simple: Essential Recipes for Everyday Cooking
- ISBN 13:
- ISBN 10:
- Format: Hardcover
- Copyright: 08/09/2011
- Publisher: Random House Inc
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Fortunately most food is cooked using a very limited number of techniques that once understood will make cooking a lot easier.
For most herbs, it isn’t necessary to take the leaves off the stems. This is particularly true of parsley and cilantro, which should only have the stems cut off from the bottom half. The leaves, with their small stems, can be chopped.
Use the longest knife you feel comfortable with, since the longer the knife, the more you’re cutting at once. Arrange the herbs on a cutting board along the length of the knife. Hold the knife with your thumb and forefinger gripping the handle and press the tip firmly against the board. If you’re right handed, hold the knife in your right hand. Don’t use your left hand to hold the knife blade but instead use it to gather up the herbs as you chop them and continually feed the herbs under the knife blade. Chop with a rapid up and down motion, with the tip of the knife held firmly against the cutting board. You can also lift the knife and chop with a rapid up and down motion.
Chopping Onions and Shallots
Unlike herbs, which are cut randomly, onions and shallots have their own special method. Peel the onion and cut it in half through the root end and the shoot end. With the root end away from you, slice the onion but leave the slices attached where they meet near the root end. Once you have the onion sliced in one direction, slice it sideways about three times so the slices are themselves sliced. Leave the slices attached at the root end. Slice the onions a third time, perpendicular to the other two slices. At this point the onions should fall apart into tiny pieces. If you want the onion finer, chop as though you were chopping herbs until you obtain the texture you seek.
Baking is simply cooking in the oven. Most recipes call for preheating the oven for precise timing control but if you’re baking something like potatoes, for which exact times are rarely critical, just stick the potatoes in the oven and turn the oven on.
Foods are rarely boiled. Boiling toughens meats and causes seafood to fall apart. But green vegetables are best boiled or steamed. When boiling green vegetables such as green beans, make sure there’s plenty of boiling water; or the beans will lower the temperature and they’ll stew instead of boil. Always boil uncovered. When boiling green vegetables, toss a small handful of salt into the water to help them retain their color.
Braising is cooking in a small amount of liquid. All stews and pot roasts are braises. The purpose behind braising is to create a flavorful sauce and very tender meat. Sometimes the sauce is thickened with butter and flour, other times with a bit of butter or cream.
Often, to braise meat, first you sauté it in order to brown it and develop the flavor of caramelized juices. This method is referred to as “brown braising.” Fish is typically “white braised,” which means you do not sauté it before adding the hot braising liquid.
Braising time varies. Long braising, usually requiring an hour or two, is needed to break down tough cuts of meat and occasionally seafood (octopus and squid are often braised). Short braising is simply braising long enough for heat to penetrate to the interior of whatever’s being braised. Most fish are short braised.
Frying is cooking with a large amount of fat, essentially poaching in hot fat. To fry successfully, adjust the heat of the oil so the foods being fried cook quickly. The point is to form a crispy crust (sometimes brown, sometimes not) while just cooking the foods through. If the oil is too hot, the foods will brown or the crispy crust will form while the food remains raw inside. If, on the other hand, the oil isn’t hot enough, the foods will absorb too much oil before the crust forms.
Be careful when frying. If you don’t have a fryer, use a heavy pot. Never fill the pot more than half full of oil and keep it on the back of the stove so no one bumps into it accidentally. When you begin to fry, use a spider (see page 11) to lower a piece of the food into the hot oil so that you can judge how much the oil bubbles up when you add the food. This will give you a sense of how much you can add without the oil bubbling over. Never add foods with your hands--always use a spider or a slotted spoon--or the oil can splash up and burn you
One problem you may encounter when deep-frying is the tendency of the foods to lower the temperature of the oil. Of course, the more oil you use, the less likely this is to happen. Otherwise, control the temperature of the oil with the heat of the stove, turning it up to high to bring the temperature back up.
Glazing is another type of braising, and is used for root vegetables that have been sectioned or rounded into football shapes by “turning.” The vegetables are placed in a sauté pan with straight sides and just enough water or broth to come halfway up their sides. The pan is then partially covered (or a sheet of aluminum foil is placed over the vegetables and the pan left uncovered) and the vegetables simmered until the surrounding liquid evaporates into a glaze that in turn coats the vegetables.
When vegetables are braised with a small amount of water or broth and a little butter, they become covered with a shiny glaze.
For the most part, grilling is cooking directly over the heat source. The idea is to brown foods and, in so doing, scent them with smoke from the grill, while preventing fats or other liquids from the food from dripping down into the grill, burning, and flavoring the food. Nowadays, people often cook in covered grills. Essentially a covered grill is like an oven, so cooking in one is more akin to roasting than it is to grilling.
One technique, called indirect grilling, isn’t grilling at all, except at the beginning. To grill indirectly, build the fire to one side of the barbecue and start by grilling in the normal way. Once the foods are browned, assuming they’re not cooked through, move them to the side of the grill where there’s no heat and cover the grill. This roasts and smokes the foods in order to finish cooking them through. This technique works especially well for large pieces of meat, such as rib roasts, turkeys, loins of pork, or legs of lamb.
Unlike braising, which is cooking in a small amount of liquid, poaching is cooking in an abundance of liquid. The purpose of poaching is to cook evenly, with some of the flavor of the poaching liquid going into the food being poached but not, as in braising, the other way around. Poaching seafood is especially common and is usually accomplished with a vegetable broth called a court bouillon.
Sauces for poached foods are usually made independently from the poaching liquid. Beurre blanc, hollandaise, and mayonnaise (see pages 182-84) are all served with poached foods. Occasionally some of the poaching liquid is added to the sauce to thin it or give it a little of the character of the poached item.
The purpose behind most roasting is to provide the roast with a brown savory crust while leaving it evenly cooked throughout. The best approach to roasting is to leave the roast in a hot oven long enough to brown it, and then lower the oven temperature to give the heat time to penetrate. In general, the smaller the roast, the hotter the oven should be. A turkey, for example, can be roasted in a relatively low oven (about 350°F) because the cooking time is long enough to ensure browning even at lower temperatures. A quail, on the other hand, is so small that to brown it without overcooking it would require an oven that reaches 1000°F. For this reason, small roasts such as quails are usually browned on the stove before being finished in the oven.
Then there’s the question of the jus or gravy. The sad truth is that roasted meat releases very little in the way of juices. For this reason, it’s helpful to put bones and trimmings in the roasting pan along with the roast so there’s something to provide juices.
There are two ways to separate the fat from the juices. If the juices are scarce, simply boil them down in the roasting pan until they caramelize into a crust on the bottom of the pan. Then pour off the fat and deglaze the pan by adding a small amount of water or broth to the pan to dissolve the juices. If the roast has been more generous and there is a lot of juice in the pan, then boiling it down to caramelize it is impractical. Instead, pour the juices into a glass container and skim off the fat that floats to the top with a ladle.
A gravy is a jus thickened with flour and butter and cooked until toasty or with cornstarch mixed with a little water and whisked into the jus. When using either of these thickeners, bring the mixture to a simmer for the thickening to take effect.
Basically, sautéing is cooking in a small amount of fat to brown foods and seal in their flavor. The fat isn’t typically absorbed by the foods being sautéed; it’s just there for lubrication and to prevent the food from sticking to the pan.
There are two ways to sauté. In one method, the food is rapidly tossed or stirred over high heat. In the second method, sometimes called “pan-frying,” the food is placed in the pan, browned, and then carefully turned over.
It’s important to choose a pan that fits the food being sautéed so it can be held in a single layer. If the pan is too small, the food is crowded and won’t brown properly. In fact, the food will release water and steam. In some cases, such as when sautéing mushrooms or scallops, the foods should be added to the hot pan only a small number at a time so that they don’t lower the temperature of the pan and thus inhibit browning.
The temperature needed for sautéing depends on the foods being sautéed. Because it releases water only slowly and is fairly thick, chicken can be browned over medium heat. Foods that release water or that need less cooking time, such as mushrooms or scallops, should be cooked over the highest heat so they brown without releasing water or overcooking. Sautéing should always be performed uncovered.
It’s important to distinguish simmering from boiling. In many recipes, especially those for broths and braised dishes, the liquid should barely simmer, or “smile” as the French would say. Avoid boiling these dishes or you’ll churn fat and scum back into the braising liquid.
To steam, place the food in a steamer suspended over boiling liquid so the steam rises and comes in contact with the food. Steaming is most popular for fish and vegetables.
Really a kind of sautéing, stir-frying involves keeping the food in constant motion over very high heat. A wok is ideal for this because its smooth sides and generous volume make it easy to keep the foods in motion. Unfortunately, to stir-fry authentically, you’ll need a very hot heat source to allow foods to brown almost the instant they come in contact with the heat. When stir-frying over a normal home stove, it is sometimes necessary to stop stirring from time to time to allow the foods time to brown.
Not to be confused with sautéing, sweating is cooking over low to medium heat so that foods (usually vegetables, such as carrots or onions) release water and cook without browning. Most directions for sweating say to do it covered so that the moisture released turns into steam and cooks the foods. The only disadvantage to this is that it’s easy to forget and let foods burn. If you use mild heat, you can sweat uncovered.
Keep in mind that you can turn a simple meal into something a little more elegant by serving the food in courses. Doing so will prolong the meal and give everyone the sense that you went to much more effort than you actually did. A light cocktail or aperitif--even the nonalcoholic limeade on page 235--will perk up the appetite and enhance almost any meal.
Tapenade is a southern French olive spread that makes a delicious hors d’oeuvre on little pieces of toast. Traditionally made in a mortar and pestle, tapenade is a snap to make, provided you start out with pitted olives and use a food processor. Don’t overwork the olives and turn the tapenade into a stiff paste; it should have the consistency of pickle relish. Tapenade often contains capers (in fact, the word “tapenade” is derived from an old dialect meaning “capers”), but this version contains raisins instead. The raisins contribute sweetness--a welcome counterpoint to the saltiness of the olives--though admittedly a bit of an anomaly.
Makes 8 hors d’oeuvre servings
1/2 cup raisins, soaked in just enough water to cover, for 30 minutes
3/4 pound pitted black olives, such as Niçoise
French bread toasts, to serve
Drain the raisins and puree them in a food processor with about a third of the olives. Add the rest of the olives and pulse until the mixture has the consistency of fine pickle relish. Serve on toasted French bread.
These make a great emergency hors d’oeuvre if all you have in the house is a chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano. You’ll also need a nonstick baking sheet or, better yet, a sheet pan lined with a silicone mat.
Makes 8 hors d’oeuvre servings
4 cups (1/2 pound) finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Divide the cheese into thirty mounds on a nonstick or silicone-lined sheet pan and gently flatten the mounds with the back of a spoon until they measure about 2 inches in diameter for flat rounds or 3 inches in diameter for tuiles, which are curved fricos. Bake until lightly browned, 5 to 10 minutes. Let the fricos cool slightly, gently remove them from the sheet pan with a spatula, and transfer to a plate, or for tuiles, a rolling pin or bottle.
Hot Cheese and Crackers
This makes a quick hors d’oeuvre and is especially easy if you happen to have everything in the house. The most important ingredient is, of course, the cheese. Try virtually any good hard cheese, such as Gruyère, Emmental, Gouda (preferably aged), Cheddar (English or American), or Comté. Just about any type of cracker will work here--use your favorite type.
Makes 8 hors d’oeuvre servings
4 cups (1/2 pound) hard cheese
2 teaspoons chopped fresh or dried thyme or marjoram (optional)
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Slice the cheese and place it on the crackers. Sprinkle with the herbs and slide into the oven. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Serve immediately.
These little cheese puffs have become the hors d’oeuvre du jour. Fortunately they are easy to make. Traditionally made with Gruyère, this version calls for Parmigiano-Reggiano since it’s drier and makes the gougères lighter. The only scary part of these is they require using a pastry bag which, admittedly, takes a little practice.
Makes about 40 bite-sized puffs
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, sliced
1 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt, plus a pinch
1 cup flour
7 large eggs, or more as needed
About 2 cups (1/4 pound) Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated
Put the butter in a saucepan with the water and salt. Bring to a simmer over high heat and dump in the flour. Work the mixture over the heat with a wooden spoon until the flour is mixed in and the dough pulls away from the sides of the saucepan, about 1 minute. Transfer to a mixing bowl and work in the eggs, one by one. The dough has the right number of eggs when a thick groove made with a wooden spoon closes in on itself. Work in the cheese and pepper.
Preheat the oven to 400°F.
Fit a pastry bag with a 1/2-inch plain tip, fold down the upper part to make a cuff, and fill the bag halfway with the dough. (See box on page 211 for more about pastry bags.) Unfold the cuff and seal in the dough. Pipe out the cheese puffs into small mounds of about 11/2 tablespoons each onto a nonstick sheet pan or a regular sheet pan lined with a sheet of parchment paper, leaving a couple of inches of space among them.
Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until puffed and golden brown. Serve immediately.