COOKING TECHNIQUES

Cooking Techniques Once Upon A Tine

I like knowing the method to the madness.  As such, I am providing an explanation of “how” and “why” various cooking techniques are performed – without being too academic.  If you want to know more, or have a question about a technique that I didn’t address, then please submit your question to me via email using the contact page.

 COOKING TECHNIQUES

[toggle type=”gray” title=”POACHING”] Poaching is a Moist Heat Cooking Method Have you ever poached an egg to make Eggs Benedict? Poached pears in wine for dessert? Or delicately cooked a fish covered with water, stock or wine (poaching liquids) in a covered pan to preserve the moistness of the meat? These are examples of poaching you are probably familiar with. It is the method accomplished with the least amount of heat, and, therefore is a gradual, gentle cooking process. Poaching is best for very delicate foods, such as eggs, fish, white meat chicken and fruit. It is a very healthy cooking method, because liquid not fat carries the heat into the food. Poaching is ideally done at temperatures between 160°F and 180°F, or well below a simmer. The best way to tell if a poaching liquid is at the correct temperature is with an instant read thermometer. Short of that, look at the liquid in the pan. There should be a slight convective current in the liquid, as the warmer liquid rises to the surface. The liquid should be gently moving, but it should not be bubbling at all.

Poaching is Patience Poaching takes patience. Poaching allows the proteins in foods to uncoil, or denature, slowly, without squeezing out moisture. If you were to drop a delicate chicken breast into boiling water, the proteins would seize up so quickly that all the moisture would be squeezed out, and you would end up with a small piece of dry rubber!

Poaching Liquids You can poach in water, milk or a flavorful broth. The broth used in poaching is called a court bouillon. It consists of the poaching liquid itself (often broth or stock) an acid (wine, lemon juice, or vinegar), a bouquet garni (a small bundle of aromatics tied up in cheesecloth, or just tied together with kitchen string (bay leaf, parsley, peppercorns, garlic, thyme, etc) and mirepoix (onion, celery and carrot. Traditional proportions for a white mirepoix is two parts onion to one part each celery and carrot). For dessert preparations, fruit is often poached in sweet wine and water with some spices (star anise, clove, cinnamon, etc). Eggs are generally poached in water with a bit of vinegar. The acid in the poaching liquid helps to speed up the protein coagulation on the outside of the food. This helps hold delicate foods together during the poaching process (think eggs).

Poaching Method So, how do you poach? What equipment do you need?

To poach a chicken breast, bring 2 inches of poaching liquid to just below a simmer. You’ll know when you get there when there are lots of little bubbles all over the bottom of the pan, but no bubbles have started to rise to the top. Place the chicken breast into the liquid. Keep an eye on the heat. If it starts bubbling, turn it down. If you don’t see any convective currents, turn the heat up a little. Don’t worry if the chicken breast isn’t completely submerged. You can use some tongs to turn it over. Continue poaching until the internal temperature of the chicken breast has reached 160 degrees, F. There are many books that talk to you about pushing on the chicken or even cutting into it to see if it’s done. The most accurate method, though, is using an accurate instant read thermometer. Take the piece of chicken out of the poaching liquid. It will be very pale in color. In a moist heat environment and at such low temperatures, there is no browning. You will also lose the deep flavor that some browning imparts. What you lose in flavor though is made up for in moisture. Poaching is a wonderful way to keep delicate foods moist and plump. It is a great way to cook foods that will be cooked again, or will be further processed. For instance, you can shred up your poached chicken and make chicken enchiladas that will then be baked. You can dice up the chicken for a moist chicken salad. As you can see from the above procedure, no special equipment is needed for poaching. I often use my saute pan or even just a sauce pan. As long as your pan can hold two or three inches of liquid, you’ll do fine.

How to Poach an Egg Many a home cook has been frustrated by the seemingly simple and straightforward task of poaching an egg. Hopefully, you have already seen your mistake. Most egg poaching disasters can be averted by keeping the water below a simmer.

  1. Bring 3 inches of water and a splash of vinegar to about 170 degrees, F. Look carefully at the bottom of the pan. There should be small bubbles all over it, but they should not be rising to the top and breaking.
  2. Crack an egg into a small cup.
  3. Lower the egg cup and all into the water in the center of the pan. Tip the cup to let the egg slide out gently.
  4. If any errant strings of white try to swirl away from the egg, gently push them back with a heat-resistant spatula or a spoon.
  5. Let the egg gently poach for about 4-5 minutes, depending on how done you like your eggs.  Jiggle the egg with your spoon. The white should be fairly firm, but the yolk should still shimmy. Remove the egg with a slotted spoon, and let it drain on some paper towels.
  6. Serve on buttered toast, or get fancy and make Eggs Benedict. A lovely way to serve a poached egg at dinner is to make a salad with a fairly acidic dressing. Perch the warm poached egg atop the salad and break the yolk. The rich yolk will blend with and become part of the dressing.

Poaching Larger Pieces of Meat

You can poach large pieces of meat, such as whole fish or chickens, although I think there are other cooking methods that are better for larger cuts. And, since there is no browning, a whole poached chicken would not have much eye appeal. One of the best ways to poach larger food is in a thermostatically controlled electric skillet. You can bring the poaching liquid up to a specified temperature and ensure that it stays there until the food is cooked. This way, there is no chance for over-cooking the food will never get hotter than the temperature set on the thermostat.

A Note on Egg Poachers

There are some appliances and contraptions out on the market that say that they are egg poachers. They are not. To poach, the food must be submerged in a liquid. These gadgets all have you place an egg in a cup, so the egg is not directly in the liquid. Rather, it is cooked in a water bath, like a custard. While these gadgets do cook the eggs, they do not poach them.[/toggle]

[toggle type=”gray” title=”BLANCHING”] Blanching is a two-step process in which foods are plunged into boiling water, usually for only a minute or two and then put into ice water to rapidly stop the cooking process. You can also blanch in fat, but this technique is not often called for.

Reasons to blanch:

  • to loosen thin skins from fruits and vegetables
  • to brighten and fix color
  • to achieve “crisp-tender” texture
  • to parboil vegetables for mise en place
  • to prepare fruits and vegetables for long-term freezer storage

How to blanch:

  1. Prepare an ice bath: put water and ice into a large bowl or into a clean sink.
  2. Heat a large pot of water to a rolling boil, about 1 gallon per pound of food to be blanched.
  3. Add salt to the water; the water should be very salty.
  4. Immerse the food into the boiling water for the specified amount of time.
  5. Remove food to the ice bath to cool quickly.
  6. Once cool, remove food from ice bath and pat dry.

Blanching: In Depth Blanching is one of those techniques that home cooks do not often employ, but it is a useful technique to know. It is easy to do, it doesn’t take much time, and it can make life in the kitchen easier. For example, have you ever tried to peel a fresh peach. It’s an exercise in patience, if not in futility. Ditto for tomatoes, nectarines and cippolini onions.

A Note About Salt Blanching water should be very salty. Some say “ten times saltier than ocean water.” That is a lot of salt, but there are a couple of good reasons for salting your blanching water very well. First of all, salty water is denser than unsalted water–it’s why we’re so much more buoyant at the beach. The salty water on the outside of the food is denser than the water inside the food, so it helps prevent nutrients from leaching out of the food into the water. Of course, after a certain point, nutrients will leach out. Since blanching is such a quick cooking technique, though, it is not of particular concern. Another good reason to use well-salted water is that the salt helps to keep green vegetables greener. Again, since blanching is a quick process, it doesn’t take long for vegetables to go from bright green to olive drab–maybe just 2-3 minutes–so using very well salted water helps ensure that your vegetables stay nice and green. There is a scientific reason for this having to do with the magnesium at the heart of chlorophyll molecules. Suffice to say that salting your blanching water helps keep the magnesium in the chlorophyll where it belongs, keeping things nice and green. A third, though arguably less important reason to use very salty water for blanching is that, since the process is so short, there is not enough time for the food to absorb much flavor. Over-salting the water (seasoning-wise) allows more salt to flavor the food in a very short period of time. So, how much salt should you add to your blanching water? It’s really a personal preference, but start with one tablespoon of salt per gallon of water and then go from there.

How Blanching Makes It Easier to Peel Thin-Skinned Fruits and Vegetables When you boil any type of fruit or vegetable, it cooks from the outside (the part closest to the boiling water) in. By putting fruits or vegetables in boiling water for just a minute or two before putting them into ice water allows just the very outer part of the fruit, the part just under the skin, to become soft. Once that happens, it becomes very easy to peel thin skins off of these fruits and vegetables; the skin will easily pull away from the very thin and very soft cooked layer. To make it even easier to peel, use a sharp knife to cut an X in the bottoms of the food you are blanching: peaches, nectarines, apricots, tomatoes, cipponlini or pearl onions. Once you have stopped the cooking process in the ice bath, simply use a sharp paring knife to pull up the edges of the skin where you made the X and peel away.

How Blanching Brightens and Fixes Color When we talk about brightening and fixing color, we’re talking about the color green in vegetables like broccoli, spinach, kale, green beans, peas, etc. Have you ever noticed that orange carrots and peppers are bright orange, that red peppers are bright red and that yellow peppers are bright yellow but that green vegetables are a bit dull looking? That’s because, even though the green of the chlorophyll in those plants is there providing the green color, small air pockets cloud the color. A quick plunge into boiling water bursts some outer cell walls allowing the air to escape and letting the true bright green of the chlorophyll shine through. If you’ve boiled green vegetables too long, you know that they turn from a bright, vibrant green to a dull olive green. To prevent this from happening, remove the food you are blanching to an ice bath when it is still bright green. For tender greens like basil or spinach, this can be as little as 30 seconds. For more substantial green vegetables such as peppers, broccoli or green beans, expect to blanch for up to two to three minutes. The main thing to remember is not to walk away and to shock them in ice water as soon as they are a lovely bright green. Blanching not only brightens but it also fixes the color. What this means is that blanched vegetables do not turn brown over time like raw vegetables do. All fruits and vegetables contain enzymes that, if left unchecked, break down the foods into what is ultimately a brown, slimy mess. Raising the temperature of the food to over 120°-140°F (depending on the enzyme) essentially denatures or turns off the enzymes so that the food does not brown.

How Blanching Helps You Achieve a Crisp-Tender Texture While tender raw vegetables such as spinach, arugula and other herbs and lettuces do not need to be cooked to be enjoyed, denser vegetables can benefit from a short blanch, even if they are to be served cold. If you take the time to blanch green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers or other vegetables before adding them to a cold salad or crudite platter, you will notice that the blanched vegetables are sweeter and have a pleasing “crisp-tender” texture. Your blanched vegetables will be sweeter because some of the cell walls will have ruptured, releasing sugars and other flavor compounds. They will be crisp-tender because the outer part of the vegetables will be tender from being cooked while the interior is still crisp and raw-tasting. Crisp-tender is to vegetables what al dente is to pasta. While it takes longer to achieve crisp-tender than it does to blanch to peel, generally speaking, a vegetable will be crisp-tender at about the same time that it is a beautiful bright green color. For vegetables that are not green, such as cauliflower, allow 2-3 minutes. The best test for crisp-tender is tasting, so do not hesitate to remove taste during the cooking process and remove the food to an ice bath when you are happy with the texture.

How Blanching Helps with Your Mise en Place This reason for blanching is similar to blanching to achieve a crisp-tender texture but assumes that the food will be further cooked later. It is almost exclusively used in restaurant kitchens but is a great technique for home cooks to learn. Say there is a dish that has boiled potatoes as a side. The dish takes 7 minutes to cook, but the potatoes take 12 minutes. Ideally, the main and the side should both be ready at the same time. An easy way to ensure this is to blanch or parboil the potatoes in boiling water for 5 minutes and then shock them to stop the cooking process. Then, when someone orders that dish, each component will be ready in 7 minutes. Blanching is only called parboiling when foods will be further cooked later. Otherwise, it is exactly the same technique. How often will you have to use this technique at home? Probably not very often, but it is a useful technique to have in your arsenal for holiday gatherings or dinner parties where it pays to get as much prep out of the way as possible so you don’t find yourself chained to stove when your guests arrive. Saying that, I recommend you experiement with blanching and see if it helps you save a little time. If you make a lot of stir fries, this technique can come in handy. Well before you plan to stir fry, blanch cut up firm vegetables such as carrots, cauliflower and broccoli for 2-3 minutes and then shock in cold water. When it’s time to stir fry, you can put all the vegetables, tender and firm, into the wok or stir fry pan at the same time instead of adding the firmer vegetables first. This just simplifies the cooking process and helps you get dinner on the table that much faster, especially if you did the blanching a day or two beforehand and refrigerated your vegetables.

How to Blanch to Prepare Foods for Freezing As mentioned above, blanching can turn off enzymatic activity and prevent browning. This is particularly important in freezing fresh fruits and vegetables because enzymes still function at freezer temperatures. This means that, over time, your lovely summer peaches will turn brown, even after you have “safely” frozen them. The process to blanch foods for freezing is the same as any other blanching. If necessary, cut the food to uniform shape and submerge food in batches into vigorously boiling water for about 2 minutes – enough time to denature the enzymes. Remove the food to an ice bath to stop the cooking process. Dry the food thoroughly and freeze in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Once the food is frozen, you can store them in freezer bags or other freezer containers. Note that the cell walls of fruits and vegetables will be damaged by ice crystal formation in the freezer. Because of this, once thawed, most fruits and vegetables will become soggy and are best suited to stews and soups (in the case of vegetables) and pies or muffins (in the case of fruits). The faster you can freeze food, the smaller the ice crystals and the less damage to cell walls. Freezing foods in a single layer can minimize damage to the cell walls, but home freezers do not freeze foods quickly enough to completely eliminate damage.

How and Why to Blanch in Fat Fat blanching is very different from boiling water blanching. While water blanching is used for many purposes, fat blanching is a method to partially cook a dense vegetable without browning it. The only case of fat blanching that I know of is in making really good French fries. The secret is a two-stage frying method. The first stage – the blanch – happens at a lower temperature to cook the potato all the way through while the second fry happens at a higher temperature and provides deep golden-brown color. To make really great fries, cut and dry your potatoes really well. Blanch them for 4-5 minutes in oil that is about 325°F. Remove to paper towels. At this point, you can finish cooking them later or continue. Using the same oil, heat it to about 370°F and fry for an additional 2-3 minutes until deeply golden brown. Drain and add salt and any additional seasonings. This technique can also be employed when frying any dense vegetable, such as sweet potatoes, parsnips or even turnips.[/toggle]

[toggle type=”gray” title=”BRAISING”] What Is Braising? Braising is a cooking technique in which the main ingredient is seared, or browned in fat, and then simmered in liquid on low heat in a covered pot. The best equipment to use would be a crock pot, pressure cooker or Dutch oven. LeCrueset makes a range of enameled pots and pans that are good for either the stove or the oven. They work well too. Whether you choose to use the oven or the top of the stove, you will be pleased with the results. Braising is often used as a way to cook less expensive, tough cuts of meat. The end result is tender and flavorful. Other than great taste and economy, there are other reasons to cook this way. After searing the meat, the remainder of the cooking time (until sauce/gravy preparation) does not require much attention. Once the heat is reduced, you can go about cooking other things, do some chores or take a break. This is also a plus when entertaining: you have more time for your guests. Yet another plus of cooking with this method is that the meat tastes great and you also get delicious broth, sauce or gravy. It’s one pot cooking at its finest. There isn’t much to cleaning up and anything leftover can be reheated or frozen and reheated for later. This method of cooking is great for tough cuts of meat but also works well with chicken, fish and/or vegetables. You can braise in a crock pot, pressure cooker, large saute pan or the most often used cooking vessel for braises, a Dutch oven. Some popular dishes you may have heard of that use a braising technique are osso buco, pot roast, braised veal & lamb shanks and braised cabbage. You can braise just about any meat, fish or vegetable you want and be as creative as you like with seasoning, but there are some ingredients that are better for braising and some you want to cook using other techniques like grilling or roasting. There are 9 basic steps to braising meat:

  1. Season the main ingredient with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat a few tablespoons of oil and/or butter in a heavy pan or Dutch oven.
  3. Saute meat or vegetables in the pan on medium-high heat until the meat browns.
  4. Deglace the pan by pouring broth, beef stock, wine or juice and scrape any pieces of meat that are stuck to the pan and stir.
  5. Add cooking liquid (water, stock, wine, juice or some combination) to the half-way point of the main ingredient.
  6. Cover and place the meat on the middle of a rack in an oven that has been pre-heated to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  7. Cook until completely tender. This can range from 1 hour to 6 hours, depending on what you are cooking.
  8. Remove the pan from the oven and strain the meat and vegetables out of the liquid.
  9. Remove the excess fat floating in the liquid, and then reduce the sauce to desired thickness by cooking it down over low heat until it thickens. Or, make gravy by adding a mix of equal parts fat and flour (a roux).

The Science of Braising?

If you’re curious about how cooking in this fashion makes tough, leathery meat tender, it’s done by cooking the meat slow, moist and covered over low heat for a lengthy time. This process breaks down the tough connective tissue in meat to collagen. Through time, the moisture and heat build and the collagen dissolves into gelatin. Heat also contracts and coils the muscle fibers. Over time, these fibers expel moisture and the meat becomes dry. Given even more time, these fibers relax and absorb the melted fat and melted gelatin. As for the vegetables, braising breaks down the cellulose in them and stretches the starches. The long and short of this is that everything becomes very tender. Without getting to specific, the meat that we eat is muscle and made up of muscle fibers and connective tissue. The muscle fibers are the long thin strands we can actually see and think of as meat. The connective tissue is the thin, translucent film that you sometimes ask the butcher to remove and helps hold the bundles of muscle fiber together. Connective tissue is made up of mostly collagen, a very strong protein that breaks down if enough heat is applied to it. So braising meat is about breaking down tough connective tissue and changing it into collagen by applying moist heat for a period of time depending on what you are cooking. With more time and heat, the collagen breaks down and dissolves into gelatin. It takes a temperature of about 140°F. to break down the collagen into gelatin. What happening to the muscle fiber while this connective tissue is breaking down (collagen is melting)? The fibers start to contract, coil and expel moisture. In effect, the heat is drying out the meat like squeezing a sponge. As the process continues and the meat breaks down, you end up with very tender but very dry meat. The good news is at some point, the muscle fibers have had enough and they begin to relax. When this happens, they begin to absorb back some of the moisture which just happens to be the melted fat and gelatin giving the meat a wonderful texture and flavor. And don’t forget you have all this wonderful liquid made up of melted fat, gelatin and whatever cooking liquid you started with. And this is why braised meat tastes so incredible when cooked properly.

What Ingredients Are Best For Braising?

Meat When it comes to meats, you want to stick with the tougher, less tender cuts that come from an animals more exercised muscles. These cuts tend to have more connective tissue that breaks down making the meat tender and flavorful. A lean cut from the loin area is a waste to braise. The meat is already tender and has little fat or connective tissue. Some good cuts of meat for braising include:

  • Top Blade Roast
  • Chuck Eye Roast
  • Seven Bone Roast
  • Ribs
  • Brisket
  • Shanks
  • Short Ribs

Chicken The best cuts of chicken, in my opinion, are the legs and thighs although lots of people like to raise a whole chicken. You also want to be sure to use chicken on the bone with skin so you get all the fat and connective tissue. There’s really no reason to braise boneless, skinless chicken breasts. You are better off sauteing or grill them. Fish Although you can braise just about any fish you like, I think large, firm fish are the way to go. Shark, swordfish are worthy of a braise but tender filets like tilapia or even cod will just fall apart on you. If you do braise a more tender cut like flounder, be sure to shorten the braising time.

Fruits & Vegetables Again you want to stay with the hardier varieties. Squash, sweet potatoes, leeks, parsnips, carrots, beets, cabbage and onions are great braised alone or along with meat and chicken. In the fall and winter, I like to braise meat with firm pears and apples but in the summer, I might braise chicken with pineapple. Braised Vegetables – the science is the same expect the moist heat breaks down the vegetable’s cellulose and expands its starches. The fibers soften giving the vegetables an incredible texture and flavor depending on the cooking liquid you are using. When braising meats with vegetables, you may want to keep in mind that the vegetables will cook much quicker than the meat. You might want to wait until the last hour or two of cooking to add them so that they aren’t over cooked.[/toggle]

[toggle type=”gray” title=”BRINING”] Brining is the secret to cooking moist and tender meat. Moisture loss is inevitable when you cook any type of muscle fiber. Heat causes raw individual coiled proteins in the fibers to unwind the technical term is denature, and then join together with one another, resulting in some shrinkage and moisture loss. (By the way, acids, salt, and even air can have the same denaturing effect on proteins as heat.) Normally, meat loses about 30 percent of its weight during cooking. But if you soak the meat in a brine first, you can reduce this moisture loss during cooking to as little as 15 percent, according to Dr. Estes Reynolds, a brining expert at the University of Georgia. Brining enhances juiciness in several ways. First of all, muscle fibers simply absorb liquid during the brining period. Some of this liquid gets lost during cooking, but since the meat is in a sense more juicy at the start of cooking, it ends up juicier. We can verify that brined meat and fish absorb liquid by weighing them before and after brining. Brined meats typically weigh six to eight percent more than they did before brining – clear proof of the water uptake. Another way that brining increases juiciness is by dissolving some proteins. A mild salt solution can actually dissolve some of the proteins in muscle fibers, turning them from solid to liquid. Of all the processes at work during brining, the most significant is salt’s ability to denature proteins. The dissolved salt causes some of the proteins in muscle fibers to unwind and swell. As they unwind, the bonds that had held the protein unit together as a bundle break. Water from the brine binds directly to these proteins, but even more important, water gets trapped between these proteins when the meat cooks and the proteins bind together. Some of this would happen anyway just during cooking, but the brine unwinds more proteins and exposes more bonding sites. As long as you don’t overcook the meat, which would cause protein bonds to tighten and squeeze out a lot of the trapped liquid, these natural juices will be retained. Jim Tarantino is the author of Marinades, Rubs, Brines, Cures & Glaces.  His book offer the following tips:

  • When you make a brine, you typically bring it to a boil to combine ingredients so it is hot. When you start the process of brining you want the brine and the meat or chicken to be the same temperature between 35°F and 40°F. This means you need to plan ahead to let the brine cool down to room temperature before adding the meat or chicken and putting it into the refrigerator to cool.
  • A good way to counter meats and chicken that become to salty from brining is to use a glaze. The sweetness will balance the saltiness.
  • Don’t brine flavor-enhanced meats. They typically have already been brined and will turn out way too salty.
  • Be sure to cover the meat or chicken completely when brining. If you are brining in a bowl, try to cover the meat by 2 to 3 inches. If you have to, place a heavy plate on top to keep the meat below the surface. If you are using zip lock bags, put the bags in a bowl so they sit upright so the meat stays submerged.
  • Stay away from brining in any soft porous plastic containers that are used for nonfood items like garbage bags, garbage cans or anything else that has to do with garbage.
  • Hard plastic containers are great for brining. The polypropylene plastic can endure the salts involved in the brining process.
  • Salt is salt but when brining, you have to take into consideration what type of salt you are using. Because different salts come in different sizes and shapes, one cup of table salt does not equal one cup of kosher salt. For example, there are approximately 8 ounces per cup of Morton kosher salt but 10 ounces per cup of regular table salt. This can have a huge effect on the brining recipe you are following.

What’s the right flavor combination? You can add dried herbs, such as thyme, oregano, or sage, to the brine or rub them directly on the meat for more flavor. You can also supplement or replace the water with another liquid, such as apple cider for a turkey or pork brine. Many brines include sugar, which is fine as a flavor enhancer, but sugar has no technical function when it comes to juiciness; salt is the key ingredient. How long to brine depends on the size and type of meat you’ve got. Larger meats like a whole turkey require much more time for the brine to do its thing. Small pieces of seafood like shrimp shouldn’t sit in a brine for more than half an hour. In fact, any meat that’s brined for too long will dry out and start to taste salty as the salt ends up pulling liquid out of the muscle fibers. (Be sure not to brine meats that have already been brined before you buy them, such as “extra-tender” pork, which has been treated with sodium phosphate and water to make it juicier.)

[ox_table]

Meat Brining Time
whole Turkey
turkey breast
pork chops
whole chicken
chicken pieces
Cornish hens
shrimp (shells on)
fish fillets
12 to 24 hours
4 to 6 hours
4 to 5 hours
3 to 4 hours
2 hours
1 hour
30 minutes
10 minutes

[/ox_table]

Because different salts come in different sizes and shapes, one cup of table salt does not equal one cup of kosher salt. For example, there are approximately 8 ounces per cup of Morton kosher salt but 10 ounces per cup of regular table salt. This can have a huge effect on the brining recipe you are following.  The chart below gives salt concentration and brining time for various foods. Concentrations listed are for Diamond Crystal kosher salt. For table salt, cut salt amounts by 1/2; for Mortons kosher salt, cut amounts by 1/4.

Brining Recipes

Basic Brine Recipe:

  • 2 quarts water
  • ½ cup kosher salt or other coarse-grain salt
  • 1/3 to ½ cup firmly packed light or dark brown sugar

Keep all meat and fish refrigerated while brining, rinse them well afterwards, and don’t overcook them.[/toggle]

[toggle type=”gray” title=”SAUTEING”] Saute in French means “to jump” and can be a method of cooking or a way to describe a dish like sauteed chicken breasts. The reason the French called this technique “to jump” is because you are cooking at a very high heat and you don’t want it sitting too long in the pan. To be successful, you need to move the ingredients either with a pair of tongs or like they do on TV by tossing it in the air. Saute is a type of frying which is a dry heat method of cooking requiring high heat and some sort of liquid fat to cook with.

What Is the Difference Between Sauteing & Pan Frying? Although they are both considered dry heat cooking and use a fat to transfer the heat of the pan to the food, the only real differences is the amount of heat and the size of the ingredient you are cooking. Pan frying uses a little less heat and you cook whole pieces of meat like chicken breasts, steaks or fish fillets. You also don’t move the ingredients around in the pan that much except to turn them over occasionally. Also, don’t confuse pan fry with shallow fry where you typically use enough oil to reach almost halfway up the ingredient you are cooking.  A good example is when you pan-fry eggplant for eggplant parmesan.   The Advantages of Sauteing Once learned and in your repertoire, you will be free to be creative and devise your own recipes with whatever ingredients you have around. As a novice, this technique is easy and allows you to prepare meals in a moment’s notice. This includes sauteing chicken, fish, vegetables, or meat. That’s the beauty of learning a basic technique. Compare it to learning how to read a financial statement.  Once you know how, you can effectively read any company’s report. sautéing   The Formula To A Great Saute

Proper Saute = Good Saute Pan + High Heat + A Little Fat + Uniformly Cut Ingredients

  The Right Pan For The Job Some say the pan the pan should have sloped sides, others say straight. To me it doesn’t matter as long as the pan has a dense, heavy bottom that spreads the heat evenly without any hot spots. It has to be big enough to cook your ingredients without crowding so buy accordingly. Non-stick is ok if you don’t plan to make pan sauces but you need a little sticking to create the “fond” or the brown bits that stick to your pan that are responsible for those delicious sauces served in your favorite restaurants. I use a non-stick pan for my sauteed spinach and broccoli rabe but prefer metal for everything else.

The Right Fat – Butter or Oil? It all has to do with smoking points. Butter (350°F) will give your food the best taste and a wonderful golden crust but burns more easily. Oil (375° F – 450° F) produces a nice crust and will not burn as quickly, but also doesn’t leave as rich a flavor or color as butter alone. Most chefs will use different oils depending on what they are cooking. If they are cooking a Mediterranean style dish, they may choose olive oil, but if they are preparing an Asian dish, sesame oil might be the better choice. You match the oil to the style of cooking but remember much of the flavor will be cooked off because of the high heat so you may just be better off using a generic oil like canola or safflower and add a little of the flavored oil at the end. You can use a combination of the two. This way you’ll get some of the flavor from the butter and a higher smoking point from the oil. What you cook and the amount you’re cooking will determine how butter and oil you use. For example, use about 1 to 1-1/2 tablespoons of each for 2 or more chicken cutlets and 1/2 to 1 tablespoon of each for 2 or more fish fillets.

How Much Fat? Just enough to coat the bottom of the pan. You are not deep frying so just cover the bottom of the pan. When a recipe tells you to add 2 tablespoons of oil to the pan, how do they know what size pan you are using. If you add 2 tablespoons to a small pan, it may be too much. 2 tablespoons in a large pan might not be big enough. So add accordingly.

Important Tip – Preheating the Pan The biggest mistake home cooks make when sauteing is not getting the pan hot enough. They take cold ingredients right out of the refrigerator, put them into a cold pan and stick it on the flame. Big mistake – don’t do it. You’ll end with bone dry meat, chicken or fish. Have you ever asked yourself why your cookbooks and cooking magazines suggest you preheat a pan before adding butter or oil to it? Here are a few reasons for preheating your pans:

  • If you add cold protein ingredients to a cold pan and put it on the heat, the ingredients will release some of their moisture as it heats up and you end up with dry meats and fish. It’s hard to watch a home cook put that cold white piece of chicken in a saute pan, slowly releasing it’s moisture, gently simmering in it’s own fat, rather than searing at high heat.
  • All pans have hot spots. These are places on a pan that heat up faster than the rest of the pan. If you add butter or oil to a cold pan and then heat it up, it can hit one of these hot spots and start burning. If you start with a hot pan that is uniformly heated, there is less chance for the fat to hit a hot spot and burn. When sauteing, you want the butter to foam up before you start and the oil to “almost” start smoking. If it starts smoking, you are too late and the oil will leave a bad flavor to your dish. You want the oil hot but not smoking. Now you are ready to start the saute.
  • There is an expression, “A watched pot never boils” which means if you stand there and watch a pot of water come to boil, it seems like it is taking forever. Our attention drifts and we get distracted. The same is true when heating up butter and oil in a pan. Have you ever added some cold butter to a cold pan, pushed it around a bit, became distracted and walked away only to have the butter burn? By preheating the pan you are ready to start cooking the moment you add your fat. Your attention is focused.

Why Not Just Pre-Heat The Fat With The Pan You might think it would save time just to heat the fat in the pan at the same time but this is not a good idea. As fats heat up, they start to degrade once they reach 140° F. So rather than let the fat continuously breakdown from 140°F to your ideal temperature, it’s better to add the oil to an already hot pan.

How to Pre-Heat a Saute Pan? Water simmers at 185°F but turns into steam at 212°F. So the best way I know of to tell if the pan is hot enough to add your fat is to start over medium high heat and sprinkle a few drops of water onto the hot pan. This is a good starting point to add your fat. If you have the heat too high, you risk the chance of burning the fat. Too low and the fat won’t be hot enough. Remember though, once your pan is preheated, you are ready to cook and and when you add your butter and/or oil, you may have crank up your heat a little before you start to saute.  The butter or oil will actually bring down the pan temperature.

Interesting Point About Heating A Pan If you put it on low heat, won’t the pan keep getting hotter and hotter? That’s what I use to think but the answer is no. The pan will only get as hot as the amount of heat (btu’s) you apply to it. If you preheated a pan on low, it would get to a maximum temperature and that’s it. To get more heat you have to add more btu’s or in the case of a gas stove, more flame.

Equal Sized Ingredients Whether it is chopped up vegetables to be used as aromatics to add flavor to the dish, breasts of chicken, filets of fish or steak medallions, you want them all to be the same size so they cook evenly. You especially want the aromatics to be finely chopped or minced so they give off more flavor more quickly. If the ingredients are all cut at different sizes, some will cook faster and overcook and some will cook slower and under cook. Culinary students learn right away how to make precision cuts by spending hours cutting up vegetables for different dishes.

Basic Technique If you are using butter, you will know your pan is hot enough and it is time to start when the butter stops foaming and begins to turn a pale brown. If you are using just oil, you will know it is hot enough when it goes from perfectly smooth to lined or shimmering. Be careful, let it go any further and it will start to smoke and you will need to start over. Add your ingredients but be very careful not to let it start smoking. If it does, remove the pan from the heat for a moment. You may want to turn the heat down a little but as soon as you add the ingredients, it should lower the heat in the pan. Cooking time will vary, depending on what you are cooking. Most recipes give you times for cooking each ingredient but I suggest you use these only as estimates because there is no way they can give you an exact time without knowing size and type of pan you are using, the btu’s of your stove top, the thickness of the fish, chicken or meat you are cooking or your level of cooking expertise. The times should be used as guidelines but in the end you need to depend on an internal thermometer in the beginning and experience after that. Also, never use a fork for flipping, it pierces the meat and lets the juices escape. Depending on what you are cooking, you will want to let whatever you are cooking rest for the juices to redistribute. This give you time to make a delicious pan sauce.[/toggle] [toggle type=”gray” title=”DEGLAZING”] Deglazing is a fancy and intimidating word that means to pour some cold liquid into a very hot pan to get up all the brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Those brown bits are where all the flavors are, and it is called fond.  Fond is French for bottom, so let’s stick to calling it fond!

How To Deglaze a Pan You probably deglaze all the time without even realizing it:

  • When you pour water into the roasting pan to make gravy
  • When you add some chicken stock to a pan of sauteed onions
  • When you pour some wine into the pan that you roasted the pork in

Now that you know what it is, let’s make sure you are doing all the steps correctly.

  1. Make sure that there is nothing burnt onto the pan you are going to deglaze you are looking for deep brown bits, not blackened bits
  2. Pour off most of the fat in the pan.
  3. Turn the heat up to high.
  4. Add cold liquid to the hot pan—the liquid will come up to boiling very quickly, bringing up the brown bits on the bottom of the pan
  5. Using a spoon or spatula, scrape up the fond as the liquid boils
  6. Once the fond is dispersed throughout the liquid, turn down the heat

Quick Tip: It is important you remove the pan from the heat when adding any liquids with alcohol so you don’t end up with singed eyebrows. You can now use this mixture to create a wonderful sauce to accompany your meal.

Deglazing Liquids Almost any liquid can be used for deglazing, although you should stay away from dairy. There is a good chance that dairy products can curdle when boiling, so stick with clear liquids. Here’s a good list to start:

  • Red or white wine
  • Beer
  •  Stock (fish, chicken, beef, vegetable, etc.)
  • Broth
  •  Cooking liquid (water that you cooked beans in, for example)
  • Cognac/brandy
  • Fruit juice
  • Vinegar

Of course, you can also use water to deglaze, but why would you when there are so many other flavorful liquids that you can use instead? [/toggle]