Let’s talk about cooking for a change, shall we?
And look, I’m not too far into this cooking thing. You may have 15-20 years on me. I get asked a bunch about cooking, and I love being able to have an answer. I like answers. I don’t have many of them in other areas of my life. But with cooking, there are some things that are just plain right. (Or are at least ‘a’ right way…)
Yeah, there’s intuition. Repetition.
(In my head, I can still hear my babely french professor *swoon* as she would say, “Ok, alors, repetez avec moi!“)
Repetez, repetez, repetez!
Then there are tricks of the trade.
They are not tricks. (Nor are they illusions, Michael…)
They are just plain old things, really, that we pick up from cook to cook. Kitchen to kitchen.
Let’s start with heat.
Kitchens are hot. They are hot because there is fire generally going all the time. It looks different. Some kitchens these days have wood fires in them. Mostly, they are in the form of gas burners, ovens, etc.
When you cook food to order, a lot of times, you’re trying to get it from either cold or room temperature to HOT, or at least to the temperature you need to serve it at. This means getting your pan super duper hot. Sometimes smoking hot. I’d say if your meat is sticking to your pan, it is not hot enough. Metal expands and contracts, as you know. When your pan is hot enough, the metal is expanded. Your pan is technically gripping your food when it’s not heated properly.
Same with roasting. Hight heat is great when roasting vegetables. It adds good color (in the form of caramelization of sugars). Getting color on vegetables is a good thing. There’s so much sugar there, especially in carrots and onions. Which is awesome because they also benefit from slow and low cooking as well.
Yes. Cook at hotter temperatures. Don’t listen to me if your baking sweets. I’m mostly talking savory whole foods here.
Fat, fat, fat.
You can watch Dr. Oz these days and he’ll tell you the same thing. It’s true. Fat is good. Obviously, fat is flavor. Use it, please. Your vegetable/canola oil spread is not saving you any health points. Cook your vegetables in good olive oil and/or butter or other animal fat. Your body benefits from that, and fat actually helps your body absorb nutrients from ‘said’ vegetables. I read that in a book once, and my doc told me so as well. Your kids might eat em’ if you go ahead and sauté that broccoli with a little pad of butter. If they don’t, then invite me over. I will certainly eat your kids’ vegetables.
Shallots. Use them more.
Garlic. Lemon or orange zest. They add so much to a dish. Get a microplane and keep it close.
Let food sit overnight before eating and/or cooking it.
Give meat some time to absorb salt and seasonings.
Let the air evaporate some of its water.
Your soup will taste better the next day. I guarantee it. And, you’ll have a peace of mind knowing dinner is already made!
Buy one good sharp knife and cutting board.
Temperature is texture.
Freshly ground black pepper. All the time.
Learn how to make béchamel. Or as southerners call it, “Gravy”.
This is a mother sauce. The matriarch of comfort food.
It is the beginning of macaroni and cheese. Chicken pot pie. Sausage gravy. Mornay (which is béchamel with grated cheese melted into it.)
2 tablespoons butter melted in a pan. 2 tablespoons flour whisked into melted butter for two minutes. Add 1-2 cups of milk. Cook low, stirring, until it starts to thicken and bubble. Boom. You’re a hero!
Try fermenting a vegetable or two. Create your own ingredient with your own flavor. It’s great, and it’s yours. Start with sauerkraut and work your way through kimchi and then go wherever your heart desires. Good for ya, too!
TASTE YOUR FOOD. Taste, taste, taste. All the way, taste. That is the best way to learn how to season a dish. Develop your palette. How will you cook better tasting food if you don’t know what to aim for?
I could go on with another thousand words, but I will spare you.
Instead, ask me a question if you’d like. I realize this is the internet, so you can ask anyone, anything, at any time. But I’m always here to help. It is my day job, so I do like to do my part in this world.
(And seriously, if you have a plate for me, I’ll be over soon. I’m always hungry and will wash your dishes.)
11 responses to “a few bits on cooking.”
Nice list! And, yes, Bechamel rules!
Yeah you right!
josh, do you know where you’ll cook in jackson?
I’m not sure dude. I’m thinking about taking a step back for a bit. Making working at a grocery or something. Maybe doing some pop up dinners and what not. I think that’d be rad. 🙂
This post made me hungry. Totally awesome advice. I’m not a cook and I feel like each of your points are like unwritten rules. I can cook….just not like….cook, cook. Yea. You get me.
Jackson? Do tell, please. Also, as this is MY day/night job as well, yes Yes and YES to all of the above. In the south, our true religion is food.
Great “rules”. I’m so fortunate to have access to lard from pastured pigs, and schmaltz from pastured chicken. And give me butter, lots of butter 🙂
I have a question for you. I’ve got an ongoing disagreement with my dad over butter v. margarine. I’m a huge butter fan and won’t touch margarine, but he insists it’s healthier for you. I regale him with stores of trans fatty acids and the like, but he counters and says today’s margarines don’t contain those same unhealthy ingredients. I tell him I’m eating a natural food product that contains no chemicals or additives, but he says natural or not, it’s more likely to lead to heart disease/general bad health. What’s your take on this topic? Oh, and also, he can’t stand olive oil. I am convinced sometimes I was adopted…
Well, it really all depends on other lifestyle choices. I think butter tastes better than margarine, for one. It’s also, like you said a natural fat. I feel like anytime you’re eating food that has been processed with lots of other things, your body doesn’t quite get it. Fat keeps my blood sugar from spiking. I crave less during the day, therefore I’m not always looking for a fix. Good fat is flavor. I’d also recommend researching it. I had no idea what cholesterol actually did and found it was super necessary for proper brain function and general digestion. I just figure if you’re eating the calories either way, I’d go with butter.
Thanks for your insight! Stumbled upon your blog today and I’m really enjoying it. I like your writing style and am sort of hooked on your story now.