“Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day; teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime”

I am reminded of this phrase, almost every time someone asks me for a recipe; I feel like when I give them a recipe, I’m only “giving them a fish”, rather than helping them eat for a lifetime.  I feel like I’m somehow selling them short because they are simply following words on a page, rather than understanding the dynamics of that recipe.  Imagine learning the basics behind a recipe, enough to understand how to apply that method on your own WITHOUT using a recipe; you would save so much time not having to keep referring back to the sheet of paper and you’d have the confidence to try new things and experiment on your own, creating your own amazing dishes!

With that said, I’d like to share with you some of the basics to the 9 basic methods of cooking!

  • 212 degrees at sea level, but approx. 203.5 in Denver.  It takes longer to bring things to a boil, the higher you go up in elevation.
  •  The product to be cooked is completely submerged in water.

    Sub-categories of Boiling:

  1. Simmer: 195 degrees.  The bubbles break the surface in a steady stream; it’s similar to convection, things are moving.
  2. Poaching:  185 degrees.   The bubbles are lining the bottom of the pot, this is a more delicate method to simmering.
  3. Blanching:  submerging in boiling water until approximately one degree below doneness, always followed by shocking in cold water to stop the cooking process.  This also helps to preserve the nutrition and the flavor.
  • The product to be cooked is completely surrounded in water vapor and covered.
  • There are several different ways to achieve this method of cooking:
  1. High pressure commercial system
  2. Home style pressure cooker
  3.  En papillote (in paper)
  4. Etuve (sweating) – product is covered over a low heat.

Ragu (Italian), Ragout (French)

There are several steps to a “proper” stew:

  1. Marinate: (this is optional, but will definitely add more flavor/tenderness to the protein).  The marinade should include acid (citrus, vinegar, wine), and aromatics (bouquet garni, mirepoix).
  2. Sear: Dry the protein prior to searing to minimize the amount of splatter.  Then cut the protein into small pieces and sear in hot fat, like olive oil (be careful if using butter, as it will burn).
  3. Deglaze: After removing excess fat, use any of the following to deglaze– water, stock, wine, or marinade (marinade must first be brought to a boil separately, to remove impurities).  Cover the protein completely with liquid and cover the pan with either a lid, foil, or parchment paper.
  4. Simmer/Skim:  The key here is to keep the level of heat to a simmer, because boiling will cause the protein to get touch and take longer to cook.  Also as you are trying to skim the excess fat, impurities off of the top of the liquid, a boil will make it harder to do by creating too much “movement” in the pan!
  5. Thicken:  There are several choices when it comes to thickening the “sauce”.  You can use just about any starch to do so, but here are some of the most popular:
    • Roux- a combination of fat and flour.
    • Slurry- refined starch dissolved in cold water.
    • Ratio is 1tsp slurry: 1 cup sauce
    • Potatoes- you can cut these up really small and have them dissolve over time into the liquid, slowly thickening the sauce.
    • Barley
    • Rice
    • Any other starch
  6. Garnish:  this is pretty self explanatory, but should in some way be related to the stew, AND be edible!
  7. Season:  Always a final “taste-test”, and any last minute seasoning to finish!

In Culinary School, I learned about some classic French stews, perhaps you’ve heard of them:

  1. Navarin: this is typically made with Lamb, Potatoes and Turnips.
  2. Blanquette: this is a white stew made with white protein such as Rabbit, chicken, veal, or pork and is finished with a Liaison (process of tempering egg yolks with cream)
  3. Matelote: fish or seafood stew finished with wine, or any other local seasonal beverage.
  4. Civet: a stew made with game (furred not feathered), and is classically thickened with blood of that animal (however you can substitute cocoa powder for blood if that’s not your thing).

This cooking method is ideal for less expensive, tougher cuts of meat.  It is meant to be “slow and low”, meaning the protein is to be cooked over several hours at a low temperature in order to break down the connective tissue/toughness and bring out the flavor.  The “acid” from the marinade helps with this process as well.  It is fairly similar to a “stew” in the sense that it follows the same steps as a stew, however the main difference with a braise is that it is typically larger cuts of protein and they are only approximately 2/3 covered in liquid, while a stew is smaller cuts and completely submerged in liquid.  Here are the steps:

  1. Marinate:  in acid and aromatics
  2. Sear:  dry protein, then sear large cuts of meat and vegetables in hot fat
  3. Deglaze, Cover:  2/3 with liquid (see stew)
  4. Simmer and Skim (see Stew)
  5. Thicken (see stew)
  6. Garnish (see stew)
  7. Season:  again, it’s very important to taste at the end to check for the need for more seasoning (salt, pepper, fat, acid).

There are also some classic preparations for a braise, perhaps you’ve had the chance to enjoy one of these:

  1. Coq au Vin:  the classic preparation is made with a castrated rooster (but more people simply use chicken), and white wine and garnished with bacon, pearl onion, and mushrooms.
  2. Boeuf Bourgignonne:  this very popular dish (thanks Julia Child), is usually prepared with a tough cut of beef; like brisket, shoulder or chuck and red wine.  It is finished with bacon, pearl onion and mushroom
  3. Daube: this is similar to a stew and made with beef or mutton, red wine, herbs and vegetables
  4. Fricassee: this type of braise uses a lean, white meat such as rabbit, veal, chicken or pork and finished with either heavy cream or crème fraiche!
  5. Salmi:  a Salmi is a preparation of game bird, chicken or duck.  It is a slight variation on a braise in that this dish employs 2 different cooking methods (1 of which is a braise), with 2 different parts of the bird, with both preparations served on the same plate.  For example; the menu may say “Salmi of half chicken: you would have a braised chicken thigh, and perhaps a roasted chicken breast on the same plate as your entrée!

The method of “frying” is pretty self-explanatory, but there are a few key things to know about frying for optimal results!  Frying can be broken down into 3 sub-categories:

  1. Deep Fat:  This is when the product is completely submerged in hot fat.  The ideal temperature for the fat should be between 360-375 degrees for best results.  If the fat is too cold, it’ll absorb into the product making it greasy, and if it’s too hot, it’ll burn the product.  Also, the type of fat you use is important.  Peanut oil has the highest smoke point.
  2. Shallow:  the same rules apply for temp as above, but instead of submerging the product, you are frying the product and turning over when crispy and golden brown – think Fried Chicken in a cast iron skillet!
  3. Saute: While there is plenty to say about sautéing, it is still technically only a sub-category of frying!  The word “sauté” is French for “to jump” or “to leap” and there are 5 basic rules of a sauté:
  4. Hot Saute Pan– if you put protein into a cold pan, it’ll stick to the pan
  5. Little Fat – you need a little bit of fat to coat the pan and keep the protein from sticking
  6. Dry Ingredients – a dry product will help you avoid unnecessary splatter (I highly recommend a splatter guard as well)
  7. Don’t Crowd – if you put too many products in the pan at the same time, they will ‘steam’ instead of sauté (products release water/moisture as they cook, hence the ‘steam effect’.
  8. Don’t Cover – same idea here, a cover will cause the products to steam instead of sauté

For a dish to be considered a ‘sauteed’ dish, it typically has these 5 ingredients present:  fat, protein, some sort of alcohol, liquid, garnish

 

This is the equivalent to “flat-top” cooking in the restaurant business.  This method is ideal for things like, pancakes, grilled cheese, patty melts, etc.  It’s also excellent for searing meat.  Given that griddling is a flat surface, it’s really for cooking things that do not need a lot of liquid or fat in order to cook them.

 

This seems to be one of the most popular methods of cooking here in the United States, especially when it gets warm outside!  Grilling can be summed up as cooking over grill bars with the heat source from below.  It produces beautiful grill/hash marks on the product.  Sometimes grilling gets confused with “smoking” (which is technically more of a preservative method than a ‘cooking’ method), and broiling (where the heat source is directly ABOVE, like the broiler in your oven, or a professional salamander).  Grilling always intimidated me, until I learned some of these basics in culinary school:

  1.   Hot Grill:  The grill should be hot, otherwise as the grill heats up, the bars will expand and ‘grab’ onto the product making it stick.  A good temperature test is that you should be able to hold your hand (3 inches over the heat for about 3 seconds.)
  2. Clean Grill: you really should clean the grill after every use.
  3. WellOiled: coating/lining the grill bars with fat is what’s referred to as ‘seasoning’ the grill, and this layer of fat between the grill and your food product will help the product from sticking to the grill.
  4. Don’t Play: this was always my biggest downfall when grilling.  Once you place the product on the grill (assuming all of the above are in place), leave it alone, it’ll release from the grill when its time to flip!

Technically speaking, Baking is done in the oven and without the aid of additional fat.  It is generally reserved for breads and pastries.  There are several different types of ovens that can be used to bake:  A Brick, or “wood-fired oven – think PIZZA!  A Conventional oven (which most people have in their home), a Convection oven (has a fan to circulate hot air), and a Combi (or combination oven, can do both steam oven and convection oven).  The interesting thing about baking is that people either love it or hate it, and very rarely will you find a professional chef the LOVES both, baking and cooking!  I had a great pastry chef in Culinary School and she won me over to baking – I actually love both!  My sister is also an AMAZING pastry chef, so we will definitely be hearing from her down the road for some fabulous baking tips! With regard to baking, generally speaking, it is most effective to follow the recipe pretty closely the first time you try it because there is actually a lot of science involved (as I discovered the hard way)!  Don’t let that scare you though – I mean if you mess it up, what’s the big deal – its flour, butter, sugar and salt!

This cooking method reminds me of my grandmother, it seems like every weekend when I was a kid, she was roasting something!  Roasting is done in the oven, with the aid of additional fat.  There are several different styles of roasting:

  1.  Spit or Rotisserie: this is when the protein is put on a metal rod and rotated evenly above or next to a heat source.  This is the most effective type of roasting because the protein gets evenly seared, steam does not develop, as in an enclosed oven, and the item is constantly basted with its own juices.
  2. Slow: this is done over a longer period of time, on a lower temperature; typically around 250 degrees.  This is ideal for fish
  3. Medium: this is great for pork, veal or chicken and the ideal temperature is about 350 degrees
  4. Classic: with this type of roasting, you start high to sear the protein, then reduce to medium for a while, then finally reduce again and finish slow and low.
  5. Modern: the exact opposite of classic
  6. Pan: this is very similar to a sauté, except after sautéing to sear the meat, you can finish by roasting it in the oven, in the same pan, and you can use a lid, except smaller than the pan to allow steam to escape.  It is usually done with thicker pieces of protein as well.

There are 6 basic steps when roasting food:

  1. Season: its important to at least season with salt and pepper to start
  2. Sear:  there are two ways to achieve this – for smaller cuts of meat you can do this on the stovetop in a sauté pan, searing on all sides and then move the protein to the oven.  For something larger like a turkey, or prime rib roast, you would put into the oven on 425-450 for approximately 20 minutes.  The point of searing the protein is to seal the outside so that the flavor and juices remain INSIDE the protein.
  3. Roast: cook at designated temp for the designated time
  4. Rest: THIS IS IMPERATIVE!!! No matter what size/type of protein, you HAVE to let it rest for a few minutes depending on the size or all of that yummy juice and flavor that you seared IN, will pour out onto your cutting board!!!  Cover loosely with foil while resting.  Also keep in mind the endothermic reaction, or “carry over cooking”; while resting, the protein will continue to cook; it’s internal temp will rise a couple of degrees depending on its size.
  5. Slice: against the grain is best.
  6. Season: have a quick taste.  Does it need a little more seasoning?

Here are a few additional tips for a successful roast:

  1. A good rule of thumb is to roast approximately 10-15 minutes per pound, depending on the density and leanness of the protein.
  2. Pull the product from the refrigerator and allow it to come up to room temperature (about an hour) before roasting to insure even roasting.
  3. Remember ‘carry over cooking’, while resting the protein will continue to cook (from 5-15 degrees or so; therefore it’s a good idea to pull it out of the oven a few degrees before it reaches the internal temperature you desire.
  4. Rare is approximately 125 degrees
  5. Medium is approximately 135 degrees
  6. Well done is approximately 145 degrees