Thursday, April 18, 2013

Cooking is all about technique...

by Ann
A small sampling of my editions of Cook's Illustrated ranging from the late 90's to today.
The critical nature of knowing and following proper technique is the message that is most clearly and consistently communicated to the students in the culinary classes at the Sur la Table store where I am a "Kitchen Assistant" once or twice a week in those classes.  (See my "Fun category" post February 1, 2013)

The chefs who teach the store's classes say that recipes are secondary to understanding preparation techniques.  Most of the evening classes include the preparation of a protein, whether it's seafood, beef, or chicken.  Properly searing the meat is key to success, and seems like a simple concept, but I don't think I had been doing it properly prior to learning that oil needs to be heated in a pan on medium heat until it is shimmery, and then the seasoned (salt and pepper) protein is put in the pan and not touched for a full two and a half minutes.  In between watching a clock to make sure that the protein is not moved at all for that two and a half minutes, you have the opportunity to season the reverse side, which will also be seared for two and a half minutes.  We then put the protein (regardless of how thin or thick it is) in an oven at 425 degrees to finish the cooking process.  The remaining length of time that the food will need to cook will depend upon what it is, and how large the pieces are.

Cook for a full 2 1/2 minutes.  Once both sides have seared finish cooking in a 425 degree oven until done.  Chicken has never been this juicy and tender at my house before!!
With chicken, fish, or beef (as pictured above) the second 2 1/2 minutes is as important as the first -- whether it's in a pan on the stove or on the grill outdoorss
Using knives properly, tempering chocolate, whipping eggs, preparing vinaigrette, emulsifying, and just about anything else makes food exceptional requires that the cook knows what she's doing.  I have used the Cook's Illustrated magazines as a way to educate myself since the late 90's (yikes!).  I know when I started getting the magazine because it is such a good resources that I have not thrown a copy away in all those years.

Cooks Illustrated is like the "Consumer Reports of cooking."  It accepts no advertising, and provides unbiased information on products related to cooking as well as step-by-step illustrated directions for preparing recipes.  The magazine only comes out every other month, and is a bit pricey, because of no advertising revenue.  My 1997  editions list a shelf price of $4.00, as opposed to the $5.95 charged today.  Subscribers now get six issues for $26.95, which translates to $4.49 per issue.  If you are a regular reader of our blog, you have probably figured out that I am always looking for a bargain, and sixteen years later I still find this magazine to be a good value.  Whenever I am looking for cooking inspiration I pull down my file boxes with these magazines.

In preparation for this post I looked up the magazine's website and am not surprised that there is now an online component (click here).  For a starting price of $19.95 per month online subscribers can access over 100 classes a month.  If you want to be able to chat with an instructor the price goes up.  As long as I am working at Sur la Table, I won't be tempted to enroll, but do know that since I've been soaking in the expertise of the chefs at the store I have become less dependent upon recipes, and more willing to experiment with ingredients, knowing more of the fundamentals to insure recipe success!  

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