Monday, April 2, 2007

Food Lessons, 1

The usage of terms established by those French cooking pioneers has completely seeped into our culinary lexicon and commands like chiffonnade(a julienne of a leafy green) and coulis (a pureed and strained fruit sauce) are thrown about at will. As descriptive verbiage on a menu these words offer fanciful hope, but as a home cook looking to find success they can become intimidating. The art of cooking of is the marriage of concrete actions that supports a creative expression.

How many times has your chicken left tread marks on the bottom of the sauté pan when you flipped it? Even the idea of using a wok is closely related to the action of a sauté pan. Hasn't anyone ever mentioned that sauté comes from the French "to jump," and in order to have that chicken breast flip successfully, a hot surface is required? When sautéing either in a pan or wok it is paramount you heat the pan first for a few minutes then add a small quantity of oil. Immediately, upon adding the oil you add in whatever you are going to be cooking. It is important to have everything at the ready as once you add the oil it is hot. Then let whatever you are sautéing sit for a minute or two before moving it. When you sauté a food it is implied that it will brown, and the more you move it the more difficult it is to have it brown.

Has your mashed potato or yucca ever tasted more like mush than mash? Did you know you should put root vegetables in cold water and bring them gently to a boil to ensure even cooking? The reason behind this has to do with the density of the vegetable, and in order to have an even penetration of the heat you start with cold water that you bring up to the boil. Otherwise, if you place the root vegetable in boiling water the outside overcooks before the interior has had a chance to finish cooking.

Does anyone know the difference between roasting and baking? Is there even a difference since they both happen in that heated box we call an oven? Well, there is. When you roast something it is always browned and crisp – if that is done to a baked item it is considered burned. They both can occur in a 350-degree oven, however, it is duration that will change. Though to ensure a good roast start at a higher temperature of 425-degrees for 15 minutes, and turn the oven temperature down to 350 to finish cooking.

Understanding some these basic concepts the home cook can begin to build meals that bring smiles to all that have gathered.

Cornmeal Encrusted Sole - serves 6

6-four (4) ounce sole fillet or talapia
2 cups cornmeal
1-cup Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4-cup canola oil
1lime – cut into 6th’s

Pat the fillet of sole dry. Season the cornmeal with salt and pepper. Paint each sole fillet generously with the mustard and then dredge in the seasoned cornmeal.

Heat a 10-inch sauté and then add the oil. Lay the sole in the pan and cook approximately 3 minutes on each side. Serve immediately with a wedge of lime.

Chicken Fillet with Roasted Peppers, Rosemary and Chili - yields 4 servings

1 pound Chicken Breast - boneless and skinless
2 tablespoon Olive Oil
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves (2 teaspoons dried rosemary)
4 red peppers - roasted and sliced into 1/4" strips
1/8 teaspoon chili flakes
5 scallions - sliced on an angle
1/4 cup Balsamic vinegar
salt and black pepper to taste

Cut the chicken breasts into 1/3's. Heat the oil in a 10-inch sauté pan and add the chicken and chili, and sauté until golden brown. Add the rosemary, peppers and chili flakes, and toss to incorporate with the chicken. Continue cooking until the chicken is done (approximately 10 minutes), and immediately add the balsamic vinegar, rosemary and scallions. Season with black pepper and serve.

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