10 Things You Need to Know before You Start Gourmet Cooking
by Jonell Galloway
From the archives
Cooking is just applied physics and chemistry, with a little creativity thrown in.
1. Heat and temperature
Heat and temperature are important at every stage in cooking.
When browning or grilling meat or fish, oil should be very hot before adding it. This seizes it, thus preserving all its natural juices, which are where the flavor resides.
Slow cooking at low temperatures is best for tough, sinewy or fatty pieces of meat, while high temperatures are best for lean meats such as filet, where it is necessary to seize it, since it has no fat to keep it from drying out.
No matter what the ingredient, the flavor resides in its natural juices. That’s why fresh is always better than frozen. When you thaw food, part of its natural juices are lost.
There is an appropriate way to cook every ingredient, depending on its nature.
Boiling is rarely ideal, neither for taste nor for health, because many of the natural juices escape into the water. If you do boil, save the broth and use it to make soup or sauce, because the broth will be full of both flavor and vitamins.
When pan-frying or grilling meat or fish, the drippings left in the pan are precious. They contain the essence of the flavors and should be kept.
The easiest and most common way to do this is to deglaze by leaving the pan on the burner and adding a bit of port, wine, or other spirits, or apple juice or vinegar. Use wooden spatula to scrape drippings until they form a “syrup”, then quickly add chicken or meat broth and simmer to make a sauce.
Exact measurements apply for cakes and bread, but not for other dishes using fresh ingredients, simply because not every tomato or apple weighs the same and has the same water content. Don’t obsess on this.
The fresher the ingredient, the less you have to do to it.
If you can’t find the exact ingredients for your dish, think of an ingredient that is very similar in texture, water content, acidity, sweetness, etc. that could replace it.
There are a few basic techniques one should learn: seizing, steaming, grilling, poaching, and deglazing would get you off to a good start.
6. Water content
Any ingredient that is full of water will not brown. Water also dilutes the taste.
The more artistically you present your dishes, the more appetizing they look. Use flowers, herbs, and color combinations for effect.
More expensive cuts of meat and fish often require the least time. Cheaper cuts of meat often require more time to get them tender, and more ingredients to dress them up.
One can eat well on any budget. Never forget that fruit and vegetables are cheapest when they’re at their best: law of supply and demand.
If your ingredients aren’t good quality, your dish will never be tops. Pay particular attention to the freshness and quality of every ingredient you buy.