In the Kitchen: Basic Cooking Techniques - - Jackson, MS

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In the Kitchen: Basic Cooking Techniques

Reading recipes is a fun way to learn about food.  It can sometimes serve as the inspiration you need to revamp an old recipe, or motivate you to try something new in the kitchen.  Being familiar with terms used in recipes will give you more confidence to venture where you have never gone before.  Here are a few culinary definitions you may find helpful:

Roast:  Roasting involves a steady, even, dry heat that cooks from the outside in.  Air should circulate freely around whatever's being roasted; the oven rack should be placed in the center of the oven (unless otherwise stated in the recipe).  When roasting vegetables, add a small amount of oil to the pan to sear them while they cook.  When roasting meats, a rack at the bottom of the pan lifts the meat out of the fat drippings and allows the heat to circulate underneath for even cooking.

Broil:  The indoor cousin of grilling sears food with high, direct heat.  Preheat the broiler for at least 5 minutes; food should be placed so that it (not the pan) is 4 to 6 inches from the heat.  Blot food dry before broiling for less mess.  Pour off rendered fat occasionally to avoid fare-ups.

Grill:  Grilling involves placing the ingredients directly over the heat source.  Test your grill by "feel".  Place your open palm 5 inches above the grill grate; the fire is high if you have to move your hand in 2 seconds, medium if you have to move your hand in 5 seconds, and low if you have to move your hand in 10 seconds.

Simmer:  Set the pan on steady, fairly low heat.  The recipe may tell you to cover or partially cover the pan.  Look for some bubbles and steam in the liquid.  A covered pot will boil more quickly than an uncovered one, so watch the temperature carefully to keep the simmer low and steady.

Braise, stew:  These two terms are similar to "simmer," but involve more liquid, a longer cooking time and even lower heat.  Braising has been traditionally used to make tough cuts of meat, like a pot roast, more tender.

Stir-fry:  A high-heat method of searing meats, poultry, fish and vegetables, usually associated with Asian cooking.  You must use oil for stir-frying; otherwise, the high temperature will cause the natural sugars to burn and foods to stick to the pan.

Steam:  Cook a food over moist, high heat and you preserve many of its nutrients.  You need a pot large enough to hold both the steamer basket and 1 or 2 inches of water with plenty of airflow all around the basket.  The food should sit above the water and not in it.  Check the water level from time to time to make sure the pot is not dry, and shake the pan gently once or twice to rearrange the food, ensuring even cooking.

Knife Skills:

Slice and thinly slice:  "Slice" is a judgment call; a slice of apple will be thinner than a slice of steak, but this term generally refers to something no thinner than 1/4 inch.  Thinly slice would indicate that you should cut as thinly as possible.

Chop and coarsely chop:  You want to wind up with about 1/4 inch piece when you chop, and larger when you coarsely chop.  The idea of chopping is that the ingredients do not need to be as uniform or as carefully cut as in dicing.

Dice and cube:  You are aiming for uniformity of size here, and it's based on cooking time and texture, not looks.  Most recipes that call for a "dice" or a "cube" will indicate the preferred size for cooking in the allotted time (e.g. "cut into 1-inch cubes").  Ignore these sizes and the cooking time for these ingredients will change.

Mince and finely chop:  "Mincing" is the finest chop of all, less than ยจรป inch, achieved by first cutting, then rocking the knife back and forth across the ingredients, all the while rotating the blade around the cutting board.  "Finely chop" is just a little bit larger than mince
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