1. How To Cook It Fast And High—The Art Of Searing
The biggest difference between professional chefs and home cooks? The pros can handle the heat. Lots of it. Whether they're tackling a slab of salmon or a hunk of dry-aged beef, they get their pans blazing hot first. That's how they get that caramelized crunch on the outside—while keeping the interior moist and tender. Thomas Keller, acclaimed chef and author of Ad Hoc at Home, on how to sear without fear.
1. Take the meat out of the fridge already
"I don't care how hot your pan is; if you take a beautiful one-inch-thick strip loin out of the refrigerator and put it right in there, you've got problems. In the time it takes the meat to get up to the right temperature, it's going to release moisture and it's not going to get brown. This applies to everything—fish, broccoli, haricots verts."
2. Pick the right-size pan
"Cram an eight-by-four-inch steak into an eight-inch pan and you're going to lose heat. Get a ten-inch pan made out of a good metal. You want something heavy that distributes heat evenly—stainless steel, cast iron."
3. Crank up the burner
"Once a tablespoon of oil in the pan's shimmering—you'll see the ripples—put the steak in and leave the burner on high for about a minute, then reduce to medium-high." Flip it once it's nice and crusty. "When you do the other side, turn the heat from medium-high back up to high again for a minute. The hotter the heat, the better the sear."
4. Let it rest
"You have to account for carryover time—the time the meat continues cooking after you take it off the heat. So take your meat out of the pan knowing it's going to cook a little more. Now you've got a steak that on the outside is super-well-done—nice and caramelized—and right underneath that well-done crust, the meat is medium, and then right below that is the bull's-eye of medium-rare."
2. How To Cook It Slow And Low
Major flavor doesn't have to mean major effort. At least not when you're braising. All you need is time, a big, brawny cut of meat, a sizable oven-safe pot (a Dutch oven from Le Creuset is ideal), and a cooking liquid that, over the course of 2 to 3 hours, will turn the meat into an impossibly tender, intoxicatingly fragrant main course. Start with boneless chuck roast, beef short ribs, veal or lamb shank, even pork shoulder. Whatever it is, you want to season it aggressively with salt and pepper and then brown it in a pot with a little olive oil over medium-high heat 3 to 5 minutes each side. Place on a plate. After that, throw in some rough-cut carrots and onions. Toss in a few whole cloves of garlic, skin on. Salt and pepper. Add a splash of water or wine. Sauté for about 15 minutes till tender and caramelized. Place the meat back in the pot and barely cover with liquid. Don't drown it. This is as simple as dumping in a bottle of red wine, or apple cider in the case of pork. Beer works, too. You can also braise in chicken stock. And you can mix stock with wine for a more balanced attack. Next, put the pot, covered, into an oven preheated to 300 degrees. Then: Let it cook. Check on it after 2 hours. It's done when you can easily slide in a fork. Take the meat out of the liquid, cover it with aluminum foil, and let it rest on a cutting board. If you want, strain the liquid into a pot on the stovetop (discarding the vegetables) and reduce it over medium-high heat until it becomes a syrupy, mouthwatering sauce. Or you can ladle it into a bowl as is. Either way, with a braised meal on the table and only a single pot to clean, your evening will be as awesomely lazy as your day.
3. How to Make Your Own Stock (And Use It)
It could be for when you're in the mood for a rich, cheesy risotto. Or when you come home from the farmers' market with a bunch of random vegetables and you want to make a soup. Or when you need to flavor a pan sauce, braise a pork shoulder, or slow-cook onions on the stove. To have homemade stock in your refrigerator is to have the ultimate secret weapon.
You'll need: a Sunday afternoon (what, you were going somewhere?), about 4 pounds of chicken parts and bones—wings, backs, thighs, whatever you can get—a handful of vegetables, and a big pot. There are a few different ways to make stock (some richer, some lighter), but the simplest is this:
Throw the chicken in a pot with some roughly chopped onion, carrot, and celery (the holy trinity of home-cooked flavor), a few sprigs of parsley, a bay leaf, and a couple of pinches of salt. Add just enough water to cover it all, about 4 quarts. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a gentle simmer for about 2 hours, skimming off the fat with a ladle as it comes to the surface. (How long you simmer it is up to you, but the longer the simmer, the more flavorful the stock.) Strain it through a sieve, let it sit for a while, put it in the refrigerator or the freezer, then use it. It's hard to believe that such a simple task could deliver such a great reward.
4. How To Make A Killer Pan Sauce For Any Meat Or Fish
Even the most expertly seared piece of meat can taste as if it's lacking a little something if you don't take advantage of what's left in the pan after it's done. Sauce the thing. Doesn't matter if you're searing steak, chicken, or fish. The technique behind a pro-grade pan sauce (silky, almost sweet, a touch acidic) remains the same. Here it is.
Say you've just sautéed skin-on chicken breasts. Place them on a cutting board and pour off all but a tablespoon or two of the fat from the pan. Place the pan* back over medium heat. Add a handful of minced shallots and sauté for a minute.
Grab whatever bottle of wine you have on hand (red, white, Madeira—hell, even bourbon or dry vermouth) and pour in a shot or two. With a wooden spoon, scrape up the tasty bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Cook for a minute or two till it's reduced. This is called "deglazing" in chefspeak.
Pour in 1/2 to 1 cup of chicken stock (homemade if you've got it). Let that reduce for a few minutes.
Now the finishing touch. Swirl in a few pats of cold butter. Add fresh herbs. If you're using white wine, a squirt of lemon juice is good. Congrats—you're done. Pour over meat. Devour.
*Heed Jacques Pépin's advice and invest in a good heavy stainless-steel skillet: "If you use nonstick, you'll have no drippings to flavor the sauce."
5. How To Make Vegetables Taste Good
You shouldn't eat vegetables because you're supposed to; you should eat them because you can't help yourself. Here are two simple ways to make them the best-tasting things on your table.
Root vegetables, like parsnips, carrots, and celery root. Or try quartered fennel bulbs or Brussels sprouts sliced in half. Peel the vegetables (using a mix of them is cool) and cut into similar-size chunks. Toss in olive oil and salt, place on a baking sheet, and slide into a 425-degree oven. After 10 to 15 minutes, shake the pan or use a spatula to toss the vegetables. Keep roasting till they're all caramely. Serve hot or at room temp.
Crisp green stuff—asparagus, sugar snap peas, broccoli, haricots verts. Bring a big pot of generously salted water to a rapid boil. Add vegetables. Cook till bright green—tender but still crisp. With a slotted spoon, remove to a bowl and douse with extra-virgin olive oil, fresh lemon juice, and sea salt.
6. How To Smash Your Spuds
There are countless ways to prepare potatoes. Here's one of the easiest—and one of our favorites. Get a bunch of the little waxy guys—Red Bliss, Yukon Gold—throw them in a pot of salted cold water, bring it to a boil, lower it to a simmer, and the second you can slip a knife into one of them easily, pull them and drain them. Dump them back into the pot or a big bowl.* Using the back of a wooden spoon, smash them while drizzling with olive oil and/or adding some chunks of butter. Douse with minced chives or flat-leaf parsley. Sprinkle with salt. Toss, serve.
*For Smashed Potatoes 2.0, crush them in a roasting pan with olive oil and put them under the broiler till they're crispy. Shower with herbs and sea salt and serve.
7. How To Sauce Pasta Like A Pro
Chefs, Italian grandmothers, annoyingly good home cooks. Their pasta is great for two reasons: (1) They use the salty, starchy water that the pasta was boiled in to make the sauce, and (2) they toss the pasta right in the pan. Here's why, and here's how.
Choose your main ingredient
.* Let's say you've got a mess of sliced mushrooms. Pour several tablespoons of olive oil in a large sauté pan and add some chunks of crushed garlic. Cook over medium heat till the garlic just starts to brown. Add the mushrooms, season with salt, and sauté till tender, 5 to 10 minutes. Right before the pasta is done, dip a coffee mug into the boiling water. Pour that water into the pan and let it come to a simmer. (If you want to stir in a spoonful of butter now, go ahead; the Italians call this step mantecare. It makes the sauce smooth and silky.) As the water and oil simmer, they'll emulsify, and this is the first step in creating the sauce. Drain the pasta in a colander and immediately pour it into the pan, still over the heat. Toss with tongs until each strand is well coated with the oil-and-water emulsion and the sautéed mushrooms. The pasta should be pretty wet at this point; remember, you want a sauce. Pour it all into a big pasta bowl. Shower with chopped parsley and lots of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. The cheese will bind the sauce and make it creamy. Repeat this process enough and you'll get the ratio of water-to-vegetables-to-cheese down. You'll become addicted. *You can sauté pretty much anything. Chopped broccoli or cauliflower works well. Zucchini. Ripe cherry tomatoes.
8. How To Make A Perfect Vinaigrette
With all due respect to Paul Newman, homemade vinaigrette is exponentially better (and healthier) than anything you can get in a bottle. And if you do like Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton, authors of the excellent series of recipe books called Canal House Cooking, it's as easy as boiling water.
The proportions for any good vinaigrette, they'll tell you, are more or less four to one, olive oil to vinegar. Hirsheimer likes a few squeezes of lemon juice and/or red, white, or cider vinegar, plus a couple of generous grinds of fresh pepper and a pinch of salt. (Salt is key; don't ever leave it out.) We also like rice-wine vinegar, which is both subtle and sweet. Once you've got that formula down, start messing with it. Mince some shallots, cover with red-wine vinegar, and let them sit for 10 to 20 minutes, then stir in olive oil and salt and pepper. The shallots lose a little bite and get more tangy. It's a great dressing that tastes like you did something tricky when you did nothing at all. Whatever combination you go for, there's no need for a slow drizzle of oil and steady whisking. Hirsheimer just mixes everything together with a fork. She also uses a lazy-man's trick for dressing the greens that she learned in Burgundy from a winemaker's wife: Make the dressing in the salad bowl, dump the greens on top, and toss it right at the table.
9. How To Give Eggs Serious Flavor
Eggs are like steak—you should never overcook them. The more tender, the more flavorful. Fry 'em over medium-high heat till the edges are crispy but the yolk still runny. For scrambled, crack the eggs directly into a pan of melted butter over low heat, season, and occasionally massage them with a rubber spatula until the whites come together and the yolky parts are bright yellow. Slide onto a plate. You want your eggs medium-rare, not medium-well.
10. How To Whip It Good
Freshly whipped cream makes every dessert better—pies, cakes, tarts, ice cream, fresh berries. A bowl of it on the table will make your guests happier than any slaved-over gâteau. Here's how to make it. During dinner, place a metal mixing bowl and either a whisk or mixer attachments in the freezer. When you're ready for dessert, pour a pint of heavy cream into the bowl and attack it with the hand mixer or the whisk (it's easier than you think) until it becomes cloudy and smooth. (Don't overbeat; you're not making butter.) As it starts to thicken, add a couple of tablespoons of powdered sugar. Leave it as is or swirl in some real vanilla extract, coffee liqueur, citrus zest, Calvados (good on baked apples), or a dash of cinnamon. Serve it with anything and everything.
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