Successful cooking boils down to two things: properly cooked foods, and layers of well-developed flavors that slowly reveal themselves and surprise you… like a beautifully composed sonata. Totally dramatic, I know, but true.
Avoiding over or undercooked foods simply comes with practice, and involves remembering how long it took for something to cook at a certain temperature, in addition to using sight and smell as cues. If you pay attention to your food, and cook as often as you can, you’ll be well on your way to easily recognizing when food is done cooking.
Layers of well-developed flavor are created in a couple of different ways, and one or both techniques could be used, depending on the recipe: Ingredients, usually one or two types at a time, are added at various stages of the cooking process, and cooked for a brief period before the next ingredient is added. Or, ingredients are added all at once and provided with enough cooking time for the flavors to meld and develop.
So, for example, sautéing blanched broccoli, where one ingredient at a time is added and layered, might look like this:
Preheat skillet over medium-high heat, add 2 tablespoons clarified butter (layer 1). Reduce heat to medium. Add diced onion and pinch of sea salt; cook, stirring occasionally until onion is translucent, about 2 minutes (layer 2). Stir in shallot and garlic until fragrant, about 30 seconds (layer 3). Add broccoli, cook 3 minutes or until crisp-tender, stirring occasionally (layer 4). Remove from heat, add pinch of freshly ground nutmeg and sea salt to taste (layer 5).
And something poached, like a chicken breast, where ingredients are added all at once, might look like this:
In a straight-sided sauté pan add sliced fennel, green apple, yellow onion, whole garlic, vegetable stock, and sachet (whole peppercorn, whole juniper, fresh thyme tied in cheesecloth) (layers 1-6). Add chicken and cover with buttered parchment paper, butter side down (layer 7). Place pan over low heat, bring to simmer. Simmer 12 minutes or until chicken reaches 155 degrees F. Remove pan from heat, set aside 6 minutes…
Did you notice the actual poaching liquid was vegetable stock instead of water?
My go-to, all-purpose stock is vegetable stock. It’s easy to make, comes together fast, and it’s a great opportunity to (safely) practice your mad chopping skills.
Ironically though, to make vegetable stock, you have to start with water. Any vegetables may be used, however the stronger or more unique the flavor of a particular vegetable (think cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, rutabaga, parsnip), the more prevalent that flavor profile will be in your stock, so choose wisely.
Chopping all of the vegetables will help activate and release some of the phytochemicals, which would otherwise be dormant if added whole. The addition of kombu, a dried sea vegetable usually found in the Asian section of your local supermarket, infuses minerals like calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, and iodine into the liquid as it slowly simmers.
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
- 2 medium yellow onions, peeled, finely diced (save peels)
- 4 medium carrots, finely diced
- 4 celery stalks, finely diced
- 1 large tomato, cut into quarters, seeds removed (if seasonably available)
- 1 pound button or baby bella mushrooms (about 8)
- 1 bunch fresh parsley, stems included (about 6 sprigs)
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 piece kombu (about 2x4”)
- 10 whole peppercorns
- Pinch sea salt
- 6 cups filtered water
- In a medium saucepan add garlic, onion, onion peels, carrots, celery, tomato, mushrooms, parsley, thyme, kombu, peppercorn, and salt; add water.
- Bring to boiling, reduce to a simmer. Cook 20 minutes. Remove from heat; let stand 20 minutes. Strain stock; reserve vegetables for other recipes or, for a thick stock, vegetables can be pureed directly in the cooking liquid.
- Transfer to a glass container. Refrigerate, covered, up to 7 days, or freeze up to three months.
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