Friday, February 6, 2009

Burning Questions: Kitchen Basics

This whole series of "Burning Questions" posts originated as a somewhat amusing troll through the One Block West Restaurant web site server logs, to see what search phrases were bringing people to the web site. As I went through the logs, the search topics seemed to fall into several broad categories, each dealt with in a separate post in this series. This post deals with kitchen basics.

What is Meant by Deglaze Meat/Deglazing the Pan? When you cook things, especially meat, in a fat over fairly high heat, some of the sugars and juices form a caramel (called the fond in the trade) or glaze on the bottom of the pan. Deglazing is the process of adding liquid to the pan to dissolve the fond, which is helped by scraping with a spatula or other utensil. Pans are often deglazed with some kind of alcohol (wine or Cognac, for example) or some kind of stock. Even plain water will do. The goal of deglazing is to get all the yummy goodness from the bottom of the pan into the sauce for the dish. This is why you won't see too many professionals using non-stick pans. We want things to stick.

Decanting Clarified Butter. There are many ways to separate the clarified butter from the milk solids and whey. Once we melt the butter, we pour it into a tall narrow container and leave a large spoon in it. Then we refrigerate it until the clarified butter is solid. Using the spoon as a handle, we pull the solid clarified butter off the top of the whey and milk solids. We then dispose of the waste and melt the clarified butter for use on the line.

How to Quickly Peel an Orange. How convenient that I've already written a photo essay on just this.

Can We Use Olive Oil for Saute? Yes, you can; we do. There are two rough classes of olive oil, refined (called pure) and unrefined (called extra virgin). Extra virgin is the first pressing of the olives and whether or not it is filtered, it will contain some olive solids. These solids burn at a fairly low temperature, so extra virgin is not recommended for sautéeing. We use grapeseed, pure olive oil, canola, or some mixture of these in the restaurant, depending on price.

What Does Braise Mean? Braising is a key cooking technique that is near and dear to my heart. Our daily menu generally features at least one braise. To braise is first to sear over high heat and then to cook in liquid very, very slowly in a covered pan. Ossobuco, for example, is traditionally prepared by braising. First, the meat is browned over high flame and removed from the pan, then vegetables are added to the pan and cooked, then the meat is replaced and an acidic liquid such as wine (or wine and stock) is added. The pan is covered and cooked in a very slow oven until the meat is about to fall apart. The slow cooking in moist heat with an acidic liquid helps break down the collagens in the meat, rendering tough cuts of meat fork tender and thickening the sauce.

How Do You Make a Pastry Bag from Common Things You Have at Home? If you've ever catered, you've been to some gig and forgotten the pastry bag. So you grab a plastic bag, cut off a corner, jam a pastry tube in (if you have one), tape the tube in with duct tape if the plastic bag is weak, and go to town. I always keep spare pastry bags, tubes, duct tape, and plastic bags in my toolbox that I take on the road.

What Kind of Oil to Use When Grilling Vegetables? We always keep a vat of our sauté oil next to our grill. When prepping herbs, we toss the scraps in the oil to flavor it. We brush the grill and vegetables with this oil, which is pure olive oil, canola, grapeseed, or some mixture of these. We don't use expensive extra virgin on the grill; that's just a waste of money. We will drizzle the grilled vegetables with it afterwards for flavor, however.

What Kind of Vinegar for Canning? I use distilled white vinegar for canning. Most syrups are so strongly flavored that using a more expensive vinegar is a waste of money: the spices will overwhelm the delicate flavor of the vinegar.

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