Wokin' Willies

Coveted Kitchen Secrets: Part Deux

by yessewilson

Back with more tips from the world of professional kitchens!

Blanching/Shocking: Blanching is the process of briefly submerging food in boiling water then removing it and dumping it in an ice bath so that it instantly stops the cooking process. Blanching is often done to prepare vegetables for freezing (or pickling). Enzymes and unwanted bacteria that cause vegetables to decompose even while frozen are destroyed by a quick blanch.  It’s also a great way to prepare green vegetables for eating right away. Blanched vegetables have the palatable taste of being cooked while at the same time retaining the crunch of their raw form. It also actually improves the green color of the vegetable. A chef friend of mine theorizes that this might be because the other pigments in the green vegetables such as carotene are destroyed by a quick boil while the bright green chlorophyll remains, the opposite of what happens when leaves turn orange in the fall. One of my go to sides is to blanch green beans or okra then saute onions with olive oil in a separate pan, then adding tomatoes til they break down a bit. Turn off the the heat and add the okra, some balsamic vinegar or lemon, salt and pepper and whatever other seasoning you want. Other vegetables to blanch include collards or asparagus.

Blended Oil: Everyone knows olive oil is great. It’s healthy, tastes great and can be used both to cook and in vinaigrettes for salad. However, it has one achilles heel: a very low smoke point. All oils have a smoke point, extra virgin olive oil (which isn’t really supposed to be for cooking generally) has a very low smoke point of 320 degrees fahrenheit, compared to something like peanut oil which is 450 degrees. Once a oil reaches its smoke point it starts to break down in flavor and imparts this on the food you’re cooking with it. If you are trying to saute a salmon filet, the oil is going to start smoking way before it is hot enough to effectively cook the salmon. Luckily, there is a workaround for this. When olive oil is combined with an oil with a higher smoking point (generally canola), it can be cooked with at a much higher temperature while retaining it’s flavor.  The oils are generally combined at a ratio of between 25-20% olive oil to 75%-80% of the hardier oil. You see jugs of this stuff all over kitchens but not as often in the grocery store (have noticed Pompeiian started making it though) but of course making your own would be very simple.

Salting Water: Salting water doesn’t actually make it boil faster (it actually raises the boiling point thus making it come to a boil slower) but it does make the food you cook it in taste a lot better. I like the water that I cook potatoes in to taste like seawater and a little less than that for pasta.

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Tuna and Olives: Great Quick Dinner from the Pantry

by jwingwilson

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This is an old Famly Fav, that is easy to keep all the ingredients ready in the pantry and a delicious quick dinner for a crowd when you forgot to shop. I think I originally learned this from an old friend, Sammy Comazzi, but then added things as we played over the years. The ingredients are simple and the proportions are up to you, and you can always substitute fresh, but here’s how we usually do it:

2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 good size head of garlic (we love lots – it’s up to you)
3-4 medium onions (red or white)
2 cans tuna
1 can peeled tomatoes
1 can pitted black olives
Parsley
salt and pepper
1 lb spaghetti or linguine

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Easy, sauté onions and garlic in oil, add tuna and olives, crush and add tomatoes and finish with parsley and salt and pepper to taste (you could add a little red chili flakes now, if you want to heat it up a bit). Let that simmer. While that’s all happening, cook pasta. When done, add pasta to sauce and serve with proper beverage and maybe some nice bread. Takes about 20 minutes. Yum
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Coveted Kitchen Secrets!

by yessewilson

I’ve noticed a few things that go on in restaurant kitchens that are generally not done by the average cook. No, I’m not talking about amphetamines.

  1. Deglazing: Deglazing is a technique that requires an stainless steel pan. People avoid stainless steel pans because they find that food leaves a residue (caused by the Maillard Reaction if you want to get fancy) after it is cooked that can be tough to clean off. In reality, that golden brown residue is actually not a mess but a delicious asset. Deglazing is the technique of adding a liquid to a pan after that residue has been created and scraping it off with some kind of metal spatula or spoon. The residue is easily removed by the liquid (typically wine or stock but anything can be used) and combines with it to form a tasty sauce that can then be reduced, thickened with corn starch or flour or buttered (say yeah).
  2. Pan Saute/Oven Roast: This is another technique that is often missed out on by the home cook because of rubber handled non-stick pans which cannot go in the oven. Generally used for cooking meat, the idea is to sear the sides of the meat on a very hot pan and then pop the pan in the oven to finish cooking. The caramelization on the outside of meat (and food in general) is a huge reason for its deliciousness. However, searing requires high temperatures which can overcook the meat if left on. While you could just turn down the heat, the meat will still not cook evenly. The best steakhouses often skip the skillet or grill altogether and instead use incredibly hot salamanders (high powered broilers) which can cook a steak perfectly in less than thirty seconds.
  3. Paul Prudhomme’s Blackened Redfish Magic Seasoning: This is more of a New Orleans specific one. Every home cook in Louisiana knows Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning which is by all accounts awesome. Paul Prudhomme’s seasoning is much less known but ubiquitous in respectable New Orleans restaurants. While technically meant for seafood, this seasoning is great on everything, including in flour batter for frying. Paul Prudhomme is also responsible for the best cookbook cover ever:
  4. Mis en Place: Anthony Bourdain calls this technique, translated from french as “everything in place”, his religion. It basically means having all of your ingredients prepared and organized before you begin the actual cooking. When you start a recipe look over the entire ingredient list and method of preparation. If you see that you need to add minced garlic to your onion, carrot and celery that you have been sweating out, don’t try to mince the garlic as the other veggies are cooking. Have everything prepared and put in containers before you start cooking. It will save you a huge amount of time and stress and the food will come out better because you can be more focused on the actual cooking rather than running around playing catch up.
  5. Sharp Knives: I’m amazed by how many good home cooks I know that use terrible, dull, 5 dollar chef knives they got from the grocery store. The chef’s knife is easily the single most important piece of cooking equipment. The Vibrox Victorinox (http://amzn.to/ZZbTYT) is a consistently high rated entry level chef’s knife. In terms of sharpening, stones are the best option but require patience and learning a skill. Electric sharpeners and sliding sharpeners (like the Accu Sharps) are good, inexpensive and easy options but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend them for higher end knives.

Red beans and rice

by yessewilson

In New Orleans, Red Beans are traditionally served on monday, a day that used to be reserved for doing laundry. Red beans are a dish suited for a day of work around the house as they require long periods of simmering with only occasional stirring.

Red beans come dried and have to be soaked in water overnight. Some people drain the soaking water before cooking but I like to use it as the cooking water.

The base of red beans, like so many other dishes around here, is the Louisiana “holy trinity” of celery, bell pepper, and onion. The holy trinity is the traditional french mirepoix except with bell pepper instead of carrot. Chop two parts onion to one part celery and bell pepper.

Adding smoked and cured meats to red beans adds a lot of flavor but there is no need to go overboard, some of the tastiest red beans I’ve had was at a Wild Magnolias Indian Practice and only had hot dogs in them. For this batch I used pickled pork, smoked ham hocks and smoked sausage. If I had to choose only one to use it would be the smoked sausage. If you don’t add any kind of pickled meat be sure to add some vinegar.

Melt butter/lard or heat oil over medium low heat in a stock pot and cook the holy trinity in it. The vegetables should be “sweating” not sauteing, you can add a little salt to speed up this process. Add chopped garlic once they have cooked some. Meanwhile, chop up the sausage and brown the pickled pork in a pan.

Once the vegetables are soft, add the meat and the beans. Add enough water/stock to cover an inch above the beans.  Bring the beans to a boil then immediately turn the heat down to a gently bubbling simmer. Season the beans with creole seasoning (salt, pepper, cayenne, garlic powder, paprika, herbs), hot sauce and a couple bay leaves (my friend likes to add parsley near the end of cooking in place of bay leaves).

Now let that simmer, stirring occasionally. Keep adding liquid as needed. Don’t forget some love and a few beers.

A couple hours in, if you want creamier beans, take out a majority of the beans with a slotted spoon and put them in a bowl. Mash them up til they have a creamy texture, I like to add a bit more butter/fat at this point. Once you put the mashed beans back in it should look like this.

The beans should take about 3-5 hours to cook, you’ll be able to tell by tasting when they’re done. Once you think the beans are about done, start cooking some rice and fish out the ham hocks (and the bay leaves). You can pull the meat off the ham hock, chop it up finely and put it back in the beans. The pickled pork will break up by itself but you can help it out with a wooden spoon.

Invite some friends over, mix the beans and rice with hot sauce to taste and enjoy!

Red Beans and Ricely Yours,

Jesse