Roasting is an excellent way to bring out an extra depth of flavor in most vegetables. The slight crisp to the edges that roasting gives also adds a nice textural component to the vegetable as well. Root vegetables such as potatoes and parsnips are traditional choices for roasting however, other vegetables such as brussel sprouts, broccoli, onions, and peppers are also excellent choices. The best thing about roasting is that it is super easy and requires very little effort.
To roast vegetables, first cut up the vegetables into bite sized chunks. Then toss them in a good olive oil until they are nicely coated and glossy. Season the vegetables liberally with Kosher salt and fresh black pepper and then spread them out on a cookie sheet leaving some space between the vegetables. Roast the vegetables at 425ºF until they pierce easily with a fork and there is some charred bits on the edges. The charred bits are what make the roasted vegetables taste so good therefore, don’t hesitate to roast the vegetables a little longer to get that char even though they might already be tender.
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Sweating, similar to sautéeing, is a French technique of cooking food (usually vegetables) in a little fat, over low heat, in a covered pan. Sweating causes the food to release its juices and cook without browning which in turn, concentrates the flavor of the food. This technique is often used in recipes where the vegeatables/aromatics are not the main ingredients of the dish but rather the background flavor base.
Studding means to decorate and/or flavor food by inserting seasonings into the surface of the food. Common ingredients used in studding are garlic, spices (such as cloves), or nuts. Whole hams are commonly studded with cloves, pork roasts are commonly studded with slivers of garlic and/or apple slices, and even breads can be studded with raisins or other dried fruits. Studding enhances the presentation of food and imparts another layer of flavor as well.
Butterflying is a cooking technique whereby food is cut all the way down the middle, almost all the way through, so that it can be opened up to lie relatively flat. Butterflying allows for fast, even cooking of food and it also makes it easy to stuff and roll up meat.
- Beef Filets – First, lay the meat flat on the cutting board. With a chef’s knife, make short, smooth strokes horizontally down the middle of the filet. Avoid cutting the meat so that one side is thicker than the other, both sides need to be about the same thickness so they cook evenly. Cut almost all the way through the meat, stopping right before the two halves are completely severed. Open up the two halves like a butterfly.
- Chicken Breasts – Lay the breast on the cutting board, smooth side down. First, remove the inner filet known as the chicken tender and set aside. Then, flip the breast over and cut the meat horizontally, just as you would with a beef filet, and follow the same procedure to butterfly. Save the chicken tenders to use for another recipe.
- Seafood – Shrimp is an easy piece of seafood to butterfly. Using a smaller knife slice shrimp down the curved part of the tail, open it up, and lie flat to butterfly.
A nonreactive pan is one that is made of or lined with a material that will not react with acidic ingredients such as tomatoes, citrus juice or vinegar. When using a pan that is not nonreactive it will result in an “off” flavor and an unappealing, but harmless, darker coloring of of the food. This is why a nonreactive pan is essential when cooking certain foods.
The most common nonreactive pans are made of anodized stainless steel but they can also be made from enamel or glass. On the flip side, reactive materials include nonanodized stainless steel, unlined copper or cast iron. Cast iron is the least problematic of the three as it can be used to prepare acidic foods only if the food is not left in the pan for an extended period of time.
Roasting is when dry, indirect heat is used to cook foods. Although similar to baking, the term roasting is typically used when speaking about foods that already have structure prior to cooking, such as meats and vegetables. Food is placed in an open pan and baked uncovered in order to achieve even cooking and browning. When roasting, food is first cooked at a higher temperature in order to create the browned “crust” and then the temperature is lowered for the remainder of the cooking time.
To roast meat, begin by allowing it to come to room temperature before cooking. Place the meat on top of a rack set inside a wide, open roasting pan. This allows air to circulate around the meat encouraging even cooking. If you don’t have a rack, use sturdy vegetables such as leeks or carrots to raise the meat up from the bottom of the pan. Season the meat generously with salt and pepper and cook according to recipe instructions. When cooking is complete, allow the roasted meat to rest for at least 15 minutes before slicing.
To roast vegetables, coat generously with olive oil, salt and pepper and spread them out in one layer on a large, shallow baking sheet. Do not crowd the pan or the vegetables will steam rather than roast. Roast until the vegetables are fork tender and browned with some charred bits. Harder vegetables, such as potatoes, will take longer to roast than softer vegetables. Also, the smaller the dice, the faster they will roast.
The French term, mirepoix (pronounced “meer pwah”) is a group of aromatics that are used to season and flavor sauces, stocks, soups, and other foods. Mirepoix is also referred to as the “Holy Trinity” by many chefs around the world and it consists of finely diced carrots, onions, and celery that are sautéed in butter.
Typically the ratio for a mirepoix is 2 parts onion to 1 part celery and 1 part carrot according to weight. (Example: 1 pound of mirepoix would be 8 oz of onion, 4 oz of celery, and 4 oz of carrot) Since a mirepoix does not have to be exact down to the last ounce it can also be measured by volume to make it easier for the home cook. (Example: 2 cups onions, 1 cup celery, 1 cup carrot)
To make a mirepoix, brown the onions and carrots together over medium heat until nice and brown, then add in the celery and cook until soft.
Deglazing is a cooking technique in which liquid (stock, wine, water, etc) is added to the bottom of a pan in order to dissolve and scrape up all of the residual browned bits of meat or vegetables that were just cooked. These browned bits are called “fond” and they are used to flavor sauces, soups, and gravies.
To deglaze a pan, simply remove the meat or vegetables and over high heat add about a cup of liquid to the pan. Clouds of steam will immediately appear, this steam will help to lift the browned bits or fond. To get every last bit up, scrape the bottom of the pan with a spatula while it’s still steaming. If there is some fond that is still stuck, add a little more liquid to the pan to help release it.
**Tip** – You can always deglaze a pan, even if a recipe doesn’t call for it. Scraping up the browned bits will add flavor to any dish that you’re making. Also, you can also use the deglazing technique to help clean a pan. Get your pan nice and hot, add in water, and then scrape the bottom to help clean off any leftover cooking residue.
A roux (pronounced ROO) is a French term for a mixture that is comprised of flour and fat, usually butter. A roux can be cooked to different stages depending on the color and flavor that is desired. A roux is typically used to thicken gravies, sauces, soups, and gumbo.
To make a roux, a 1:1 ratio of flour to fat is always used. First, heat the butter or oil over medium heat then evenly sprinkle the flour on top. Continually whisk the roux for 5-7 minutes, this will allow the raw taste of flour to cook out. At this point it is considered to be a “blonde roux” which is optimal for thickening purposes. If cooked past 7 minutes the roux will darken and develop a more nutty flavor but it will also lessen its thickening abilities. A dark roux is best for Cajun dishes such as Étouffée or gumbo.
All animal fat contains some amount of meat tissue and the only way to separate the two is through a process called, rendering. As the meat is cooked the fat will begin to melt and separate from the meat tissue. The pure fat is then strained and the what is left is crisp bits known as “cracklings“. When roasting poultry, such as a turkey, you would strain the pan drippings to capture the rendered fat.
In the case of bacon, when cooked it will render most, if not all, of its fat. The rendered bacon fat is a favorite cooking medium in kitchens. It can be used to make popcorn, sauté vegetables, scramble an egg, or even as a base to make a salad dressing. Rendered bacon fat, free of any solids or “cracklings“, will keep virtually forever in the fridge.