10 Skills every cook should know
You open up a cook book to a recipe, but stop after scanning the page. What does blanching mean? How do I make my own chicken stock? Cooking sometimes seems impossible. But, don't fear! Chef Lindsay Leopold, resident chef of Sur La Table says if you learn these 10 things, you can master the art of cooking too!
1. Vinaigrette is an emulsion, or combination of oil and acid (vinegar, wine, citrus juice) that’s been forced together physically, usually by whisking. The classic ratio for vinaigrette is 3 parts oil to 1 part acid, but you can easily vary the proportions based on your taste. If you like “sharper” vinaigrette, try 2 parts oil to 1 part acid. The balance of flavor will also be affected by the type of oil and acid.
2. Roasting is a dry heat cooking method where ingredient is exposed to oven or fire heat. The cooking method usually produces a well-browned exterior and ideally a moist interior and brings out the flavor in meats, poultry, and vegetables.
3. Dry Brining refers to rubbing proteins such as poultry or pork with salt and seasonings and refrigerating for 24 to 48 hours. The salt is applied either under the skin of poultry or directly over pork. The salt first draws out moisture through osmosis, then the salt dissolves in this moisture and is able to permeate the muscle fibers which helps to season the meat and retain moisture once cooked.
4. Compound Butter is a mixture of butter and other supplementary ingredients such as herbs and spices. Try garlic herb butter for steak, lemon dill butter for fish, or a chipotle-lime butter for a spicy twist to your sautéed vegetables.
5. Whipping Cream starts with cold cream and utensils to ease the effort of this task. As you whisk, millions of tiny air bubbles get whisked into the liquid; the cream becomes frothy, lightens, and becomes an emulsion. Soft peaks are reached when the cream holds lines but the top peaks are soft and fall back on themselves. Medium peaks are reached when the cream holds firm lines and the top peaks fold over slightly. Stiff peaks are reached when cream holds crisp lines and peaks hold firm.
6. Pan Sauce is made from the juices left after roasting or sautéing food. A wine or acid is added to the pan to deglaze and remove the “fond”, or the brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Stock, broth, or other liquid are added to the pan to create the bulk of the sauce, along with flavorings and sometimes a thickening agent.
7. Roux is a cooked mixture of equal parts (by weight) flour and fat. It is the primary thickener used in sauces that require medium to long cooking times. There are 3 traditional roux; white, blond, or brown. Roux can be used hot or cold. A cold roux is used with hot liquid, and a hot roux is used with cold liquids. It is whisked into the liquid to thicken the sauce.
8. Compote/Fruit Relish is a cooked fruit sauce made with whole fruits, sugar, and spices. Compote will usually retain pieces of the cooked fruit, similar to a jam or fruit preserve. However, unlike jam or fruit preserves, compote is typically made and served immediately, not canned or jarred for future use.
9. Tart Crust is removed from its baking vessel and has less filling than a pie crust. A traditional pate brisee or short dough is sturdy enough to keep shape and have great flavor. Tart crusts can be blind baked to be filled with a ready-to-eat filling or filled while raw and baked with a filling.
10. Sauté refers to continuously tossing an ingredient such as vegetables or protein in a small amount of hot fat in a shallow, wide-mouthed pan. Sautéed ingredients should be cut into uniform pieces for even cooking.