Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Cooking Class 1: Let's Start at the Very Beginning

Of the course of the decades I have been cooking regularly, I have learned that the most important factor in having a recipe turn out right is understanding some basic techniques and tools use in order to make the most of every new recipe you try.

There are many techniques in cooking, but I will start with the most basic and include how to use them in a variety of dishes. If you know what a rue is, and how to incorporate liquids, you will always be able to make a sauce, even if your recipe is vague about it or omits this step entirely. Learning how to properly sear meat without steaming it and inhibiting the Maillard reaction, which is the lovely deep browning that adds so much flavor to foods and will perk up any dish that you already make regularly but just can't get "right".

The very first part of this series will focus on preparation. Proper preparation will make your meals much easier to make and proper techniques combined with good instruments will make the job so much easier, and safer.

You may think that the first thing you need are knives, but cutting boards should be at the top of your list too.  You will need three good cutting surfaces. One is for raw vegetables and fruits, the other for raw meats and one more for cooked foods. Some people also prefer to have different ones for poultry, but if you care for and disinfect your boards, it isn't really necessary in my opinion.

In this house, one of my surfaces is the kitchen island with a butcher block top that is not sealed. It must be disinfected after each use, though I only use that surface for raw vegetables and fruits. The other two are two different surfaces, bamboo and a poly board which is basically a type of plastic that isn't too hard on knives.
Bamboo Cutting Board
The top board is made of Bamboo
Poly Cutting Board
Poly Board

You never want to use a hard surface such as marble or other counter top surfaces. If the surface you are cutting on is unyielding, the blade will dull much faster, causing accidents while prepping foods. I am not a fan of those flexible boards either. They are not thick enough to use on their own to keep the impact to the blade down, but if you really love them, put them on a cutting board or other surface to keep the blade damage to a minimum. 

Cleaning the boards is imperative to prevent cross contamination, which is when one foods bacteria is transferred to another food. If there was a harmful agent on your chicken, for example, and that got on the fruits and vegetables, it could cause illness because you cannot cook these items enough to kill the bacteria without making them disgusting. When I am dealing with raw meats, the board is washed with soap and hot water, then wipe it down with a bleach solution of  3/4 cups of bleach to a gallon of water. This mix does mess up standard spray bottles though.  Vinegar solutions are far less of a problem with spray bottles. A 50/50 solution of white vinegar to water is all you need. Just allow it to sit on the item for a few minutes before rinsing.

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