Technique, the basics
All cooking is basically about changing the molecules in a raw material from one state to another. Usually – but not always – this is done by applying heat in one way or another, something that requires quite a lot of knowledge and technique. Some basics you should know:
Cut and chop correctly
The art of using a knife with efficiency is mastered by hands-on practice, not by reading this text. But there are some tips that can improve your chopping board results:
- Sharpen your knife frequently. If it still doesn’t cut properly, take it to a professional sharpener for a basic edge overhaul.
- Use the right knife for the right purpose. When chopping, you should slice the knife across the rawmaterial without your knuckles touching the cutting board.
- When you chop finely, you can use the knuckle and/or the nails (on the hand holding the raw material) against the side of the blade of the knife to steer and support your handiwork.
- A large amount of boiling water maintains the temperature better when you put in food. Loss of protein and a foamy surface is the result of the heat being too low.
- Add the herbs at a late stage when cooking, to prevent evaporation of essential oils.
- Use a lid.
- "Braising" is a mix of dry and damp heat that allows you to cook the raw material with a small amount of liquid, such as wine or oil or both, under a lid.
- Don't be afraid of high temperatures.
- Fry in plenty of fat to achieve an even distribution of heat and prevent the food sticking. But avoid using too much so that the raw materials don't 'boil' in the fat. The absorption of fat by the material being cooked in the pan is negligible, unless you are frying something like bread.
- Use flour rather than breadcrumbs when frying if you want a nice surface that is not too fatty.
- Wait until the surface of the material you are cooking has caramelized, which will help it detach easily from the surface of the pan.
- Avoid turning food unnecessarily as the surface will have to be heated all over again.
- Oil withstands high temperatures, but butter tastes nicer. Try mixing both to achieve the best result.
- Fine olive oils cannot cope with high temperatures. Fry in a lower quality, diluted olive oil.
- Don't overfill the frying pan with too much food. Almost all food releases water and too much in the pan will cause the food to boil rather than fry.
- The tasty, fried surface you want is called the “Maillard reaction”. The process only takes place if the surface of the food has dried out and is hotter than the boiling point. Therefore, make sure that what you are going to fry is dry on the surface before you start.
- "Sautéing" means that finely chopped food is shaken around in the pan at a high temperature. The same technique applies when you wok. “Broiling” is about cooking with little or no fat, often in an oven. For most Europeans, broiling is about grilling, while in America it usually is taken to mean cooking in an oven under radiant heat.
- "Mis en place" (getting everything ready before you start cooking) is especially important when sautéing/woking. You do not have time to peel and chop ingredients when you have food in the pan. All the ingredients should be approximately the same size so that they are cooked through simultaneously.
Pot roast correctly
- Use a thermometer.
- Learn the 4 percent rule: When you take the food from the heat, the internal temperature will still rise by about 4 percent of the oven temperature (i e as much as 8°C if the oven temperature is 200°C).
Deep fry correctly
- If you deep-fry a lot, invest some money in a deep fryer.
- Use a fat that can cope with high temperatures.
- To give the potato a nice color, dip them in a diluted sugar solution before deep frying.
- The pro's deep fry their potato slices twice to get a perfect result, first at a lower temperature (suggestion: 160°C) and then at a higher one (suggestion: 190°C).
- Uneven, lean, sensitive materials such as fish and shellfish are ideal to deep fry as the frying batter protects them during the cooking process.
There are only six ways to cook
Cooking impacts the structure, smell, color, nutrient content and the taste experience of the guests in seemingly endless ways, but on a molecular level there are only really six ways to cook:
- Coagulating – When you expose meat, fish and egg to heat the protein, fibers attach to each other, contract and form a solid mass, which also contains water molecules. Acid also has a coagulating effect on protein.
- Caramelization – Raw materials that contain a higher degree of sugar can caramelize without added sugar. Consider onions, for example. When you fry onion, both caramelization and the “Maillard-reaction” occurs (see below). Caramelization also occurs on the surface when you fry or grill meat.
- Gelatinization – Gelatin is extracted from collagen, which is the main protein in mammals. It is mainly found in bone, connective tissue and skin, and is obtained at high temperatures, especially when slow cooking.
- Maillard-reaction – This chemical reaction occurs between carbohydrates and amino acids and generates a brown color and an abundance of both taste and fragrances. The phenomenon is one of the main reasons for the color, taste and fragrance of fried meat, fried fish, toasted bread, beer (roasted malt), chocolate, coffee, etc.
- Denaturation – This means “make unnatural” in Latin and implies that the raw material is changed to obtain new, different properties. For example, denaturation can make egg white hard and dense, make it fluffy with a lot of air, or to become jelly-like from a high content of milk.
- Emulsion – An emulsion is forcibly mixing two liquids that normally would not blend. Some of the most classic sauces are examples of emulsions, including mayonnaise, aioli, sauce béarnaise, sauce hollandaise, etc.