Monday, February 2, 2009

If You Can Bake it Here...

When I first moved to Manhattan, my impression of its inhabitants was comprised mostly of awe. These are New Yorkers! If they can make it here, they can make it anywhere. There must be some of the greatest minds in the world here. There must be some of the greatest chefs in the world here!

Recently, however, I started working at a cooking school assisting chef instructors when I met a new kind of New Yorker - a kind of hybrid human that I had never encountered before. The New Yorker that has literally never cooked a day in their life. I've met people that hate cooking, and don't know much about it, but they at least they've attempted to use their kitchens to prepare food. I suppose New York, a place where you can have anything delivered at any hour, is the only place you can actually get away with never using your kitchen for anything but shoe storage (which would explain some of the kitchens I confronted while apartment hunting).

A middle-aged man and an elderly woman that were paired together to make a cake looked at me with bewilderment when I explained the logic of greasing the whole pan. They had just splattered some oil across the bottom Pollock-style and called it a day. Another woman placed a pot of soup on the unlit stove top and asked, "Is it simmering?" I said, "Not yet; we need to turn on the heat, and when you see little bubbles around the edge, then it's simmering." She replied, with defiance, "No, bubbles would mean it's boiling."

At that point I was at a loss for words, which I suppose is why I don't actually teach the classes. I realized that sometimes I use terms in recipes such as sweating, simmering, sautéing, braising... and I just assume everyone knows what they mean. But, when pressured to define, I draw a bit of a blank. I'll need to come to the next class prepared, so here's my best shot at a few common cooking terms:

Sweating: Cooking something, usually veggies/onion, in a small amount of fat over very low heat. The idea is to soften and release the flavors without browning. This is common when preparing soup.

Sautéing: Cooking something quickly over the direct heat of the stove top.

Searing: Cooking meat quickly over high heat either on the stove top or under the broiler. Objective is to brown the outside of the meat.

Simmering: Without getting into the exact temperature needed, let's just say keep an eye out for tiny bubbles to break the surface.

Boiling: When your liquid gets up to 212 degrees F, it will be boiling. Look for big bubbles to break the surface, that won't disappear by stirring.

Baking: Cooking food in the dry heat of an oven.

Roasting: Cooking at a higher heat than baking, in some oil or other fat, uncovered, and with a desire to brown the exterior of the food.

Broiling: Cooking food directly under or above the heat source. Can produce similar (indoor) results to grilling.

Braising: A cooking method that uses low heat over a long period of time to tenderize meats and vegetables. If you have a crock pot, you are familiar with the idea of braising. To get the most flavor, brown (see "sear") your meat first. Then cover the meat with veggies and a little bit of liquid, and cover with a tight fitting lid. Cook over (or in the oven) low heat for a couple of hours.


Anonymous said...

I love the followers of your blog. A priest, a scary guy with a 'stache, a city and a silhouette. And of course, your mom! I love you and am proud of you, you write so well! You can cook, too!

Joe Herbert said...

Hi! Veronica. Just came across your blog, it looks great! Hope everything is going well in NYC.

Good Luck!!!
(Kitchen Conservatory/Chez Leon)

Veronica said...

Hey thanks Joe!