Archive for the 'Techniques' Category

Easy Chicken Stock

A few days ago I mentioned that I made a chicken soup. I highly reccomend making your own stock for this. It’s neither hard nor particularly difficult to make your own stock. And because I was a bit under the weather when I made this particular version, I took extra pains to make sure it was easy.

Finished Chicken Stock

Finished Chicken Stock

Once you make your own, you’ll realize that it is much better than any of the dozen or so of the brands offered at the supermarket. Sure, one or two may be serviceable, but making it yourself is truly stunning.

Interested in making the simplest chicken stock? Click through to find out how.

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What is a Brine?

Essentially a brine is just salty water in which food is soaked. This helps augment the flavor and the texture of the meat. Most white meats (chicken, turkey and pork) can benefit from a soak in a brine. Other flavors (spices, sugar) can be added to a brine, but to be a brine it must have salt.

I do this nearly every time I prepare a chicken dish. It’s just so simple and easy to do and results in a huge boost in flavor. Even a half hour soak in salty water is noticeable.

But how does this work? Why salt? Should you add anything else (sugar, pepper)? How long to soak it? Click through the jump to find out why it works and how to quickly make your own.
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Pan Sauce 101

Chicken and Garlic and White Wine Pan Sauce

Chicken with Garlic and White Wine Pan Sauce

One of my favorite things to do for a meal is to cook some sort of meat in my 12-inch stainless steel pan and then use that to make a pan sauce.  Pan sauces are able to take the remnants of the meat you’ve cooked and incorporate those delicious flavors into your sauce.  Plus there’s also the added benefit that you don’t need to dirty an extra vessel to make the sauce in.  For those of you who love nonstick cookware, you need to try and avoid that convenience for this.  A nonstick pan just won’t give you the same rich flavor that you will get using a stainless steel pan (I’ll explain this below).  The wonderful things about pan sauces, is that once you get the hang of the process you can experiment and come up with your own sauces.  Here are the steps for a successful pan sauce:

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Choosing Shellfish (Shrimp, Scallops, etc.)

(This post is part of a guest article by Erica. See the Scallops in Orange Butter (Escalopes au beurre a l’orange) post for details about her and a recipe that applies these techniques. -William)

Deciphering scallop labels

Deciphering scallop labels

I must say Alton Brown’s Good Eats episode Crustacean Nation does a fine job explaining what all those funny numbers are when choosing shrimp, you know, you’ve seen them like 50/60, 15/20, et cetera. These numbers apply to other shellfish as well. To sum it all up, a 20/30 means that there are about 20-30 scallops per pound. U-sizes like U/15 (U stands for “Under”) indicate that there are under 15 scallops to make up a pound, a pretty large size. U/15 may seem very large, but for many cases this is what is needed. The largest I believe is up to a U/10, which is again, 10 or less to make up a pound.

What a scallop should look like.

What a scallop should look like

Key points to keep in mind when choosing scallops:

  • The color should be off-whitish-beige, even a little gray to pink but not white.
  • Look out for scallops that look like they are in water, this can ruin their flavors.
  • In some places (like France 🙂 ) the adductor muscle that is orange is still attached. It is a little firmer and has more of a distinct fish taste than the body of the scallop. It’s a matter of personal taste, but I wouldn’t discard this-I think it’s a nice treat.
  • Scallops should be firm and their shape should be uniform, not uneven or lopsided.

Actually where I am in southern Louisiana, I could not find any fresh scallops unless I drove an hour away to the nearest Whole Foods. Therefore I used frozen sea scallops which came out beautifully. Again apply the same number measurements with frozen scallops to choose your correct sizes.

(Unless you live near the coast, I recommend buying most of your shrimp and other shellfish frozen and defrosting it yourself. This is one of the few cases where frozen is normally better. Commercially bought shrimp is frozen on the boat and then shipped frozen. The “fresh” shrimp your normally see in the supermarket is normally the same ones that are sold frozen. -William)

Splitting a Vanilla Bean

Split Vanilla Bean

Split Vanilla Bean

In case you have never seen a vanilla bean in your life, you may be wondering how you split one correctly.  It’s pretty basic once you know what you’re doing.  You want to take a paring knife and insert the tip in the center of the bean.  Pull the bean, not the blade, along the length of the bean (the bean is now cut halfway).  Then turn the bean around and repeat.  (You are only splitting the bean once, but you do it with two cuts.  This prevents you from going off line during your cut which would yield a smaller amount of seeds to scrape.)  After you have split the bean in half take the back of the knife and run it along the length of each bean (see image above).  Repeat this for the other half of the bean.

As for buying vanilla beans, I would definitely check out the Internet.  Beans you buy at a supermarket will be at least twice as expensive, and nowhere near as fresh.  I buy my beans from The Boston Vanilla Bean Company.  I would recommend Madagascan Vanilla Beans.  They have the flavor that I look for in a vanilla bean and are very consistent.   Store  your vanilla beans in a ziptop bag inside an airtight container.  Stick that in the fridge and they should last 6 months to a year.

Tempering

Tempering

Tempering

Do you like the sound of scrambled eggs in your ice cream?  I don’t think that sounds very good either.  Tempering is one of the essential cooking techniques for working with a custard.  It’s useful for everything from Crème Brûlée to Ice cream.

Anytime you are working with adding hot liquid to eggs, you need add it slowly in order keep the eggs from cooking too quickly.  This is done by adding a small amount of hot liquid into the eggs while whisking continuously (see image above).  After adding a small increment, keep adding spoonfuls until about half of the mixture has been incorporated into the eggs.  At this point in time it’s usually safe to add the rest of cream into the eggs by pouring straight from the pan (still whisking continuously).


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