Since our Street Food to Fine Dining column got started back in December last year, my aim each week has been to take you on a culinary journey, highlighting and explaining topics which are essential for a better understanding of the culinary environment. As they say, knowledge is power and once you are armed with the correct information, understanding and combining ingredients will become second nature, leading to tastier and better prepared dishes.
This week, we wouldn’t be exploring a single topic; instead, I’ll be “Dropping Knowledge”, which is taken from my Caribbean Cuizine Volume 1 magazine which I wrote back in 2006. This information will be just as important and helpful now, as it contains advice and tips that you will constantly need to refer to as you continue to enhance your cooking skills.
USE OF HEAT
Meats and fish can be completed in the oven after being browned in oil. This is a good way to remove any excess fat.
Heat can also be used to seal the flavours in meat. Since, in cooking, moisture ”runs” from heat, the contact of a cut of meat with a heated pan will cause the juices inside to be drawn away from the surface towards the centre of the meat. This has the effect of helping the flavour of the herbs and spices applied to the surface to penetrate the cut of meat, thereby giving a deep-down flavour; remember, it’s all about flavours.
When using this technique, avoid turning the meat excessively as this will cause the pan to cool. Piercing the meat with a fork should also be avoided; rather, a tongs or any other similar tool should be used for turning the meat. Piercing the meat allows the juices to escape, causing the meat to dry and toughen.
We will explore this in more detail when we get to our preparing and cooking of meat segment.
IMPROVING FLAVOURS WITH WINES & SPIRITS
Wine is good for helping to improve the flavour of meat, fish and poultry dishes. Contrary to popular opinion, it is rarely used for its alcoholic content. In fact, in most cases the wine is reduced, the heat evaporates the alcohol and the water, and what remains is the rich, concentrated flavour of the fruit from which the wine was made.
In our Caribbean-style of cooking, the same can be done with rum, beer and any number of Caribbean liqueurs that are presently being produced. Caribbean liqueurs, however, tend to be sweetish and are best used for dessert sauces.
A knife is the single most important tool in the kitchen and, therefore, must be treated like a valued possession. There are as wide a range of shapes and sizes of knives available as there are tasks in the kitchen.
The one thing that must be remembered is that knives should always be kept clean and the edges straight and sharp; this can be done by regularly passing the knives on a steel. A steel is used to hone or straighten a blade immediately after and between sharpening.
This, along with lots of practise, will ensure accident-free production, as a clean, sharp knife is less likely to slip and result in cuts to the user.
To pané means simply to coat in flour, egg wash and bread crumbs. This is very important in frying as it helps to protect the product being deep-fried from exposure to intense heat. It also helps to retain moisture during the cooking process; this is where the egg is important, and again we will discuss this in greater detail when this topic is explored.
People tend to associate deep-frying with unhealthy cooking because the created crust is in direct contact with the cooking oil and therefore will retain some percentage of that product. If you are one who thinks this way, when the product is done, simply remove the crust and you can enjoy just the succulent, cooked product that remains.
Remember however, that you have also removed that crispy, nutty flavor created by the crust which adds excitement to the finished product. Bear in mind also, for us chefs, it is all about the flavour.
(Peter Edey is a Certified Executive Chef with the American Culinary Federation, a graduate of l’École Ritz Escoffier, Paris and a Certified Caribbean Hospitality Trainerpeter@dcbarbados.com)