One of the mysteries of human behavior is that under stress, the self-evident
is not self-evident. Take, for example, the so-called First Rule
of Holes. Namely: If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.
Politicians are especially prone to violating this rule. Albeit self-destructive,
their compulsive shoveling provides the rest of us an endless source of
entertainment and amusement.
More tragically, cooks are sometimes blind to the self-evident.
Consider the following rule and its corollary: Always remove a
product from heat when it is done. Or: Do not hold a
product over heat until served. Well of course that makes sense.
It’s intuitive. Yet, this is one of the most abused fundamentals
of cooking. Turning off a hot oven or turning down a burner to hold
a product insures disappointment and courts disaster, yet cooks do it with
· Sauces and the like (baked beans, etc.) lose liquid
over heat. They then become too thick and—since salt does not evaporate—too
salty. Worse still, rich sauces left in the “danger zone” may breed
bacteria over time. (See the Food Safety article on this page.)
o Tips: Make the sauce-like products
early, hold in the fridge and refire to serve. Or, finish them an
hour or less before serving and place the saucepot in a shallow pan of
hot water—a technique called a water bath or bain marie.
Another option is to place a heat diffuser or “flame tamer” between the
saucepot and a burner set at simmer.
· Steaks, whole tenderloins and lamb chops
become overdone if held over heat.
o Tip: If beef or lamb is to
be held, take it off the heat at one level below desired doneness.
Refire and serve. By the way, the doneness level below “rare” is
called “bleu,” described in Labensky as, “very red and raw looking center
(the center cool to the touch).”
· It is truly important to allow cooked meats
to “rest.” All the cookbook authors in the bibliography recognize
the requirement. McGee and Corriher too, but they fail to explain
the science side of it, in any length. This tip is drawn from McGee
and master teacher Pascal Dionot.
o Tip: Rest grilled and roasted meats
about 1/4th the cooking time to allow the internal temperature to even
out and begin to drop, thus permitting the juices in the center to redistribute
and return to the edges. This is especially important for large pieces.
Believe it or not, says Dionot, huge steamship rounds of beef that take
five hours or more to roast at low temperature (to minimize the loss of
moisture and weight) require a two hour rest in a warm place before serving,
or else the center will appear raw and unappealing and the outer edges
will be brown and dry.