Fundamentals 101

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 embarrassing regularity.

·   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.

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