Sunday, November 22, 2009

Do It Yourself Meals - Tip #1

I thought I would add a few cooking tips to this blog rather than just recipes and the occasional tip that is relevant to the recipe. So, to get started here is one that has served me well over the years.

Tip #1 - Don't crowd the fry pan.
When I first started cooking I used to throw all the ingredients into the fry pan and cook them but I was invariably disappointed with the results. Over time I learned that a crowded fry pan will prevent proper cooking. For example, if you are frying diced chicken or ground beef or even sliced mushrooms and you put too much in the pan only a small portion will be able to come into contact with the bottom of the pan. AND THAT'S WHERE THE HEAT IS!

You are better off to use a very large pan or even two medium size pans in order to properly brown or fry your ingredients. Also you will need less oil if you don't over fill the pan so this tip is healthy as well.

If you only have the one medium size pan then cook the ingredients in sequence and transfer the prepared elements to a new pot. For example, first saute your onions and garlic, then move them to another pan. Now brown your meat and when properly seared add it to the pan. Then panfry any other vegetables or ingredients and, finally, add them to the other pan. Most recipes can be handled in this manner. Be sure to deglaze the pan by adding a splash of wine, water or broth to lift all the wonderful bits of flavour clinging to the bottom of the pan and add that to the new pot as well.

For convenience sake I would recommend having at least one large (over 10"), one medium (8-10" wide) and one small (6-8" wide) non-stick pan and at least one non-coated pan (in other words a pan without a non-stick coating). After all there are times when a non-stick pan just won't give you the results you want.

The type of pan you choose depends on what you plan to do with it. If you are planning on making omelets then the pan should be fairly thin walled but if you are planning on browning meat then a thicker base is preferable.

Cast-iron is nice but requires a certain amount of TLC to keep it in prime condition and properly seasoned. It is also slow to heat and slow to cool but nothing sears meat better.

For versatility you could try what is called clad cookware - alternating layers of aluminum, stainless steel or sometimes copper. Stainless steel is a great surface to cook on, durable and smooth, but aluminum or copper cores will retain and distribute the heat better. I don't recommend strictly aluminum pans, they sometimes react badly to certain food acids. They also score easily.

Copper pots are wonderful, if you can afford them, as are enameled cast-iron and titanum. In the end it comes down to what you can afford and what you like cooking with.

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