Friday, March 19, 2010

Some Essential Tools

This cook could not survive without a few simple tools. The first and most important is a 12" non-stick skillet. You can cook meats, saute vegetables, or stir-fry in one quickly, with the ability to watch your work, taste frequently, and know that you are finished before it is too late. There are a couple of rules to know: 1) Excessive heat ruins the non-stick finish, so avoid high heat. Medium to medium high is hot enough for most applications, except maybe boiling water quickly. 2) Don't use metal utensils. That will also damage the finish and ruin the pan. Stick to wood and plastic. This includes items like spatulas, spoons, whisks, etc. Obviously, it is OK to use a metal tasting spoon if you don't touch the surface of the pan.

The second most important tool is olive oil. I hate olives and so does my family. I have nasty memories of my sister using olive oil while performing permanent waves on her hair at home. There are few things more disgusting. Put that all aside and try it. Olive oil has many uses - it can be used in salad dressings, it can be used to lubricate your skillet for fry and saute chores, it can be used as a flavor or garnish, it can hold dry rubs on meat so it can bake and take on flavors, it can be used to make a roux for gravy, and it can be used as a texture enhancer for dishes like spaghetti sauce or black beans.

The texture is so much nicer that cheap old Mazzola Oil that we used to use back in the olden days. It imparts a smoothness, rather than an oiliness, when used properly. It doesn't impart a "popcorn" taste. In fact, the taste can be managed easily.

The biggest trick to olive oil is knowing that Extra Virgin Olive Oil ("EVOO" to Rachael Ray fans) has stronger flavor than regular olive oil. If you really don't love the taste, use plain olive oil. If you take a shine to it, try a small bottle of lighter tasting EVOO, such as the Kroger house brand. Then, you can move on to the hard stuff.

The thing to know about olive oil is when to not use it. It works great in most applications, but when dealing with cooking styles, consider whether that style uses olives. Mexican, French and Mediterranean foods use olives all the time, so olive oil is great for those. Cajun and Asian foods do not generally use olives, so it is better to use something else. (Canola oil has no taste and is a good alternative)

Also, olive oil does not take heat as well as some other oils. It has a lower "smoke point" than canola oil and certain others. It is probably not the best choice for deep frying or very hot stir frying.

Keep these tools in your kitchen and you will be in a much better position to start making miracles in the kitchen.

No comments:

Post a Comment