13 Culinary School Secrets
Esquire‘s Ian Bassingthwaighte offers a list of “13 Things You Could’ve Learned at Culinary School.”
Never use oven mitts. Towels are more efficient because you don’t have to wear them. The few seconds you spend jamming your hand into the mitt can mean an over-broiled steak. Seconds count.
Do, on the other hand, wear a ridiculously tall hat at all times. You wouldn’t go fishing without a pole, would you?
Hang tongs on the oven-door handle for easier access and to make sure you don’t misplace them mid-preparation. Again, seconds count.
Prep things in the order they need to be cooked. Take the cauliflower soup she made the other night, for example. The cauliflower goes in twenty minutes before the onions, so she prepped the cauliflower, started the soup, and then prepped the onions. It’s about flow.
Having trouble keeping food hot by the time you plate and serve everything to your guests? Heat the plates.
Same goes for serving cold food: put your plates in the fridge or freezer first.
Everything boils down to efficiency. Cooking is a process. Walk through the steps of the meal in your mind before you start prepping it.
If you’re cooking an important meal for a group of people, stick to dishes you already know.
If you’re using both an oven and a stove to cook, always keep a towel in your hands when touching any pans. It’s easy to forget which ones are hot. And nothing ruins a meal like a burn blister.
Gas burners are better than electric. You have the most control over temperature and your food.
Never keep any liquid near a pan with oil in it unless you have very good fire insurance.
If you want to brown or caramelize something, don’t move it. People want to stir things, but the worst enemies of browning are movement and moisture.
Use the correct size pan. If it’s too large, the butter or oil you’re using may burn. If it’s too small, you won’t get any color or browning — think chicken with soggy skin — and that’s where a lot of the flavor comes from.
Some of these are very good tips, indeed. I, for example, constantly turn food that I’m trying to brown, doubtless slowing the process. And I probably don’t prep in the right order. The hot/cold plate idea makes sense, too.
On the other hand, I’m a huge fan of even mitts. Towels are a fine substitute if you’re baking at low heat. But try pulling a heavy iron skillet out of a 450 degree oven with a towel and you’re burn two layers of skin off and drop the hot pan and its contents.
I’m also not entirely sure how one keeps liquids away from pans with oil in them. Saucepans tend to contain sauces — which at least start out as liquids — and boiling things tends to require large pots of boiling water.
And, yeah, gas cooktops are far superior to electric ones. But unless you’re going to buy your house based on the stove — and I didn’t — then you may well wind up with an electric. And switching from electric to gas will likely be prohibitively expensive, running thousands of dollars.
(I presume the bit about the ridiculously tall hat was an unfunny joke. The fishing pole example makes no sense.)