There are only so many amusing anecdotes you can squeeze out of hot dogs, chicken burgers, tacos, and pizza; and if cooking the same things every week is tedious, then writing about cooking them is enough to make you want to hurl yourself into a cooking pot.
Thus, my weekly “What’s for Supper?” posts (see sidebar), which are hurtling toward Vol. 100 in a matter of months, have propelled me to learn more about cooking than I picked up in the first fifteen+ years of marriage.
To my delight, lots of cooking terminology that seemed so complicated and sophisticated is pretty basic stuff, and well within my grasp– as long as I look it up ahead of time, and don’t attempt to learn a new technique on the fly. Here are a few:
I was under the impression that braising required leaping flames, arcane implements made out of brass or copper, and possibly some shouting. Turns out I have been braising all my life. It’s is a two-step process for cooking flavorful meat, where you use high, dry heat first (searing), then low, moist heat (stewing). For more details, see “Four Simple Rules for Braising Anything” from Bon Appetit.
In my head, deglazing could only be accomplished by a subtle but masterful motion of the wrist and split-second timing. Actually, it just means you’re done cooking something up in a pan, and you don’t want to waste all those yummy little blackened scraps and flavorful gunk that’s stuck to the bottom. So you dump in a cup of broth or wine or whatever, and scrape it up, incorporating all the good stuff. That’s it. Adds tons of flavor and makes the pan easier to wash, too.
I always thought this involved some kind of sugar syrup, because, duh, “caramel.” I was half right. Caramelization is an irreversible chemical process wherein water is released and sugar is broken down, producing a characteristic flavor. Sometimes you do add sugar, as when you’re caramelizing carrots or nuts; but onions already have sugar in them. (Many vegetables have sugar in them, actually, but wonderful things happen when you call it forth from onions in particular.)
The only thing you need to know about caramelizing onions is that it takes forehhhhhhhver. I always figure on 40 minutes. If you see an article titled “How to caramelize onions quickly,” spit bitterly upon the floor and turn away, because it’s a dirty lie. More tips for caramelizing onions well from Bon Appetit. More grousing about the fog of deceit surrounding the issue from Slate.
Not, it turns out, a term for those weird paper booties they put on the turkey in Amelia Bedelia. Nope, a chiffonade is just what you get when you take a bunch of edible leaves, roll them up, and then slice them into thin ribbons. Pretty important if you still have Instagram friends who won’t blacklist you on account of your wantonly frequent photos of soup. WANTON soup, get it?
But seriously, adding a garnish of greens on top of a dish isn’t just to make it pretty. Fresh herbs have a different taste from the ones cooked in, and they will give the finished dish lovely boost in flavor.
This one doesn’t quite belong in this list, oh well. Everyone knows what pickling is (and I tried it once. Only once. Mold, salt, broken glass, crushed dreams, and a cabinet that will never smell the same. So now I buy my pickles), but did you know you can quick pickle stuff? Like, you can pickle in the morning and eat it for dinner?
Take some carrots, radishes, cucumbers, daikon, or whatever, and slice it thin, and chuck it in a jar with some vinegar (any kind) and a little water, and stir in some sugar or honey. By meal time, they will be exciting, and you can make a boring sandwich feisty and fun.
How about you? Have you gotten past some intimidating technical terms?
And how do we feel about that pig eating the wolf who ate his brothers, anyway? Can we assume that, since the three of them went their separate ways and had such widely divergent worldviews vis a vis homebuilding and security, maybe the third pig actually derived some brutal satisfaction from knowing what that wolf’s flesh was made of? Or did he just boil him EXECUTION SYTLE but not eat him? Or what?
Pig and wolf picture by Leonard Leslie Brooke (1862-1940) (http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/15661) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Caramelized onions: Stacy Spensley via Flickr https://www.flickr.com/
Chiffonade: Stacy Spensley via Flickr https://www.flickr.com/
Deglazing: Scott Feldstein via Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/
Braising: via Pexels https://www.pexels.com/
Pickled veg: ih via Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/