Elevate Your Kitchen Skills With These 5 Easy Cooking Techniques
Tired of the same old cooking routine? Sure, we can break it up with the occasional "microwave" or "barbeque." However, if you are ready to try a different cooking technique, check out these five ideas. (See also: 11 Kitchen Tricks to Make You Love Cooking)
To poach means to simmer, gently. I have become a fan of poaching all sorts of things, lately. Whether you poach eggs, fish, chicken, meat, or fruit, if done correctly, the resulting food is tender and moist. The trick is to watch your liquid to make sure it stays at a simmer and does not become a full boil.
- Salmon in white wine with dill
- Hot dogs or sausages in a dark beer
- Chicken poached in champagne
- Pears poached in red wine
- Apples poached in white wine
- Poached eggs in tomato sauce with chickpeas and feta
As you can see, with poaching, you can run the gamut of simple to fancy. One of my favorite dinners is to boil angel hair pasta, add sauteed peas or kale to the pot until tender, drain, and top that with a poached egg and parmesan cheese. I also like poaching because I am big on using up leftovers. When you poach, that little bit of white wine, leftover champagne from New Year's, or the last bit of tomato sauce can be put to good use. (See also: Fancy Ways to Use Leftovers)
Wait, wasn't "braising" something your grandmother did? Well, if you're lucky, it was, because braised meats are tender, succulent, and flavorful. Braising ("to cook slowly, usually covered, in a little liquid or fat, often on a bed of aromatics") is a very economical method of cooking, because you can use a cheaper, and tougher, cut of meat.
To braise, meat is first browned. I use my heavy dutch oven. Heat some cooking oil. Rub the meat with salt and pepper. I like to add some diced shallots, or an onion, minced garlic, and chopped carrots to the hot oil. Next, add the meat, and brown it on all sides. Do not drain the fat. Next, add liquid. The liquid can be wine, broth, tomato juice, or a combination. Even a can of V-8 is great! Cover, and either keep on the stove at about 185 (a simmer) or pop into the oven at 350.
Here is a bonus for braising: You can make gravy. Gravy! We love gravy. It's Sunday dinner at Grandma's house, again. Slice the meat and serve over noodles or mashed potatoes.
Ready to try braising? Try these:
- Beer-Braised Pork Loin (I recommend using a porter or other dark beer.)
- Braised Balsamic Chicken (The recipe suggests serving over rice or pasta, but you can catch so much more of the gravy with mashed potatoes!)
- Braised Mushrooms are so delicious — and they take very little time. Stick with the shallots, which give amazing flavor.
- Braised Lamb Shanks take a while to cook, but they are well worth the effort. Shanks are one of my favorite cuts of lamb. You don't see a lot of them in the market anymore, but your butcher may be able to help. When I was a newlywed, we used to buy a half of a lamb and freeze it. I had to learn what to do with all of those "parts." I like just a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar added into the pot toward the end of cooking.
- Braised Root Vegetables are nice both with a roast OR just by themselves, with a loaf of crusty french bread.
Broiling is "to cook on a grill under strong, direct heat."
I have found, over the years, that whether I do much broiling depends on the oven that I have at the time. When I had a wall oven, I did more of it, simply because it was handier. I now have a stove-oven combination appliance and the broiler is near the floor, which means I have to keep squatting and crouching to check on the progress of dinner. The wall oven also had a self-cleaning feature — and my current one does not — so I take that into consideration when deciding whether or not to broil.
If you are using your oven's broiler feature, you will need to preheat your oven. Most dials have a "broil" setting. This will take about five minutes or so.
Try to place your food in the middle of the broiling pan (which usually comes with the oven). If it's going to be messy, I cover my pan with foil.
When broiling, be prepared to check your food every few minutes. It will cook very fast under the high heat. Don't walk away!
Broiling is a very versatile way to cook. Try:
- Portobello mushrooms
- Steaks (a London Broil is my favorite in the broiler). Great leftovers.
- Tuna melts
- No campfire? No problem. You can broil S'mores!
If your oven does not have a good broiler, you might consider a toaster oven that has a broiler feature. If you aren't cooking for a crowd and have the counter space, this is a handy option.
4. Pressure Cooking
Pressure cooking is a method whereby you use a metal pot and steam, under pressure, at a high temperature, to cook food quickly. (See also: The 5 Best Pressure Cookers)
I used to have a co-worker whose husband thought pressure cooking was the greatest cooking method ever. He would pick up used pressure cookers at yard sales. Unfortunately, she'd go home to find something was wrong with the latest "great deal" pressure cooker, in that her kitchen would be splattered with bits of meat and beans. Her harrowing tales were enough to keep me from trying this cooking method.
However, that was 15 years ago, and pressure cooking is making a comeback. Why? Well, with so many of the cooks in the workforce, there is an appreciation for being able to cook dinner quickly — and a pressure cooker will help you do just that. If you liked the braising method above, well, pressure-cooking is braising on steroids. You can put a stew on the table in thirty minutes, or make a pot of beans in under two hours. Plus, the modern pressure cookers aren't… scary, the way my friend's cookers were. New models have pressure release valves and other safety mechanisms.
With some cookers, you can also do canning. If you have a garden or belong to a CSA, you may want to consider this if considering a purchase. (See also: How to Preserve Foods for Off-Season Feasts)
Ready to give it a go?
- Beets with Dill (I like a little sour cream dollop on top, or crumbles of bleu cheese).
- 30 Minute Sunday Dinner Pot Roast
- We love these Refried Beans served with whole-wheat tortillas, shredded cheddar, lettuce, and cilantro. Beans are something I used to just buy in cans — but with a pressure cooker, you can make beans (from dry) quickly and cheaply. Keep in mind, they are going to thicken up — so you may need to add some water if you have leftovers that you want to reheat. Sometimes I make them really "soupy" with more water, add Tabasco sauce, and crack eggs into the bean mixture. Fast Huevos Rancheros! Great with chips and, of course, more cheese.
- Do you like standing at the stove, stirring a risotto for the better part of an hour, so that it doesn't stick? Neither do I. So I rarely made them until (drum roll) I found out that you could do them in a pressure cooker. For this Prosecco and Parmesan Risotto, I just used white wine and parmesan cheese.
- My daughter loves these Honey-Glazed Herbed Carrots!
- My friend MZ and I could probably eat Tortilla Soup several times a week. We like to make big batches and freeze half. We agree that slicing an avocado and "floating" a few slices on top is the way to go.
5. Packet/Parchment or Leaves
The French term is "En Papillote," which means to wrap in a packet and cook with steam. Many cultures use this method. Hawaiians use ti leaves for laulau; Latin American, Asian, and African countries use banana leaves, corn husks, etc. When you add seasonings, herbs, fruit and/or vegetables to the packets, the results are delicious and fun to eat.
A very popular "packet" method is to use aluminum foil. A big bonus of using foil is that clean-up is so easy!
- Aloha Tuna in Foil
- Campfire Chicken in Foil
- Chicken in Parchment
- Baked Apples in Parchment
- Throw a luau! Hawaiian Roast Pork is so "ono" (delicious)! If you cannot find a sugar cane, a skewer will work. Try your grocer's freezer for banana leaves.
- I made this Salmon in Parchment yesterday and was happily reminded of how moist salmon stays when cooked by this method. This recipe calls for basil, but parsley or chives work well, too.
So, readers — put that microwave dinner back in the freezer, and try one of these easy techniques!
Which of these easy techniques is your favorite? Please share in comments!