Cooking Know-How: Be a Better Cook with Hundreds of Easy Techniques, Step-by-Step Photos, and Ideas for Over 500 Great Meals

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9780470180808: Cooking Know-How: Be a Better Cook with Hundreds of Easy Techniques, Step-by-Step Photos, and Ideas for Over 500 Great Meals

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Knowing how to cook has challenged lots of men. Women, too. What most people learn is a specific recipe: how to make this pasta sauce, or that loaf of bread. What about learning how to cook in general? And not just the 'how' but the 'how come?' That requires a technique book.

What you'll find in this book is an alphabetical list of sixty-five recipe-driven, technique-centered explications that build out into hundreds of dishes.

Armed with the knowledge of the simple mechanics of a dish, the five or so steps it takes to make it, you can walk into the market, find what's fresh (or on special), bring it home, and have dinner on the table without any worries, any overly romantic pretensions, or any cookbooks piled on the floor: fresh every time—and your way, too.

Exclusive Recipe Excerpts from Cooking Know-How: Gratin

A Visual Guide to Preparation

1) For the best gratin, peeled Russets should be sliced as thinly as possible.

2) A gratin is a layered casserole; the potato slices perform the same dividing act noodles do in lasagna.

3) The potato slices, kept in water to halt discoloration, are placed in an overlapping layer in the baking dish.

4) The liquid—here, cream—is poured over the casserole, moistening the top layer as it soaks into those below.

5) As a gratin bakes, press down occasionally with a large spoon to scoop up juices that then baste the top layer.

6) Those juices will brown the potatoes as the casserole bakes.

7) Garden Vegetable Gratin
Gratin Recipe
Makes 8 side-dish servings

A layered potato casserole, a gratin (French, grah-TAN) is named for both the technique and the dish it’s baked in: a fairly shallow, oval, oven-safe baking dish. Nonetheless, you can make it in a standard 9 x 13-inch baking dish, more in keeping with standard American kitchenware. Perhaps this use of a standard baking dish is why the casserole’s gotten hitched to “scalloped potatoes” in the United States. In fact, the real thing is less thick, has no cheese, and is more a center-piece for the potatoes themselves.

Step 1: Preheat the oven to 350[dg]F. Peel and thinly slice 3 pounds Russet potatoes, place them in a large bowl, cover with cool water, and set aside.

Russets are the best varietal for the best gratin. Sometimes called Russet Burbanks, they’re an American hybrid with white flesh, brown skin, and plenty of natural sugars; they are also full of starch, making them quite fluffy when cooked. That starch will also make a gratin exactly what it is: a casserole thickened with the potatoes’ starch, sort of a potato version of Risotto.

The potatoes need to be cut into slices about 1/8-inch thick--cut lengthwise, to boot, so the strips are as a long as possible. There are three ways to do this:

  1. A sharp knife. You need a hefty knife, no cleaver of course, but a chef’s knife for sure. The weight of the tool will help keep the slices even; your steady hand will keep them thin. If you haven’t sharpened the knife in a while, now’s the time to get out the sharpener--or at least get out the steel and hone the blade. Slice off about 1/2 inch from one pointy end of the peeled potato, so it will stand up on the cutting board. Now spray the knife blade with nonstick spray so the starchy potato doesn’t stick to it. (You may need to do this several times during slicing if you notice pieces sticking.) Slice down in slow, steady, thin cuts, about as thick as a piece of elementary-school construction paper. Remove each slice before making the next.
  2. A mandoline (pronounced MAN-doh-lin but not to be confused with the stringed instrument, a mandolin). This kitchen tool is an angled plane with an adjustable, razor-sharp blade; items are run repeatedly down the slope and over the blade, thin slices falling through the crack and onto the counter below. Set the blade to [1/8]-inch thickness and use a food grip to run the potatoes their long way over the blade, thereby making long, thin strips. Unlike the technique for using a knife, there’s no benefit here in going slowly[md]indeed, it’s a hindrance. Instead, run the items across the blade at a good, steady clip, pressing down gently but firmly so they come in contact with the blade. Do not attempt to slice the potatoes without using the food grip; many a person has shorn the skin off their fingers thanks to a mandoline (and probably to a mandolin, too). Cheap knock-offs are sometimes sold without the safety grip; invest in a higher-end, professional mandoline or work with a metal glove that can resist the blade.
  3. A food processor fitted with the 2-millimeter slicing blade. Place a potato in the slot, turn the machine on, and use the plunger to press the spud down over the spinning blades. You won’t be able to get long slices; the potato will have to go in short end first. And the food processor will “juice” the potato somewhat, its moisture leached out of the whacked-open cells. Still, it’s hard to argue with convenience.
    Put the potato slices in water to leach a little of their starch and help them remain white, rather than oxidizing to a pale brown in the open air. But not too long because too much starch will be lost. Just keep them in the water while you make the following vegetable sauté.
Step 2: Heat 3 tablespoons fat in a large skillet over medium heat.

In general, if the gratin will be made with milk or cream, use unsalted butter; if it will be made with broth and/or wine, use either olive oil, an untoasted nut oil, or a neutral oil like canola or vegetable oil. However, a broth-based gratin made with butter is silky and smooth; a milk-based gratin with olive oil is light and less palate-drenching. Just remember that the fat you use will also probably be the one dotted or drizzled over the dish just before baking. In all cases, stay away from toasted nut and seed oils. And that all said, many a traditional French gratin is made with duck fat, then dotted with unsalted butter. Wow.

Step 3: Add 4 cups packed diced aromatics, a mirepoix; cook, stirring often, until softened, from 3 to 8 minutes.

The mix here is entirely dependent on what you want the final effect to be. Treat all these vegetables as the “spices” of the gratin. How about shredded Brussels sprouts, diced onion, diced zucchini, and shredded carrots? Or a shallot and one or two peeled, cored, and diced apples? Or some chopped, stemmed chard with about 2 ounces chopped bacon? All these bring new flavors to the gratin--some sweeter (carrots and the like); others, more bitter (like Brussels sprouts and chard). None will be used to excess; all must be cooked until almost ready to eat so they continue to dissolve in the casserole as it bakes.

Wet vegetables--sliced mushrooms, diced summer squash--must give off their moisture over the heat; dry, hard vegetables--carrots or seeded winter squash--must be diced into very small pieces so they’ll cook quickly. Oddly, 2 cups diced onion and 2 cups sliced mushrooms will actually take longer over the heat than 1 cup diced onion and 3 cups diced carrot because of the difference in moisture content, the time it takes for the mushrooms to give off their liquid. Since leafy greens are mostly air, you’ll need a double amount because of the way they cook down over the heat. Chopped, they fill the pan too full; add them in batches.

Yes, you can make a gratin with tomatoes, but they must be cooked down thoroughly so as not to water-log the casserole. In truth, if you want a tomato taste with the potatoes, it’s easiest to add tomato paste or sun-dried tomatoes in the next step.

Step 4: Add some minced garlic, perhaps a chopped flavoring agent like pitted olives or sun-dried tomatoes, and up to 2 tablespoons minced herbs and/or 1/2 teaspoon dried spice--as well as 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper; cook for 30 seconds to warm through. Then layer the vegetables and the drained potatoes in a 10-cup au gratin dish or a 9 x 13-inch baking dish.

Garlic is almost irresistible with potatoes; just make sure it’s minced so it doesn’t dot the casserole with nose-spanking bites. Also consider other flavorings: a minced, seeded fresh chile; some sliced sun-dried tomatoes; a dab of tomato paste; a minced, jarred, roasted red pepper; some minced peeled fresh ginger; chopped, pitted black olives; or even a minced anchovy. No more than 1 or 2 tablespoons of any, just as a flavoring. This is a potato dish, after all. Everything else is ornamentation.

Fresh herbs work best--parsley, rosemary, oregano, or a simple combination--but there’s no reason not to pair them with a little dried spices, particularly the sweeter ones like ground mace, grated nutmeg, ground ginger, or ground cumin.

Once you’ve got the vegetable medley softened and aromatic, layer the casserole. Start by blotting the potato slices dry on paper towels to remove any moisture that will increase the cooking time and leach too much liquid into the casserole. Place an overlapping layer of slices in the bottom of the baking dish. Then spread 1/4 to 1/3 cup vegetable mixture over the potatoes. There’s no reason to get crazed over amounts, but remember that this is not a true layer as in, say, a lasagna. Rather, this is a flavoring to the potatoes.

Keep layering, pressing down and compacting as you build the dish, overlapping the slices and using small amounts of vegetable filling each time. There’s no way to say exactly how many layers you’ll make: the potato slices may have been different sizes and there may be slightly different amounts of the vegetable mixture, depending on which vegetables you used. When you see you have enough potato slices for one more layer, add the rest of the vegetables, spread them evenly over the slices, and top with an overlapping layer of these last potato slices.

Step 5: Pour 4 cups (1 quart) milk, broth, or an enhanced version of either over the contents of the baking dish; drizzle or dot with 2 tablespoons fat. Bake uncovered, basting occasionally, until golden and most the liquid has been absorbed, about 2 hours.

Either milk (regular, low-fat, or even fat-free) or chicken, beef, or vegetable broth (avoid fish broth) can be enhanced with up to 1 cup dry white wine, dry sherry, dry vermouth, or heavy cream. However, bear this in mind: too much wine and the dish will be too sweet; too much cream, too heavy.

The fat that goes over the top of the dish is most likely the same one you used to cook the vegetables. However, feel free to mix it up: unsalted butter to cook the vegetables and untoasted walnut oil over the top layer of potatoes; olive oil for the vegetables, unsalted butter over the top.

Gratin Recipe Variations

Instructions

Creamy Potato and Leek Gratin

Savory Potato and Cabbage Gratin

Potato and Brussels Sprouts Gratin

Curried Potato, Cauliflower, and Pea Gratin

Garden Vegetable Gratin

1. Thinly slice, cover with water, and set aside

3 pounds Russet potatoes, peeled

3 pounds Russet potatoes, peeled

3 pounds Russet potatoes, peeled

3 pounds Russet potatoes, peeled

3 pounds Russet potatoes, peeled

2. Heat

3 Tbs unsalted butter

3 Tbs olive oil

3 Tbs olive oil

3 Tbs unsalted butter

3 Tbs unsalted butter

3. Add and cook

4 large leeks, white and pale green parts only, halved lengthwise, washed carefully, and thinly sliced

1 medium yellow onion, diced

1 pound green cabbage, cored, halved, and thinly sliced into shreds (see page 000)

1 medium yellow onion, diced

1 celery rib, thinly sliced

1 pound Brussels sprouts, cored and thinly sliced into shreds

4 ounces shallot, diced

1 small head cauliflower, trimmed, cored, and chopped into small florets

2 cups fresh shelled or frozen peas

4 ounces shallot, diced

1 medium carrot, diced

1 small zucchini, diced

1 cup fresh shelled or frozen peas

 

4. Add, then layer with the potatoes in the baking dish

From the Inside Flap:

Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough have written more than a dozen bestselling cookbooks. But their latest book, Cooking Know-How, is a radically new sort of project. Offering far more than just a collection of recipes, it explains the how's and why's of cooking—and gives you the techniques and know-how you need to become a better cook.

But don't think it's going to get "cheffy." No chopped chervil here! In a conversational and entertaining way, Cooking Know-How offers sixty-five kitchen-friendly, technique-driven recipes for a wide range of dinnertime favorites, from Roasted Birds, Risotto, and Meatballs to Enchiladas, Ribs, and Veggie Burgers. For each recipe, Bruce and Mark provide detailed, step-by-step explanations (not just directions) that demystify cooking, along with full-color how-to photographs. Who knew dinner could be so much fun?

Or you can skip the explanations and just try one of the eight or so tasty variations that follow each entry. After Beef Stew, for example, you'll find a Sunday Pot Roast Stew with bacon, potatoes, and tomatoes; a French-Inspired Beef Stew with pancetta, prunes, and ground allspice; or even a knock-it-out-of-the-park version of the Belgian classic, Carbonnades Flamandes. Once you understand the science and art of roasting birds, you'll never think twice about making roast chicken, game hens, and even that holiday turkey. Or better yet, create your own signature variations based on the flavors you like or what's fresh at the market.

Throughout the book, Bruce and Mark sprinkle in a wealth of kitchen tips and tricks of the trade. The more you use Cooking Know-How—and you'll find more than 500 specific dishes in total—the more you'll build your cooking skills and expand your dinner repertoire.

Illustrated throughout with more than 300 color photographs, including hundreds of how-to shots, Cooking Know-How distills the kitchen wisdom Bruce and Mark have gained through decades of writing about food. The result is a brand-new kind of cookbook: a beginner's guide, a pro's library of favorites, a reader's cookbook all in one. It's just what you need to cook with confidence, creativity, and flair.

"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.

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