Good morning everyone, it’s Ask the Chef! day again. Today I answer questions on the best books to learn professional cooking, why salmon burned in a pan, how to reseason a nonstick pan, and what the best vegetables are for practicing knife skills.
What books will teach me the rules of cooking?
I am looking for an amazing book that encompasses all (being hopeful) the rules of cooking. I don’t need recipes, I have plenty of those. I need something with rules, tips and tricks. Like temperature recommendations, utensil recommendations, best cookware to use with which food etc. I have, up until 2 years ago, been a primary baker of cakes, cookies, tarts etc. but I recently got married and want to cook more. I feel like I have been a fairly good cook so far, but I have been mainly following instinct and commonsense (and recipes, of course). I want to become more intermediate/professional. (And I am aware that most of this knowledge comes from experience but I am eager to learn and love reading!)
Congratulations on wanting to learn about the profession. Here are a couple books to teach you the theory of cooking from the professional side:
Why did my salmon go black?
An anonymous reader asks:
I’m a complete novice at cooking (or whatever is below a novice, if anything) and I’ve just tried to make salmon for the first time, frying it in a pan. Following a recipe, this is what I did:
Poured in a medium amount of olive oil (regular)
Heated the pan to halfway between my hob’s two heat levels
Dropped in my medium sized fillet of salmon, dark side down
Flipped it after two minutes (it was pretty charred)
Dropped on some diced garlic (this quickly turned black in the pan too and smoked so I turned the heat down a little…)
Fried that side for another two minutes.
After I took it out of the pan the outside was either black or a deep orangey-brown, and slightly flakey. The inside was a medium pink colour. I ate a forkful, it tasted ok but the rest seemed very firm but not flaky. Since I’ve never made salmon before and everything seemed to go wrong, I ended up just throwing it away and going hungry
Where did I go wrong?
It sounds like your heat was too high. Olive oil smokes around 350°F. Garlic immediately burns at that temperature.
It is hard to control your heat on the stovetop. I know from firsthand experience.
There are two temperatures for a restaurant cook: on, and off. Whenever I had to cook something, I would turn the flame on and start cooking.
My onions would go black before they softened. My meat blackened in patches. Butter browned in a nanosecond (I swear!) then acrid smoke and burned bits floating in the pan ruined my hopes.
I had an awesome Soups and Stocks chef that finally explained to me there were degrees in the flame that I could use to cook my food. It was important to control the temperature when I cooked.
Until you learn how to control your flame, try a little trick that I picked up:
Grab a slice of bread and rip off a chunk. Heat the oil up and place the bread cube into the oil.
If the bread sits in the pan and soaks up some oil, it’s too cold.
If the bread turns brown then black quickly, it’s too hot.
When the bread sizzles and turns golden brown, it’s ready.
I hope that helps!
How do I reseason my omelette pan?
Amateur Gourmet asks :
I’m really not sure what to do. The obvious answer is: “Get a new non-stick skillet” but I’ve tried that, getting a cheap one that lasted for a few months but then the non-stick wore away and it, too, is sticky.
This particular pan is a really nice one, a $150 All-Clad, a gift from my parents from when I started cooking. That’s difficult to replace.
True, I could get an omelet pan…but don’t you have to season a pan like that? And won’t it stick if it’s not seasoned properly?
I’m so tired of my omelets sticking, it’s quite dispiriting.
I would like to start off saying something about preventive maintenance. I make sure I coat my non-stick pan with a little fat after cleaning it. (I use bacon grease.) This is the first step to ensuring that your pan lasts for a long time.
You can get your non-stick pan back in shape, assuming there are no open scratches on the surface of the Teflon coating. Here’s how:
First wash it with a good detergent and a plastic scrub pad. If you find there is some food in there that won’t come off, use a sprinkle of salt and a plastic scrub pad to loosen the stuck food.
Rinse well and dry. Rub it with a generous coating of fat (I use bacon grease) and put it into a 170°F oven. (The warming function or the lowest your oven will go.)
After two hours, turn the heat off (leave the pan in the oven). When the oven is cool remove the pan and wipe it with a paper towel.
Finally, a word on storage – I like to keep a rubber mesh between my pans while storing them to ensure the Teflon coating doesn’t scratch.
Good, cheap foods to practice knife skills with?
Newbie prep cook here. What are some good cheep foods I could use to practice my speed and proficiency with my cuts?
Your question brings me back to my days of cooking school.
I had just started knife skills class, and noticed that my knife skills lagged behind everyone else. I am not the type to let that stand; I need to be the best. So, I approached my chef instructor and asked for help.
I found myself in the kitchen an hour earlier than the rest of my class. The chef directed me to grab a fifty pound bag of carrots from the walk-in. The task was simple, peel carrots, then julienne them.
Did you know there is a proper way to use a vegetable peeler? I learned how to that day. From the first step, peeling carrots, it’s all about technique and practice.
After peeling carrots, it was time to julienne them. (All fifty pounds.) I had to put them into the stand up fridge for use for the next day.
The next day, it was time to brunoise them. I learned how to cut vegetables very small.
Practice with whatever vegetables you can get your hands on. Some examples include carrots, turnips, and potatoes. Take your time and learn your cuts. You will gain speed as you practice; it’s harder to relearn the skill portion.
If you wonder what to do with the vegetables that you are practicing with, fear not. Soups, stews, and salads are great meals to incorporate your hard work into.
So, approach your instructor (or chef) to express your want to fine-tune your knife skills. (If you prefer, you can do this task at home.) Get cutting, and pay attention to how you are making your cuts. Work on the knife skills today and speed will come later.
Have a question for me?
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